Exercise of Executive and Legislative Powers in N.I.

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th March 1972.

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Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher 12:00 am, 29th March 1972

For 15 years before I came to Westminster I was involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Army. Over the years I have seen these dangers getting closer. Now they are on our doorstep, and that is one reason why I entered politics. The decision on the political initiative was a crunch for me and that is why I abstained from voting last night. This policy is not a weakening of the resolution of the Government, but it may well be seen to be so by the terrorists, and this may increase their prestige and morale.

We have been learning our political lessons every day since the decision has been taken. I will put to the Committee two military lessons. First, one talks of political initiatives, but there can be no peace settlement until the war is won. Otherwise we shall find that we have not won the war. Secondly, we cannot disengage in the face of the enemy without the gravest difficulties and consequences.

The main problem which my right hon. Friend will find is that in casting aside one's friends one may end up with not enough people on one's side. If we alienate the Protestants, and the Catholic population are dominated by the gunmen and we cannot detach them, we shall have on our side nobody at all.

I have great sympathy with the purpose of Amendment No. 10. We are faced with the gravest constitutional problems. The dilemma is that we are trying to discuss the Bill and look with great care at these constitutional issues but at the same time there is a need for speed and urgency. Tonight is not the time for constitutional engineering.

My right hon. Friend has listened to all the pleas that have been made to try to make the system more democratic. Apart from the legislation which is going through Stormont at present—the Education Bill, the Local Government Bill, the Fire Services Bill, and so on—the rest will be of an emergency nature. It is most important that this legislation should be scrutinised, otherwise it will not be effective.

Unless we push through legislationspeedily—and having abstained I feel I must support my right hon. Friend—we shall find that there is no Government left in Northern Ireland. I am sure that no hon. Member wishes to see such an eventuality. I hope that the legislation can proceed and, now that the decision is taken, we shall lose no time in putting it through.