Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th February 1972.

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Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I met Mr. Faulkner in London on 4th February when, as part of our regular discussions, we reviewed the current situation in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Michael O'Halloran Mr Michael O'Halloran , Islington North

Further to Press speculation regarding a political solution in Northern Ireland, is it possible for the Prime Minister to spell out to us his proposals for this solution?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The House knows that we have been working for a political solution as intensively as we can. The House also knows of the difficulties in the way of that solution. I do not at this time wish to discuss any individual proposals which might be considered in that respect.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is widespread speculation both in this country and abroad about imminent Government proposals? Because of the seriousness of the situation, will he tell the House when the Government will make these proposals public to the nation?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I cannot be responsible for speculation of various kinds. I understand that it is bound to happen, but I cannot be responsible for individual proposals which are made in the Press or elsewhere. When the Government have further proposals to make I will, of course, tell the House.

Photo of Mr Robin Chichester-Clark Mr Robin Chichester-Clark , County Londonderry

Is it not a lamentable but blunt fact that procrastination and delay by groups in Northern Ireland who refuse to come to talks may contribute to the condemning to death of yet another innocent civilian or another member of the security forces?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

That is undoubtedly true. In a speech in Harrogate on Sunday I asked that they should reconsider the position in the light of the existing situation in Northern Ireland. There cannot be a more open offer than that.

Photo of Mr Simon Mahon Mr Simon Mahon , Bootle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, despite all the tragic happenings in Ireland, we should continue to impress upon everyone concerned that there is no solution in violence in Ireland? In my view, the most important aspect to get fruitful talks going in Ireland is the Government's consideration of internment. Will the right hon. Gentleman point out to the overwhelming majority of people, both in Ireland and in this country, the tremendous areas of agreement we have between us in trade, economic and social factors in order that they may become better informed about our attitude towards peace?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Yes. I well understand the importance of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, we fully support the condemnation of violence which he has made and the desire that there should be greater understanding both north and south of the Border and with Britain. Certainly I have done everything possible to try to get a better understanding between the Republic of Eire and Northern Ireland in the discussions which I have had with the Prime Minister of Eire. We shall continue to do that. We must also recognise that there are and will remain people who do not want a political solution, except the immediate unification of the whole of Ireland. Therefore, whatever political solutions are put forward and accepted, there will still be those who wish to break them up.

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

In considering these matters, will my right hon. Friend continue to bear in mind that any initiative and any proposals which are prepared must also be broadly acceptable to the majority?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I think that it is sometimes overlooked that immense restraint has been exercised by the majority community in Northern Ireland. They are to be admired for the steadfastness which they have shown in very difficult conditions. Both major parties—I think that I can fairly say all parties—in this House have said that change can be brought about only by consent, if change is required, in anything affecting the 1949 Act. All parties in this House are committed to that.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

While we accept that the Prime Minister cannot be responsible for Press speculation, there is speculation and speculation. Because daily we are being treated to a blow-by-blow account of what purports to go on in Cabinet Committee meetings, would it not be in the best interests of everybody concerned that we should have an early statement?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there has been guidance in this way or a blow-by-blow account of Cabinet Committee meetings.—[Interruption.]—I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is always ready to believe that everything in the newspapers comes from a Government source, which is based on his previous experience in office. This is no longer the case. I assure the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that, if we have any proposals to make, I will make a statement as early as possible.