With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.
The House will have heard with deep anxiety that a number of people were killed and injured in the course of disturbances in Londonderry yesterday.
A march was organised in deliberate defiance of the legal order banning marches. The G.O.C. Northern Ireland has reported that at an appropriate point this march was stopped by the security forces and that those who were under the control of the organisers turned back. A large number of trouble-makers refused to accept the instructions of the march stewards and attacked the Army with stones, bottles, steel bars and canisters of C.S. The Army met this assault with two water cannon, C.S., and rubber bullets only. The G.O.C. has further reported that when the Army advanced to make arrests among the trouble-makers they came under fire from a block of flats and other quarters. At this stage the members of the orderly, although illegal, march were no longer in the near vicinity. The Army returned the fire directed at them with aimed shots and inflicted a number of casualties on those who were attacking them with firearms and with bombs.
In view of the statements that have been made which publicly dispute this account, the Government have decided that it is right to set up an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the march and the incidents leading up to the casualties which resulted. We are urgently considering the most appropriate form and membership of such an inquiry and I will make a further statement to the House as soon as possible.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that yesterday saw yet another tragic day for Ireland that will prove far more traumatic than was internment? May I express our sympathy with all the families of all the victims killed and injured, civilian and military, as a result of yesterday's events, and with the family of the soldier who died yesterday as a result of earlier events.
We welcome the inquiry, but it must be impartial, and it must be entirely judicial, to investigate what happened. Where did the fire come from? At the bar of world opinion it is important to know the facts. Without them there will be no progress in the talks. And, unlike with some of the other inquiries, there must be speed.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that we need also to know how it happened in the context of Government policy, as opposed to the events of yesterday? Was the decision to go into the Bogside a reaction to events, or was it the planned disposition of security forces? Who decided this? Was it the decision of the Joint Security Council? If so, was it with the full knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government?
I am aware that question and answer are not enough for this important topic, and I give notice that, at the proper time, I shall seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 and move a Motion that we should debate the situation in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's view that the inquiry should be impartial, judicial and should proceed with speed. The Army was acting under normal instructions, which is to deal with breaches of the law, to apprehend lawbreakers, and to do both with the minimum necessary force.
Would my right hon. Friend, in the inquiry, go a little further than the mere military incident yesterday? It seems vital that the House and the country should know how the decision was taken and who approved the necessary action, whether it was approved here, or reviewed here, because quite clearly this enormous body of people probably could not be held by the forces available to the commander-in-chief.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the war in Ulster has lasted longer than the Black and Tan war, of odious memory, and that the paratroopers will be remembered for just as long now with the same odium?—[Interruption.] What I am stating is a fact. They will be so remembered.
It was reported in the Press here last week that other military commanders, other British officers, including brigadiers, had said that the paratroopers should be removed from Ulster. What notice was paid by the Government to the advice of those British military commanders?
While sharing the anguish which the whole House feels about the events of yesterday, may I ask my right hon. Friend to be cautious in accepting the numbers of those taking part in the march which have been put forward by newspapers, and elsewhere? Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that the inquiry he proposes will have powers which are wide enough to enable it to look into the reason why the ban on marches was defied, and who the organisers were? Will my right hon. Friend also make sure that the inquiry is conducted with speed, as the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) asked, and that every facility is provided for those Scottish policemen who were witnesses to the incidents of yesterday, and in a position to see what happened, to give evidence at such an inquiry?
Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that people in Northern Ireland will not accept the findings of any inquiry which is set up under the auspices of a Tory Government? The only inquiry they will accept is one set up under international auspices such as the United Nations. If the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister are so confident of the rectitude of the operations of British troops yesterday, why should they take steps to forestall such an impartial inquiry?
Will the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary also take it from me that the sooner the paratroops are withdrawn from Northern Ireland the better? No one wants to see any more fatalities, but if the regiment continues to remain in Northern Ireland there will be fatalities.
The sooner steps are taken to suspend the Stormont Government and to withdraw all British troops from Northern Ireland the better it will be for the people of Northern Ireland.
Whilst I fully understand the reasons why the Home Secretary has felt it necessary to set up this inquiry, and whilst I hope that the inquiry will take place as soon as possible, may I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that there are some of us who, bearing in mind the record of the Parachute Regiment, or that of any other British regiment, have every faith in Her Majesty's troops?
I should like to add my sympathies to those which have been offered to the relatives of the 15 people of Derry, including an 8 year-old child and a teenage girl, who were killed yesterday in the incidents in the city.
Would the right hon. Gentleman now accept that the British Army is being used to implement the repressive measures of Stormont against the minority population, and that this has resulted in the alienation of thousands of Catholics, both in the Six Counties and further afield? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that that minority will never ever be defeated by this kind of repression? How many more times have we to say that? How many more times have we to say, "We told you so"? Will the right hon. Gentleman now consider the withdrawal of British troops from these Catholic areas into some kind of neutral zone?
Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider the ending of internment, the suspension of Stormont, the bringing back here of all security forces and the setting up of a commission immediately in the Six Counties to rule that province pending a permanent political solution?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the rôle of the Army. The Army was there yesterday to assist the civil power in enforcing the law against a deliberate attempt to break the law. That is our duty, and when people fire on troops, when people attack soldiers with bullets and bombs, they must expect retaliation.
Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the statement by Mr. Lynch that the behaviour of British troops was savagely inhuman? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is a deplorable remark, most of all as it comes from the Prime Minister of a State which purports to be friendly and to which we extend unique privileges in respect of nationality and trade?
Even on the assumption, Mr. Speaker, that you may grant an application under Standing Order No. 9—we do not yet know—this House is far from satisfied on this matter. It is important that, in a debate on Standing Order No. 9, we get a rather deeper analysis of the problems than has been given by the right hon. Gentleman. May I put one or two questions, and could not the same apply to any other hon. Member whom you want to call? First, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome his announcement of an inquiry on the grounds that serious allegations have been made—including a number by impartial, or, so far as we can tell, impartial, observers—and in view of the fact that the inquiry has been demanded by Cardinal Conway, whose record in condemning violence is known to all hon. Members?
On the other hand, we have had the categorical statements of the Commander, Land Forces, to the effect that no shots were fired until sniping began, and that shots were fired only at snipers. In view of all this, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we will support the announcement of an inquiry, and that, as he has now agreed, it should be speedy, independent and judicial? Could I therefore press upon the right hon. Gentleman that it must be held in public?
Second, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, even so, however speedy, consistent with a fair report, it may be, the Northern Irish situation will not wait for an inquiry? We have not had the Scar-man Report yet to deal with events from 1969. Will the right hon. Gentleman, between now and tomorrow, address himself to proposals put from this Box nine-and-a-half weeks about the transfer of the responsibility for security from the Northern Ireland Government to Her Majesty's Government—from the Stormont Parliament to this House?
Third, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, while the House is deeply preoccupied today, as it must be, with the tragedy and with the loss of life and the feelings of the relatives of those who were wounded—including the soldiers who have been wounded in this incident and in others—there will be no answer to this on a basis purely of a military answer; that there has to be a political solution? While I will stand in my corner with the Prime Minister on the fact that it is now nine weeks since the Government accepted my proposal for all-party talks—I accept my responsibility for the delays together with the right hon. Gentleman—will he recognise that we can now wait no longer, that there must be all-party talks in this House leading to talks with the Stormont Parliament and then with the Parliament in Dublin?
On the first point, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the inquiry, and agrees that it should be independent, judicial and speedy. I see his point about the delays which have taken place on previous occasions—the Scarman inquiry, for example, has taken a very long time. So we must get the form right. I will tell the House what we have decided on—[HON. MEMBERS: "In public."] There are difficulties with all these inquiries—for example, the security of individual witnesses. Even under the 1921 Act, there is provision for certain parts of the inquiry to be held in camera. These are important matters to consider.
On the second point, that of transferring security, I do not think that this is relevant. What is in question here are the actions of the British Army, for which this Government accept full responsibility—
The right hon. Gentleman says, "No"; I say, "Yes".
On the third point, the political solution, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, we entirely agree with him on the importance of finding a political solution. Heaven alone knows, yesterday's events should add weight to the importance of finding a political solution.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government and this House accept responsibility for the Army. That is true, but the Army was put in, by a decision, I agree, of the previous Government, in a security rôle in Northern Ireland. We have now reached the point where this House can no longer carry the can for that security rôle unless we take the political decisions on security. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am opposed to those who want to withdraw troops from Northern Ireland, but there is no reason why we should carry responsibility here unless we carry responsibility and control of the political decision under which they operate.
I still think that I was right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in regarding that as relevant to yesterday's occurrencies. What happened yesterday was that the Army was supporting the civil power in maintaining the ban on political processions from any quarter and of any kind in Northern Ireland, which both sides of the House thoroughly support.
As one who is proud to have served in the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, may I ask my right hon. Friend to remind the House that one member of this much-maligned regiment was recently awarded the George Cross posthumously for protecting the lives of Irish children—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Is it not a fact that the Parachute Regiment has been commended publicly for the restraint that it has shown in the past in dealing with difficult crowd situations in Northern Ireland?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is an appalling thought that a pitched battle reminiscent of wartime conditions took place in the United Kingdom yesterday? We therefore welcome this inquiry. But would he not agree that, if it is to be thorough, it is equally important that its findings should be generally accepted? Will he therefore not turn his mind, as I think he did earlier, from the possibility of a very distinguished international statesman, of the calibre, say, of Mr. Lester Pearson, which would in no way—[Interruption.] I believe that is the sort of name which commends itself to those members of the party opposite who have had experience of office.
Second, since the tension in Northern Ireland at the moment is very near a condition of civil war, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the security forces, in carrying out an almost impossible job, have adequate political advice available to them before they take security decisions?
On the first point, while I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, it would be a sad day for this country if we had to admit that we could not find anyone within our own boundaries capable of carrying out this task. On the second point, I am satisfied that the political advice available to the Army in carrying out their duties is entirely adequate.
On a point of order. It is a fact that a Member of this House, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) was the subject of a murderous attempt on her life yesterday on a platform at Derry and that she has not been allowed to speak in this short exchange.
On a point of order. I am the only person in this House who was present yesterday when, whatever the facts of the situation might be said —[Interruption.] Shut up! I have a right, as the only representative in this House who was an eye witness, to ask a question of that murdering hypocrite—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is well known to many hon. Members who received direct eye-witness reports from Derry yesterday that the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) with my noble Friend and others on that platform were forced to prostrate themselves while a hail of bullets was fired in their direction and that you, Mr. Speaker, refused to call one of those people who were present—
The hon. Member has no right to challenge my decision. What I was about to say to the hon. Lady was that the place for her to give her account of what happened is the inquiry. That is where she should rightly make her statement.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I believe that the situation this afternoon has been heightened by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) not being allowed to put her point of view whether the House agrees with it or not. She is the elected Member for Mid-Ulster. She was present at the demonstration. Surely it would have been in the interests of democracy for the hon. Lady to have been heard.
I called the hon. Lady twice to points of order. I was about to point out to her that the proper place for her to give her evidence was not to the House but to the committee of inquiry.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you give an assurance to the House that the normal three-hour debate tomorrow will be extended—when it is accepted—because there are many of us here, both Englishmen and Protestants—I am one of them—who feel a great sense of shame at what happened yesterday in Northern Ireland. I am not speaking as a Catholic—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In reply to a question I asked a few moments ago, the Home Secretary said that the troops replied with bullets to demonstrators who had fired on the troops. We are entitled to evidence of that reply. The only Member who was present could have given us that evidence if she had been called. I submit that the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) should have been called.