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Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party 12:00 am, 7th April 1970

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 I cannot foresee a time when British troops will be withdrawn in the foreseeable future.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.