§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Hyltonrose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking with a view to limiting, and if possible ending, the spiral of violence in Northern Ireland.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, towards the end of something of a marathon day, I would almost apologise for asking this Question at this time. I do not do so because of the ever-present urgency of the matter and because I believe that the British Government can do more than just stand firm in the face of violence. I would suggest that the two qualities most needed are, first, sensitivity and, secondly, imagination. I will come back to this point later on.
§ The background to the question is that there are two distinct identities existing in Northern Ireland and two traditions in political, cultural and religious matters. This has been much recognised, particularly in the devolution White Paper of April 1982, Cmnd. 8541, and then in the month immediately following, in greater depth possibly, in Dr. Garret FitzGerald's Dimbleby Lecture. I am glad to say that a two-traditions group has recently been formed in Northern Ireland to work at voluntary level towards mutual respect between the two sections of the Ulster people.
§ I should perhaps try to explain in a few words what I mean by the spiral of violence. We have seen how violence persists from one generation to the next and how it continues in certain families and in certain neighbourhoods. We have seen also how it can feed upon itself and how one atrocity can lead to another, sometimes by way of reprisal or revenge. The question, I believe, is how can Government help people to abandon some of their current attitudes which may on occasion include a sneaking or half-admitted tolerance for the men of violence. I would suggest, first, that we need greater sensitivity and awareness of the actual effects of policies and practices. I may say in passing that we did see something of this in the earlier debate this afternoon on the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I would submit, secondly, that Government should try to show greater respect for the legitimate and democratic aspirations of various sections of the whole population. Here the remarks 563 made earlier by my noble friend Lord Dunleath might be cited.
§ The sensitivity and respect that I think are needed will call for the development of current policies in a number of ways, and I should like to give some examples. I would welcome once again, very warmly, Circular No. 21 of 1982 from the Department of Education in Northern Ireland. This concerned cooperation between Protestant and Roman Catholic schools. Schools, I think it is agreed, have a considerable potential for the improvement of community relations. For example, recently 250 children from 19 secondary schools in Belfast, 10 Protestant and nine Catholic, came together in Belfast Cathedral to put on a musical version of the story of Moses. That I think is something that just could not have happened only a very few years ago.
§ I would come next to consider this time of high and rising unemployment, when it is of the utmost importance that recruitment and promotion should be scrupulously fair and non-sectarian. Her Majesty's Government have a clear responsibility for what happens in the Civil Service and the public sector. I should like to ask whether they will, in the near future, make a statement of what they have been doing in this respect in recent times and what their plans are for the future. Do Her Majesty's Government think, secondly, that the Fair Employment Agency has been as effective as it was intended to be? Will the recently agreed extra staff in the agency and the revised committee structure enable it to do substantially better? The agency must, I think, enforce the law, and if it cannot do this it will be seen to be a toothless watchdog.
§ I had intended to say something on the subject of coroner's inquests into violence and unexplained deaths, but only today I received a letter from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I think that the noble Earl also has a copy and this letter is a long one which needs considerable study, so I shall confine myself to saying that there is considerable concern in Northern Ireland on this matter. I have had letters from a number of sources about it. Where a delay of more than a year occurs after a death and then the Director of Public Prosecutions decides that there can be no prosecution, then follows an inquest and quite often one just gets an open verdict. Sometimes this is felt to make a farce of the whole procedure. I should like to ask the Government whether they will think very hard about ways and means by which the whole process can be speeded up.
§ Next, I come to joy-riding and by this I mean young people riding about in stolen cars. It is a very sensitive subject, and I have mentioned it before in your Lordships' House. It has caused several deaths in Belfast. Some good preventive work has been done by volunteers so that stock-car racing can be enjoyed by young people. But I should like to ask whether Her Majesty's Government will co-ordinate the Department of Manpower Services and the social and probation services in organising training on the repair and construction of cars, together with some controlled driving and racing? I suggest that perhaps three or four workshops and one racetrack would save quite a number of lives and, in the process, produce 564 some quite skilled people. Could there be a combination of intermediate treatment and youth training for employment and adult life?
§ Next, I move on to some of the recommendations made in past years by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. Will Her Majesty's Government repeal the Flags and Emblems Act 1954? This was asked for in the second report from the commission. I understand that the law on the breach of peace covers this matter perfectly satisfactorily and that there have been no prosecutions for a good number of years. I believe that the Act is redundant and should go.
§ The commission also asked for certain minor tidying up of Northern Ireland electoral law, particularly in paragraphs 16 to 18 of the report, which I have already quoted. Will the noble Earl the Minister please think again about this and, if possible, change his stance from the reply he gave me to a Question for Written Answer on 28th January? Surely it is proper to correct anomalies affecting the rights of probably over 5,000 people—and I take this figure from the Anglo-Irish Studies Paper, Cmnd. 8414.
§ My last point concerns prisoners with families in Northern Ireland who are serving their sentences in prisons in Britain. Many of them have applied for transfer to prisons in Northern Ireland. However, I believe that since 1975 none has been transferred, except possibly one man who was temporarily moved. This is so despite assurances from the present Home Secretary that each request for transfer is considered on its merits. The present impasse imposes great burdens on families and an added penalty on the prisoners. A careful costing shows that one wife would have to spend over £300 to take three children under the age of 12 to visit her husband in prison on the Isle of Wight. Another case known to me personally is of a mother who had to spend £175 to visit her son in Gartree Prison in Leicestershire and the visit lasted only two and three-quarter hours.
§ Thus, heavy expenditure falls either on the family or, failing them, on the Department of Health and Social Services. The result is that the prisoner is lucky if he gets three or four visits per year as compared with one visit permitted per month in Britain or two visits per month in Northern Ireland. I also have details of four men now serving life sentences who have averaged only two visits per year in recent years.
I submit that successive Governments have been breaching the spirit and intention of Prison Rule No. 31, which is paralleled by Rule No. 57 of the Northern Ireland Rules. I beg Her Majesty's Government to listen to the reasoned case put forward by the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders and the National Association of Probation Officers. The latter body wrote last August:
Transfer would ease the pressures on families and relatives, reduce the risk of family and marital breakdown, improve stability within relationships and help these men and their children to maintain some form of parent/child relationship. For others it would give the opportunity to keep closer contact with often ageing parents, who are frequently in poor health and unfit to travel long distances. In addition it would considerably reduce the financial burden now placed on all relations when a visit to England is planned.
I think that these are three very cogent reasons, all the more so because we know that over one-third of
the cases in question are life sentences. Therefore, on humanitarian grounds I appeal to the Government. I urge them to grant this appeal from a position of strength in accordance with the prison rules and in the spirit of the European convention on the transfer of sentenced persons.
§ At a time when the Northern Ireland Assembly is experiencing difficulties, I have made suggestions for improving direct rule. They are not suggestions that require the expenditure of large sums of money and only a few of them call for minor legislation. Taken together, they would show that the Government are possessed of sensitivity and imagination and that they command the support of people of goodwill in all parties. Further, I believe it would show that the Government are determined to use all lawful means to limit and, if possible, end the spiral of violence. I hope that I have outlined a case for believing that progress does not depend on security and economics to the exclusion of all other considerations.
I should now like to thank those who will speak later and express the hope that they will fill in the details which I may have omitted or only sketched in. Just in case there should be anyone here who might think that I have been speaking in any kind of one-sided manner, I should like to say something to the British Labour Party and to those people in Ireland who advocate a united Ireland. I would say: beware of arousing expectations that cannot be fulfilled. Such expectations may well lead to frustration and, in turn, frustration may produce more violence. The advocates of a united Ireland by consent should hammer out the practical details. For instance, how can the pound and the punt and their respective green currencies be brought together? How will, or how would, the very large grants from the British Treasury be replaced? How can welfare and social benefits be harmonised as between the South and the North? What indeed is the future of the Irish constitution? How can the reasonable and very real fears of so many Unionists be allayed? Let those who advocate unity consider the views of Professor Frankel. He, my Lords, is, or was, a distinguished American visiting professor at Queen's University, Belfast, who wrote in a Canadian academic journal:
The present boundaries in Ireland must be accepted as final if there is to be any hope of peace".
From my own point of view, I suggest that, unless these and other relevant questions receive prompt and practical answers, a united Ireland may prove to have been a chimera of a particularly expensive and divisive sort.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he kindly say why he thinks that the Flags and Emblems Act ought to be repealed when that Act was directed essentially against the flag of a nation which, in its constitution, is making by definition hostile territorial claims against this part of the United Kingdom?
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I shall do my best. This Act, so far as I can understand, is a dead letter. Nobody attempts to enforce it. It is really something quite obsolete, regardless of claims or anything else.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is, what steps are the Government taking to limit and, if possible, end the spiral of violence? I am certain that most noble Lords will agree that this is not a question that can be answered solely on steps to suppress terrorism. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in his speech, for which we all thank him, went along those lines as well. With the tragedies of Ballykelly, Regent's Park and Hyde Park still in our minds the situation must appear awesome. I want to make it clear that so long as there is one sectarian killing, or one bombing, the tragedy remains with us.
However, all is not as disastrous as it may appear, and I recognise that only those who live in Northern Ireland can really understand the full situation. I was pleased that I was able to make a brief visit to Belfast earlier this year and to contrast the situation with what I saw on my previous visit a few years before. There was far less military presence on the streets. This was apparent. In discussions both with the military command and with the RUC senior officers, including the chief constable, there was a ready acceptance that the authority is with the RUC, with the military as a back-up to be called in by the RUC as necessary.
This is emphasised by the chief constable himself in his recently issued report for 1982. In the course of it he said:As the RUC gains in strength and professionalism, and as the level of terrorist violence is more and more diminished, so is the future need for military support reduced".That development is encouraging. But one of my last engagements before I left Belfast enabled me to see some of the new housing developments in Belfast by the Housing Executive.
Reference was made by the officials with me to various new estates as being "Catholic estates", or as being "Protestant estates". I asked the natural question, "Surely, this is not a question that you ask when you allocate properties?" I was told, "No, but this is how the people themselves prefer to have it". I asked whether I could see housing development near Bombay Street, because I still had recollections of seeing the ghastly burnings in the days of 1939 in that area. When I saw the housing development I was saddened to see—what? A 20 foot wall. A Belfast "Berlin Wall" around the housing estate because of the fears of the community in that estate. On the one hand, there were encouraging developments, and, on the other hand, a saddening position that the division between the communities is still there.
On 7th February a Written Answer was given in Commons' Hansard, columns 237 to 242, which gave statistics of the steady decline in the numbers of shootings, explosions, and similar incidents since the peak of 1972, Much as we deplore a single death or injury arising from terrorist activities, we must welcome that steady decline. I have no doubt that the Minister may wish to refer to these statistics; therefore, I shall just take two figures which I extracted from that Written Answer. Shooting incidents peaked at over 10,000 in 1972, but have fallen steadily each year to 382 last year. There were 1,382 explosions in 1972, which declined steadily to 219 last year. Of course, these figures are still appalling, and the downward 567 trend must not detract from the feeling of any of us about the horrific killings, brutality and violence which still take place.
In contrast to those encouraging figures, although compared with 1972 the numbers of armed robberies have declined, they have stablilised at between 400 and 600 since 1977, and last year the number was 580, almost the same as in 1981. But the amount stolen last year, £1,400,000, was the highest ever recorded since 1971, and I wonder how much of that stolen money was for terrorist activities. A section of the chief constable's report says:As a consequence of the resources of the police being deployed principally to combat murder and terroroist acts generally, there was an increase in ordinary crime and a fall in the detection rate. This is yet another manifestation of the fact that terrorism, whether directly or indirectly, is eroding the quality of life in Northern Ireland".Those final words are of great importance to us all. The ever-increasing rate of unemployment, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred, particularly among young persons, with the atmosphere of hopelessness, linked to a lack of community trust, must be an added factor leading to the situation described by the chief constable in that section of his report.
A senior police officer spoke to me with great pride of the work of the police in community relations. I have since noted with interest the chapter in the chief constable's report dealing with that aspect, which begins:The main thrust of the community relations programme was directed towards young people—tomorrow's adults. Emphasis was placed on the constructive use of their natural drive and energy, especially in those areas where unemployment is a growing problem, and projects were designed to involve people from different backgrounds in activities which promoted a spirit of understanding and co-operation".In describing the various activities carried out, the report is heartening, particularly when it refers to the 1,000 blue lamp discos which, in 1982, the chief constable's report states, were attended by nearly 142,000 young people in Northern Ireland.
I was unable to find in the report—perhaps the Minister could tell me—whether participation in these various activities is from both communities; whether they participate jointly or the events tend to be attended only by the persons in the community area where the event is being held. In other words, how much of the work being carried out so excellently by the police develops into community activity; or is there still something to be achieved in that context? The chief constable concludes his introduction to the report by saying:Much of the progress achieved in 1982 was due to the public, and this surely points the way forward".That links with what Mr. Gerry Fitt, whom I am sure we all admire, said in the Commons on 10th February. I am not allowed to quote him but, to paraphrase, he said that irrespective of what might be said in Dublin, Parliament or Washington, the only people who could resolve the differences were the Protestant and Catholic communities of the North. What we can do to help in the supression of terrorism, from whomever it may come, is to create improvement in the economic situation, with a reduction in un- 568 employment—that is imperative—and improvements in the living conditions of many people, particularly in the inner city areas.
I do not know if other noble Lords noticed a short letter which appeared in the Guardian last week from Mr. Charles Brett, Chairman of the Housing Executive, who, in answer to some criticisms about housing allocations, pointed out that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive was established in 1971 with the remit to take out sectarianism from housing administration and allocations, and that in no case during the last 12 years had the Commissioner for Complaints made a finding of discrimination on political or religious grounds against the executive. In other words, among our general dark feelings are some encouraging things to note. It is so easy for us, who do not live in the area, to talk here. Nevertheless, we are all appalled by the inhuman violence that takes place and we must give encouragement to every possible move that may lead to a better understanding.
In my first speech on Northern Ireland, which ,I made some three years ago when I opened a debate on the economic and social problems of Northern Ireland, I referred to the then staggering unemployment rate of 11.1 per cent. Today it is getting near double that figure. With some districts approaching 35 per cent. of male unemployment—in a mainly single-community area—there is every encouragement to sectarian bitterness. I recognise that the religious leaders have condemned violence, but I am certain that there is something more that all the Churches can do to encourage moves towards reconciliation and practical cross-community activity.
It is encouraging to learn that the Secretary of State, with the noble Earl who is to reply to this evening's debate, met the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Republic on 1st February. I do not know whether it is possible for the noble Earl to tell us what transpired, or whether that is confidential. Also welcome is the suggestion made by the noble Earl that there should be a framework of triangular arrangements among London, Dublin, and Belfast. That may fit in with a statement recently made by Garret Fitzgerald, to which I shall refer before I conclude.
The position of the Labour Party has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The Labour Party believes that progress towards unification of Ireland is essential, but that it cannot be brought about by threats, coercion, or force. It can be achieved only by common consent. Anything that helps to build a bridge between the communities in the North as well as between the North and the South must be welcomed and encouraged.
That point leads me on to the decision of the Political Committee of the European Assembly to send an inquiry team to Northern Ireland. I think that many noble Lords would agree that the Community has no right to interfere with the internal affairs of a member state. However, I hope that when the members of the Political Committee of the European Assembly arrive in Northern Ireland they will be given every assistance. Obviously, there should be nothing in the way of negotiations with that body, but it is in everyone's interests that the members of the committee should gain a complete and true picture of the situation in 569 Northern Ireland. I hope that that will be made available to them.
I referred earlier to a statement by Dr. Garret Fitzgerald. His suggestion about a forum for democratic parties from both the North and the South, aimed at a new initiative to solve the Northern Ireland problem, surely ought to be encouraged. Of course care should be exercised. Any discussions in such a forum should not be rushed, and no predetermined solutions should be pushed forward. An editorial in the Guardian today emphasises thatIf there is to be a way out, it will have to be done on that side of the water".The solution will rest with the people of Ireland as a whole; not only with the people of Northern Ireland. I am certain that we cannot countenance a permanent state of terrorism. Steps to control terrorism must be taken, but they alone will not be enough. The basic issue remains to be dealt with. How can the two communmities in the North move towards reconciliation? How can an understanding of some kind be achieved between the North and the South? Those, I believe, are the essential issues to which we should all direct our thoughts in considering the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Unless we move towards getting answers to those two questions, we may find that terrorism will be with us for many years to come.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, this is a vitally important question, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his introduction of this debate. I shall listen with interest to what further is said, and I hope that the Minister can reply with some optimism. I was not altogether certain what represents "a spiral of violence", and I am more familiar with the term "vicious circle". In relation to the Irish situation, this term was, unfortunately, already in use more than 60 years ago. Last week I was shown a copy of the New Statesman journal published on 14th June, 1919; that is, before the Province of Northern Ireland existed as such. I read how certain ladies at Killarney sold flags on Labour Day without permits, and how large forces of armed military and police were sent to make house arrests, and a "huge crowd" of sympathisers formed. The soldiers fixed bayonets and pushed back part of the crowd. Having stated the facts, the paper went on to comment:When one reads a story like that of the flag-selling ladies of Killarney, it is certainly not an impression of the brutality of the authorities that is made on one. It is an impression rather of the vicious circle in which the Irish situation turns".The paper concluded:In this case, evidently, Sinn Fein won both the glory and the grievance at a very small cost in suffering".Small beginnings may unfortunately lead to major confrontations.
British Governments (both Labour and Conservative) have made repeated promises that Northern Ireland may remain in the United Kingdom so long as a majority so desires it. Danny Morrison, a Sinn Fein director of information, a non-attending representative from mid-Ulster, wrote in the magazine Fortnight, published in December 1982, defending his party's support for the Provisional IRA's use of armed 570 force as the only way of achieving the goal of British withdrawal. He concludes his article with these words:Republicans cannot subscribe to constitutional politics as the sole panacea for Ireland's major ailment or as a substitute for the political effectiveness of force. For this reason, the IRA wages a guerrilla war, aimed at wearing down the will of the British Government to remain in Ireland. And there is no one and no argument that can convince Republicans that Britain, as she so often asserts, cannot eventually be broken".Tragedy lies in the use of that word, "broken". There is no suggestion of the power of reconciliation, no understanding that the British Government wish the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic well.
And so the murders go on with all the suffering and fear that they arouse. Mr. Gerry Fitt, speaking in the other place last week, referred to the knee-capping—that terrifyingly brutal torture—inflicted just recently on a young girl of only 16. How brutal, how vicious, can some people become if their aims are persistently frustrated! I regretfully concur with the view that if the British were to withdraw from Ulster, or plan to withdraw in the near future, there would be widespread bloodshed.
In an edition of the Irishman, published in America last October, the Labour MP, Clive Soley, is reported to have said:If Labour won tomorrow, the paramilitary groups on both sides would stop fighting".I am sorry, my Lords, but I think that that is pure moonshine. The noble Earl the Minister once said that, we cannot in a democracy impose a solution. He said, "They have to start sorting this difficulty out among themselves". Hence, the setting up of the Assembly, which my party supported, and the offer of "rolling devolution". We should be delighted if the Northern Irish would get on with the job.
Contrast this with the tragically mistaken view expressed in certain prejudiced papers such as the Boston Irish Echo of November 20th last year, which had the headline:Brutal British effort to hold on to one of its last Colonies".It is difficult to argue with people who really convince themselves that we want to hang on to Ulster as a colony, who are blind to the fact that our efforts are costing us British lives as well as a lot of British taxpayers' money; and who cannot accept that we are committed not to oppressing a subject race but to stabilising a volatile situation according to the wishes of the majority of the people there.
This leads me on to the next point that I wish to make. The European Parliament has decided to prepare a report on the political, economic and social problems of Northern Ireland, and this has been condemned by both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister (and from other parts of the House in the other place) as unwarrantable interference in the internal affairs of a member state. I suspect that we shall hear more of this from the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. My party, however, takes a different standpoint. I believe that such a report, fairly and impartially made out, might well help to lessen the strength of the argument that we are an obdurate colonial power. That, in turn, could weaken the flow of cash from the United States to the IRA and, consequently, weaken their position and enhance stability. As I understand it, the European Parliament has no intention of 571 instructing either the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland in their constitutional affairs. The report is aimed to help constructively rather than to criticise.
Can the noble Earl when he comes to reply remind the House of the total sum of financial aid that has passed from Europe to the people of Ulster? That might help to lessen the feeling that the European Parliament is interfering where it has no right.The Times newspaper has admitted that a successful report might well prove beneficial. Others here will probably have seen the report of an interview with Bishop Daly of Derry, again as reported in an edition of The Irishman in the USA last October. There are a number of encouraging points, such as his condemnation of the provisional IRA. He says:It is an evil organisation … The IRA have only succeeded in further dividing the Irish people".There is the frank admission:I have to say that I feel much safer walking around Belfast or Derry than I feel walking around most American cities late at night".There is the happy affirmation:I was born in the North. I have spent all my life there as priest and bishop. I love the people. I love the place".Which leaves me with a sense of unreality as to what is really going on in Northern Ireland today.
Less encouraging is the fact that in response to a direct question: "Would you care to offer some suggestions for solving Northern Ireland's miseries?", the bishop appears to have made no constructive suggestions, resting on the belief that:Within 50 years there will be a Catholic majority in the North".So we are left with the old double minority problem unresolved.
§ The Earl of Longford
May I interrupt the noble Lord? My Lords, I do not know why the noble Lord should seek support for whatever his point of view is from an interview attributed to Bishop Daly in America in October. Bishop Daly is known to many of us perfectly well, and is much admired by many of us. He comes to London quite often. Why has one got to pick out one particular article in America? From where did it reach the noble Lord?
§ Lord Hampton
It reached me, my Lords, from the Library. But it seems to me relevant to the subject that we are discussing. I refer to getting the opinions of someone who might be sympathetic to the IRA.
§ The Earl of Longford
That I must repudiate. Bishop Daly has repudiated the IRA much more effectively and much more vigorously than it will ever fall to the lot of the noble Lord to accomplish.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his intervention. So we are left with the old double minority problem unresolved: the present Catholic minority in the North and the Protestant minority in the whole of Ireland.
I here pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who works so hard for Christian unity as opposed to uniformity. He has pointed out on a number of occasions that would-be Christians are prevented from understanding and hence believing in 572 the truth of the Gospel when they read of or experience the bitter hostility of so-called Christian groups to each other in Northern Ireland. It is important at the same time that we should not forget some remarkable people who are quietly beavering away for a better way of life, often with great courage in circumstances of great distress.
In my home town we have an Anglican, a Catholic and a Baptist Church, all of whom are concerned at the troubles in Ulster. Over the weekend I read an article in our parish magazine about the work for reconciliation going on at Corrymeela. This ended with these words:And on the dark days when the warclouds gather and darkness overshadows the humanity of man and the faith even of believers is stretched almost beyond endurance, there are still the rich revealing and quiet moments when the motto of Corrymeela shines through: 'It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness'.How can we best help to light a candle? The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has mentioned the Churches. Perhaps after the debating, the politicising and the reasoning are over, we can join with the people of the whole of Ireland in praying that happier days may lie ahead. Divine intervention could succeed where human efforts fail.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, very much indeed for introducing this debate and giving us a chance to add more to our debate on Northern Ireland today than hitherto. He covered the subject very well, as did previous noble Lords who have spoken; therefore I feel that there is not very much more to say. As the hour is very late I should like simply and briefly to support two of the points which have already been brought out in this debate. The first is about the Government's policy of imprisoning Northern Irish prisoners far from home. I have never really completely understood why the Government wish particularly to penalise and punish families of prisoners. I find it difficult to understand, both from an humanitarian and also from a practical point of view.
Like other noble Lords, I am sure, I have received many letters from families with relatives imprisoned far from home on the mainland and they talk about the problems of maintaining contact, problems arising through lack of funds and through illness, through the age of certain members of the family, and all the things which prevent them from travelling very often. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has already remarked on the number of times people can visit their relatives, and it is very low. Reading these letters is indeed a heartbreaking experience. I know that this subject is also under consideration by the European Parliament, this policy of making Northern Irish prisoners serve long sentences in prisons far from their families, which really does constitute inhuman treatment. Grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers and children—all such relatives really suffer hardship as a result.
I find it also difficult to understand from a practical point of view. Surely this policy must alienate the Catholic community more and more from British policies. At the same time it must make the reintegration of the prisoner concerned into his family and his community at the end of his sentence even 573 more difficult. That has something to do with the subject of this debate, the spiral of violence.
Since this debate is concerned with the spiral of violence, I feel justified in adding a little more to what previous speakers have mentioned about that verymuch-protested-against European Community initiative to examine the economic and social situation in Northern Ireland and the internal political crisis. As I understand it, that survey, which has caused so much stir, would exclude any reference to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. I must admit to having been really amazed at the vehemence of the Prime Minister's denunciation of this initiative. I still find it difficult to understand exactly on what grounds she bases this deep displeasure, unless it could be on grounds of chauvinism, and I am sure that could not be the case.
Having accepted that membership of the European Community is unlikely to bring Britain all the economic benefits which were hoped for. I, for one, have looked for other advantages of membership. The idea that the European Community could act as a catalyst for healing internal divisions within the individual member states has always been of very great interest, to my mind. I believe that the more frameworks which exist as a means of increasing understanding, the better. Surely it must be agreed that the limited Anglo-Irish framework to create that understanding up till now has not totally succeeded.
On another point, I feel that the Government are showing inconsistency in viewing this initiative as an interference. After all, the Government certainly do not view economic intervention as interference. They welcome the grants made by the European social and regional funds with open arms, and often they have accepted them with so much pleasure that they have kept them within their own Exchequer and not treated them as additional funds. So I think the Government should accept that the European Community has every right to examine whether those funds have been applied to the best advantage.
Also I do not think that there should be any concern as to the calibre of that very serious and cautious Dane, Mr. Niels Haagerup, in whose hands the inquiry will lie. As Danish representative for the Institute of Strategic Studies and indeed as no stranger to Ulster, he will fully recognsie that the tactical success of the inquiry is very strictly limited and that although his report will concern itself with political as well as social and economic conditions, it will, as I said before, exclude an examination of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. So what is really so threatening about this initiative? The report will also serve to inform the European countries, from whom we often get very adverse publicity.
Surely, the more people in Europe who are aware of the complexities which face the British Government regarding Northern Ireland the better, not the worse, for Britain. They may even become a little more sympathetic about it. Again, the Northern Ireland Office already spends a lot of money in Europe and America to promote that awareness. So whatever the pros and cons of British membership of the Community, surely in this case the European framework could be used to remove some of the heat and to advance greater understanding and 574 reconciliation, which is what I understand this debate is all about.
Finally, it would be almost impossible to talk about such a subject without mentioning the great admiration that so many of us have for the work which the people of Northern Ireland are themselves doing towards working out their own problems in the fields of special understanding and reconciliation. As I said, I should very much like to take the opportunity of this debate to express my renewed admiration for all that they do.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, the admirable way in which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, put his Unstarred Question will, I think, arouse in us a great amount of curiosity and interest to hear the replies of my noble friend when he answers at the end of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, clearly shows a very great detailed and personal knowledge of events in Northern Ireland which one can only admire. I am sure that my noble friend will be giving very full and detailed replies to those questions.
I should also like, before I go any further, to say how much I agreed with very much of what the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, said, about the spirit of Christianity and the need for conciliation among the peoples of Northern Ireland, because this is something which politicians are very often afraid of saying. If I may say so, I admire the way in which he expressed those feelings with great sensitivity, and I am sure that they are supported by all noble Lords listening to this debate.
I should like to deal with one or two aspects which are not concerned in detail with the internal events of Northern Ireland, except to say that I think it is perfectly clear to everyone, including the IRA, that the people of Northern Ireland are not going to change their political beliefs or aspirations as a result of continued intimidation, violence and acts of terrorism. That must be made perfectly clear. On the contrary, it appears to the observer to reinforce and strengthen their determination.
The people of Northern Ireland have, after all, the right, both under a British Act of Parliament and under the United Nations Charter, to self-determination and to determine their own future. However, too many people outside the United Kingdom, and indeed many inside it, have not understood or appreciated these political realities, so in that way giving moral assistance and encouragement to terrorism.
In the United States, which has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and as is well-known to your Lordships, the considerable financial assistance given through Noraid, the public parades and the demonstrations, particularly that coming up on St. Patrick's Day, constitute in themselves a formidable encouragement for violence in Ulster. I was happy to see today that President Reagan himself—well aware of the situation in Ulster—is calling on the Irish Ambassador, and he discourages very strongly such demonstrations and financial assistance to terrorism.
575 However, perhaps some pressure could be put on the United States Government by our Government to ensure closer and tighter control of the sale and export of arms from the United States, to say nothing of declaring Noraid an illegal organisation, which it should surely be in a country which believes in peace, liberty and democracy. Indeed, information to American citizens on the true objectives of Sinn Fein would also be beneficial. I know, of course, that it is impossible for Government to be solely responsible for communication to other countries throughout the world. But I am quite certain that the vast majority of the citizens of the United States are not aware that Ulster is the last bulwark for the Republic of Ireland against becoming a socialist democratic state on the same lines as Eastern European countries. Indeed, not long ago I heard a broadcast in Italy, given by a member of Sinn Fein, spelling out exactly what were the objectives of their party: that once Ulster became part of the Republic of Ireland the whole constitution of Ireland would disappear and they would turn it into a socialist democratic state on the lines of Eastern Europe.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Baroness is far too intelligent to suppose for a moment that, whatever happened in Northern Ireland, the 26 counties of Southern Ireland would turn into an Eastern European state. If the noble Baroness is suggesting that, she is falling a long way below her usual standard of good sense.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl did not quite hear what I said, or perhaps I did not put it clearly—in which case I apologise. I am saying that the objective of Sinn Fein is to turn the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland into an Irish socialist democratic state. This they have always said, and they go on repeating it. Whatever the noble Earl may say, these are the facts, as I understand them. I am merely saying that not very long ago I happened to hear this on the radio in Italy. Whether or not the noble Earl likes to argue with me, that is what I heard and that is what Sinn Fein are saying. I am not saying that what happens in Ulster will mean that this will happen if there should be unity of Ireland. I am saying that this is the objective of Sinn Fein and that this is the objective behind terrorism in Northern Ireland.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, a phrase slipped from the lips of the noble Baroness, perhaps inadvertently. She said that something which is being done in Northern Ireland today is the last bulwark against Southern Ireland turning into an Eastern European state. How did the phrase "the last bulwark" come into it?
§ Baroness Elles
The fact that Ulster remains Ulster and part of the United Kingdom means that a unified Ireland, which some people wish to see, is protected at least from becoming a socialist democratic state under Sinn Fein. I hope I have now made myself a little clearer, if not totally clear to the noble Earl. Nevertheless, because of the kind of broadcasts which are taking place in Europe and the kind of information that is being spread in Europe—as noble Lords know 576 and as has been referred to by several speakers—there was a proposal, due to three resolutions being tabled by Irish MEPs as well as by John Hume of Northern Ireland, to discuss the question of Northern Ireland: not only the political, social and economic affairs, which have been referred to by certain noble Lords, but also a basis for negotiations between the Irish and British Governments as to the future of Northern Ireland. This is also in the resolution tabled by John Hume who demanded a formal hearing on the future of Northern Ireland.
I do not hesitate to say in this House that that is precisely why I and five colleagues from the European Democratic Group (that is, the British Conservatives) voted against a report being drawn up on the subject of Northern Ireland. It is, first, a breach of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a member state. This principle is adhered to not only by member states of the Community. It is in the United Nations Charter and applies to all member states of the United Nations. When I raised this question in the Bureau of the European Parliament, I pointed out that, if you start having formal inquiries, as proposed in these resolutions, to look into the political affairs of part of a member state of the European Community, you are opening a Pandora's box. A whole series of precedents will be created which, whether people like it or not, will create immense problems and political difficulties for Members of the European Parliament. I only have to tell your Lordships that on Friday a new resolution was tabled on the subject of the internal affairs of Greece to which the socialist group are, understandably, already objecting. This was one reason why we very strongly objected to this particular set of resolutions being the basis of a report on Northern Ireland. I should also like to add that no consideration was given to the sensitivity and resentment of the people of Northern Ireland.
Neither do I believe that anybody wants their internal affairs to be discussed in any other international forum. I quite understand that feeling and I support them. Thirdly, there is the risk we have to recognise, that—subject to what has been said, and on the basis of this report and of what has taken place in the European Parliament—it could in the end cause an escalation of support for some forms of violence and terrorism. I do not say that it will but it is a risk that I had a duty to consider, and I therefore thought it my duty to vote against such a report; and I maintain that we were right to do so.
It is worth recalling that the basis of these resolutions does not bind the rapporteur to what he will put in that report. If such a report is to be written, I have every confidence that the rapporteur—who has not yet been appointed but we hope very much it will be Mr. Niels Haagerup, a Danish Liberal—will do it with fairness, balance and impartiality, so that at the end of the day, the people of Europe will perhaps know the truth about Northern Ireland and not be subjected to the longstanding and continuing propaganda from the IRA which has filled the minds of so many people whether they wanted it to or not.
I should like to state here and now in your Lordships' House that, if this report is to be written and if there are discussions in the Political Affairs Committee, I shall consider it a dereliction of duty not 577 to take part in that discussion and give all the facts and knowledge available to me on the state of the United Kingdom for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, in order to contribute to a report that will be balanced and fair and which would put the case for the people of Northern Ireland, which otherwise would go by default. If I may be allowed as a Member of the European Parliament to use a French phrase, les absents ont toujours tort, and, if we were not there, I believe that the report would be lacking some substance.
Nevertheless, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has said, of course the European Community can contribute to certain aspects of life in Northern Ireland as it does to all parts of the European Community—all those parts of the European Community where there is economic and social instability, or where there is more poverty than in other parts of the Community. It is the duty of the Community to raise the living standards of the people of Europe and to make them more equal in terms of economic growth.
Again, last year we debated a report by a Liberal, Mrs. Martin, on regional aspects of Northern Ireland. Altogether, I understand that something like £600 million has come from the Community to Northern Ireland since our membership. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm that figure but it is something of that order—although it appears very small when compared with the £2 billion approximately which is the net transfer from this country to Northern Ireland to support its economic and social life.
Finally, I should like to ask one or two questions of my noble friend Lord Gowrie. I wonder whether he will give the view of the Government on the All Ireland Peace Forum which we understand is being set up by Doctor Garret FitzGerald? If he is setting up this peace forum, will every encouragement be given to him, since he obviously believes in the maintenance of peace in Ulster as well as in the Republic, to ratify the European convention on the suppression of terrorism and the Dublin Agreement, which has not yet been done?
Another point I should like to raise in connection with terrorism is to ask my noble friend how far there is now closer co-operation with Interpol in identifying terrorists throughout the European Community. It is quite clear that, in view of the systems being used, for 578 example, in West Germany and Italy, terrorism as such has declined very considerably over the past two or three years by the capture of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Red Brigade. It is quite remarkable that there has been a considerable decline in terrorism and I wonder whether my noble friend would be prepared to comment?
Also, I believe that no one has yet paid tribute to the courage, and the continuing courage—which is quite another matter—of our troops in Northern Ireland who daily and every night go out at the risk of their lives in order to maintain peace. This cannot be stressed too strongly. I hope that from this House there will be a strong tribute to the troops who contribute to the suppression of terrorism and to the maintenance of peace in what are undoubtedly extremely difficult conditions.
Finally, I would like to comment on the two days that I spent in Northern Ireland. Many of us who do not live there will have gone over for visits for various reasons and we all get a very rapid impression, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who went over and saw officials and so on; we all have to do this in the course of our work. Two things struck me very forcibly. One was the beauty and peace of the countryside compared with the terrible fears of intimidation and violence which one encounters when talking to officials who are having to deal with these problems. The differentiation is really and truly striking.
What was perhaps of most concern was the fear of intimidation and violence which is being bred among the chidren of Northern Ireland. Only the other day I heard a story of a young child who came over with his parents to the mainland, Great Britain, for the first time. His father left his car unlocked in a street and they went off shopping. The little boy was quite frightened: he tugged at his father, and said, "How can you leave your car; you have not locked it and there is nobody there to guard it"; and the father replied, "You forget, we are not in Northern Ireland any more". I think this brings out the horror of the effect on the minds of children, who, after all, are the next generation, that fear breeds violence and violence breeds terrorism. I am sure my noble friend will make some comment on the very great efforts being made by voluntary organisations as well as the efforts being made by Her Majesty's Government.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, whom I have not heard in this House since several years ago when she used to give me a lot of trouble when I was on the other side. I am going to follow the main point that she has been making in a moment, but I should like to say a couple of things first. Incidentally I am going to be very careful not to say anything to offend my noble friend Lord Longford, because I do not think I have ever taken part in a Northern Ireland debate without getting a letter of apology from him the next morning.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made one or two very interesting points that I want to deal with. First of all, he used a phrase which is very important as describing part of the trouble of Northern Ireland; he spoke of a sneaking or half admitted tolerance of violence. It was an interesting thing to say and it made me think. I think it is true of a large number of very good people on both sides of the House, sneaking and half admitted tolerance.
Several people have talked about the prisons, including the noble Lord who opened the debate and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. I was in post in Northern Ireland at the time of the Price sisters crisis. Noble Lords will remember that they committed a fairly violent crime; I cannot remember exactly what. They were in prison for life over here, and they went on hunger strike in order to get back to Northern Ireland. The position in the North at that time was that if my right honourable friend Mr. Roy Jenkins, who was then Home Secretary, had given way at all quickly to that, there would have been riots in Northern Ireland. So the situation is not an absolutely clear one. I do not believe that that is the situation today. But I think one must not try to force this kind of generosity on people who are responsible for law and order; one has to wait until they think it possible. The fact that NIACRO recommends this puts it in my favour. I am in favour of it because of that. I was the first speaker that it ever had 15 years ago at its first meeting. I am glad that it is holding such sensible views.
The second thing that the noble Lord said, and which is what I want to talk about, is that one must beware of arousing expectations if one is talking about a united Ireland. This is extremely important. I have said it to the Labour Party every time I have spoken in this House. To arouse such expectations is a very dangerous thing indeed to do. Three new initiatives have been reported in the newspapers in the last week or two. The first is the one that the noble Baroness and others have talked about—the MEP initiative; the second is what we call the Gowrie triad; and the third is the Fitzgerald—SDLP proposal. All these three initiatives are new. They are all in the direction of a united Ireland, or at least slight steps in that direction. The noble Lord shakes his head, but we will deal with that later if we have time. All I am saying is that they all want to be watched very carefully. On the whole I am in favour of all three.
580 I differ from the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, about MEP initiative. It has come about the wrong way. I should have liked us to do what my right honourable friend David Owen suggested two years ago: approach the EEC and see whether it could give us useful advice. In making that suggestion he said:It would be easier for both Governments to think afresh within the wider context of the EEC, but neither Government would have to give up any of their sovereignty or independence. There are no votes if there is no agreement.I would have totally supported that. It seems to me that the present situation is rather more difficult, because it is, in a sense, rather out of line for the EEC to approach us in this way. But, as it has done so, in general I would give it as much information as I could, simply because I believe our case is cast iron when one really looks at it. One cannot do much more than the British Government, through the noble Earl and his colleagues, are trying to do at the moment. If one tried to do much more one would probably make things worse.
The second is the Gowrie initiative which the noble Earl suggests is nothing to do with Northern Ireland. I agree with him and it should certainly not have anything to do with the constitution. But, of course, the harder side of the Protestant world will take a lot of convincing that that is the case. There is so much to discuss about extradition, about crime this side of the Border and on that side of the Border, about the regular smuggling of cattle and sheep, and so on, that there ought to be far more tri-party discussion, and I am fully in favour of that. But I warn the noble Earl that, whatever he says, certain people will not believe that he is not selling the past. That is the awkwardness of his particular position.
The third is the Garret Fitzgerald—SDLP initiative. Dr Fitzgerald is probably the most hopeful man we shall ever have as Taoiseach. I think he is first-class and that he does not wish to do anything which is in any way even awkward for the Protestant majority. He wants to obtain a better arrangement. Although the Protestants may say that they cannot even discuss this, it is not a bad thing to clarify what one will not even discuss. It seems to me that if Dr Fitzgerald, with his colleagues, and the SDLP, with John Hume and the rest of them, decide on the best possible terms that they could offer if the situation ever arose, then at least the Reverend Paisley and others would know what they are prepared to discuss, which at the moment they simply do not. I am in favour of all these three initiatives, but it is very important not to raise false hopes, as the noble Lord said.
I am glad to see that my old friend Gerry Fitt has been quoted by two or three speakers. I want to quote him again, naturally in paraphrase. He said the day before yesterday, I think, that no EEC or other Army would be as acceptable on the Northern Ireland streets as the British. That is rather nice. The second thing that he said was that, in spite of anything that Mr. Ken Livingstone may say, Sinn Fein has no policy to attack unemployment. In association with the IRA, its policy is to destroy jobs with bombs.
581 The absolute barrenness of the Sinn Fein and IRA approach is shown by their very hatred. If they want the troops out they have only to go away themselves and the troops will be out tomorrow. If this happened they would be no nearer a United Socialist Ireland—this was the point that the noble Baroness was making: the North will not have unity and the South will not have Socialism. So really all this is about nothing, and that is the tragic thing. But it must be a good thing for outsiders to understand this—to understand that we do not want to cling on to our hold on the North but that we certainly will not abandon those British citizens who live there. In fact if we did abandon them, which is unthinkable, they would fight and almost certainly win unless there was foreign intervention. My instinct is to let any delegation from the European Parliament see everything that they want to see and talk to everyone they want to talk to. The truth is nothing to be ashamed of.
I have supported a bipartisan policy for the last 10 years and I support it still. I think that it is very important that we should support the efforts which the Government are making to make the Assembly work, with all its great difficulties. The future peace, which I believe is not within two generations' sight, in my opinion can come only through some form of power sharing. The first attempt at power sharing at Sunningdale was wrecked by the hard Protestants. The second attempt, which is the Assembly now, has really been spoilt by the SDLP refusing to take part. I think that the Government have to go on trying. I do not think that there is anything else that they can do. I think that what they are doing is something which they need not be ashamed of. The more people who understand it fully the better.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I would take this opportunity in the debate to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his continuing and thoughtful interest in Irish affairs. I also wish to express my appreciation of his introduction of this debate. I welcome and support the speech of my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Underhill, who dealt in some detail with the practical political and social problems in connection with Northern Ireland and violence.
It is my opinion that the debate has indicated forcefully that there can be no simple solution to the problems of on-going violence in the Province. One reason for this is that there is no common agreement on the root cause of the problem. It is often overlooked that if Ireland were to be united tomorrow, or indeed if Northern Ireland became a separate political entity, the violence would not be halted because the terrorists' aims and methods are in direct conflict with the basic constitutional principles of parliamentary democracy as we know it in these islands. North and South in the United Kingdom as a whole will suffer from any upturn or any giving way to the methods of the terrorists.
Appeals to the conscience of the terrorists fail because they operate within an inexplicable standard of morality and inhuman disregard for life itself. In 582 this respect I would wish to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, in her commendations of the dedication and the continuing work of the security forces and especially of the steadfastness of their families. They are continually working under terrible circumstances.
The people of Northern Ireland must themselves discover such a hatred of violence and of those who perpetrate such bad deeds that they will be isolated or, indeed, may perhaps see the error of their ways and turn with the same vigour to promote the ways of peace. The more we hate violence, the more we must have a personal and a community will to work together for conciliation, if not agreement—the will of individuals and of the community to undertake practical approaches towards conciliation and compassionate caring, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, outlined in his speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and other noble Peers in the House will know of the quiet efforts towards bridge building across the community divide that is continuing in Northern Ireland. I warmly welcome the support for the efforts expressed by noble Lords and especially by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. These are not the kind of efforts and issues that have made the headlines. Indeed, perhaps it is best that these efforts are not given headlines.
§ 10.11 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has addressed to the Government today the question of how to end the "spiral of violence", as he calls it, in Northern Ireland. He has at the same time raised a number of specific points—and other noble Lords have taken up some of these and sometimes added to them— which relate to various aspects of the Government's policy in the Province. I will deal with these specific points in just one moment.
At the beginning, perhaps I may say that, while I am at one with the noble Lord on the need to reduce violence and at one with all noble Lords who have spoken in praise of the way in which the noble Lord made his points, I part company with him only on one thing, and only just a little, and that is on the use of the term "spiral".
I should like to make it clear to the noble Lord that I do not believe that, in the ordinary definition, violence in Northern Ireland is exactly spiralling. Figures on violence in a situation like that in Northern Ireland, must, of course, be used with the very greatest care. Behind any given figure lie tragedy and heartache for some, whatever the precise nature of the incident. Each figure reminds us forcibly of the callous disregard of men of violence for others.
As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, wisely reminded us, one murder or one injury is one too many. But I do not think that we need be guilty of lack of sympathy or feeling if occasionally we take the opportunity to look at the figures as dispassionately as we can. These show us that since the dreadful years of the early 1970s violence has indeed fallen and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for making that point. Violence has not gone down smoothly, but it has gone down. For instance, last year saw 97 deaths as a result of terrorist incidents, which was fewer than the year 583 before—1981—or 1979, although it was slightly higher than 1978 and 1980. Last year's figures of injuries and shooting incidents were the lowest ever. As a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, I am, of course, among the first to appreciate that violence remains a dominating element in the lives and thinking of many in Northern Ireland. As Finance Minister and also as Minister with responsibility for police and prison matters, I am acutely aware of the damaging cost.
So one should never be complacent, and I certainly am not in a position to be complacent or to underestimate the impact of suffering on individuals and on the community as a whole. But I think that we may mislead ourselves and others if we think that we are in a ever-worsening situation, which is what I would take to be a spiralling situation. We are not, and we must not base our approach to other matters in the belief that we are, not least because that would be to denigrate the sterling efforts of the security forces, to whom my noble friend Lady Elles and others paid tribute.
As the House will be aware, successive Governments in recent years have based their security policy on just one principle—that of the primacy of the rule of law. Violent crime in pursuit of political aims is not qualitatively or morally different from any other violent crime. War is of course indeed horrible wherever or whenever it occurs, but wars can only be conducted by states, they cannot be waged by individuals or organisations. Violence by individuals is crime, and the same standards of evidence apply to prosecution. If convicted, perpetrators serve their sentences in the same way. The simple issue in a democracy is that all are subject to the same laws and the same constraints, and all are treated accordingly.
The police are, of course, in the front line in the enforcement of law, but they are also themselves subject to laws. In the last 10 years the number of police in the Province has risen from about 4,000 to over 12,000. The army are engaged in security duties in the Province in support of the police, and only in their support. At the end of last year 10,000 or so troops were in the Province. Of course, that is still too many, but it is less than half the number who were there only 10 years before. Once more I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for underscoring that fact.
It is important to recognise that this approach is a matter on which we are all ecumenical, on which all the major parties are agreed. I do not believe that it requires much justification. It seems to me that it is up to those who would take a different approach, and use unfamiliar measures, who need to justify themselves and those measures. I would draw your Lordships' attention to an excellent article by Mr Stan Gebler Davies in today's Daily Telegraph and to the view reinforced here this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, that any precipitate withdrawal by British troops would lead to violence on a terrifying scale compared with that which we have known.
Within the approach I have outlined, the Government of course use all the vigour they can to support the enforcement of the law. For instance, we announced last November that additional resources 584 were being made available for an increase of 800 in the strength of the RUC and the full-time reserve. And, again without suggesting any element of complacency, there have been successes. Last year 686 people were charged with offences of the terrorist type (including 50 of murder and 96 of attempted murder). Last year 709 people were convicted of such offences. In the same period more than 300 firearms and nearly 4,500 rounds of ammunition and over 5,000 pounds of explosives were safely recovered by the security forces.
We have concentrated today on violence, but I emphasise to the noble Lord, and indeed with the noble Lord, that violence in Northern Ireland cannot be satisfactorily considered in isolation. The Government do not pretend that the enforcement of the law on its own can end terrorism. Nor is the ending of terrorism our sole goal, vital though it is. The scene is wider than that, and the search for answers has to go deeper. All the various aspects of Northern Ireland affairs—the political instability we have witnessed in recent years, the violence and the economic decline, affect each other.
The Government are firmly committed to the policy they have embarked on. We want, as the House knows, to encourage the people of Northern Ireland themselves, through their elected representatives in the first place, to seek accommodations and ways of working together which will allow the whole community to move forward constructively.
This policy is based on a number of principles. No detailed blueprint designed to encourage or embody political movement can be imposed from London. Nor can things be done against an unrealistic London or British electoral timescale which allows people in Northern Ireland insufficient time to try to find ways of starting to come to grips with the difficulties of their special situation. We also believe there must be full recognition of the roots and significance of the two historic traditions in Northern Ireland. They are a fact, not an invention, and they must be recognised as such. The movement we are seeking to generate must thus come from within the historical context of Northern Ireland and must reflect the true nature of society there.
In the first instance, constructive local political activity, rather than sloganising, has to be encouraged, however slowly or painfully, and there are clear signs that in this respect the Assembly is having an impact. Its six committees concerned with the work of the Northern Ireland departments are hard at work. They are doing the things that people in Northern Ireland want their representatives to do, examining local issues and seeking to advance the interests of the Province. Their work shows a deep common concern for the well-being of the people in the Province.
The task now— and it is an inordinately difficult one, but the difficulties in Northern Ireland have been a long time in the making and they will be a long time in the solving—is to translate this kind of work into an effort to tackle the deeper-seated political problems which beset Northern Ireland, so that, in the longer term, a lasting stability can be achieved, and I am delighted to pay tribute to the work of individuals and voluntary bodies, not simply the work of politicians, as my noble friend Lady Elles encouraged me to do.
585 The Government have often said that answers to Northern Ireland's difficulties must come principally from the people of Northern Ireland. They are committed to the view that there can be no change to the general constitutional position of the Province as part of the United Kingdom, save with the consent of the majority of the people. But equally, you cannot make progress towards political stability by pretending that the interest of the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland affairs simply does not exist. The Republic is the focus of the aspirations, and indeed the loyalty, of many, perhaps most, of the minority community. It therefore has an interest unique among foreign Governments in the affairs of a substantial part of the population of Northern Ireland.
I am able to tell my noble friend Lady Elles that it is no surprise that the legitimate constitutional Nationalist political party in Northern Ireland is proposing to confer with the political parties who support them in the South, and of course they now have, as a result of our policy, the electoral authority to do so. I hope, however, that as they confer they will not fail to recognise that the primary loyalty of Unionists is to the Crown and to being administered by the Crown in Parliament. I do not see that changing, just as I do not see the fundamental allegiance of Nationalists changing, and I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, with his experience of Northern Ireland, said on that. The attempt to recognise the permanent feature of these two identities, loyalties and allegiances is what I mean by triangularity, and what I mean by triangularity is not a new initiative but is inherent in the Government's White Paper, our principal policy document.
Then, of course, the people of the Republic have a unique association not just with Northern Ireland but with this country, Great Britain. No other country has exchanged populations with us in the same way over such a long time. Our history and demography are inextricably linked. It is, in my view, a wholly blinkered view not to recognise this interest of the Republic and the strength of the connection—and of course the physical fact of the border cannot be ignored, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, drew our attention to that.
So our policy is to encourage political movement within Northern Ireland because stability, security and the economy depend on it. Of course, it is one thing to encourage this movement; it is quite another to see it achieved. As I have often said, it will take a long time. We are at present facing the undoubted setback of the abstention of the SDLP from the internal deliberations of the Assembly. I believe that this is unfortunate for the Province as a whole, as I think it is inimical to the long-term interests of the Nationalist community. It should be no surprise to the SDLP that in the same dog-in-the-manger spirit (if I may put it that way) it seems likely that Unionist Assembly members will boycott any conference with parties in the South.
However, I am glad to be able to say that as the major constitutional nationalist party, the SDLP resisted pressure to abstain from the elections, and as a Government we treat its representatives as having the full authority of elected positions. We have always 586 emphasised the need for legitimate electoral authority, which we recognise that it now plans to use, as it is wholly its right to use, in the course of its forthcoming deliberations with parties in the Republic.
The Government make no pretence to have found solutions. Indeed, I believe that in this context the word "solution" is misconceived, as the Unionist and Nationalist positions are impossible formally to reconcile one with another. What the Government are seeking to produce is a framework within which not solutions, but accommodations, can be made and understandings advanced between two communities, neither of which proposes to change its position in the foreseeable future. They are accommodations within which the people of Northern Ireland can start to find ways out of the tragic impasse in which they have existed for so long.
Against this background of the need for general political movement and accommodations, I should like quickly to turn to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and others who spoke in the debate, put to me. The noble Lord started by mentioning discrimination in the public sector, including the Civil Service. We are totally committed to equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, and we have supported the development of safeguards and remedies against discrimination in employment on religious or political grounds, whether that is in the public or the private sector. The Fair Employment Agency is currently conducting an investigation into the religious composition of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and I certainly look forward to seeing its report in due course. A small number of additional posts have been authorised in principle to enable the staffing of the Fair Employment Agency to be improved and to expand its activities, and discussions continue to determine the precise nature and grading of these posts.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, kindly said that he did not expect me to trespass into the field of my noble and learned field the Lord Chancellor on the question of coroners' inquests, and I understand that my noble and learned friend has written to the noble Lord. However, on the issue of delays in the holding of inquests in Northern Ireland, the noble Lord will I think recognise the need for the possibility of criminal proceedings to be fully examined before an inquest hearing, and in the Province such investigations can be long and complex. I would remind the noble Lord that often delays are a result of requests by the defence, for instance, for an opportunity to gain information.
On the issue of joyriding, the Department of Health and Social Services and the Northern Ireland Office are together funding two experimental projects in West Belfast, which are run by a voluntary organisation, and which seek to divert young people from joyriding and to encourage a more responsible attitude towards the use of cars and motorcycles. I cannot yet say how effective this will be, but we are certainly trying. I would point out that in Northern Ireland the current rate of car theft and taking cars without consent is, proportionately, a third less than it is in England and Wales. Nevertheless, it is a serious problem, and we take it seriously.
587 On the issue of the flags and emblems, the Flags and Emblems Display Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 makes it an offence to interfere with the display of the Union flag and confers on a police officer the power to remove any emblem or flag if he believes that its display is likely to cause a breach of the peace. The Act does not make illegal the flying of the Irish Tricolour. It is used solely and infrequently to enable the RUC to take action to prevent a breach of the peace. I am aware that the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights have several times recommended that the Act should be repealed. I am, as I have to be, also aware of the strength of conflicting feeling on this issue on both sides of the community. I will keep the use of, and the need for, the Act under close review.
In relation to the transfer of prisoners between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of course, I am sharply aware, as Prison Minister there, of the difficulties and hardships that are faced in Northern Ireland by families of prisoners serving sentences—in many cases, very long sentences—in Great Britain. Any prison administration tries to take into account the convenience of visiting for the families. These considerations are the reason why we have, in the relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, arrangements under which prisoners may be transferred from one country to another within the United Kingdom to serve their sentences. All applications by prisoners in Great Britain for permanent transfer to Northern Ireland are considered on their own facts and merits; and our general approach to Northern Ireland is to accept prisoners who are normally domiciled in the Province and whom the Home Secretary is disposed to transfer. Sixteen prisoners have been transferred to Northern Ireland since 1973.
But the Northern Ireland Office is not, in general, prepared to accept prisoners whose current behaviour and attitude, taken with their history and background, suggest that they could not be relied on to co-operate fully with the normal prison régime. It has been our painful experience over a long period that prisoners who have not formally severed their links with paramilitary organisations tend to operate in cohesive groups in prison and are unwilling to accept the constraints of ordinary prison routine, however advanced and enlightened that routine may be. But again these are issues that we shall have to continue to keep under review, and I will bring the points made to the attention of my noble friend Lord Elton. I think the House will recognise that this issue is primarily one where the responsibilities are with the Home Office.
On the subject of assistance with the cost of visits, assistance is provided to prisoners' wives and other close relatives who receive supplementary benefits or whose part-time earnings are close to the supplementary benefits qualifying limit. This assistance normally comprises the full cost of visiting once a month by public transport and, where required, a payment in respect of bed and breakfast. But I do recognise, as I have said, the hardships which can be involved and I would like to use my efforts and energies to improve them if I can.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke about police projects with young people. The difficulty in Northern 588 Ireland about cross-community activities, as he knows, is the issue of geography; the communities are fiercely segregated geographically. Therefore, how much cross-community activity there is depends rather upon area; but I understand that the police are very keen to foster it and will go on seeking to do so.
The meeting with Mr. Barry was just that. A new Administration came into being in the Republic. Neither the Secretary of State nor myself knew Mr. Barry. We sought to do so, we had an agreeable and fruitful meeting, enjoyed his company and I hope that he enjoyed ours. I certainly believe that these meetings should be as overt and above board as possible and I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Donaldson, that we cannot be too careful in raising expectations. I myself do not have a breath of criticism for the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, from his Front Bench this afternoon, but I rather wish that his sensitivity was echoed in the Front Bench of another place more frequently.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and my noble friend Lady Elles raised the vexed question of the European Parliament's self-designated interest in the affairs of the Province. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, talked about the vehemence of the Prime Minister's reaction. Perhaps I can give my own reaction. I would ask the House to accept that I am quoting myself because this is from an interview in a newspaper. And perhaps the House will further accept that I made this reaction before I knew about the vehemence of my right honourable friend's reaction. In response to an interviewer's question I said that I thought it a retrogressive move of the parliament and I continued:Those of us, like myself, who are very much in favour of the Community, and the participation of Britain and, indeed, the Republic in the Community, do find our advocacy of the Community made very difficult if people are not clearer about the nature of the Community and its ground rules. Rightly or wrongly, it is not a Community of Monnets. It is a Community much nearer the ideas of De Gaulle, who was certainly the dominating figure in Europe, politically, during its formative years. It is a Community of national sovereignties, not a body which exists to try and create one Continental Sovereignty. It is not, as it were, the USA 150 years ago. In my view, the realities of European life and history are such that it will indefinitely retain that character. Therefore, when a useful and valuable body dealing with Community matters, scrutinising the budgets and the work of the Commission, starts floundering around in matters of great sensitivity and difficulty within the sovereignties in question, I think it puts progress right back. I would think that this present exercise, particularly at this sensitive moment when we want to improve Anglo-Irish relations and see the development of Northern Ireland politics, is disturbing the chance of progress for Northern Ireland, of the very kind which most of the people in the European Parliament want to see.We have made our position quite clear. I hope that we can make it clear in as favourable a way as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, asked me what aid the Province had received from European Community funds. From the time we joined until the end of last year Northern Ireland received £120 million from the European social fund; £78 million from the European regional funds; and £30 million from the guidance section of the European agricultural fund, making a total of £228 million.
My noble friend Lady Elles talked about the importance of the Government's views and indeed the views of men in the Province being put across in 589 America. I have visited America, as have all my colleagues. I shall be visiting again very shortly indeed. If I may dare stray into the controversy between my noble friend Lady Elles and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, my fellow Anglo-Irish Peer if I may associate myself with him in that way, Sinn Fein does indeed attack the Dublin Government in terms no less virulent than the terms in which they attack the Westminster Government. As a regular reader of their newspaper, I can indeed confirm what my noble friend said there.
The reactions of a number of leading people in the United States to this year's St. Patrick's Day parade is I believe a welcome indication of a growing understanding in that country of the true nature of terrorism and those who support it. It is again the aim of the Government to encourage that understanding. I must add also that the Irish Government have been at the forefront of making this understanding known and achievable in the United States.
I think my noble friend will understand if I do not wish to comment on operational security matters, INTERPOL and the like. But as police Minister, I take the European experience in counter-terrorist activity very seriously and I know from the RUC that both they and the Garda Siochana do so as well.
In sum, as I said earlier, the need for the political recognition of the two identities is paramount if there is to be any prospect of achieving lasting stability. It is against that wider background that I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to judge the Question before us today. We have to direct our attention to ways in which the kind of accommodations can be promoted. The spiral that Northern Ireland is faced with is not, it seems to me, one of ever-increasing violence but one of political intransigence feeding on terrorism, terrorism feeding on economic decline and each on the other. That is the spiral from which we all want to break loose. The Government believe that the framework they have established provides all the people of Northern Ireland with a chance at least to escape from the prison of their history.