I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
While there may be occasions when emotional oratory and histrionics may be appropriate, the subject that we are discussing today—the current situation in Northern Ireland—is not the occasion, in my view, for such dangerous exercises. The views involved are much too grave. Indeed, since this emergency debate was granted by you, Mr. Speaker, yesterday, there have been two further explosions in Belfast. Both properties damaged are located in my constituency.
Frequently reference is made in this House to the effect which our words may have on the general public. Often the effect is at best minimal, but there are exceptions, and so far as Northern Ireland is concerned real attention will be paid to our deliberations here this afternoon. Make absolutely no mistake on that score. It is, therefore, incumbent upon every hon. Member who participates in this debate to show the utmost restraint and moderation of tone and great importance will be attached to the words from the Government Front Bench later in the debate. In anticipation of their contribution, may I thank them very much for being here.
It would be a great mistake for anyone to dismiss the street violence of recent days as being merely the actions of a youthful hooligan element. While these young persons have been the activists—and it is worth noting that one of those arrested did not come from Belfast not even from Northern Ireland, but from County Longford, in the middle of the Irish Republic—nevertheless, it is the figures in the background who are manœuvring, manipulating, inflaming and encouraging these hooligans, who must be winkled out.
Until this is done there can be no real grounds for optimism of the restoration of peace in the Province. It is the stock-in-trade of the anarchist revolutionary to give the screw another vicious twist at periodic intervals just when temperatures appear to be cooling and each turn of the screw brings closer the attainment of breaking point. This is the pattern which would appear to be currently and tragically developing in Northern Ireland.
General Freeland, the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, in his Press conference in Belfast, on Friday last, rightly pointed to the existence of sinister elements at work in Northern Ireland and his views expressed on that occasion were very forcibly underscored by a feature article which appear in The Times today, which I am sure has been read by many hon. Members. It is a sobering assessment and it states:
Our investigations in Belfast suggest a pattern of deliberate intent behind last week's rioting in the Roman Catholic estate of Ballymurphy and the chain of bomb explosions that has followed.… Our inquiry showed that the initiative has been seized by a group representing the rejuvenated old guard of the Irish Republican Army. They believe that their traditional objective of securing a united Ireland through the destruction of the Protestant dominated North has gained a new credibility in the climate of violence created by the rioting last summer. They are eager to cash in on it.
So said The Times and to further its aim it is admitted in that article by a spokesman for the I.R.A. that it supports the Civil Rights Movement on the ground that for physical force to succeed it is necessary first to engage in social agitation and that this would be followed by physical force.
Even Mr. Edward McAteer, the Nationalist leader, acknowledges the I.R.A.'s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Against this background, it ill behoves those hon. Members who, during our deliberations before Christmas on the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill, claimed, as they did, that there was no need for the new regiment and that the spectre of the I.R.A. was a figment of Unionist imagination. I hope that they will now have the good grace to recognise that they misread the situation.
I shall certainly quote from page 10, c. 5, of The Times, which states:
Mr. Edward McAteer, the veteran Nationalist leader, told us that the civil rights movement had been eclipsed by rekindled republicanism.
That, in the context of the whole tone of the article of the rejuvenated I.R.A., leads one only to the conclusion of the analogy I have sought to show. I have done so in good faith believing that article to be a fair comment; and the interpretation aspect is equally fair. If I have inadvertently appeared to put words in his mouth which should not reasonably have been done, I am certainly prepared to withdraw them, but I do not think that in the context in which they appeared my interpretation is necessarily unfair.
Another point—and I do not wish to belabour this question of the extent to which the Civil Rights Movement has been infiltrated by political outsiders—it is only fair to draw attention to the comment of Mrs. Edwina Stewart, a vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Communist Party, who, at that party's recent conference, said that it was important that Communist Party members continued to play a leading rôle in the Civil Rights Movement.
A feature of recent debates on Northern Ireland in this House has been a tendency to engage in a series of recriminations. I hope, that today's debate will mark a departure from this sterile form of argument. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] If this House has a genuine concern for Northern Ireland, as I believe it has, then I hope that that concern will be manifest in constructive comment.
I wonder whether I may seek to anticipate a point which I am fairly sure will be raised by hon. Members opposite—the idea which I know has been put forward both by the Press and television in recent days, that if there was a complete ban on processions for a lengthy period then this would have a defusing effect on the current tension. I do not think that there is any validity in that argument. For very many years parades at certain specified times of the year have been a traditional feature of Ulster life.
These parades have almost without exception passed off without any untoward incident. I feel, therefore, that this Easter could have been no exception had certain elements not decided to exploit the occasion for fermenting trouble—for turning the screw of tension a little tighter. Where there is a determination to cause trouble, an excuse can easily be found and to ban parades would be merely an opiate of illusion.
Now I turn to the Army's activities in Northern Ireland. It would be easy to comment adversely on the conduct on certain occasions of some of the soldiers in Belfast in the months since last August. It would be easy to criticise some of the seemingly strange negotiating procedures which were adopted particularly in No-go land in Belfast, but whatever the recrimination in which one could indulge that does not obscure two facts of which we must never lose sight—we must focus attention on the present and the future and not on the past and, over-riding all else, we must realise and acknowledge that the presence of the Army has prevented a possible holocaust for which we must be and are deeply grateful.
The Army units in Ulster have found themselves in a very unenviable situation for which they could not have been expected to be fully prepared. Internal security is not a rôle normally associated with the Army. It is of paramount importance that the Army be seen to be utterly impartial. Visible impartiality is absolutely vital in the present mood in Ulster and I was glad that last night on television the G.O.C. stated that good sense will prevail only if the Army is very strong on the ground and shows an absolute determination to keep the peace. I trust that the G.O.C. will have no hesitation in clothing his words with action should the occasion warrant which every hon. Member most earnestly prays that the occasion would not arise.
I trust that the kid-glove approach is now something of the past—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Likewise, I believe that the attitude of mind which can be summarised by, "If you do not like us, we will leave", an attitude which gained momentum last night with the G.O.C.'s statement again on television that the Army "may not stay long enough or be allowed to stay long enough", must be replaced.
Of course I would. I think that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) has misunderstood me. I am referring to the kid-glove approach only in the context of the Army. If I did not make that clear, I hope that I have made it clear now.
I was referring to the attitude reflected in the statement last night by the G.O.C. that the Army may not stay long enough, or be allowed to stay long enough, and I suggest that this must be replaced in this debate by a clear-cut and unequivocal commitment that the Army will stay in sufficient strength for as long as may be required. Anything else is an open encouragement to extremists to increase the pressure.
The Army is not in Ulster on a grace and favour basis. It is there because Ulster is part of the United Kingdom and it is operating in an emergency situation. The Army—of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—should be doing its utmost to restore peaceful conditions. Let there be an immediate rebuttal of the kind of dark hint which can fairly be stated as having been contained in General Freeland's statement last right.
I thought not. I suggest that he might choose to adjust what he has to say, which will be fully reported, in the light of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today, in response to a question from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, gave an explicit assurance that troops will stay there in sufficient numbers as long as they are required to do the job.
I am indebted to the Home Secretary for his assurance. I was on the interview floor, writing that passage of my speech at about ten minutes to three. I am indebted to him for clarifying the point in clear and unmistakable language.
Quite apart from the violence, the effect on the economy of Northern Ireland of recent events is bound to be adverse and the full impact will not be felt for some years. Suffice it to say that the effect on the developing tourist trade, which is worth nearly £30 million annually to the economy, has undoubtedly been severe. This is nothing short of tragic. There is likewise the effect of recent events, and the publicity which has flowed from them, on industrial development, which is bound also to be adverse. Again, I do not think that the impact will be felt for some time.
Another casualty has been community relations, which were improving and which undoubtedly have received a substantial setback during recent months. By whatever yardstick of measurement, therefore, which one uses, be it economic, social, community, or anything else, there is no doubt that a very dear price has been paid in Ulster for the events of recent months.
It is noteworthy that in today's Daily Telegraph, Professor Sidney Hook, Professor of Philosophy at New York University, is quoted as saying:
Whoever anticipates that violence will strengthen the influence of moderates and expedite reform is taking a foolish risk, a criminally irresponsible risk… It narrows the options, destroys the centre and polarises the community into extremes.
A great deal has been said in this House and written in the Press about the fears of the minority in Northern Ireland, but, make no mistake about it, the Protestant majority also has genuine fears which must be realised and understood, For the past 50 years, both communities have shared in the economic progress which has been made—a progress which, in my view, would not have been made if Northern Ireland had been part of the Republic of Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not true."] It is hard economic fact. It is not a belief which can be destroyed by propaganda.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point slightly differently and use percentages which may work out at the same figure, which is 20 per cent.
Wage levels are about 20 per cent. lower in Ulster than on this side of the water, but so is the cost of living, broadly speaking, bearing in mind the very high number of low-rent tenancies. It is generally accepted that, while wage levels are lower by 20 per cent., so is the cost of living—and I cite as authority for this statement information given to me by the last Minister of Pensions and National Insurance in this House.
The reaction a moment or two ago when I made the point about the developing economy and the participation in it of all citizens showed a less than unanimous approval, but those who are so ready to jump on the bandwaggon of criticism should study the facts more closely before jumping to their erroneous conclusions.
In the final analysis, it is the people of Northern Ireland themselves who must determine their own destiny. Any solution which is forced upon them will be vigorously resisted. This is one of the facts of life in Northern Ireland and, indeed, in Ireland as a whole. But, having said that, I do not think that this invalidates the right, to which I feel the Northern Ireland Government are entitled, to have more than the somewhat half-hearted support which has on occasions emanated from this House.
The Northern Ireland Government's legislative programme has had the approval of the Government at Westminster. Surely it is not unreasonable to express the feeling—as I do, because I feel it so deeply—that the Northern Ireland Government are entitled to very much fuller backing from the House than they have perhaps received even in the recent past.
I am not seeking either now, or, I hope, at any stage of the debate, to inflame passions, but some of the unwarranted references made at Question Time recently in this House to the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and, therefore, to the Northern Ireland Government, have been very unhelpful. Party politics is fine in its proper context, but the present situation in Northern Ireland is not the time for some of the comments which have been made across the Floor of the House.
In fairness to members of the Labour and Liberal Party in this House, would not the hon. Gentleman confirm that it was not from either of these two quarters that Captain O'Neill was dismissed?
I do not think that that is a relevant point, because if the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) had allowed me to go on he would have learnt something from the next sentence of my speech.
The legislative programme of the Northern Ireland Government in the winter of 1968–69, which was in the time of Captain O'Neill, is now all on the Statute Book at Stormont. The policies of Captain O'Neill are the policies of the Northern Ireland Government of today and not just of yesterday, when he was in charge. Therefore, the Northern Ireland Government have done by means of legislation all that could reasonably be expected of any Government.
There is, however, a limit to what legislation can do. There must be good will in the community for legislation truly to be implemented and that good will at present is a precious commodity in Northern Ireland. It certainly is not assisted by the sort of reported comment which appeared in the Press over Easter, apparently made by Mr. John Hume, Stormont Member for the Foyle Division of Londonderry, when he referred to the flying of the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, on a police station in Londonderry as a provocative act.
We hear a great deal about British standards in Ulster—economic prosperity, social justice, etc. I, as a Unionist, believe in those standards. But British standards also mean acceptance of the flag and constitution of the United Kingdom, and herein lies a factor which many of the vociferous members of the minority in Northern Ireland refuse to accept.
I point out one single fact to the hon. Gentleman. There are particular days on which the Union Jack is flown in Great Britain. On Easter Day, the Union Jack is not flown in any other part of the United Kingdom than Northern Ireland. That is what was taken as a provocation by people in Northern Ireland.
As far as I know there is no rule which determines on which day a flag shall or shall not be flown on public buildings in the United Kingdom. There really can be no halfway house. Either there are British standards right across the board, with everything that that means, or else the talk of British standards is meaningless.
At this critical moment in Ulster's history some appear to be seeking to tear down the very foundations of all the effort and enterprise that has gone into building up that country over the past 50 years. The preservation of Northern Ireland, its very existence, depends upon the isolation of violence and the restoration of law and order on the streets of Northern Ireland.
I had hoped that this debate would take place with the intention of relieving a potentially very dangerous situation in Northern Ireland. Indeed, we were told so in the corridors. But after hearing the highly provocative speech by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) I fear this may not be so.
I hope to point out quite a few inaccuracies made by the hon. Member. First, the note on which he finished, where he said that it was regarded as a provocation in certain parts of Northern Ireland for the Union Jack to be flown. That is so. I quite agree with it. But the Union Jack in Northern Ireland is not the flag of the United Kingdom; it is the party political rag of the hon. Gentleman's party. That is why there is such distaste against the flag being flown.
Perhaps hon. Members opposite have a twinge of conscience about it, because they know in their heart of hearts that what I have said is true. The Union Jack in Northern Ireland is not the flag of the United Kingdom, but it has been dragged in the gutter and sullied by Unionist party politics.
This debate is ostensibly about the present situation in Ulster, what happened over the Easter period, and the deterioration in the situation. I submit that we cannot discuss happenings over the past week in isolation from Ireland's past troubled history. It would be generally conceded—and this is no reflection on the present Government, for whom I have the greatest admiration—that over four or five centuries of Irish history the British Government have divided the Irish people, and that those divisions have been carried out at the point of a gun. Now, in 1970, we are being told that they should unite, again at the point of a gun.
Is it any wonder that we have in Northern Ireland today a confused, frustrated, bewildered and, particularly, a fearful community, because of the past actions of successive British Governments that so successfully divided the Irish people and eventually divided the Irish nation? That is why there is so much confusion in Ireland today and why the troubles in Northern Ireland last week had their basis in what happened in past centuries.
Members of the Unionist Party would try to claim no responsibility for the present situation in Northern Ireland. They have said their policies have brought about progress, economic development, that the whole community in Northern Ireland has enjoyed the economic development that has taken place in Northern Ireland over the past 20 to 30 years. Does the hon. Member for Belfast, South or any other hon. Gentleman on the opposite side of the House really believe this?
Has Derry, with a 25 per cent. unemployment figure, has Strabane, with a 29 per cent., has Newry with 17 per cent., and has Ballymurphy—the estate that caused such trouble last week and where a recent poll revealed that 47 per cent. of the male persons were unemployed—have any of them shared in the economic development in Northern Ireland? These are the reasons why there is such discontent.
I believe that the hon Member for Belfast, South should be honest and should tell the House. Unless this House fully understands, unless the British people fully understand and, particularly from my point of view, unless the trade union movement and the British working class fully understand, what is happening in Ireland, there can be no solution to the present problems.
Limited as we may be by the three hours of this debate, I hope that at its conclusion there will be a further realisation of what has brought about the present tensions in Northern Ireland. Over the Easter period I was hopeful that there would be no further escalation of violence in Northern Ireland. A series of marches took place in Northern Ireland over the Easter period which were deliberately intended and calculated to inflame sectarian passions.
All over Northern Ireland Orange parades were taking place. It takes an Irish man to understand this; it takes someone born and bred in the hatred and bigotry that has existed in that country to understand the violent passions that can be aroused by these very provocative parades. In the City of Belfast, on the Ballymurphy estate, one can quite well imagine the great discontent that exists in the males and youths of that estate. Twenty yards from that estate, on the other side of the road, the Springfield Road, there is another estate, much more affluent. It happens, and I regret to say this, that the majority of people living in that more affluent estate is non-Catholic. There is employment there. Naturally, there is a feeling of frustration that one side of the road has been victimised and the other side of the road is being given favours and privileges from the Unionist Government. This is a fact of life.
When it was known that the Orange parade would traverse the Springfield Road which bisected the two estates, the member who represents that constituency at Stormont, the Peace Committees, both Protestants and Catholics, made representations to the Army commander in the area and to the police not to let this particular parade take place because the was a danger it would bring about violence. Whether it was the Stormont Government, whether it was General Freeland, whether it was the police authorities or not, a disastrous decision was taken to let that parade continue. When the parade was passing, many insults were hurled at the Catholic Church; many insults were hurled at the residents of the Ballymurphy Estate; many derogatory things were said—and I should make it clear, because this did incense the Catholic people—about the blessed Virgin Mary.
An Englishman, a Welshman or a Scotsman may not understand it, but in Northern Ireland, where this has been heaped upon us generation after generation, it is bound to cause trouble. These boys retaliated in the only way they knew; they lifted the first stone or missile that was available and threw it at their tormentors. Who is to say they should not have done that? What would any human being in their place say if he were being tormented to such an extent? He must retaliate; it is human nature.
Then the Unionist mob on the other side of the Army cordon joined in. I am not condemning every single individual who took part in that Orange parade, for I am sure that there were many decent people taking part and who had every right to take part in that demonstration. I am not condemning the people on the other side of the road, the people in the New Barnsley Estate; many of them were there to watch the parade come hack. But there were people of both sides there who wanted trouble. The stones began to fly; the windows of two houses were broken; two windows were broken on the Ballymurphy side of the road, and immediately the Army moved in. The Army then over-reacted and took strong action against the young boys on the Ballymurphy side of the confrontation.
It has been said—The Times article said it again today—that there were Republicans on the Ballymurphy side in this confrontation. I do not deny that. I know many Republicans who live on the Ballymurphy estate. I got them their houses there. I made representations on their behalf. Republicans have to have somewhere to live in Northern Ireland. They are men who cling tenaciously to the understandable ideal, particularly in view of past repression by the Unionist Party, of a united Ireland.
But once the Army over-reacted the seeds were sown for a violent confrontation. I have condemned what happened. Those young boys should not have involved themselves in a confrontation with the British Army. Many Republicans in that estate were actively seen to be doing their best to prevent that confrontation. They realised that no one could win—certainly not the oppressed people of Ballymurphy.
Would my hon. Friend make it clear to the House, because there may be some confusion about this, that when he speaks about Republicans he is not necessarily speaking about I.R.A. men, but merely about men who believe in a republic, who have nothing whatever to do with the I.R.A.?
Exactly. This is one point which should be clarified for the benefit of those who cannot know.
The Unionist party has at all times—many other less experienced journalists have written in this vein—talked as if every Republican is an I.R.A. man, armed with a revolver, who wants to shoot British soldiers in the back. This is completely untrue. There are people in Ireland who legitimately want to see the unification of that country, and I am one of them. I have no hesitation in saying that. I have never said anything else since I entered the House. I hope that I will live to see the day when my country is united from Fermanagh to Cork.
I know that I have the support in saying that of hon. Members on this side, and on the other side, and of the mass of people who believe in justice. It has been found——
The hon. Member said, I think that, in the Ballymurphy estate, there was a number of Republicans. He said this in reply to his hon. Friend. Would he confirm that there is also a number of I.R.A. men in the Ballymurphy estate?
I will confirm no such thing. I believe that that it a non-truth. I do not believe that there are I.R.A. men living in the Ballymurphy estate. The hon. and learned Member has certainly no proof for that allegation, and unless he has proof he should withdraw it.
I return to the events of the last week. Then the Royal Scots Regiment was brought in to deal with the fighting in the Ballymurphy estate. I must explain this not only to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but to many of my most sincere hon. Friends. One, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller), first came to Northern Ireland soon after my election to see what was happening. The members of the Royal Scots Regiment cannot all be Rangers supporters. They cannot all be anti-Catholic bigots.
Over a period of years, particularly since the inception of the Northern Ireland State, every year on 12th July the Orange lodges in Northern Ireland invite 20 or 30 Orange bands to come to Northern Ireland from Scotland. It is generally agreed that these are the most provocative bands to take part in the 12th of July procession. Many Orange parades and many of the more respectable lodges would have nothing to do with that type of band. Every Catholic church on the route of the marches on the 12th of July is violently attacked with stones, and insults are hurled at the people.
It is now recognised that churches along the processional route should be closed on that date because of the activities Scottish bands——
It may be said that the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland should not react as they do, that they should not be provoked by these Scottish bands, but this is only human nature. In the minds of many Catholics in Northern Ireland it is accepted that the Scottish people who come there on the 12th, the Scottish members of the Royal Scots Regiment, are in alliance with some of the more extreme unionists.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has said that, and I am sure that it will be taken as it was meant by the people who live in the Ballymurphy estate.
At least it was undiplomatic to have that regiment there at that time. There are many other areas in Northern Ireland where it would have been less offensive. Again, the riots took place. They went on on two different nights and many people in Northern Ireland condemned the actions of those youths. They have been roundly condemned by the Cardinal Primate and the Bishop. I myself condemned them forcibly. Other leaders in Northern Ireland have condemned what happened. It should never have happened, because it was senseless violence which could achieve nothing. Violence will be no solution to the problems besetting Northern Ireland. But the violence which erupted has been brought about by what has happened under Unionism over the last 50 years.
What has brought about the debate is a series of explosions, particularly over the past week and, indeed, over two years. The tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, South and of the article in The Times today suggests that these explosions are the handiwork of the I.R.A., a subversive organisation intent on causing explosions. But that is not so and there is no one here or anywhere else who can point the finger of accusation at the I.R.A. But what we do know is that the explosions early in 1969, in March and April, were the work of the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force, an extreme Right-wing Unionist organisation with which, to my mind—although he has publicly said that he had nothing to do with it—the Rev. Ian Paisley has a close connection.
It would be generally accepted, even by those hon. Members opposite from Northern Ireland who are opposed to me, that those explosions were caused with the intention of bringing about the downfall of the Northern Ireland Government and particularly of Captain O'Neill.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will also recall, as will other hon. Members, on that occasion, in fact on 22nd April last year, one finds that two columns in HANSARD were spent by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) in proving that it was the I.R.A. who were responsible, and that he invited my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to send six C.I.D. officers to Northern Ireland to substantiate his claim. Later, six people known to be supporters of the Rev. Ian Paisley appeared in court as a result of investigations.
That is one of the reasons why we have such discontent and tension in Northern Ireland now. They were brought before the courts and acquitted, but everyone in Northern Ireland knows how juries are intimidated and will never convict—[Interruption.] I do not want to cause dissension, but——
As usual, the hon. Gentleman is letting himself down. He has always been frightened of being described as a moderate, which has happened lately, and now he is making an extreme speech. Is he aware that he should withdraw that reflection on the courts, particularly since, first, he should not have made it, and, secondly, because—he knows this well; he knows it from talking to barristers in Northern Ireland—nobody on either side of the political fence believes that there was enough evidence to convict any of those people.
On a point of order. While having no sympathy with any of the offences to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, are we to reach a stage in this House when an hon. Member can, under the guise of privilege, make comments about people who have been acquitted unanimously by a jury? Is that to be allowed without any protection from the Chair?
I conclude this portion of my remarks by adding that one man was convicted and received a sentence of 12 years, having admitted to the court that he was a member of the U.D.F. and that he had associations with others involved in the explosions which brought about the downfall of Captain O'Neill, the Prime Minister of the time.
On a point of order. I hope that you are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is a serious question. Surely the Chair must give some protection when, a court of law having given a complete acquittal to people who stood trial, they are then attacked and smeared in this House. Surely the Chair must, and does on other occasions, give protection to people outside. Is not this one of the occasions when it is clear that they should be given protection? I ask you to rule accordingly.
Further to that point of order. Is not there a direct parallel here with the situation which arose in the House only a few months ago, when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) made allegations about a trade union official in the Midlands and his activities, which were subsequently disproved in court but which the hon. Gentleman has never retracted?
I do not want to indulge in any type of argument with the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham), for whom I do not have a high regard from the point of view of his political intelligence or otherwise. He is commonly known in Northern Ireland as "the Westminster correspondent of the Paisley Telegraph". [Interruption.] Many of my hon. Friends want to take part in this debate and I will leave that matter there.
On a point of order. I think that there are many fair-minded hon. Gentlemen opposite who will also regard this situation as intolerable. Is it in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for one to make an attack on somebody who has been acquitted in the courts in any other country, alleging his guilt; that is, except in this country?
On a point of order. Are there no means by which the House can protect itself from this concerted attempt by a series of hon. Gentlemen opposite to prevent the free flow of this debate?
I said that I had left the matter. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) knows—I am sure he agrees in his conscience; perhaps he cannot agree in this House or at other political platforms because of the effect that that would have on the electorate in Northern Ireland—that what I have said is true.
The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that I condemn anybody who is proved to have committed any outrage of this kind. I am as anxious as he to see that such persons are brought to justice. However, I am not prepared in this House to smear somebody after he has been acquitted. That is the point I have been making.
I will leave the decision on what I have said to the community in Northern Ireland, and I mean both sides of the political line. I am certain that I shall have their support.
One of the most disastrous happenings in Northern Ireland during recent days has undoubtedly been the very provocative and arrogant attitude of General Freeland, both on television and at a Press conference in Northern Ireland. That, above and beyond all other issues, has caused such tension in Northern Ireland that standing here today I am in the throes of despair, for I believe that his speech can do nothing but further exacerbate the tensions in Northern Ireland.
What did General Freeland say and how did he say it? This is most important. He said that the British Army would shoot to kill persons involved in riotous situations. I know that the spokesman for hon. Gentlemen opposite on this issue has family connections with Irish history and has a close involvement in this matter. He must know enough of the Irish character to recognise that we will take that sort of dictation from no one.
Even the Protestant community, those who support Paisley—those on the minority side—are all incensed by General Freeland's attitude. Why he was allowed to say what he said on television is beyond my comprehension. I believe that generals should be seen and not heard. If anything, a political statement should have been made by a spokesman for either the Government or the Opposition.
We in Northern Ireland are now in an impossible position, because General Freeland's words have been taken as a direct threat not to the minority or to the rioters in Ballymurphy or the Shankill Road, where lives have already been lost, to use the big stick and to beat people into the ground. How foolish could he have been? It will be recognised that that very attitude was adopted in Ireland centuries ago, with very little success.
In his original comments, on television and at the Press conference, General Freeland said, "We have superior fire power". How can those words be interpreted other than as a direct threat to the people of Northern Ireland? I have asked and I repeat the question: has General Freeland never heard of Vietnam, where the Americans have had superior fire power and have used it, but with very little success?
There is also the question of Rhodesia. Under successive Governments, this House has had superior fire power in Kenya, Malaya and other parts of the world, but eventually we had to arrive at a political settlement in conformity with the needs of the people in those areas. I am not criticising this Government, but they should realise that those remarks by General Freeland can cause untold trouble.
I was on the telephone incessantly to the Home Secretary last August asking that British troops should be brought into Northern Ireland to defend the minority from vicious attacks by the majority at that time. I pleaded with my right hon. Friend to send troops into the Ardoyne and Hooker Street area of Belfast. It would have been destroyed with consequent great loss of life but for the presence of British troops. I applaud the Army for what it did then. It was necessary for it to be there to protect life and limb.
I realise the frustrations which now beset the British Army in Northern Ireland. It is doing an unusual job, it is fulfilling an unusual rÔle and the soldiers do not want to be there, but I recognise that it is very necessary to have them there at present. It would be absolutely senseless for anyone in this House or elsewhere to say that the British Army should be withdrawn from Northern Ireland tomorrow. If it were withdrawn, there would be absolute massacre.
I am given a problem. In this position what are the answers? I freely admit that I have not got the answers. I despair for the future in Northern Ireland. I was perturbed over the past week to hear that Protestants and Catholics were fighting each other for the occupation of corporation dwellings. That should never happen, but it was exaggerated out of all proportion by Ian Paisley in an attempt to help his political prospects in the election. Two windows were broken on the Barnsley Estate and he was able to make propaganda out of this. He got the television cameras and hired buses to bring a lot of young "Teddies" in to have this highlighted as an example of how the Protestants were being attacked by Catholics on the other side of the road. It was completely untrue.
Those windows should not have been broken. It may have been that they were broken accidently by the throwing of stones, but it should not have been done deliberately. Catholics and Protestants, not only in my constituency but all over Ireland, will have to learn to live together and they cannot be made to do that at the point of a gun.
This Government, far and away more than any Government in my memory or in the history I have read, have shown concern for Northern Ireland's problems. For my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary there is a great fund of good will in Northern Ireland. He did a tremendous and difficult job last August, September and October, when violence in Northern Ireland was at its height. That
job has not yet been completed. A lot more hard work will have to be done in resolving the difficulties which beset Northern Ireland
This Government should insist that the Northern Ireland Government should implement the reforms now on the Statute Book and which followed the confrontation of last August. They should bring into immediate operation the central housing authority. They should have a reform of local government so that justice will not only be a promise but will be seen to be done. There is a fear in Northern Ireland that if, unfortunately, this Government were to be defeated at the next General Election, and a Tory Government were elected, the new Government would not pressurise the Unionist Party.
That is the feeling among the minority in Northern Ireland. I hope that the spokesman for the Opposition will discourage it. The fear is that hon. Members opposite have so much in common with the Unionist Party that they would not be so forceful as are this Government in demanding full social justice and freedom for every citizen in Northern Ireland.
It may be that future generations will regard this short debate as one of the most important debates on Northern Ireland which has ever taken place in this House. I believe that it is not too late, but it is very nearly the eleventh hour. I ask the Home Secretary again to go to Northern Ireland, if necessary, to let the people there see that this Government still have the will to bring about reforms in Northern Ireland. The Government should let them know that they have not forgotten what happened in August, September and October last year and that they are not only concerned with the result of the next General Election in the United Kingdom but with the freedom and social justice of everyone in Northern Ireland.
I freely admit that I have not got all the answers. There is a very dangerous situation in Northern Ireland. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the Home Secretary in whatever steps he takes to de-escalate that very dangerous situation.
If anyone ever had any lingering doubts as to the bitterness, hatred, passions and complexities in Northern Ireland, any such doubts would have been dispelled by attending this debate. I do not wish to say anything which will raise the temperature in Northern Ireland, or in this House. I welcome the fact that this debate is taking place and that we have broken the convention that this House is powerless to discuss the affairs of part of the United Kingdom. That obviously is a dead letter. It could not have been proved more convincingly than by the fact that it was an Ulster Unionist who was successful in initiating this debate.
In passing, I could not quite understand the fury with which the reference to the Union Jack was received by hon. Members in the Opposition. The Union Jack is regularly used as a tablecloth at many Conservative meetings; it is also used as a rosette. There is obviously no simple explanation for what is occurring at the moment in Northern Ireland. One thing is quite clear—that violence begets violence. What is frightening is a growing mood of violence in Northern Ireland. That mood will not be dispelled merely by the introduction of reforms however vitally important they may be.
We have to ask ourselves how we can dispel this mood of violence and try to get good communal relations. I do not mind from what quarter the violence emanates, it is totally destructive of any attempt to get co-operation between people of different religions. I would say to the majority group that perhaps they can play a much greater part in this contribution because they not only predominate but they are, so to speak, the establishment. It is not encouraging to see the attempts by people like Captain O'Neill and Major Chichester-Clark to bring in long overdue reforms and to see the continual shift to the Right, albeit of a fringe but none the less of a significant minority, in the Unionist Party.
When the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) said, let us see that the Stormont Government get support and backing for these reforms, I wholly agreed, but charity also begins at home within the Ulster Unionist Party. When one sees people like Mr. Richard Ferguson going out of public life and the sort of person adopted as prospective candidate to take his place with the lip service which is paid to Mr. Paisley and the growing influence and lack of dissociation from what Mr. Paisley is saying on many occasions, that does not help to dispel the view that there is a move to the Right on the one hand which in my view will be matched by a move towards extremism on the other. Therefore, there is a very great contribution that the Unionist Party can make in Northern Ireland.
I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister say this afternoon that there is no question but that British troops will remain in Northern Ireland for so long as they are necessary. We must face the fact that they may be necessary for very many years. We shall probably not get a communal peace such as we wish to see until the reforms have been implemented and people have been able to live in conditions of reform with the full protection of the British Army. This may be five years, it may be 10. I do not know, but it will be a very long period.
I am not suggesting that the Prime Minister did. I am saying that it may have to be five to 10 years. Even though I am not Prime Minister I am entitled to my own view, and I have just expressed it. On assessments of time, it is perhaps better that the Prime Minister is not too prophetic.
Therefore, is the Home Secretary satisfied that we have done all we can to see that the troops have the best possible conditions in Northern Ireland? I know that there have been considerable improvements, but we want to see that the very best is done.
The second thing I would like to ask him is not merely about numbers—the actual strength of our forces—but availability. It is very important that troops should be available not only when there are known, declared, possible potentially provocative political marches, but on occasions when there will be a great collection of people, such as a football match. The riots at Cliftonville might have been minimised had troops been available. Therefore, availability is just as important as numbers.
I regretfully accept that political marches are part of the mythology of Northern Ireland, and it may well be that in the long run they are the best way of allowing people to let off steam. As long as steam is all they let off, there will be very few complaints. But obviously the routes must be clearly defined and most rigorously adhered to. There can be nothing more provocative than one particular demonstration, one particular march, associated with one particular set of religious beliefs, going into an area predominantly populated by people associated with another.
I pay great tribute to what the British troops are doing. It is a pretty sobering experience to see British troops with floodlights and sub-machine guns on the roofs of buildings, stopping British citizens from attacking each other. I shall not go into the wider discussion about the Government's position on the Geneva Protocol, but I hope that we shall hear less and less about the use of CS gas in controlling crowds. It is psychologically very bad for troops to find themselves in the position of using it. The Home Secretary says that CS gas is preferable to bullets. Certainly: logically, bullets are preferable to tanks firing guns of even larger calibre, and so one can go on act infinitum. For psychological reasons, the use of the gas must be avoided unless absolutely necessary. If we must increase the number of troops to avoid its use, we should do so.
I must also confess that I share the view that a general is put in a very difficult position if he is expected to be the mouthpiece, the propagandist, the politician. General Freeland has been put into a very difficult position, and he should be relieved of that particular duty. I hope that the Home Secretary will say how these matters are to be dealt with in future. I like to see these matters in the hands of civilians, preferably civilians who have been elected.
I should like to refer briefly to Ballymurphy. Obviously, the incidence of unemployment is very high, which is a very important factor. But I notice that the Premier of Northern Ireland mentioned the extraordinarily large number of young children that had taken part in the demonstration, and appealed to parents to keep their children at home. It is also right to say that in that area there are no facilities for children. There are no playgrounds, and the only place for them to play is in the streets. This may sound a minor detail, but it is the sort of social issue by which we can direct people into more peaceful channels.
I also believe that we shall never have moderation in politics in Northern Ireland until we revert to the electoral system which was in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, which has taken the religious bitterness out of politics in the Republic.
It is a system which enabled a Protestant to be the first President of the Republic. I do not believe that the equivalent would happen in Northern Ireland. I know that the Home Secretary has been kind enough to study certain submissions made to him. I think that the cross-voting, particularly in local government, for the very short period during which that electoral system was in operation showed that Catholic would vote for Protestant and Protestant for Catholic. That is one of the reasons why in so many constitutions which this country has set up in colonial territories where we have wished to see that minorities were properly represented, and where there was not a polarisation on religious or ethnic grounds, we were very careful to see that the present electoral system in this country was not exported.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a point that the first President of the Republic of Ireland happened to be a Protestant. He also happened to be the founder of the Gaelic League. As the President is elected on direct voting and not in the same way as the Dail is elected, there is no validity in the right hon. Gentleman's point.
I am very much afraid of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has done and could still do by his voice being heard in Northern Ireland. There is one Member to whom I would not give way, and it is the hon. and learned Gentleman. We do not need a poor man's Paisley in this House.
The House has seen some of the tactics of extremism. They are perhaps more easily contained in this House than in Northern Ireland.
There will be a very long, hard slog in Northern Ireland, in which British troops will bear the brunt for many years to come. In that they will have the support of this House. In the implementation of the urgently-needed reforms, the Government at Stormont, whatever its complexion, will have the support of this House. Whoever indulges in violence and whoever stirs up bitterness will, I hope, be condemned in this House, whether they are on the extreme Right or the extreme Left. If we can agree upon that, at least we have agreed upon something.
I have a great respect politically and a very great personal regard for the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who made such a sincere speech. I was very surprised to find myself again at loggerheads with him when he mentioned the rôle of the Commander-in-Chief in Northern Ireland. I agree with him and others who have said that it is a great mistake to have a general in a political rôle if it can be avoided. Anyone who saw him on television the other night, far from getting the impression that my hon. Friend got, would see that here was a most kindly gentleman, a man who would do no harm to anyone if it could be avoided, a man who nevertheless was determined to do his duty in the position in which he found himself.
It is that position with which I find myself at loggerheads—that a man like that and troops such as those under him should be put into that position. Not that I want them removed, not that I think that they should not have been sent. They should have been sent and they are still necessary. Nevertheless, they find themselves in an impossible position. Before long, as I said in this House and in newspaper articles a year ago, we are bound to have in Northern Ireland a situation where everyone is shooting something or other at our troops. That is the position I want to avoid at all costs. I do not see any way of avoiding it except by asking the world to hold the ring.
I know that this is not a popular cry, but what will happen if we do not have the world holding the ring? We will be there for years and years, being shot at. What will the mums and dads of the troops say when they find their sons being shot at and being told that they must not shoot back? In Ireland, if someone wants to obtain sympathy he must shoot at authority, or at least it is a very good way of gaining sympathy. Unless authority wishes to forfeit whatever sympathy it has, it must not shoot back. I hope that we will not perpetuate a situation in which British troops are asked to be the mother-in-law of Northern Ireland.
A person does not go to his mother-in-law and ask her to settle his disputes, but that is apparently what is expected of our troops. Sooner or later our troops will be unable to contain the situation in Northern Ireland, when they are being shot at from all sides and very likely from the Unionist side. After all, the Unionists have not shown very great loyalty in the past in Irish affairs. From all sides there is this danger of massive blood and fire on an unprecedented scale. It seems too tragic to contemplate.
What can we do? We are there holding the ring as best we can for the moment, and we must continue to do so. But that is no long-term policy. There are some sincere people who feel that maybe there is no solution to the problem, but I am not prepared to accept that. I think that I can see a way ahead, a means whereby a solution might be found. It will not be tomorrow, it might easily be in two generations' time, if we are lucky. The only way we can do it is not by having British troops in command—for British troops will never pacify Ireland and we ought to have learned the lesson of history by now—but by having the world in.
We will be willing to help, not to run away but to contribute to the world authority. The real trouble which I foresee in Northern Ireland is that there will be international complications because Dublin will not be able, much though she wishes to do so, to stand on one side, and have it said that she is allowing her own people in the north to be massacred. Hence the international complications. Even though it is unpopular, I hope that my right hon. Friend, who has done a marvellous job in Northern Ireland and I have no doubt will continue to do so, will bear in mind that in the long-term there is no British solution. It must be a world solution.
It has been suggested by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, and it is a serious suggestion, it is a good suggestion, to be pursued. If we really get world opinion interested in this question there is some hope for the future, for establishing peace.
There is a lot of wisdom in what my hon. Friend is saying, but I do not think that any Government can overlook the fact that there are 4 million Christian people in Ireland, Irish people even though they are citizens of this country. I have not give up hope that eventually, however long it takes, Ireland can, thanks to political wisdom and tolerance, become united. It is disunited now and if we are to take into consideration the long-term effects——
I do not overlook the fact that there are millions of Irish people who want to see peace in Ireland. I believe that many of them are abroad and that is relevant to the suggestion I have been making. I said that I thought I saw a solution ahead, with the possibility of peace for Ireland ultimately. But it must be within a world framework, not a United Kingdom framework. I know that many people would be ashamed to think it necessary to call in the world, "these foreigners", to help to pacify British people. Unfortunately this is the situation.
Before the world British people are being seen to be incapable of solving their own problem. We have tried for many hundreds of years to do so inside the British Isles and, alas, we have failed. Surely we can learn the lesson and try now to find a world solution which may ultimately bring peace lo Ireland.
I am well aware that many of my hon. Friends representing Northern Ireland constituencies wish to take part in this debate. Nevertheless, I hope that they will not begrudge a few minutes for those who represent constituencies in Great Britain.
The House is debating something which is happening in the United Kingdom, and what happens in one part of the United Kingdom is of concern to all parts of the United Kingdom and to this United Kingdom Parliament. It would be the worst thing for the interests which my hon. Friends have at heart and for the interests of all, without exception, if Northern Ireland were to be regarded as a special subject apart, a kind of preserve in which only Irish Members took part and in which only Irish Members took a serious interest. I agree in this with the Leader of the Liberal Party, that at any rate what has happened in the last few months has made us realise a United Kingdom responsibility in this House.
In those last few months it has become clear, as was not clear at the outset six or nine months ago, that two distinct and separate sources and kinds of violence are at work in Northern Ireland. True, these two kinds inter-breed and intermingle, but it is right and necessary that they should be seen apart; and this has been pointed to in recent statements both by General Freeland and by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence.
One of those sources of violence is violence for violence sake, a part of that more and more recognisable trend throughout the world towards violence for the sake of destruction, violence not to replace one order or set of institutions by another, but to tear down without replacing and without the intention to replace. This type, which we have seen with increasing clearness in Northern Ireland, has inter-married with violence in support of the aspiration that the six counties of Northern Ireland might become part of the Republic of Ireland.
Naturally, the attention of the House in a debate like this is largely centred upon what is being done from day to day and from week to week to give security and reassurance, as far as possible, to our fellow citizens who are under actual threat to life and property in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, I apprehend that the greatest thing which the House can do and which we can achieve by debate relates to a more distance future; for surely the causes, and consequently, if they be available, the cures, are deep-seated and must take into account the nature of the violence with which we are faced.
It is of the nature of all internecine violence that it lives on hope. Violence feeds upon the hope of success. Even if success were probably available by peaceful means, there is still a premium upon violence, to seize it sooner and to seize it in circumstances in which the violent will have the upper hand over the peaceable. Contrariwise, in so far as the prospects of success recede and become distant, the premium upon violence is replaced by a penalty. Violence will not continue indefinitely where the objects which it proposes to itself appear to be unattainable, or at any rate unattainable within a predictable future.
I believe that we have to apply this anatomy of violence to the situation in Northern Ireland and to the two types of violent action which we see at work there. Anarchist violence lives by grievance, it flourishes by grievance, by using grievance as a means of division and as a weapon for self-justification and for further advance. More often than not, and indeed more effectively than not, grievance is exaggerated or artificially manufactured. There are grievances under all forms of administration, and it does not lie in the mouth of a Member of this House representing a seat in Great Britain to say that there are no grievances against administration in the six counties of Northern Ireland; but it seems to me perfectly clear that such grievances as there are have been exaggerated out of all proportion to serve the purposes not of reform but of anarchy itself.
Anyone who studies the anatomy of this thing will see the way in which it uses grievance. It uses it in order that violence itself may be held to be proof that grievance exists, so that authority may be discredited and that when authority makes reforms and changes they appear to be done as the result of violence and in obedience to the bidding of violence. This is part of the mechanics of the thing.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what would be the position in Wolverhampton if there were 47 per cent. unemployed among the male population? Would he be living in a non-violent society?
There have been times when there were levels of unemployment such as that in parts of Great Britain. In such circumstances many citizens live in conditions of distress and suffering; but I am talking about grievance against authority and against Government, and my first point is that both the Government in Northern Ireland and the Government in this country actually assist violence and strengthen it in so far as they appear to act and appear to reform under the pressure of violence.
I would not have thought that any hon. Member would wish to support political action which was taken under the threat of violence. That is not a very parliamentary attitude. Above all, we in this House have to refrain, and public comment should refrain, from approving political action in Northern Ireland which is seen to be the fruit of violence, brought about as a result of violence.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, during the five years in which we have discussed political action to remedy the ills in Northern Ireland, he has stood silent, yet, as soon as violence occurs, he is on his feet and is there? Will he explain why, whenever there is a chance of inciting violence, the right hon. Gentleman is there in the middle deliberately inciting it?
If any hon. Member of this House or anyone outside it can find me inciting or advocating violence, I am willing to stand the charge either in this House or anywhere else.
I come to the second kind of violence which is at work in Northern Ireland, the violence which seeks to promote the aspiration for the absorption of the six counties of Northern Ireland into the Republic. That violence feeds upon the prospect of that aspiration being achieved. Unless the prospect of that achievement can be removed to a remote future, we can expect to see violence continue to feed and flourish upon that material.
There are three ways in which we in this House can, therefore, contribute to peace in Northern Ireland and to the security of the property and the lives of her citizens. The first is that neither by word nor deed do we treat the membership of the six counties in the United Kingdom as negotiable. Every word or act which holds out the prospect that their unity with the rest of the United Kingdom might be negotiable is itself, consciously or unconsciously, a contributory cause to the continuation of violence in Northern Ireland.
The second policy, which may not perhaps entirely commend itself to all my hon. Friends, is that we should work for a greater amalgamation and uniformity of administration, government, policy and economy in the six counties and in the rest of the United Kingdom. If we really intend the unity of the United Kingdom including the six counties, that unity must be seen in political and economic form. I realise that the present organisation of Northern Ireland reflects a long history—indeed, many of the false starts of history; but, if we mean to give assurance that the membership of the six counties in the United Kingdom will be, humanly speaking, permanent, then we have to be ready to draw the administrative and economic consquences from that.
Finally, I believe that we have to rationalise the present irrational status, in the law of the United Kingdom, of the Republic of Ireland and her citizens. At the moment it stands as complete unreality, a fragment of past history fifty years and more out of date. I believe that the frank recognition in the law of this country that the Republic and her citizens are what they have for centuries claimed, argued, desired and indeed fought to be, would bring a pacification to the situation, in that it would reinforce what we have got to inculcate namely, that the embodiment of the six counties in the United Kingdom is humanly speaking to be regarded as a permanancy and therefore something on which no description of violence is able to feed.
I shall be finished in a couple of seconds. In nothing I have said is there the slightest particle, I will not say of hostility, but of ill will, to the Republic and her citizens. Much the contrary. But we in this House have a duty to our fellow subjects. whatever their views or religion—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or colour."]—or colour, who are living in Northern Ireland. I believe we can only discharge that duty by proving that they are part of us and we of them and that we intend in word and in deed that so long as is foreseeable it shall remain so.
Before making my own contribution to this debate, I should like to answer the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) simply by sugguesting to him that in his impeccable logic he will not deny the existence of a third form of violence in Northern Ireland. But, coming from the party that he does, he saw fit to overlook the violence which leads in Northern Ireland to the highest infant mortality rate in Great Britain, the highest incidence of tuberculosis and the highest incidence of most of the illnesses and diseases associated with poverty. The violence of class, the violence of the party represented by the right hon. Gentleman, the violence of property and land owners in Northern Ireland, mean that working-class children die slowly, quietly and respectably in damp houses unfit for human habitation.
The number of times that we have discussed Northern Ireland in this House have been few. It is almost a year since this House decided that it was time to have another emergency debate on Northern Ireland. A common feature that runs through our debates on this subject is on the lines, "Do not inflame passions." It may surprise hon. Members, though it is not due to the fact that I have lost an appendix, that I am not going to inflame anything. I do not intend to make any provocative statements. I simply intend to state a number of cold facts.
Sometimes one cannot help it if facts prove to be provocative to people who deny the truth of their very existence. For fifty years in Northern Ireland we have been ruled by the Unionist Party. The Unionist Party is not simply a party of the Protestant people. It never was. It is a party of Toryism. It is bungling and bigoted, much like the party that sits opposite at present. Fifty years of that Government have given the people of Northern Ireland slum housing, high rents, unemployment, low wages and a divided working class.
That Government are now asking us to believe that road-to-Damascus conversions are possible. It is a Government which for fifty years have said to the Catholic working class, "You are disloyal. You are entitled to nothing." It is a Government which for fifty years have openly been making statements in line with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West; namely, "If you do not like it, clear off to the Republic." It is a Government which have said to the Protestant people, "You cannot have anything either, because of the Catholic population." By playing one section against the other, the Government have given nothing to either. They now feel that half a dozen sentences in a Government communiqué will change the face of Ulster and make it a happy place to live in. But a couple of sentences will never change our problem.
We need solutions. We have had all the usual chat today, as on every other day. The first day I sat in this House my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that I had offered no solutions. I have been here almost a year, and nobody else has offered solutions. Therefore, I am going to offer some. They are solutions which do not go as far as I would like to go, because I believe one cannot reform the Northern Ireland situation. It needs a much more radical and permanent change. There are meaningful reforms which can and must be carried out if we are to stop rioting. Catholics and Protestants not because they live in slum houses, or because they live in council houses whose rents they cannot afford. They cannot afford them because those who work are paid low wages, and many are forced to live off the employment exchange.
What we need in Northern Ireland is not General Freeland running around telling the working-class hooligan that he will be instantly shot if he shows his nose on the streets, while a hooligan like Dr. MacDonald is able to clear off to the Bahamas with £16½ million made out of the sweat of the labour of the people of Northern Ireland. What we need is work and homes. We can have that kind of reform immediately. We can immediately have legislation to provide the workers in Northern Ireland with a minimum living wage. This is simple, social democratic legislation.
We can have immediately in Northern Ireland legislation demanding equal pay for women. This is a very important matter. In an area like Derry and Strabane there is 25 to 30 per cent. male unemployment since female labour is cheaper. The private enterprise scoundrel who comes to Northern Ireland, where labour is cheap anyway, gets his labour even cheaper by employing our women and leaving our men sitting at home. Therefore we, even more than the people of this country, need equal pay for women.
We need legislation to ensure that the profits made in Northern Ireland go back to the people who make those profits. We have heard about the economic progress of Northern Ireland. Members of this House on this side would do well to remember the various definitions of wealth. True prosperity is not the amount of money one accumulates but how that wealth is distributed among the people who produce it. It is not being properly distributed in Northern Ireland. We work for low wages. We produce the profits that made Dr. MacDonald rich, with the help of British taxpayers' money.
Dr. MacDonald, for the benefit of Members who are somewhat puzzled, was Chairman of B.S.R. and recently cleared off to the Bahamas with £16½ million of untaxed money since his shares were registered outside the country.
We are the people whose hard labour for low wages produced the profits for Cyril Lord who, much to the embarrassment of a bungling Ministry of Commerce, diddled the Government of Nortern Ireland and cleared off with his profits leaving the taxpayers to pay his debts.
That is why we need that kind of legislation, and it can be brought into effect.
We need a massive injection of work, but we are not likely to get it from private enterprise. Many hon. Members of this House and too many people in Northern Ireland believe that there is no industry west of the River Bann simply because the majority of people there are Catholic. That is not a reason which is 100 per cent. true. Private industry does not go west of the River Bann because there are not massive profits to be made there. We are told that there could be profits there for private enterprise if there were better roads and better communications; but then the Government tell us that there is no justification for better roads and better communications until such time as there is industry. So we run in ever-decreasing circles, and the prospects of industry and agriculture decline west of the River Bann. We need State investment in State-owned industry under the workers' control. We need industries set up west of the River Bann for the purpose of providing employment, not profit.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen may ask, "What would you make, what would you build and what would you produce?", and say that it is essential to look at the technical side of marketing. We are so short of houses that we could employ practically the entire population in such State-owned factories making housing components in order to house our homeless people.
Dealing with our housing problem, we are told that people, the good moderate men, condemn the Bombay Street burners and the Ballymurphy house grabbers. No one takes much account of the amount of interest taken every year by City of London bankers from the Northern Ireland Housing Trust. In financial terms, it amounts to more money than that body collects in rents. That body is prevented from increasing the number of houses that it builds. In order to provide capital for more houses, it raises rents which people cannot afford to pay because their employers do not raise wages. We must have that debt cancelled. It can be done. The City of London banks and the central clearing banks can afford to do without the money. We cannot afford to do without the homes.
I was trying to make it as simple as possible. I will make it even simpler. The high interest rates charged by the banks on money borrowed by people who build houses mean that anyone borrowing £X has to pay back £X plus. That means that someone has to produce the plus amount which has to go back to the bank, and invariably it comes from the tenant who lives in the house. That means that the underpaid member of the working class is forced to pay the interest. That means that the number of houses is kept down, that the number of homeless goes up, and that people not because they do not have decent houses.
In the Government communiqué we are told about the central housing authority. Not only must that authority be relieved of this initial debt. It cannot start off with this burden. But it must start off now. When I last had the opportunity of speaking to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, she told me that her Department had not received any definite plans from Mr. Faulkner about the setting up of the central housing authority. She said that she expected it to be something like six months before she had definite plans. We must have that housing authority as a duly elected body set up immediately. We must have a crash housing programme now, not in six months, a year or 18 months.
We must have much more radical change in Northern Ireland than the present communiqué offers, and there is one important point which we should not forget. In the original communiqué there was a paragraph relating to the introduction of legislation to outlaw religious discrimination. I may have overlooked it in the more recent statements from the two Governments, but it appears that that paragraph has quietly been dropped. It is time that Her Majesty's Government stopped backsliding and reinstated that paragraph in its very important position. There should be immediate legislation.
We are told that the reforms are on the Statute Book. Only last night in a major town in my constituency, Omagh, the council met and rejected the points system for the allocation of houses. What steps can be taken? I have already written to the Commissioner of Complaints, whatever good that may do. It is on the Statute Book, and people in Omagh still have to queue, wait, and abandon their own class to fight for houses by vying with the people who own them.
Those are the solutions which I am offering. To me, they seem very reasonable and moderate. However, I think that it must be admitted that the Government of Northern Ireland, because they are a Tory Government, are utterly incapable of introducing social democratic legislation. Would the party opposite introduce any of the legislation necessary in Northern Ireland to end our housing shortage or unemployment situation?
Therefore, we get the solution offered from this House—the solution of force. All the troops in the world will not help to solve the Northern Ireland problem. Troops can only enforce the existing situation. Possibly enough has been said about the crass stupidity of General Freeland's statement on television last night. To say, on the one hand, "We will shoot everyone" and, on the other hand, "We are clearing out"——
That is what he was understood to say. He said that petrol bombers would have to take note of the fact that they were liable to be shot dead in the street. If there is a crowd of people on the street, one of whom has thrown a petrol bomb, as happened in the Shankill Road—which right hon. and hon. Members opposite chose to forget—the Army cannot guarantee to shoot the person who threw it. The shooting of people, guilty or innocent, will not solve the problem of Northern Ireland. The sending of more troops can do nothing but keep the traditional rôle of the British Army; that is, enforcing the British interest. At the moment, whether Her Majesty's Government like to admit it or not, what the Army is doing is enforcing a dual standard of British citizenship. the Army is enforcing the status quo in Northern Ireland, and there British standards fall far below what they are in this country.
The Army has endeavoured to keep the peace but it cannot do so. My hon. Friend may defend the Army when he rises if he has an opportunity to speak but he may allow me the privilege of saying that I have no reason to defend the British Army and therefore I have no intention of doing so.
The British Army claims to help people in Derry. I am not denying that the British Army has saved lives. Hon. Members are always more eager to jump to their own defence than to the defence of the people of Northern Ireland. I am not complaining about the British Army in Northern Ireland but I am saying that the British Army is a military organisation, and it is not the duty of a military organisation to change the situation of a country politically or socially. The smiles of hon. Members on the Front Bench and the grin of one in particular annoy me. But they will never excuse their own inactivity by increasing the number of British soldiers in Northern Ireland.
Already the soldiers have been attacked by Catholics and by Protestants; and I would remind the House that the Army is made up of ordinary working-class English boys who ought to be at home. Why they should be used in this way is beyond my knowledge.
I have endeavoured to point out a few solutions. If the Labour Government are telling me that after 50 years of Tory rule in Northern Ireland we, the people of Northern Ireland, should be as naive as the British Labour Government as to think that now, when the accumulated filth of 50 years of Tory misrule has been dredged to the surface, the same Government can clean it up, I would ask them a simple question. If they believe that a Conservative Government in Northern Ireland can introduce the necessary social, democratic legislation to clean up that slum, on what basis do they contest the father of that Government at the next General Election?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady who has just spoken has three times gratuitously libelled a constituent of mine. To put the record straight, may I say, first, that Dr. Macdonald made his fortune not in Northern Ireland but in Brierley Hill; and secondly, that by his great development of export trade to the United States he has made a unique contribution to the international trading position of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It will have been noticed by the House that the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) has endeavoured to widen very much the scope of this debate beyond the disturbances which the House is debating this afternoon; and one will note in passing the effect of these diversionary tactics. It seems to me, however, that the removal of her appendix has not removed her deep hatred, bitterness and evasiveness. She talks of the need for a massive injection of capital into Northern Ireland. Does she believe that the events of the last week, or the last year, make that any easier?
I have always believed that the hon. Lady was a "front" for more sinister people behind her. I was never sure whether she knew this herself, whether she connived in it or lived on in ignorance. But I believe that the events of last week have shown the public in this country the "sinister influences", to use General Freeland's words, which are at work in Northern Ireland and the combination of the Irish Republican Army, republicanism and Marxism which is all mixed up in this unholy brew.
I ask the House, having listened to the words of the hon. Lady, to judge for itself the inflammatory contribution which her collection of half-truths and downright untruths can make in a delicate situation such as there is in Northern Ireland.
I speak this afternoon with very deep disappointment and bitterness. Over the last 18 months a Unionist Government has, I believe, made a massive contribution in a civil rights programme. I will not argue this afternoon the point that we should perhaps have accelerated the pace of this and dealt with it very much earlier; but that programme has the very broad support of the Unionist Party. But the quid pro quo for this, as I understood it in the communiqué of Downing Street and that of the Home Secretary last August, was that there would be firm and definite measures by the Army, in co-operation with the police, to restore law and order in Northern Ireland. This, I deeply regret to say, has not happened.
Last week people were exposed to mob rule in a way that they should never have been. While those on the other side of the House say—and I join with them —that the people in Northern Ireland have the right to full British standards, I say that the people of Northern Ireland also have the right to full British standards in protection from mob rule. That applies to Protestant and Catholic alike.
I am immensely grateful to the individual soldiers who have had this difficult and distasteful job to do. But I regret to say that there have been errors by the Army in its handling of a delicate situation over the last eight months, and that serious mistakes have been made. The failure to return to normality in what is called "No-Go land" in Belfast and in the Bogside has been a serious and fundamental mistake. In the House in October last I warned of its consequences.
In the early hours of Good Friday, alone and inconspicuously, I visited the perimeter of "No-Go land", and from what I saw clearly on that occasion this area still remains outside the Queen's Writ. There can be no doubt in my mind that the continuation of the existence of these areas creates a climate of lawlessness which inevitably must spill over, and last week we saw the consequences. Where have the errors been made? Are they errors of the Government here—at this stage I do not wish to pass judgment on them and I will keep an open mind on the point—or are they the errors of the Army chief in Northern Ireland?
I believe General Freeland's handling of the situation has been bad. I have studied reports of his Press conference on 3rd April, and I was appalled that he had been so very slow in grasping the true nature of the problems facing Northern Ireland. He talks of "sinister people". He might have discovered this earlier than after eight months.
I have a transcript of what General Freeland said on "Panorama". The Prime Minister today said if General Freeland was correctly reported—I was very glad that the Prime Minister put the record right—he gave the impression that there were certain circumstances in which the Army might leave. Alan Hart asked:
… How long can the Army be expected to stay.…
General Freeland said:
I would say there must be a limit to it, because the British Army has got obviously many other jobs to do.…
Later he said:
Time will run out on them, and also the Army may not stay long enough, or may not be allowed to stay long enough.…
The fundamental point in the disturbances of last week is that the I.R.A. element and the Ulster Protestant Volunteer Force believe, I think wrongly, that the Army will leave and that the Government here will rat. I think that they are completely wrong. However, the point is that they believe it and they are getting into position for the situation. It may be months or years before it happens.
I cannot imagine anything more irresponsible than the remarks of General Freeland on "Panorama". They must have given direct encouragement to that view. In this situation the credibility of General Freeland in Northern Ireland has been destroyed. I tell the House in sorrow, because it gives me no pleasure to attack a public servant, that he must be replaced.
The whole House must show its gratitude to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) because he has now written the epitaph on a convention that we tried to destroy five years ago. The Unionist Party, which raised point of order after point of order to prevent our discussing Northern Ireland, is now raising the matter, and I am delighted.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who has some association with history, may have been expected to know that violence is born not through hope but through despair. The despair of people of Northern Ireland has caused the violence. The right hon. Gentleman knows nothing about Irish history. If he knew anything about it he would know that the revolts of 1798 and 1867 and the Post Office in 1916 were born of despair and that the 50 or so men of Connolly's Citizens' Army knew that they could not win in 1916, but revolted just the same because there was no hope, only despair, and that was the only way that they could express their feelings. The right hon. Gentleman has divested me of any impression I might have had that he had the slightest understanding of the lessons of history, particularly Irish history. He seems to be devoted to playing the Orange card at the time of maximum danger when he can exploit violence for his own political purposes in trying to usurp the leadership of the Tory Party.
The root cause of the troubles in Northern Ireland is that for 50 years a third of the citizens have been excluded from all participation in the government of that country and in the various channels by which a country makes its decisions.
Over the last few months we have had the fire bombs, the explosions and the strong-arm tactics which have forced people out of their homes because of their religion. I have fought for civil rights since I entered this House. If anyone is so misguided as to think that the events of last week have aided the cause of civil rights or eased the stranglehold of Unionism in Northern Ireland, they should remember that sectarian bigotry has been the greatest single cause of economic degradation and political division in Northern Ireland and that there can be no place for it in the civil rights movement.
If there is to be violence in Northern Ireland, let it come from the thugs who clubbed the marchers at Burntullot, let it come from those who fired volleys of shots into British soldiers on the Shankill Road while waving the Union Jack, let it come from the Lardner Burkes of Northern Ireland. Let it not come from the Civil Rights Movement or those interested in the eventual unification of Ireland.
I believe that it is our duty to condemn violence from wherever it may come, whether from Protestant or Catholic, whether from Republican or Unionist. Ultimately these people will have to live side by side, and do live side by side. How can one convince one's Protestant neighbour of the need for a united Ireland if one occupies his house and imitates the methods of the Paisley-ites that have been so well documented over the last few months?
I should like to quote the words of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, who said that the Government were firmly opposed to force as a solution as it provided no real answer to the problem. He relied instead on the encouragement of understanding, good will and co-operation between all groups in the country.
Regarding the problems involved in reunification, he said that consideration had to be given to the views of one million Irish people whose religious and social beliefs were different from those of the majority. There might also have to be an intermediate stage on the road to reunification where the North would retain for a time economic and financial links with Britain. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West seems to believe that there is no sea dividing Britain from Ireland.
Bigotry is a curse which has hindered the political and economic development of Northern Ireland, and no one concerned with civil rights must respond to 50 years of Unionist aggression and bigotry by falling victim to the same disease. The Protestant working class of Belfast has been duped for too long by Unionists opposite who played upon bigotry to such an extent that the average earnings in Northern Ireland, to say nothing of the astronomical unemployment figures, are £120 less than the worst region in the rest of the United Kingdom. Yet, in a recent survey carried out by Strathclyde University, whereas only 22 per cent. of people in Scotland and 28 per cent. in England claim to be middle-class, 44 per cent. of people in Northern Ireland consider themselves middle-class. It seems that if one wears an Orange sash and has a house with a lavatory one is middle-class. This is what the Unionists have played on to dupe the Protestant workers in Belfast and elsewhere to vote for their party rather than for their true interests.
With respect to the British Army, which I believe has kept peace in Northern Ireland, has prevented bloodshed and has stopped the massacre of Catholics in the Bogside and other areas, certain things have to be said about this week's events. Certain points have arisen because of a misunderstanding of the Irish mentality. No one hit out at bigotry more than James Connolly, who was shot in his invalid chair by British bullets. Irishmen do not forget that kind of thing. When General Sir Ian Freeland made his spine-chilling remark about shooting to kill, well meant as it may have been, it sent a chill of horror down my spine. I am sure that it also sent a chill of horror down the spines of many patriotic Irishmen who remember British bullets in very different terms from us. They remember how British bullets were used in 1916. I think that his foolish action, well-intentioned though it may have been, was compounded yesterday. It ignores the fact that the main shooting incidents and explosions, the enormous arson and violence that there has been, has been on the part of the U.V.F.
We had no calls for debates on matters of urgent importance from hon. Gentlemen opposite when Catholic families were forced out of their homes, when 55 pubs were burned down in Belfast and when, one after another, pylons and other public places were destroyed by U.V.F. bombs. Not one peep did we have from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Yet they raise the matter now.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been converted after five years. Five years ago, in March 1965, the hon. Gentleman and others—and this is documented—raised point of order after point of order on Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act. The hon. Gentleman can read all this in two article of mine in the Irish Times two months ago. On that occasion those hon. Gentlemen—and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) in particular—tried to prevent the discussion of Northern Ireland
Turning to the events of last week, I refer to an article in The Times on 4th April which referred to how this arose. It referred to an Orange parade on Tuesday:
which was not re-routed in spite of protests. Inevitably the parade was regarded as a provocation and equally inevitably during the afternoon a Republic tricolour was produced.
According to the Roman Catholics, troops arrested the man with the flag and held him for an hour while local vigilantes pleaded for his release. O crowd gathered, and would not disperse even when the man was freed. The vigilantes asked for time to break up the mob and, they claimed, were only given five minutes.
The 'snatch squads' moved in.
It was a critical situation made more critical—and again one has to understand the history of Ireland and the plantations in Ireland. I understand—and this is no ill-reflection on these soldiers—that the fact that this was a Scottish regiment, dressed in a particular way, was something which, imaginary or otherwise, was nevertheless resented by those people in Northern Ireland. It is not so much the fact that matters as the effect which it has on people.
I ask my right hon. Friend, first, to see that any political statement about the use of force in Northern Ireland is made through political channels and, second, to consider replacing the regi- ment to let tempers cool down. I ask those in the civil rights movement to play their part in cooling tempers down, and I ask hon. Members opposite to play their part in fighting the most evil forces present in Northern Ireland today, the Reverend Ian Paisley and his friends.
What is needed in Northern Ireland is the reforms which are still paper reforms and which have not satisfied those who have asked for reforms over the last five years. The Prime Minister must keep his promise of July, 1964, to introduce new and impartial procedures for the allocation of housing and for the setting up of joint tribunals in which particular cases of alleged discrimination in public appointments can be dealt with. I think that the Race Relations Act ought to be extended to religious discrimination and applied to Northern Ireland. The enfranchisement of local government electors will be of no use whatever so long as Unionists retain their stranglehold in Derry because of the gerrymandering still allowed to exist there. Until the Unionists are prepared to yield up Derry to the majority of the citizens and until the Unionists are prepared to say that when there is a majority in a town against them that majority has the right to rule, there can be no peace in Northern Ireland.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have their part to play as well as hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. When there is an amnesty for members of the R.U.C. involved in the Bogside incidents while people who were defending their homes are still lying in jail, as well as for my hon. Friend for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) who has a six months' suspended sentence over her head and a youngster who is serving two years imprisonment, and when it took John Hume, my hon. Friend and many others to raise the Devenny case again after the refusal to look into people who had actually been identified as being involved in that affair, is there any wonder why there has been discontent below the surface over this period?
The message to my right hon. Friend must be that we cannot sweep all this under a khaki carpet, necessary as it is to have British troops there to straddle the barricades and prevent violence. My right hon. Friend cannot hide behind the Northern Ireland Home Secretary. We must admit frankly that in this situation social justice in Northern Ireland will be imposed from Westminster or not at all.
I conclude by saying that if mindless violence takes over I believe that another fifty years of Unionist rule will become inevitable and this will be catastrophic. But if it is so it is the result of fifty years of misrule by those same Unionists. The Unionists must be prepared to give up their privileges.
We in this House, on all sides, must deplore violence from whatever side it comes. In this unhappy hour, whatever party we belong to, we must join in deploring that violence, from whatever source it may come. We cannot ask for that violence to be ended until paper civil rights become full civil rights, and until the logic of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is fulfilled in one respect at least—that every one of the rights and privileges we hold dear in this Parliament are extended to the people in Northern Ireland.
There is one electoral way in which this can be done in which I agree with the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and that is by the introduction of proportional representation into Northern Ireland to ensure participation by the minority community as well as the majority.
I make no apology for saying that one day I believe that through a slow process Ireland will again be one nation and that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West misreads the situation. However, it will come not by force but by persuasion and by people living together as neighbours in mutual trust without discrimination, without bigotry and with understanding that the common enemies of the Protestant and Catholic working man in Belfast are the hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I find that in many ways this is a difficult debate to reply to. I was one of those, Mr. Speaker, who rose yesterday when you ruled as you did in a way to make this debate possible. I did so because I felt it was not only inevitable but necessary that this House should show its concern over the events of the past few days and not because I believed then, or that I have come to believe since I have heard the debate, that longterm or ultimate solutions would emerge from our discussions today.
We must face the fact that we are living, in a sense, from hand to mouth and from crisis to crisis and that the problem which ought to concern us all, and which certainly concerns me, and I think, my hon. Friends, is how to cope with the immediate situation. The Secretary of State for Defence made it clear that, whatever may be the truth or otherwise of what the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) has just said about the ultimate necessity of reforming abuses and meeting grievances, the events of the past few days did not—at any rate this was the right hon. Gentleman's assessment—bear a direct relationship either to the content of proposed reform or to the pace at which it was being carried out and did have and did reflect sinister influences which the right hon. Gentleman did not specifically name.
In that, I think that the right hon. Gentleman was right, and I was more impressed by the bomb incident in relation to that proposition than by the extremely obscure events which led to the riots at Ballymurphy. Somebody planted bombs in shops timed to go off in a busy street at a time when people could normally expect to be hurt. Whoever planted those bombs could not have known in advance whether the person who was going to be hurt was a Roman Catholic or a Protestant, or a Unionist or a member of the Labour Party or of the People's Democracy. It seems to me—and this was the reason I rose yesterday—that what justifies this debate as a matter of urgency is not the perpetual crisis through which we have been living in the past 18 months or more, but the particularly ugly circumstance that there are people at work, whoever they may be, who seem to hate humanity as such.
I revert to the Ballymurphy incident, which seems to me a much simpler one in a way and as ugly. The last word on this was said by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Conner, who seemed to me to make one of the most moving elocutions a Christian bishop has ever said to his flock. If I may say so, I think that it was something which every Protestant would wish to say to his fellow Protestants in the situation which now exists no less than Roman Catholics to their fellow Roman Catholics.
I see the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) sitting opposite me. I know that he is an honourable and reputed member of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not say to myself, "There goes a Papist, a child of the Scarlet Woman." I say to myself, "There is a fellow Christian"—and a rare bird that sometimes is in these wicked days. I think that what we really have to talk about is something far less fundamental than the philosophy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) or than the social proposals of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), to whose speech, in the hope that she may be able to come back, I will refer a little later.
This brings me to the components of the present situation. I start with the Army, and do so because I think that the immense majority in this House are proud of what the Army is trying to do in Ulster [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We believe that the troops are protecting lives. They are protecting the lives of one community against the other and of both communities against rather unknown and sinister influences. We are proud of them. We think that they are good soldiers well led.
I do not think that it is any part of my business to advert to the recent appearances on television of General Freeland, criticism of which appeared to be the only common factor in some of the divergent speeches to which we have listened. But I will say this to the Home Secretary in the hope that he may pass it on. It has crossed my mind in the last few hours and, indeed, in the last few days that when statements are to be made which may have political implications—it is no criticism of the G.O.C. to say that, but it is in a sense a criticism of the Governments both at Stormont and Westminster—such statements are better made by Ministers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—because Ministers, for all that we are professional politicians who are known to have a double dose of original sin, and for all our faults, are more sensitive to nuances than professional soldiers are. That, after all, is our job. Moreover, if Ministers make these pronouncements, we can criticise them without feeling that we are attacking a public servant.
I do not want to pursue this matter, but I ask the Home Secretary to consider whether, if statements which are liable to lay themselves open to criticisms are to be made, whether they are necessary or not, it would not be better to expose Ministers to the communications media rather than to expose professional soldiers. In the meantime, I think that one of the encouraging features of the situation is the way in which the civilianised police seem to have recovered their self-confidence and morale and the way in which the Army has discharged its duties.
This brings me to the positive factors in the situation. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) declared, both over the weekend, if he is correctly reported, and, if I understood him correctly, today, a certain element of despair about what had happened. I think that it is very easy to despair in thinking about the situation. I want to tell him why I do not despair, although I admit that the situation is resting on somewhat rickety foundations.
To begin with—and I know that the Home Secretary will forgive me for saying this—I attach a great deal of importance to a measure of agreement between the two major parties in this House. I know that it is difficult for hon. Members opposite to believe that I have no particularly bad conscience in this matter. I have not. But I am sincerely apprehensive of what would happen if the Home Secretary and I allowed ourselves to fall out over this business. I think that the consequences in Northern Ireland might be quite serious, and I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for the kindness he has shown me in the past over this matter.
At the same time, I would like to say something else. I think that the whole House understands the rather hilarious atmosphere of Prime Ministers' Questions and Answers. Prime Ministers being chivvied have every right to make a sharp riposte, but I ask the Home Secretary to convey delicately to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister that excessive references to the shortcomings of the party of which I am a member and, indeed, to the Unionist Party, some of whose members are friends of mine, do make it more difficult for me to maintain this atmosphere, which I am anxious to do.
The second thing I see which is positive about the situation concerns the Dublin Government. I do not think that we can altogether forget the Dublin Government in this situation. One has to be very delicate about how one talks about them. It is almost impossible to talk about anybody in Ireland without annoying them. But, if I may say so, after a somewhat shaky start, which I do not hold against him because, as a professional politician, I understand his difficulties, we owe a great deal to Mr. Jack Lynch. His latest speeches were intended to be helpful and have succeeded in reducing the bad feeling which would otherwise have existed. To put the thing in the converse way, which is perhaps the less offensive way, in my opinion it would be easy indeed for an unwise Minister in Dublin to cause innocent lives to be lost in Londonderry or Belfast, and the second of the factors in the situation which has caused me not to despair is the fact that we owe this gratitude to some of the Ministers in Dublin, who have their own constituency problems, as we do ours.
I fear that all my caresses this evening are going to be treated as the kiss of death, but the other thing I want to say is about my friends at Stormont. The third thing which leads me not to despair about the present situation is that, with a great deal of personal courage, and under a hail of abuse and some efforts at intimidation, the reforming wing of the Unionist Party is still in power in Stormont. I sincerely believe that, whatever may be thought about the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, if one removed it altogether or broke it up irreparably at this moment there would be nothing left upon which one could build any kind of even temporary stability. I believe this is also the view of the Government. It is certainly my belief.
Some people hanker after direct rule from Westminster. I was not even quite sure that my right hon. Friend did not mean that as the implication of what he was saying. One cannot govern another people—and in a sense, all British as they may feel themselves, every Ulsterman is not an Englishman—by means of the Civil Service alone, courts of justice alone, troops and police alone. There must be some kind of Parliamentary institution and an Executive which is responsible to it.
This House owes a great debt of gratitude not only to Lord O'Neill, whose political disappearance from the scene I regret, but also to the present Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and his friends, for continuing to bear the burden of responsibility as they do from day to day.
These three factors lead me to be very far from the despair which the hon. Gentleman expressed, both over the weekend and in the House this afternoon.
This brings me to the very capable speech of the hon. Lady for Mid-Ulster. Before I proceed to say anything about it, let me say something, I hope not wholly disagreeable, about her. It fell to me to welcome her on the occasion of her Maiden Speech. I said then, and I say now, that one of the things which impress me most about her is her immense personal courage. Courage is a quality which I very greatly admire. To come here after her recent operation was no small physical and moral effort. Although personally I think she may have been, in her own interest, unwise to do so, I can only respect her the more for running that particular risk.
I want to say two other things, which I hope she will not find condescending, about her personally. In the first place I think, if she stays the course, she will be a very formidable Parliamentarian. She will not expect me to say that I agree with many of her views or approve of most of her tactics, but if she will stay the course in Parliament and become—as she said she would not—a member of "this bloody club", as she put it, I think she has a considerable political future.
I thought that they were complaining that the hon. Lady was doing things outside she should not; she has always been quite good here, within reason.
There is one other thing on which I agree with the hon. Lady, and I would mention it before I come to criticise. Whatever anybody else may think, I agree with the hon. Lady and the two other speakers who have spoken from the other side of the House that the unforgiveable crime of the Irish is poverty. Although I have said, and I say again, that I do not believe that the events of the last few days can be related directly to grievance or to the need for reform, what she says about the rate of male unemployment in Londonderry and in parts of Belfast and what she says about house-building is something that each of us ought to take very much to heart.
On the last occasion on which I spoke one of the suggestions I made was that some kind of house-building industry could be erected and based upon a factory-built component system in parts of Northern Ireland where unemployment was very high. Although I am not one of those who think that one can get rid of religious or political difference or even ordinary crime by simply curing the economic grievances, what is ultimately intolerable to me is that economic injustice should continue to exist, even if it did not cause crime and unrest. The message which ought to go out from this House about this trouble is that we will never abandon our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland either to injustice or to violence. We will stand by them with our troops as long as necessary. But we will not tolerate in the United Kingdom conditions that we would not tolerate inside our own constituencies. I think the matter is as simple as that.
If I might say this to the hon. Lady, before she does become a member of this "club", if she does want to unite all the Members of this House—it is very difficult to do—there is one thing which will do it and that is to say: "Boycott British goods."
When I heard that there was to be a debate today, I naturally reflected on the last time we had such a debate. I have looked back at the speeches and the points of criticism that were made then. I have not made a speech on the subject of Northern Ireland since we had the debate in the House last October. On the whole, I do not think either Northern Ireland or anywhere else has been any the worse for my failure to make a speech. I feel sometimes the situation is perhaps dramatised, agonised over, dissected and argued about to a point where debate becomes not a help but a hindrance. I do not feel that my six months' silence has done anything to make events worse in the country we are discussing.
I naturally reflected, when I knew today's debate was to be held, on whether there was a new situation arising out of the disturbances and, if so, whether new initiatives were needed. Was the situation different from the one we were discussing last October and, if so, what changes in policy should I propose?
There is one very significant difference between this debate and that of last October, as anybody who reads it will see. When I so cordially agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) when he said that he did not despair about this situation, I had this, among other things, in mind. The memory of the House is not so short that it will have forgotten the voluminous criticism directed continuously and constantly against the Royal Ulster Constabulary six months ago. If there has been any progress that has been marked, it is surely shown by the absence of any reference at all this afternoon either to condemn or to praise, except, in passing, by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It does mark the difference between the debate we were having then and the debate we are now having. There is no doubt that Sir Arthur Young and the Royal Ulster Constabulary under not only his leadership but that of their officers, including the old ones, with his new leadership, have begun to win a substantial place for independence for impartiality in the minds of everyone in Northern Ireland.
I want to make that absolutely clear. It will not be fair or proper today to say that the R.U.C. is intervening on behalf of either Protestants or Catholics. Indeed, I was interested to read the account of how, when a young man, perhaps a little unwisely, ventured out into the town square at Easter sporting an Easter lily and was set upon by a group of Protestants, the R.U.C. plunged into the middle of the crowd to rescue him and to make sure that he was unharmed. People might say that was impossible a year ago—I do not think that it would have been—but it is possible today, and it is happening every day.
Another important factor is that the recruitment to the police is going at an unparalleled rate. There is a much higher rate of new recruits than has been known for years past. And they are coming from both communities—naturally, not so many from one as from the other, but in proportion almost equally. These are real advances.
When I detected the atmosphere of gloom which has pervaded this Chamber today, I disagreed with it. I agree much more with the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone: there are substantial reasons for hope in Northern Ireland, and if I do not detail them all, it is only because the debate must finish quickly. But I pull out the most noticeable. There is not a single man on my side who will not admit that, last time, his criticism was focused on the R.U.C., and today—not a word. I quote that just as an illustration.
Is there a new political situation? Do the events of the last few days demonstrate that there is? My answer is, "No, they do not." What has happened has been an outbreak of violence. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I think, was right to say that the bomb incidents are by far the most serious of these.
But if I have to make a distinction between the situation now and the situation last autumn, it would be this. Then, we faced first one community and then both communities, all of whom were living under a cloud of total fear and, indeed, panic. When I heard the criticisms of the British Army being made today—not by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—I remembered the appeals which were made that the British Army should go in, and the British Army has discharged its functions with complete impartiality and with great courage. It is not the Army who have changed, it is some of the people who were then inviting the Army in to help them.
I am not saying that the hon. Lady asked for the intervention of the troops; what I am saying is that her supporters did. It is her supporters who still want them there and do not want them withdrawn. This is true of many areas in Northern Ireland.
I want to go on record to repeat what the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone said. The British troops there are undertaking a task which is unique in British history. It is a distasteful task. To put it at its most parochial, they had to have their Easter leave cancelled for 16 demonstrations. What are they supposed to think about that? I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin)—they are ordinary working chaps. They want their leave like anyone else wants his bit of fun and demonstrating. The Army is doing a magnificent job there, and it is well led.
I come immediately to the question of whether General Freeland should make political utterances or—to put it the other way—whether Ministers should not do it. Ministers did it, but the same notice was not taken of what they said. My hon. Friend the Minister for Defence for Administration was in Northern Ireland last week. He gave a full Press conference on the day and evening that he left. There were substantial television interviews when he returned to London. He was interviewed on the radio, I think on Radio 4. I have a full note of what he said. If there is any criticism to be directed about those statements, it is not against General Freeland but against the Government here and the spokesmen of the Government. My hon. Friend and I will take full responsibility for what was said on those occasions, as we must do.
I must say, I think that soldiers are put in a very difficult position by the mass communications media. Any of us who have watched the television—I remember it during the last autumnal incidents—saw the television cameras and the microphones being thrust under the mouth of a young major who had had to take an operational decision only 30 seconds beforehand and who was asked to justify it before the world. This is a new feature, which I do not much relish. General Freeland's interview was, of course, a deliberate one, and what he had to say he said in a way which not everyone may approve of in this House, but which nevertheless could not be faulted in the terms in which he put it.
My right hon. Friend is extremely gallant in these matters in coming to the defence of General Freeland so wholeheartedly, but will he accept, in talking about a new situation, that generals who talk about shooting to kill or generals who presume to talk about the time that British soldiers will stay in Ireland are helping to create a highly dangerous situation?
These are two separate points—first of all, about what he said and second about what the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster said this afternoon. We were told by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster—I do not wish to misquote her, but I think I have it right—first that anyone who appeared on the streets would be shot. She soon retreated from that position. Then, she said that if there is a person carrying a petrol bomb the Army may not shoot the right one, so they may shoot everyone or the wrong ones.
I should like to ask—I do not want a reply now: I should like a considered reply—how is the Army supposed to behave when petrol bombs are being thrown at them? What are they supposed to do?
Not now, I do not want an answer now.
Everyone of us has seen on television the pictures of our boys standing there while brickbats have been rained on their heads, and they did nothing at all. They stood there and took the lot. What are they supposed to do?
No, I will give way to the hon. Lady or to my hon. Friend, or to neither, if I may be permitted.
But there must come a moment when the General Officer Commanding says "We have had enough of this. Action must be taken". That is what General Freeland was saying. What he said was that if a petrol bomb——
Another Sharpeville? I do not remember the Africans at Sharpeville having petrol bombs. What I remember about that is that Africans who had held a peaceful demonstration were turning and fleeing, were shot in the back by the troops. That is what I remember.
No, I will not give way.
I want to quote what General Freeland said:
…the petrol bomb is a lethal weapon…anybody who manufactures, carries, or throws a petrol bomb is liable to most terribly tough punishment. They are liable to be shot dead in the street if, after warning, they persist. So, if you could get that across to any potential…bomb throwers, I would be grateful.
Some hon. Gentlemen may not like the choice of language, but the way to avoid it is very simple. Do not go out with a petrol bomb. That is the answer. There is not a single problem in Northern Ireland today, there is not a single injustice—though there are some which exist in Northern Ireland—which is worth the loss of a life of a single British soldier or a single Irish citizen—not one. It is high time that some of the speeches that are being made emphasise this fact. I do not despair about it, but I do despair about the concentration on the imagined and real grievances at times to the complete exclusion of the measures of progress which are being made in this country.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether we could not have a great housing programme. We have got one. It was announced only a few weeks ago. With the aid of the British Treasury and, therefore, the British taxpayer—all these things cost a lot of money—the Northern Ireland Government were able to announce that the house-building programme in Northern Ireland is to be increased over a five-year period from 54,000 houses built in the last five years to 73,500 built in the next five.
The rate of building houses in Northern Ireland is much higher than it is in Scotland, England or Wales. There is a big expansion of house-building, financed—properly, and I do not complain about it—by Her Majesty's Government. This is "doing something immediately", but hon. Members cannot expect to see houses going up overnight, like mushrooms.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster can point to grievances, and I am, of course, always ready to listen to her. I listen to her privately as well as publicly. But let her sometimes acknowledge in public the substantial progress that is being made.
I will acknowledge substantial progress when it is made, but to date the only progress made in Northern Ireland is progress for the benefit of the electoral campaign of the British Labour Party—[Interruption.]—and not for the material benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.
I will only comment that I can think of better ways of helping our electoral image than by what is happening in Northern Ireland.
Alas, I do not have time to develop a number of points on which I would otherwise comment. However, I have not dealt with the question of political control. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale that it is important that Ministers should make new statements of policy; and, indeed, they did so on this occasion. It is vitally important that generals should not appear to be put in the position of making policy in any way. This is fully recognised and understood.
As for the future of British troops in Northern Ireland, I read with some surprise what was said, and when I saw the context in which it was uttered, I thought that the General had perhaps been the victim of one of those interviewers who leads one on from question to question so that perhaps he was putting a personal point of view. However, the position from the point of view of the future of British troops in Northern Ireland was stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House this afternoon. I re-state it here and now, and it cannot be stated by anybody else.
British troops will remain in Northern Ireland for as long as it is decided by Her Majesty's Government that they should remain there; that is, for as long as it is necessary for them to stay there and for as long as it is necessary for them to do the work for which they are there. No time limit has been set, but how long they will stay there will be a political decision. I cannot foresee a time when British troops will be withdrawn in the foreseeable future.
As to whether their numbers can be reduced, that will depend on whether the people of Northern Ireland can or cannot live together peaceably. They have it in their hands to decide how long the troops will stay, the purposes for which they will stay and under what conditions they will stay.
As to sinister elements, I have seen what has been said about this, but I know of no new factions in Northern Ireland that did not exist before; that is, the I.R.A., who talk a great deal and in many voices, and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Both are committed to courses of action that would rule out any democratic solution. There are no new sinister elements as far as I know. My information may not be as good as that of some of those who have been able to pinpoint from where the bombs have come.
I regret that I cannot inform the House of that. I do not know the answer any more than anybody else who is in this position can know the answer. However, I do know that both the I.R.A. and the U.V.F. are both capable of planting bombs and of causing great damage and loss of life. So far it has not been possible, despite the most intensive efforts, to discover who was responsible for the latest series of outrages.
However, there is no new sinister conspiracy of which I am aware, except a sudden burst of activity which, as far as I can see, springs from the activities of one of those groups. I am not trying to say who it is, and I hope that no hon. Member will try to pinpoint it. I say that because I remember the debate 12 months ago, when many people thought that they were sure from where the explosions originated. I do not think they are quite so sure about it now. A few of them might be, but not many would be as prepared as they were 12 months ago to take the line which they took then about the origins of the explosions on this occasion.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West that violence will be no solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. I am grateful to him for saying that because I know that he has tried to give leadership in this matter. I also know that Britain will not solve the problems of Northern Ireland, and that is why I was always slow to step in. Only the people of Northern Ireland can solve their own problems and we should be diffident about offering our views. I hope that I am not forward in proffering my views on the subject.
The people of Northern Ireland can decide a simple fact about which there is no need to exaggerate or give way to despair. There may be 250 or 500 men in Northern Ireland today who are intent on dragging the country down so that it lives under the shadow of the gun. The question is not so much what those few hundred will do, but what the rest of the people, the other 1½ million, will do.
Will they allow themselves to live under the shadow of the gunman and permit themselves to be divided by this latest outbreak into two groups, separated by a mile of misunderstanding, or will they support the only institutions which can preserve peace for them and enable them to live peaceably? They are constitutional government, a perpetuation of the reforms and the full implementation of the reforms on which the Ulster Unionist Government have embarked. They have embarked on them and they are carrying them through. Let there be no doubt about that.
To hon. Members who are still disposed to criticise, I say that there must be full support for the Army and the R.U.C. in this situation. They are forces which stand between them and anarchy. It is not their job to weaken them, but to build them up. Unless they do that, nothing can stand between them and the division of the people of Northern Ireland into two factions, each at each other's throats without anybody to keep the peace and with no hope for the future.