I welcome this debate, because it enables me to put before the House, to which I am answerable, my views, my hopes and my very real anxieties about the serious problem of Northern Ireland.
I have never tried to minimise the dangers of the present wave of violence and lawlessness which has continued for three years. It is small wonder that the large majority of law-abiding citizens, both Protestant and Catholic, are thoroughly fed up, bitter and frustrated.
To say that is not to say that we have no progress to report, as I think I can demonstrate by an outline of our policy and what we have achieved in the 10 weeks which have passed since the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act became law and the Government here at Westminster were entrusted by Parliament with direct responsibility for administration in Northern Ireland.
I will come later to the serious events of this last weekend. First, I want to tell the House of the aims of Her Majesty's Government's policy, the progress we have made, and our hopes for the future.
In the 10 weeks of direct rule, I have tried, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to reassure the majority community that they will not against their will be forced out of the United Kingdom and into a Republic of All Ireland; to reassure the minority community that they can count on equal rights and equal opportunities with other citizens of the United Kingdom; to end civil disobedience and sectarian violence and to show the leaders and as many as possible of the people of all shades of opinion that these are our aims; and to bring work to the unemployed and to bring social reconstruction to the depressed and damaged areas of the towns and cities of Northern Ireland.
But 10 weeks is too short a time to do more than make a start, too short a time to wipe out the bitterness of hundreds of years of recurring violence. Equally, I appreciate that time is one of the commodities which is not available in Northern Ireland.
In setting out to reassure the majority that they would not be forced out of the United Kingdom against their will, I recognise that we had to contend with a great feeling of shock, and in some cases of being let down, amongst many loyal, peaceful and responsible people in Northern Ireland, for whom the continued existence for many years of their own Parliament and Government has been a symbol and a focus of their firm feelings of independence and of belonging, under the Crown, to the United Kingdom. We were well aware that the suspension of Stormont was bound to disturb some, without satisfying others. To those people I say now, "The British Government and the British House of Commons will not betray you. Our troops and our money are eloquent testimony of our concern for you as citizens of the United Kingdom." I say this with great emphasis because fear and rumour play so great a part in the Northern Ireland scene. If only my reassurance, on behalf of the British Government, about the right of the people of Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom, if that is the wish of the majority, were believed, it would do much to calm the fears and anxieties of many law-abiding and peaceful people.
I am grateful indeed to those right hon. and hon. Members who have privately and publicly reinforced these assurances during their visits to Northern Ireland. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members who speak publicly or privately in Northern Ireland will feel able to do the same.
I must warn those in the majority of the population who feel frustrated that actions like those of last weekend play straight into the hands of the IRA, which is then able to portray itself as the protector of the Catholic community and in that way to delay the end of violence, the goal which they and all the rest are aiming to achieve.
My reassurances to the minority have won a good measure of acceptance. I do not ask the House merely to take my word on this, but to look at the facts and the progress. The Official IRA has proclaimed a ceasefire, a development which I believe has been underrated. The SDLP has felt able to make two helpful statements. In Andersons-town and in the Bogside and Creggan, where people have signed petitions in their tens of thousands, there is a strong and clear demand for peace. There is encouragement to be found in events south of the Border too, where Mr. Lynch has been able to move against the IRA by setting up special courts.
But though I am glad to see these signs that my assurances to the minority have been listened to, it is not enough for them just to make declarations and sign petitions, desirable though these things are. These peaceful forces must now display in a positive sense the strength of their members, not to ask but to insist on a cessation of the banditry in their midst.
In relation to our aim of bringing an end to lawlessness and sectarian violence I recognise that there is deep disquiet, both in this House and in Northern Ireland in particular about the situation in the Bogside-Creggan area of Londonderry. This is a part of Northern Ireland, and so of the United Kingdom, which has not been under the fully effective control of lawful authority for a considerable time. It is, in the most exact sense of that word, an intolerable situation—and amongst those who are unable to tolerate it are tens of thousands of people who live under IRA dominance there and whose wish to be free of it becomes clearer every day.
Lawful authority must be and will be restored in those areas. We do not intend to allow a part of the United Kingdom, enjoying by virtue of its membership many benefits conferred by the State, to default from its obligations and exclude the rule of law at the behest and under the duress of a ruthless conspiracy.
Of course, a short-term change in this situation could be brought about by an equally ruthless use of force on our part. We have in full measure the means and the capacity to sweep these barricades aside and establish the security forces within these areas in overwhelming strength. But I have avoided, and my colleagues and I will continue to avoid, this course, not out of weakness or a desire to appease, but because our aim is not to conquer or occupy the city but to bring it back permanently and with as little rancour as possible, into a peaceful and orderly state.
But time is not limitless. Londonderry is not a place in isolation and the disrespect for law rooted there tends to spread like a cancer to other places and other communities. No one will say that I have shown myself to be impatient, because I appreciate the immense difficulties. I want the people of the Bogside and Creggan to create a real free Derry, free from the constant fear of violence which blights their lives. In any event, I will certainly take the sternest measures to stop the spread of the cancer of lawlessness elsewhere.
On this point, there is at times great confusion in this country. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Army does go daily into the Bogside area, where it maintains a post, and that before direct rule there had been Army sweeps into the area? Will he confirm that what is meant by a "no-go area" in the sense that he is talking about is that the police are not operating within that area, which we all want to see opened up? Will he confirm that what I have said is roughly true?
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the House that while, in a measure, what the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) has said is correct, at night and especially at weekends there are barricades, that men are protecting those barricades, and that on such occasions the Army does not go in?
I have, of course, had many people coming to me about the problems in Northern Ireland. They have spoken quite passionately about their dislike of the situation, but the vast majority of them at the same time do not advocate a complete and total military solution, because they realise some of the issues involved, not for this year or next year, but for many years ahead in the history of Northern Ireland.
An important part of the organised lawlessness is the withholding of payments for rent, rates, electricity and so on. I must say to those who recognise the need to end the lawlessness that this campaign of civil disobedience is not merely irrelevant but is deeply offensive to those very many honest and law-abiding citizens who have continued to pay, not only that they might enjoy these services themselves, but in support of their enjoyment by others. Here is a way by which those who wish for peace can personally demonstrate their personal contribution to its achievement. They can end this campaign now.
I have said that the fourth of our aims was to bring work to the unemployed and to bring social reconstruction to the depressed and damaged areas. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal with some of the very substantial measures we have taken and are taking in the economic field when he replies to the debate. This vital work goes on, some of it undramatic, perhaps even dull, compared with the insistent problems of order and security. Nevertheless, it is a vital feature in bringing the violence to an end.
As military security is such a prerequisite to any political settlement or improvement, can my right hon. Friend tell me quite frankly and truthfully whether the military situation is at this time improving or not?
I am coming to discuss the military situation very quickly—indeed, almost immediately, because I shall now refer to the events of last weekend, which naturally are uppermost in the minds of right hon. and hon. Members, as they are in mine.
I spent the day yesterday with the Army, both on the Border and in the most difficult areas of Belfast, where it was engaged in dealing with the disorders of which hon. Members will have heard. Over the weekend, there have been in Northern Ireland nearly 200 shooting incidents and a number of ex- plosions. Three members of the security forces were killed and three wounded; one civilian was killed and nine wounded, not counting the casualties which the Army believes the gunmen to have sustained. During the weekend the Ulster Defence Association erected barricades throughout the Protestant areas of Belfast. As a result of these barricades, there were some clashes with the security forces, particularly in East Belfast, and a heightening of sectarian tension throughout the city.
Yesterday afternoon, shooting took place on the edge of the Ardoyne, during which a man was shot dead. The security forces, which were quickly on the scene, came under fire from various parts of the Bone and from within the Ardoyne. A number of engagements took place up to about 9.30, with some further sporadic shooting later in the night. During this period, some 1,500 rounds were fired by gunmen at security forces, who fired 400 rounds back. Two further civilians were killed in these engagements and a soldier was killed and one injured. The Army then conducted a search operation in houses in the Bone and collected eight weapons and over 100 rounds of ammunition. Four people were arrested.
I must take this opportunity to pay the highest possible tribute to the General Officer Commanding, General Sir Harry Tuzo, and all the troops under his command, including the Ulster Defence Regiment, for their immense courage and dedication to duty in an extremely difficult task. The job of any Army in such circumstances is bound to be of the utmost difficulty, and one can only thank them for their complete loyalty and self-sacrifice in the task of helping all the people in Northern Ireland. These operations have also placed a very considerable strain on the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whose loyalty and dedication to duty in the face of calumny and danger I continue to admire.
I must make it clear to the House that Her Majesty's Government are absolutely determined to deploy the forces at their command in whatever strength is required to maintain law and order and to deter terrorism. It has been decided in the light of this that some further strengthening of the military forces in Northern Ireland is needed, and a further battalion is to be dispatched forthwith.
One of the darkest features in the political landscape was internment. We were determined to bring internment to an end as soon as the security situation justified it. But there is a balance to be struck on this matter. On the one hand, no one would wish to retain internment, which is a repugnant measure, for a moment longer than necessary. On the other hand, I must not forget that I am responsible for law and order, and there are some who cannot be released until the security situation permits.
I know that this House is very rightly apprehensive lest men whom I let out should return to the violent ranks of the IRA. This risk is one of the many I have to take into account. I accept that it does exist, although I do not accept some of the reports and accusations which are put about on the actions of those internees I have released. I must simply bear this particular risk in mind in selecting internees for release. I can only say, as I have often said, that if violence ends then internment can end, too.
The law, of course, takes its toll of terrorists as well, and there is much to be said to the credit of the security forces, since, by the very nature of their activities, the terrorists are elusive. They choose the moment and place of their attacks. This does not make for easy prevention or arrest. Attacks are often random. By a terrorist's perverted logic, any death aids his cause and damage is its own justification.
Nevertheless, not all the terrorists are escaping from the law. For example, in May, 23 persons were found guilty by juries of terrorist offences and 13 others pleaded guilty. The courts, too, impose severe sentences. On 3rd June two men were sentenced to 10 years for offences connected with explosives; on 8th June a man received seven years for a similar offence. Three men found guilty of assaulting Mrs. McGucken received sentences of four years' imprisonment. It can be seen therefore, that the efforts of the security forces in pursuing the terrorists, both in bringing them forward and in many instances in reacting strongly against them, have brought substantial results.
I have constantly told the House that the British Government will not be deterred from their basic task of promoting reconciliation and peace in Northern Ire- land. Despite all the difficulties, there is now a real hope and opportunity for the future. I note now an increasing desire expressed by many different parties and individuals for the people of Northern Ireland to sit down together and to discuss how a fair settlement can be worked out which guarantees the peace and rights of individuals throughout the community. The British Government greatly welcome this desire.
It is certainly our wish that the people of Northern Ireland should express their views about their own future. I believe that they have a clear choice: to go on with sterile and futile violence or to sit around a table and to discuss. By the choice made the world will judge Northern Ireland and those who choose one or the other course. Nor can those in Northern Ireland who are in any position to lead in any quarter escape from their responsibility to their own followers and to the whole community.
This is an extremely short debate and I intend to confine myself to a few short practical suggestions which may assist the general situation. The House will know that I was one of a delegation which recently visted the Six Counties, and I would like publicly to thank all those in both communities in Northern Ireland who made that visit one of the most informative and useful that I have had in the past few months. I must confess, however, that I came back feeling no real cause for optimism. I found the situation extremely grave and I would agree with and underline everything that the Secretary of State has said about the gravity of the situation there.
It is true, as he says, that there is a longing for peace on all sides. This is probably the most hopeful development that we have seen in recent months. When we say "peace", we have to recognise that there is also a longing by most people, again on both sides, for a just peace. Then we come down to the crunch—the interpretation of what is a just peace, which depends upon whatever side of the fence a person is. There is broad agreement among those people who think about this matter that peace will be achieved only through political means, that no military solution can be imposed on the Six Counties. As the Secretary of State constantly reminds us, time is of the utmost importance. It is the one thing of which we have not got enough.
I want to discuss the ingredients of the just peace and put forward one or two suggestions. As with everything else in Northern Ireland at the moment, there are two extreme versions of every situation, including the just peace. On the one hand, the majority is demanding a return to what it considers to be normality, which means the return of Stormont, assurances about the Constitution, the opening up of the "no-go" areas, and an end to civil disobedience. The majority would put these forward as "musts" if there is to be a return to any kind of normality.
On the other hand, the minority is demanding, as always, the end of the Special Powers Act, the release of internees and the reclassification of certain people as political prisoners, and discussions on the re-unification of the 32 counties. These demands are poles apart, but I am convinced that there is a fairly large middle group which, given some real ammunition and encouragement from us, could exert influence on both extreme positions, to bridge what seems to be an impossible gap.
I turn now to say something about the kind of help that we could give that great middle group which, thank Heaven, is getting bigger every day. First, we could immediately introduce proportional representation. The House knows that last year some of us tried to introduce this, with all sorts of other reforms, and failed. We are trying again this year, but the difficulty with Private Members' time is preventing the House of Commons, at least, from discussing the question of proportional representation on a Private Member's Bill. I believe that a discussion will soon take place on this subject in another place.
I hope that the Secretary of State might be able to move in advance of those debates and discussions. Certainly among those with whom I have discussed this proposition, among all groups, there is great support for a return to proportional representation in the Six Counties. It is certainly my opinion, having done as much research as I can on this question, that if Northern Ireland had con- tinued to use the system with which it started its political life the pattern and nature of its development would have been much different.
I am convinced that the political history of the Province would have been much happier in those circumstances. I therefore believe that a change in the electoral system before the October elections is of crucial importance. I suggest to the Secretary of State that that is a practical and constructive proposition that would help to begin the political argument in the Six Counties.
Secondly, I ask the right hon. Gentleman carefully to consider the question of a crash programme for public building and works, allied to the crash programme that I mentioned last week at Question Time, on training, particularly in areas of high unemployment. Again, this is self-evident to those of us who have made a study of the difficulties and the statistics in the Six Counties. This would enable the trade union movement in Northern Ireland—which in my opinion has so far done a tremendous job under extremely difficult conditions—to do an even better job. At present the movement's officers are the only people who bridge the gap between the two communities, because they span North and South, Protestant and Catholic. Given further concrete and positive assistance from this House, they could do even more. A crash programme of public works and of training in areas of high unemployment might begin to produce further benefits from the trade union movement.
I mention in passing—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will wish to develop it—the recently announced SDLP proposals for the redevelopment of the Newry district.
Can the hon. Gentleman give any assurance that the IRA will not immediately blow up what has been built, through the contributions of the people—the factories and offices that are to provide this employment?
I hesitate to say it, but that is a bit of a simple question—and by "simple" I mean silly. How can I give an assurance on behalf of the IRA, in all honesty? I am a member of the British Labour Party and I will give the hon. Gentleman all the assurances he wants from that end. That is as far as I can go.
The Secretary of State mentioned his assurance to the minority about no discrimination, and so on. I commend to him a short Bill of Rights which my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Latham) tried to introduce. An attempt was made last year to introduce the same sort of Measure in a slightly different form. The introduction of a shorter version is being attempted this year, in both Houses. We are convinced that if that Bill, or its principles, were accepted, it would help to create in the Six Counties an atmosphere in which people could begin to work constructively for a just and peaceful solution and Irishmen could resolve their own problems. It is a very short Bill, which would abolish the Special Powers Act—a real bone of contention—would end discrimination—and would allow men and women of all political persuasions and of none, including Republicans, openly to organise, discuss and advocate their beliefs. That would be a real step forward.
I end on that note, urging the Secretary of State to study those three simple, urgent, practical steps, which would strengthen the middle ground, give it much more influence over both extreme positions, and make a meaningful contribution towards bringing an early end to the conflict in the Six Counties.
On a point of order. I am a little uncertain of the form of this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we taking now the three subsequent orders—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—including the Appropriation Order? The Motion relating to suspension and prolonging the Sittings says that it may be proceeded with at any hour, and that would suggest that it can be taken now.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) spoke about the extreme positions. The IRA is destroying factories and offices and homes and the employment of the people and is killing people. On the other hand, there are those who wish for peace and wish to see the community and their lives preserved. Those are the two extremes in Northern Ireland.
It is the terrible toll of human suffering which has driven Protestants to actions which would not have been contemplated even six weeks ago, and it is pointless to have this debate on Northern Ireland unless it is recognised that Ulster stands at the precipice. It is easy to counsel restraint and patience, and this indeed I do, but it brings no comfort to the loyal people who are daily under attack.
However, I acknowledge the sincerity and honest endeavour of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We may not always agree with what he does, we may not always agree with what he says, as, for instance, in a statement a short time ago that Andersons town is not a "no-go" area, when everybody in Belfast knows that it is. Nevertheless, most people appreciate that he is prepared to listen with patience and to act with integrity, and those are two qualities which may yet bring results.
I am sure it would help the House as a whole if the hon. Member would explain precisely what is meant by "no-go" area. Perhaps there could be an intervention from the Government Front Bench so that we could have the definition clear and then we should know whether the various places which have been referred to as "no-go" areas fit the criteria. Many of us with a little experience do not find the hon. Member's definition exactly accurate.
I am not going to do that and I am not going into the experience which the hon. Member and his hon. Friends in that group which visited Belfast a short time ago had. I doubt very much whether many of them realise—
Of course I accept that the Army in armoured cars drives through these areas, but that does not mean that they cannot be classified as "no-go" areas when Republican terrorists can group there and train there and organise there, and from positions there launch out on attacks in adjoining areas.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Belfast Corporation has had to score out 600 parking offences because summonses for those offences could not be served in the area he is talking about?
My hon. Friend bears out what I am saying. It is right to say that the television detector van dare not go into such an area as Andersonstown, and summonses cannot be served there. Obviously, they are "no-go" areas.
I have come straight today from Roden Street which is in my former constituency of West Belfast and the scene of the dastardly shooting on Friday night when a 16-year-old girl was murdered by terrorists, and a number of young people were wounded. It is not the first time that that street and the adjoining area have been the object of terrorist attacks. It is the area where the Secretary of State ordered the demolition of derelict houses which have been used as vantage points by IRA gunmen for attacks on local people, police and soldiers. The unfortunate people who live in Roden Street and that area have been living under the threat of murder for almost three years now. They cannot find peace by day or by night, and some have been driven out of their homes, although others are courageously staying on in their houses in which they have lived all their lives. I would ask the Secretary of State to see what can be done to rehouse those people, and then to destroy those houses which are providing some sort of advantage to the IRA gunmen.
This is only one street in West Belfast; there are a hundred like it; and West Belfast is only one of the hardest pressed areas for the loyal majority, and it is not the only one. The conflict has spread out to all areas throughout the Province. The gunman has made sure that no one has escaped his ferocity. All live in fear of the bomber and the sniper. There is hardly a large town in Northern Ireland which has not had its main street ripped apart by explosives planted in cars by the IRA and left to destroy the commercial heart of an area.
Those who a year or two ago in Northern Ireland heard about the troubles only on the radio, or saw them only on the television, see them now on their own doorsteps, and experience them direct, and there is no gainsaying the fact that the trouble is far worse now and more widespread than it ever was. It does not do the Government or the people any good for spokesmen to try to suggest that there has been an improvement since 24th March, since clearly, there has not been any change for the better. The IRA is dominant and rampant as ever it was. People can be forgiven for thinking that the time is near at hand when they must take the law into their own hands. I pray that there will be no Protestant backlash, and Iurge, as I have always urged, that restraint will continue to be shown, but it ought to be recognised that if the atrocities and the devastation being wrought in the law-abiding communities in Ulster by the IRA had been perpetrated in any other part of the world the people there would long ago have risen up in anger, which would not have been abated until they had destroyed the evil in their midst. The Ulster people have been pushed to the limits of human endurance. The natural discipline of the majority has stood them in good stead, but it must be recognised that this cannot go on for ever.
All this terror is in the name of Irish republicanism. It is a deliberate and calculated attempt to provoke retaliation by the loyal people of Ulster. Whenever the IRA makes a mistake and murders its own people, as, for example, in the explosions at McGurk's Bar and Kelly's Bar, it immediately blames it on the Protestants, in order to arouse its followers to greater animosity against the Protestants. Therefore, the IRA gains both ways. The tragedy is that its propaganda is often believed.
Such is the hold of Irish Republican mythology. It continues to hold some long after they have left Ireland. We all know the Irish Americans' attitude towards Britain. This is true of the citizens of the Republic who are now living in England. Immediately following my Adjournment debate on the subject of IRA victims I received several offensive letters from Irishmen resident in this country. I received one from which I should like to quote. The writer is
talking about Mrs. Hyland and her daughter who was imprisoned by the IRA for a number of days, starved and beaten. Her hair was torn and cut and she was tarred and feathered—a young girl of 16. This is what that Irishman living in England says:
I think Mrs. Hyland should not fall for the rotten money she got, but should teach her girls manners, and not let them mix with such rotten, diseased Army and police thugs".
That is what this Irishman living in England thinks about the British army and the police in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that the Irish propaganda is skilful and successful in the United States and in the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that the writer of that letter is typical of a great many Eire citizens in this country who respond to the call for funds for the IRA.
I appeal to the Secretary of State tonight to consult the Home Secretary about the action that should be taken to stop this Republican fund-gathering for money which is used to buy explosives and guns with which to kill more of our soldiers, police and fellow citizens. The IRA can collect money from other sources. Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, announced that he had been supplying arms to the Irish Republicans fighting in Ireland. This should be a warning to the people in this country and in the United States who are giving money, and show them the meaning of the real struggle which is taking place in Northern Ireland.
Recent newspaper reports and evidence of single-shot killings suggest that the IRA is employing one or two sharp shooters in Londonderry and Belfast. They are believed to be foreigners hired for their skill. I should like to hear from my right hon. Friend what has been done about tracing these men.
The ease with which people can enter and leave Northern Ireland, particularly through the Republic of Eire, is a danger which must be tackled. Some time ago I suggested a system of identity cards for people in Northern Ireland so that it would be easier for members of the security forces to carry out checks. There is no reason why in this emergency we should not adopt the practice which is already in existence in some Common Market countries whereby every citizen must have an identity card and register his place of residence, which he cannot change without notifying the police. Entry into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Eire should be only by passport. These restrictions would be irksome for all people in Northern Ireland, and perhaps more irksome for some than for others, but they would contribute to the saving of lives which is what really matters.
We are dealing here with a vicious but well-organised enemy. In Londonderry where the police are under heavy pressure, IRA spies watch the comings and goings at every police station. This also applies in Belfast. The registration numbers of private cars belonging to policemen are carefully noted and passed on to the IRA gunmen in the Republic areas. As a result, gunmen have killed policemen in their own private cars travelling on police duties, travelling to work or going about their ordinary everyday activities.
In Londonderry when the police are attacked they do not have the means to retaliate effectively. Their revolvers are short-range weapons with a range of only 50 yards and they are useless against an enemy retreating rapidly after having used a machine gun. Recently in Londonderry three policemen in a stationary car close to the Bogside were suddenly fired upon by three youths at short distance. The car was penetrated by 17 bullets and two of the policemen were badly wounded. It was only by good fortune that they were not killed outright. One young policeman, who had been in the city for only a week, lost part of a leg as the result of the shooting. If those policemen had had a machine gun in the car or some better weapons they would have been able to shoot one or perhaps all of the three gunmen as they retreated across an open space into the Bogside. That situation is something which I deplore.
What a contrast with the position in the Irish Republic. Mr. Lynch has had no compunction about introducing special courts which sit under specially selected judges. We can accept that these judges were not selected for their mild attitude towards IRA terrorists. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider introducing such special courts in Northern Ireland. These special courts in Eire can deal even with persons who merely refuse to recognise the ordinary courts and with those who are charged solely with membership of the IRA. That is happening in a country which has barely been touched by the wave of murder and destruction in Northern Ireland.
When the Eire Army was faced recently with a relatively peaceful crowd of demonstrators they fixed bayonets and were prepared to use them. Such action if taken by the British Army would no doubt be deplored by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but that action certainly controlled that crowd of demonstrators.
Hon. Members should recognise the great emotion aroused in myself and my colleagues who represent the loyal people of Ulster whenever another member of our community is murdered or mutilated by IRA bombs and bullets and the killers return to the safety of the Republican areas. The murderers must be well known to many of the residents of those Republican areas where they are sheltered and organised. These people, some of whom profess to desire peace—and I accept that some wish for peace—are not prepared to see the murderers brought to justice by themselves giving evidence and information to the members of the security forces.
I ask the House to remember what the people of Northern Ireland are experiencing. It is a terrible experience. It is easy for hon. Members to discuss Northern Ireland in the peace and security of this Chamber. Let them live in any town in Northern Ireland and they will know what ordinary, decent men and women have to put up with from these Republicans who are aided and abetted by Communists and every other person who is delighted to feed on the trouble in Northern Ireland.
I am afraid that I cannot follow most of the comments of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). I know that he believes intensely in what he has said—he has expressed it privately to me—but on reflection he may wish to reconsider some of his remarks.
I wish, first, to address myself to the hon. Gentleman's comments about Irish people living in this country. He was profoundly insulting to several million people who live in this country and con- tribute to its wellbeing. They are law abiding citizens, some of whom are in the Services and some of whom serve this country in hospitals and essential services. I understand the hon. Member's frustration about the violence that he has seen around him, but I wish that he would condemn violence from wherever it comes instead of being partial in what he says.
During the Whitsun Recess I went to Northern Ireland and to Dublin. For two days in a picket line in Dublin I protested against the violence of the Provisional IRA. I have also protested in Downing Street about the policy of internment. Among Members on this side of the House there is a degree of consistency in condemning violence from wherever it comes.
We are talking of a situation which is the inevitable result of a minority's being deprived of fundamental rights for fifty years. We see today the consequence of that denial. It therefore ill behoves the hon. Member for Down, North to ventilate his views in the way that he has, without looking at the other side of the coin.
Who needs enemies on the Government side—and this applies particularly to the Secretary of State—when one has friends like the hon. Member for Down, North? The hon. Gentleman said that there was not a main road in Down which has not been devastated. I was in the county town of Down less than three weeks ago, and I know that in the last three years there have been two bomb explosions in Downpatrick. One has a job to find exactly where they are. If that is an example of the sort of distortion that we have from the hon. Gentleman, he should be asked to quantify his allegations. We talk of no-go areas. I wonder when the hon. Gentleman last visited such an area.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his courage and dedication in the last ten weeks. It is difficult to measure his achievements against the background of disorder, violence and civil disobedience. However, what happened in Northern Ireland is that period of ten weeks has led to some easing in tension. In Derry and in some parts of Belfast we can already discern an attitude among many people that enough is enough, and that they want something better. On the other hand—and this is the sort of tightrope that one has to walk—there is an escalation of violence and a feeling that the UDA or in the Tartan gangs people are out of control. In the last few weeks there has been an escalation of killing, with people driving round in cars, opening their windows and shooting. That sort of activity has occurred on both sides of the fence.
I recognise what the Secretary of State has said, and I welcome his views on the so-called no-go areas, but I should like to look more carefully at some of the items upon which he touched. Among the majority community in the North there is a feeling that the actions of the Secretary of State have been one-sided, and directed against them. They feel that in some respects the right hon. Gentleman's actions have been hostile to the Protestant community. That poses the problem of how one presents to a community what one is seeking to do—a community that has lived cheek by jowl in hostility for the last 50 or 60 years. It is a difficult problem.
When I examine Press comment in Northern Ireland I am surprised to see that it would appear to be the right hon. Gentleman's friends who are hostile to his initiatives and are working to thwart and frustrate what he is trying to do. It seems an extraordinary situation, but it is a fact.
The Secretary of State referred to internment, and to the equation of law and order and the diminishing of violence. I ask him to consider whether or not that is the major obstacle to getting meaningful talks going. I ask him, having examined all the cases, to look again to see whether he can either charge the people who are held or release them. I hope that he will at least set a time scale by which he intends to act. I was recently asked—surprisingly enough, by a Protestant trade unionist—"Why not let them all out and then see whether this will bring the SDLP to the conference table, to see whether they are serious about the idea of working towards normal relations in the North".
I turn to the question of the Army, with particular reference to Questions which were asked on this matter last Thursday. In a supplementary question to the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to a statement made the previous evening by the ex-Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, to the effect that the Army and the police were opposed to his policy of internment. The Secretary of State was quick to reply that there was no question of such an allegation, since this was constitutionally impossible. Since the Army has an extremely difficult task, we surely should seek to achieve a degree of clarification on the question whether the Army in Northern Ireland is dealing with urban guerrillas or is there as a peace-keeping force, or is a combination of the two. Has the right hon. Gentleman taken the trouble to explain the nature of his initiative to senior ranks in the Army, and to make sure that it is properly understood and carried out?
There are one or two instances that I wish to draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention since they suggest that the Army's activities have run counter to what he and the Government are trying to do. Furthermore, I should like to ask about the rôle of the Special Branch. As I understand it, the task of the Special Branch is to draw up lists and provide documentation and evidence on those who are detained or interned. In other words, the Prime Minister of the day considers each case, and if he says, "Yes, he is going inside", the man is lifted. If that procedure was followed, the fact that the Secretary of State has seen fit to release 500 such people means that 500 errors were made by the Special Branch and by the Prime Minister of the day. If that is the case, can one say that the Special Branch is an impartial body which is attuned to the political mind of the Government and to what the Government are attempting to do? These are relevant and important questions.
Is the hon. Gentleman being fair in suggesting that the release of internees meant that 500 mistakes had been made? Is it not the case that the high water mark has changed in terms of the level of IRA leaders who are currently being interned?
I have always made it absolutely clear that I take personal responsibility for what I have done in all these matters, which is constitutionally correct. I have taken my decisions, as the previous Prime Minister took his decisions, and I would not regard my decision as right and his as wrong. They are decisions taken in personal circumstances, and there is no reflection whatever on the Special Branch of the RUC.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says.
Reference has been made to the local government situation in Northern Ireland. The last local government elections there took place in 1967, when it was discovered that the local government boundaries bore no relationship to the size and movement of population. McCrory produced proposals which meant a two-tier form of government—a local government consisting of 26 local councils with very limited powers, a series of area boards, and then the upper tier—Stormont—with enhanced powers in planning and other forms of local government activity.
The boundaries have been drawn up. Legislation was being prepared when the decision was taken to suspend Stormont. There are considerable arguments in favour of going ahead with the legislation and having local elections in the autumn. It is argued that if people are given the opportunity to use the ballot box it provides an immediate partial answer to violence, since it is the beginning of some degree of normality in the community. The counter-argument is that, given the present system of elections that we have, this would immediately build on the existing polarisation. Instead of bringing the communities together it would tend to enhance differences. In Northern Ireland, the dominant issue in the past has been that the vote has never been split. Each issue has ended up as a matter between Catholics and Protestants. This could be said to be an argument for postponing the elections.
I stress again the necessity for the introduction of some aspects of normality in the North on which it is possible to build. It is a special case. It is an argument for proportional representation. Taking seven or five member constituencies across the religious divide, in effect one would create the chance of a degree of cross-voting. Given that possibility to build upon some degree of middle ground, one could try to eliminate extremism on either side. If that were done it would produce 26 local councils with very limited powers but with people from both communities working together at grass-roots level, which could be said to be a vital instrument for community development, quite apart from anything else.
The argument in favour of announcing that we intend to find the time to pass the necessary legislation, so that elections may take place in October, is a profound one. This, in itself, is part of bringing about the kind of de-escalation that we wish to see in an area where it is possible to do it.
It is very difficult to envisage what might happen. Assuming that it brought about a de-escalation in violence, to what should we move? What is normality? Is it a return to the pre-1968 period, in which second-class citizens were kept as second-class citizens with no prospect of development, in terms of jobs or opportunities? Alternatively, are we to look for and to find ways of bringing together from both communities people who will merge and produce ideas for their future, living and working together?
Anyone in Northern Ireland who believes in the link with Britain has to work to preserve it. Equally, someone who believes in a united Ireland has to work to preserve it. There is nothing wrong in that, providing that neither uses violence to maintain his view. Each has to earn the confidence of his colleagues on the shop floor, and the acceptance of his ideas. But all that is a long way ahead. The task at the moment is to try to find a way through the blockage that is preventing a dialogue. It is to that task that the Secretary of State must address himself.
I intervene only briefly because there are many hon. Members on both sides who have direct constituency interests in Northern Ireland.
It is difficult to disagree with a great deal that the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) said. I am only sorry that he started with an attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). My hon. Friend and those of his colleagues on both sides of the House who represent Northern Ireland constituencies live very close to these problems, much closer than any of us who represent constituencies on this side of the Channel. We must respect the very strong feelings that they have.
I want to urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, if he needs any urging, not to be deflected from the path upon which he has embarked. In the short term, the first priority must be to divorce the gunman from the support that he has from the civilian population. He can operate only if he has that support. We have seen that in every country where there has been violence of this kind.
My right hon. Friend has already achieved a considerable measure of success. We have seen the action which has been taken by certain members of the population, especially the women in the difficult Catholic areas. We have seen another manifestation of it, and that is the growing lack of discrimination in the kind of attack mounted by the gunmen. They are attacks which, if there is any strategy behind their action, can only do damage to the cause that they purport to represent. More and more the gunmen are coming out in their true colours and being seen by the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, both Catholic and Protestant, to be members of organisations which do not have the good of Ireland, North or South, at the back of their minds but who act purely in order to try to create chaos and anarchy. The people of Northern Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant, recognise these people more and more for what they are.
However, I hope that the Protestant population who represent the majority will not be tempted into taking retaliatory action. Many of us who have admired the way in which the majority population in Northern Ireland have restrained themselves under immense provocation were a little worried by some of the pictures that we saw on television over the weekend. I urge those in the majority who have exercised restraint under enormous difficulties and provocation to realise that by continuing their restraint they gain the support of the people not only of this country but of the whole world who admire the way in which they have behaved.
I make only one comment about internment. I believe that its introduction meant inevitably that responsibility for law and order had to be transferred to Westminster and to this Government. I say that as one who was Minister of State at the time and had to answer letters from hon. Members asking about those who were interned. Once the situation had been reached that internment had to be introduced, it was inevitable that the Westminster Government and Westminster Ministers who were responsible for the Armed Forces—and it would not have been possible to have undertaken a policy of internment without the Armed Forces—should take over responsibility.
It is easy to be wise after the event. Perhaps my right hon. Friend's task would have been easier if the decision to transfer responsibility had been made at an earlier date when those difficulties were recognised, and I say that as one who had some minor responsibility in these matters. Looking back over the period, I think one can say that perhaps it would have been right if the change had come rather earlier.
As he was a member of the Government at that time, my hon. Friend should be aware that Mr. Faulkner said that no one was going to be put away unless there was evidence that he was guilty. Now we find that the Secretary of State has to let these men out and he cannot charge them because he has no evidence against them. Surely my hon. Friend cannot divorce himself from the responsibility which he had as a member of the Government which supported Mr. Faulkner in bringing in internment?
I am not in any way trying to evade whatever minor responsibility I may have had. All I say is that, looking back, it would have been better if responsibility had been transferred to Westminster at an earlier stage. It is very easy in matters of this kind to be wise after the event.
In the long term the Army will have to come off the streets of Northern Ireland. We cannot go on for ever with the Army carrying out the duties of the police on the streets of British cities. We may have to go on with that for a long time in Northern Ireland, but in the end we shall have to return to a proper system of policing there as in the rest of the country, with the Army acting, as it always has done, in support of the civil power.
When that happens, I believe that a great deal will depend on the strength and efficiency of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Is the strength of the RUC increasing, or is the wastage rate greater than the number of recruits? About a year ago I was worried about the number of recruits to the RUC and the amount of wastage. The Chief Inspector of Constabulary went to Northern Ireland and made certain recommendations about how the strength of the force might be increased, and I think that it would be helpful if, in winding up the debate, my hon. Friend were to say something about that, because it is essential to increase the strength of the RUC if it is eventually to take over the responsibilities now shouldered by the Army, and in my view the strength would have to be not less than 6,000 men.
There are several hopeful signs in Northern Ireland. There is the growing exasperation, particularly of the Catholic community, against the gunmen, against terrorism and against the destruction of opportunities for employment. There is another hopeful sign, which is perhaps slightly more controversial in this House in view of the debates that we are to have later this week, and that is the overwhelming vote in the Republic of Ireland for Joining the Common Market. It shows that whatever the Sinn Fein may say, and we know that the IRA is wholly opposed to the idea, the vast majority of people in Southern Ireland wish Ireland to look outwards and become a modern State playing its full part in the Community of Europe. Whatever we in this House may feel about the EEC. I believe that that is a hopeful sign.
Yes, but I still regard that vote as a hopeful sign that Ireland is looking outwards.
Let us not under-estimate the political significance of the Border, but I believe that in the end perhaps not a solution to, but an amelioration of the situation in Ireland as a whole can come about by economic co-operation between the North and the South. As my right hon. Friend said, the enemies in both North and South Ireland are fear and rumour. We must recognise the genuine fear of the Catholic community. It has existed for a long time. But there is an equally genuine fear among the majority population that by some back-door means, by some act of conciliation, so called, they will be handed over to the South of Ireland.
I believe that everyone who speaks on this subject is right to emphasise, and to go on emphasising, as Mr. Attlee did when he was Prime Minister, and as every Prime Minister since then has done, that there is no question of the North of Ireland being handed over without the full consent of the people of that country.
My hon. Friend must realise that people in Northern Ireland are getting fed up with the kind of statement that he has just made, that the real enemy in Northern Ireland is fear. It is not fear that blows up two or three factories every day and shoots two or three men in the back. That is not fear.
In spite of what my hon. Friend has said, the real enemy is fear, and it is a fear which is exploited by the gunman and the terrorist. It is easy to exploit that fear. Unless there was fear the gunman would not get the support that he has had from people in the Catholic areas. The fear amongst the Protestant population is that by some back-door deal they will be handed over to the South of Ireland. My right hon. Friend went out of his way to make it clear that the grounds for that fear do not exist, and he was right to do so.
I wish my right hon. Friend all success in the task on which he has embarked. I believe that he will succeed, and I believe, too, that the House will support him.
Some problems of parliamentary procedure in Northern Ireland affairs are not yet resolved, and until they are a three-hour general debate such as this is of great value. We are grateful to the Secretary of State for arranging that it should take place tonight, when we are to discuss, later, other matters regarding Northern Ireland. Some specific issues have been raised, and I should like to mention a few general ones which I hope will be discussed, as they have been in the past.
Straight away, in the face of the grave statement by the Secretary of State, I want to make it clear from this side our general support is still given to the Government, and to the right hon. Gentleman in particular. We agree with the former Minister of State, Home Department—the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies)—that the right hon. Gentleman should not be deflected from the policy that he has been following.
To be trite, there are real problems in Northern Ireland. The former Minister of State said that it was easy to be wise after the event with regard to direct rule, but I would say that it is extremely difficult to be wise at all on the problems of Northern Ireland. It was typical of the Secretary of State that he should admit the error of the previous policy. The Government were right, in the end, to take direct rule.
With regard to the development of the initiative in the months ahead, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned internment. We listened carefully to his foots concerning reports and accusations about former internees and the part that they are now playing in Northern Ireland. We are glad to note that for the past few weeks and months internment without trial has been ending. The right hon. Gentleman's aim must continue to be to end it.
The difficulty that the right hon. Gentleman put to the House in terms of the response that he gets from others in the community is one that we understand, but it is still vital to end internment. Quite different from the ending of internment is the ending of sentences by the courts for crimes dealt with by the rule of law. This argument has consistently been put forward by the Social Demo- cratic and Labour Party, all along the line.
The ending of internment will be the signal for the easy ending of the rent and rates strike. This afternoon I met Professor Townsend, of the Child Poverty Action Group, who has just come back from Belfast and is, I understand, to meet the Minister of State in a few days. He made two points to me. He spoke first of the inequities of the Repayment of Debt Act, and went on to say that in his view the administrative arrangements make it difficult for some people who wish to pay their back rent to do so without suffering financially. I hope that the question will be considered in the light of the views that Professor Townsend will be putting to the hon. Gentleman in a few days.
With regard to special powers, a country in which law and order breaks down needs a system of emergency action. At the moment, with fears of further violence in the minds of many people it is even more appropriate to consider what to do, but we hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remove Northern Ireland from the effects of a Special Powers Act. If there is a need for emergency action it should be dealt with in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom.
A number of my hon. Friends have mentioned proportional representation. It is still our hope that the local government elections at the end of the year will be run on a basis of proportional representation. This is not just a fancy franchise. They had it in Northern Ireland in its earliest days. There could be arguments about the type of PR, but such a system will have to be operated in a polarised society with a socio-religious divide.
The nature of Stormont over the last 50 years, and the fact that in certain jobs in Northern Ireland, unlike Great Britain as a whole, people have had to take the oath of allegiance not just to the Crown but to the Government of the day, explains the difficulties and the underlying essence of the nature of the State there. Without PR the moderate parties will be obliterated. With PR, the advocates of violence can test their support. People talk of negotiations, whatever that means. Talks must take place with representatives of the people, and PR is the way to ascertain, in the sort of society that exists in Northern Ireland, who are the true representatives of the people. I note that in the Green Paper issued by the Stormont Administration PR was a possibility. We hope that we will hear more from the right hon. Gentleman on that point.
The Secretary of State rehearsed what had happened since his initiative. He mentioned the growing peace movement, the steps that the SDLP has taken, and the announcement by the official IRA, and added that in some form or another there will be elections in a matter of months.
The time is fast coming—it is only a couple of months since direct rule was imposed—when discussions must start on representative institutions in the Province as a whole. In my view there is no question of a return to Stormont.
A suggestion which people might have to discuss is some kind of GLC-type administration in Northern Ireland. The vast sums of money that are spent on a local government basis by the GLC makes it at least appropriate for consideration. Of course, security would not be its responsibility.
The right hon. Gentleman recently put before the House the financial arrangements for Northern Ireland, and it was of great value to investigate them. Something like that should be done—perhaps a Green Paper to give more information about the present arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland, as well as some of the possibilities for its future.
I have already mentioned the question of the oath of allegiance being taken to the Crown and to the Government. I wonder why. If that sort of system operated in this country nearly half the Members of this House would not be able to take it. If the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) were to take up his abode permanently in Northern Ireland and took up certain posts, I imagine that he would have to take an oath of allegiance to the Prime Minister. From his speech yesterday, I imagine that that would be difficult for him to do. Yet that, apparently, is part of the law of Northern Ireland. Why?
It is important to make clear the law of citizenship not just in Northern Ireland but coming from outside. This is a curious thing in Northern Ireland. But it is the future of Northern Ireland as well as its present that ought to be in this Green Paper. The more that people talk about forms of democratic government the more they will tend, in the face of great difficulty, not to support violence.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of "no-go" areas. In the discussion that took place across the Floor of the Chamber it became clear to me that what is a "no-go" area ought to be defined. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) has a definition of a "no-go" area which is different from that of other people. In the months ahead the question of the "no-go" areas will have to be decided at a political and not a military level.
This academic quarrel about "no-go" areas does not get one anywhere. The people of Northern Ireland are worried that there are certain areas of Belfast and Londonderry from which gunmen can shoot for hours at police and soldiers but into which no police and soldiers can go to search out and arrest them.
The hon. Gentleman raises the different aspect of the problem of law and order in Northern Ireland—and a very serious one it is. My only point is that it would be possible—I speak as a former Army Minister—given the forces available to the Army, for them to go into those areas easily, and, as has been put to me, in the course of a couple of hours. But what good would it do at the end of the day if the casualties that occurred were great? It would fit the pattern of Ireland over the last 200 or 300 years. We are not seeking solutions in that way. With all the difficulties involved, the solutions must be political. In the steps that he has taken the right hon. Gentleman is moving in that direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) was trying to say that although there may be casualties and political disadvantages in the short term, in the long term the prospect of enclaves being allowed to continue could pose a much greater and more serious threat to people and to the political system as a whole.
The hon. Gentleman may have his views. But, given the nature of the Northern Ireland State and how it was set up in the first instance, and the fact that a large group of people there did not wish to be part of it, the problem can have only a political solution.
We have talked today, quite properly, about the majority community in Northern Ireland. It will not be new for me to say this, because I have felt it all along. Their situation needs understanding. Their feeling that there is more concern for the minority than the majority is easy to understand, especially at present, with the steps that are being taken by the right hon. Gentleman. The proper support given to the Government by the Opposition does not prevent my saying this, because it is a factor that must be taken into account.
For almost exactly 100 years the Tory Party has played the Orange card, historically. That is why the majority in Northern Ireland are Unionists. There are other reasons, but in political terms that is the reason. For that reason alone, the Unionists feel bewildered and let down as a result of the last few months, and the last few weeks, in particular. It is because of this that I said that the feeling of Unionists needs understanding, in the face of bombing and murder, and in view of some of the letters that I have had from people who have lost limbs, and so on. The hon. Member for Down, North quoted a letter from a mentally deranged Irishman and made judgments about the whole Irish community in this country. I do not make judgments from the relatively few people who write to me. Some of the letters are not readable. But I wish that people could read some that I have received from people who have lost limbs, and lost dear ones.
It is extremely naïve to imagine many people will start thinking about future constitutions. In Northern Ireland it works both ways. Just as it appears that there is fear in the Protestant areas, I understand that there is fear in the Catholic areas. That is the danger. The fear grows on itself. The majority in Northern Ireland—the Unionists—do not trust the politicians. They have never had much time for people on this side of the House. Now their worst fears are realised and, perhaps, they turn in anger more at those whom they have supported over the years. They must be given the reassurance that is provided by legislation but, more than that, we must find a way of clearly stating, in the face of this feeling, that people cannot be bull-dozed or bombed into the South. I have met very few who believe that. An odd point is that on the one or two occasions that I have been to the South I have never met anyone who believed that that could happen. A wide variety of those whom I have met in the North have said exactly the same thing.
The Secretary of State is only at the beginning of the road. He is moving in the right direction. As he made clear, at present he is standing at a dangerous corner. There is little sign of people looking up the street that leads to democratic elections. There are far more signs of them moving in the other direction. However, if this dangerous corner can be turned and the problems that arise out of it solved there will be other dangerous corners in the months ahead. Nobody could possibly believe that the age-old problem of Northern Ireland will be solved by or at a stroke—as we are coining phrases this evening.
Some people tell me that the Protestants are on the brink of insurrection. Some of those in the minority are still engaging in violent activities. I ask them to pause and listen to the voice of sanity. Last evening the British Army played the rôle for which it went to Northern Ireland and separated sectarian groups. The Minister has praised the Army, and in that one small way it has indicated to me the valuable job it did last evening and will continue to do.
Ultimately, the future of Northern Ireland, in the true sense of the term, will be decided only by the people there. With co-operation there is hope; without it there is at least the possibility of a civil war. The Minister's initiative has had the response that he has rehearsed. We now need more than that from both communities and we need it soon. We need it this week, if some of the forebodings that have been expressed are not to come to pass.
I did not agree with the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), when he mentioned that it was easy for some hon. Members to speak in this debate. It is difficult. Hon. Members for Northern Ireland have a solemn and serious responsibility. It would be my dread that I would not be able to set before the House some of the matters hon. Members should take careful and particular knowledge of at this time.
Let no hon. Member think that Northern Ireland is at the beginning of days of great hope. Let us face the fact that a dark shadow now hangs over Northern Ireland. It will take all the responsibility and skill of every responsible member of the community to avert a situation which to contemplate is horrifying in the extreme. If I were able I would try to impart to the House the seriousness and solemnity of the present situation. Those hon. Members who take part in the debate will find great difficulty in trying to get over the points that are uppermost in their minds.
One point needs to be underlined. I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the strong assurance that he repeated in this House to the people of Northern Ireland, and especially to the majority, that there will be no effort made by the Government to engineer them into the south of Ireland. I use the word "engineer" carefully and deliberately because it was used yesterday by a spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley), in a radio programme emanating from Eire, when he said that he thought it was the duty of the British Government to engineer the majority of the people of Northern Ireland into the South of Ireland.
There are forces in Northern Ireland which are out to weaken the link between Northern Ireland and this country. The Irish Republican Army is out to disengage Britain from intervention and to break the link that is cherished by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. That is its objective, its end, its goal.
The great tragedy in Northern Ireland is that those who have preached loyalty to Britain and to the Crown and made that their main political platform—the Unionists—are now preaching a Protestant Sinn Feinism: that Ulster should go it alone, that the loyalty of the Ulster people should be to themselves, to some sort of nationalistic Ulster, to some new provincial Government, to some new hazy, crazy independent Ulster.
I know the Protestant people of Northern Ireland as well as anyone in this House. I believe that deeply embedded in the Protestant people of Ulster is the desire to cherish the link, not to break it, not to corrode it, not to try to undermine it, not to try to show that they are selfish people. I believe they want to remain steadfast in and unmoveable from their British connection. All hon. Members should face that situation.
I do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland will fight to get the Unionist Party back into power and to make Mr. Faulkner again the Prime Minister. However, every loyalist in Northern Ireland would fight if there were any attempt to override the wishes of the majority and to push them into an all-Ireland Republic. In such circumstances the real feelings of the community would be aroused.
Forces are at work in Northern Ireland seeking to undermine confidence in the British Government. Such people are doing a grave and terrible disservice to the people of Northern Ireland and to the loyalist community which in time past they exploited for their own political ends to keep themselves in office. Those people have gone to bed Unionists, but, because the Westminster Government have taken over the Government of Northern Ireland, they have got out of bed Protestant Sinn Feiners, and now cry, "We ourselves alone". Those people do not reflect the real, deep feelings of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to internment. This is a serious and terrible problem. Shortly after internment was brought in, a deputation of Stormont Members of Parliament visited the Long Kesh internment camp. As we left that camp and looked back upon it, I made a remark which was totally unacceptable to the Unionists who formed the majority of the deputation, namely: "You have started something, but how to bring it to an end will be the gravest problem you have ever faced".
I believe that the bringing in of internment dug the ground from beneath the Stormont Government, and they helped by this foolish policy to bring Stormont to an end. Why do I say it was a foolish policy. Because on the day that Mr. Faulkner announced internment, he also said that he was banning the Derry apprentice boys' parade. Whether we like it or not, the two parties were played off one against the other. In effect, he said: "First, we will deal with the Protestants in Londonderry and, secondly, we will bring in internment". All hon. Members should appreciate that Mr. Faulkner made it clear that the ordinary processes of the law had failed.
I have pressed the Government Front Bench on this point and asked why there could not be jury trials. The Home Secretary has said that juries were being intimidated. Yet tonight the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has told us that people are being put away after jury trials, and they could always have been put away after jury trials.
Let us remember that Mr. Faulkner said that the processes of the law had failed. I do not believe that the processes of the law had failed. I believe that the processes of the law had not been properly tried. It is a cherished principle under British administration that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty.
It is a sad commentary on Mr. Lynch's position that he has to have special courts in the South of Ireland. It means that he himself has allowed the processes of the law to break down in his country. It is evident that he has done this because people who had been arrested were being let off prior to being brought before the courts and before guilt was brought home to them.
There is this distinction. The vast majority of the people in the South of Ireland, whatever their views may be, believe in the objectives of the Irish Republican Army. Therefore, the majority on a jury would have a bias towards those objectives. They may deplore and condemn the methods, but their objectives are the same. Two-thirds of the population of the North of Ireland are opposed to the objectives of the Irish Republican Army. Therefore, any balanced jury would not have those upon it who would be prejudiced for or against the person that would be tried. That would be the answer.
I can well understand those in the House who do not know Northern Ireland wondering about this matter. The processes of the law were not tried. When questioned in the Stormont about this matter, Mr. Faulkner said that no one was put away in Long Kesh without him being personally and absolutely sure that there was enough reliable evidence to put him away. That was a very big claim. That claim is now being contradicted by the act of the Secretary of State in letting these people out because he cannot, even if he would, bring them before the courts: there has not been the absolute evidence about which Mr. Faulkner boasted.
The hon. Gentleman is clearing up many points. Will he clear up this one for my satisfaction and perhaps that of the rest of the House? We both heard the Secretary of State say that the release of internees must be related to the reduction in terrorism as the right hon. Member calls it. Quite apart from whether these men were involved in violence before they were interned, can the hon. Gentleman persuade the House that they could not possibly have been involved in violence since they have been in internment, unless the guards at Long Kesh and elsewhere have been doing a bad job? How in God's name can there be a relationship between violence and a reduction in the number of internees?
I leave it to the hon. Member to explain that to the House, because I cannot follow him in any way in the argument he has put. I do not know whether these men were engaged in subversive activities before they were shut away. However, this I do say, and it should be said. These men were never brought before a court. The charges against them and the people who levelled those charges were not made known to them. When the right hon. Gentleman releases them he is not releasing convicted prisoners, but such is the twist in our society in Northern Ireland today that it is almost political suicide for me to make this speech because the people think that these men are convicted IRA gunmen who have committed murders, and that the Secretary of State is releasing them upon the streets of Belfast.
We all know that these men were never charged and never convicted and never sent to prison in the sense that they were brought before a proper court of law and sentenced. That should be made clear over and over again. But the sad thing is—
Would the hon. Member concede that one of the paradoxical things in this situation is that there is a widespread acknowledgement among the broad mass of the people on all sides of the communities in Northern Ireland that the people who were interned were interned without the due process of law, and to let them out is an acceptance of the rule of law prevailing?
In large measure many people would agree with the hon. Member on that. The sad thing is, and I can understand my right hon. Friend's difficulty, that since the de-escalation of internment there has been an escalation of violence. That is the tragedy of the situation. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend lets these men out and the following night people are shot and killed and bombs go off, immediately the people of Northern Ireland, because of their frustration, turn on my right hon. Friend and accuse him of releasing the bombers and the murderers.
Then we have the irresponsibility of Mr. Faulkner, who last Saturday challenged Mr. Whitelaw to tell him whether or not internees he had released on to the streets of Belfast were involved once again in the command structure of the Irish Republican Army. Mr. Faulkner knew that my right hon. Friend had already made that denial in the House and that he had no evidence that these people had gone back to their subversive activities, if they ever were engaged in subversive activities.
It was because the escapees knew that Dublin was the only place where they would be safe. Where would an ascapee go but to a sanctuary? If the hon. Gentleman had been interned and knew that south of the Border was a place of safety, he too would be appearing at a Press conference. My hon. Friend has never been in prison, like me, so he has never had the experience.
I must conclude my remarks, because I have taken up too much time and other hon. Members wish to speak. There is no doubt that an inevitable reaction has arisen in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members should not think that Mr. Craig or Mr. Faulkner control the Ulster Defence Associations. Those of us who have followed carefully the propaganda put out by these organisations know that at the weekend they repudiated Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Craig. This is a new development in Northern Ireland and is a reaction against the fact that all people in Northern Ireland are not equally subject to the law.
This is the best definition I would care to give of the "no-go" areas, that there are areas in Northern Ireland where summonses cannot be served, that there are areas of Northern Ireland where the RUC does not go, that there are areas of Northern Ireland where the military goes but does not stay.
It is the imperative duty of the right hon. Gentleman to see that all citizens of Northern Ireland are equal under the law, whether they be Protestant or Roman Catholic, Unionist or Republican. But it is also his duty to see that they are equally subject to the law. Except the right hon. Gentleman by some tangible token in the very near future can impress that upon the whole of Northern Ireland, I tremble to think where the Northern Ireland people will drift.
I would make an appeal beyond the confines of this House to the majority of people in Northern Ireland. If they value their link, if they value their heritage, if they want to preserve the British connection, they can preserve it only as they are prepared to listen to the democratically-elected voice of that people demonstrated in this Parliament. We do not want to take an oath of loyalty to the Government in Ulster. I rigorously opposed the taking of an oath of loyalty to the Government; I have no loyalty to Brian Faulkner, nor ever had. But let me say this to the people of Northern Ireland. To preserve the link, let them not say, "We will be loyal to ourselves. We will be loyal to our own interests." Let them be loyal to the union, for in the preservation of that union will be their salvation.
The House will accept that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has spoken with great sincerity and honesty, and indeed responsibility. Above all, he has spoken with a great deal of courage, in that he said some things tonight which will not be very well received by those who supported him at the poll in his election to this House, particularly in relation to his sentiments about internment in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State said in opening the debate that 10 weeks was too short a time to hope to erase all the suspicions, fears and hatreds that had been built up in Northern Ireland over three or four centuries. I agree with him, but he should recognise that we have just passed through one of the worst weeks we have had since he took over control of Northern Ireland affairs. Even taking into account the week of internment, which brought with it the loss of so many lives. I believe that last week was even more dangerous, because now we can see all the aspects of a clear sectarian confrontation taking place between the communities in Northern Ireland.
Over the past five or six weeks people have died on the streets of Northern Ireland not because they were members of the IRA or the Unionist Party but simply because they were either Catholics or Protestants. That is the very real danger that faces the House and the whole Northern Ireland community. Having represented a constituency in this House for a number of years, I have never felt as pessimistic as I do now. If my voice, allied with that of the hon. Member for Antrim, North, can be listened to, I will use the House as a forum to appeal to everyone in Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, to be very careful that during the next few days they are not used by evil forces. If they allow themselves to be so used, Northern Ireland will face a tragic catastrophe this weekend. Again I wish to repeat that this is one of the most dangerous weeks we have had in the history of Northern Ireland.
Can I appeal to the hon. Gentleman—I recognise the sincerity of what he is saying—to recognise that a very major contribution which could be made by his party towards improving the atmosphere would be to deal distinctly with the campaign of civil disobedience? That would strike a tremendous chord of response.
I hope to have the opportunity of explaining our attitude towards civil disobedience later on.
As the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) pointed out, there is a good deal of fear in the Protestant community now that they may be forced against their will into a united Ireland. I also point out that within a Catholic minority there is now the belief that the initiative as such from Westminster is beginning to show signs of failure. Over these past weeks, there have been many murders in Northern Ireland. The usual tactic has been for a car to draw up and for the occupants to shoot someone at a particular point because he was a Catholic.
We believe—and it has been reported in the Daily Mirror and in many other journals here in Britain—that there is in fact an assassination squad operating from the Unionist side of the political divide. Those who have lost their lives were not people involved in any way in politics. They were men and women, old and young, boys and girls, and they were all Catholic minority people. They were all victims of a campaign to try to shoot the Catholic minority into an acceptance of the present Unionist diktat in Northern Ireland.
It must be readily understood that there are very real fears. The Minister of State for Defence is now in the Chamber and I say to him that within the past five or six weeks we have seen a sinister and ominous build-up of what can only be described as an illegal force in Northern Ireland—the Ulster Defence Association. The Catholic minority will say that when the IRA first began to operate, when its members wore paramilitary uniforms and masks, as they did in Derry and in Belfast, the police and the security forces took action to prevent those activities taking place, but that over the past five or six weeks no action has been taken by the security forces to charge members of the UDA—whether it would be possible to do so or not is again a matter for the Government. The IRA has been banned under the Special Powers Act. I am not advocating an extension of the Act. I want to see it abolished. But there must be some legislation which could prevent what I have described already as a sinister and ominous build-up.
Does the Secretary of State really believe that there are no arms available within the Unionist community? We already know that 103,000 licensed weapons are available in Northern Ireland. When I hear the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), talk about why the Army should go into areas where it believes there are guns, I would point out to him that the Army has already done so. It has raided almost every Catholic ghetto in its search for illegal arms. But I think that the Army is not completely unaware that vast arsenals of arms are already hidden in the Unionist Protestant ghettoes.
One can quite readily understand in this situation the fear which exists within the minds of the Catholic community that they have been completely disarmed by the Army, that they are now left open to an attack from the forces of extreme Unionism. Indeed, last night, in the constituency represented by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills)—I know that he would disapprove of what took place there—80 families were forced to leave the area. They were protected by the Army. I have no hesitation in saying that had the Army not been there last night the area would have been burnt to the ground. The Army protected these families and at present they are in Girdwood Park, still under the protection of the Army, and efforts are being made; to find them alternative accommodation.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the area to which I think he is referring, the Manor Street and the Dargle Street area, a young man was shot dead by the Army? Is he aware that that young man had been shot previously by terrorist forces and had lost aleg, that that young man was simply walking down the street with a stick in his hand, that there was not only a confrontation between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics but a confrontation with the Army in which an innocent young man, who happened to be a Protestant, also suffered? The suffering is not one-sided.
At the moment no one knows whether that young man was engaged in using illegal arms. The Army claims that he was. Those who were there say he was not. Exactly the same thing has happened scores of times within the Catholic minority community where the Army has claimed it had been involved with someone illegally using arms but when subsequently there was no proof of that. For example, in Derry 13 people were killed and the Widgery Tribunal was unable to prove that they were engaged in the illegal use of arms. On the day that they were shot the Army was issuing a statement saying that they were engaged in such activities. I do not think that we can draw any conclusions from this case.
If the Army was guilty, again, of another grievous mistake in the killing of this young boy it is no reason why the Protestant community should attempt to burn down the homes of the Catholics in the area. This is the fear that exists. In today's News Letter, which is certainly not a supporter of the SDLP—I have it here and I am sure that it has been drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State—members of the UDA are reported to have held up the British Army. The soldiers had their arms taken away and their vehicles were commandeered and used to build barricades. The photographs are there. Why was it that the British Army did not at least resist the activities of these illegal forces? There is no doubt that these men were held up and their vehicles taken from them.
In the Springmartin area where there has been such conflict in recent weeks I know for a fact, and I am prepared to give the information to the Minister of State for Defence, that a British soldier was held up recently in that Unionist area and relieved of his SLR and of his ammunition. I can give the facts, the dates and the times. Why did the British Army not go into Springmartin and try to find those who were responsible for this and retrieve the weapon? It did not. Within the minds of the Catholic community there is the belief that there is this active co-operation between the security forces, including the British Army and the police, and the illegal forces in those areas, with no action being taken against such forces. At the same time the activities of the security forces are centred in the Catholic minority areas. As a result there is great discontent.
The incident I mentioned happened only last night, but throughout Northern Ireland in the past few weeks there must have been at least 1,000—that is no exaggeration—Catholic people who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of intimidation. Many of them had spent their life savings on the deposit for a house and were paying off a mortgage but absolutely no provision was made for compensating these people. In my constituency of Belfast, West over the past three or four weeks at least 200 young girls who worked in factories in the tailoring industry in Donegal Road have been told by members of the UDA and the Ulster Democratic Movement not to come back to their place of employment.
They received no redundancy payments because they did not qualify for them; they have no job, yet this has not been made public. It is quite possible to understand the bitter feelings of resentment and frustration in the homes where this has happened, particularly when in many cases the mother was the breadwinner and hers were the only wages in a house.
What I want to say to the Secretary of State—this is the most important thing I shall have to say tonight—is, let him be under no doubt as to where he stands in relation to the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr. Brian Faulkner. The former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland is dedicated at this present moment in time to ensuring that the Whitelaw initiative fails. He is dedicated to bringing about such a situation. He is quite prepared to lead a Protestant backlash in arms to ensure that the initiative promulgated by the Conservative Government is brought tumbling to the ground.
Let the Secretary of State be under no illusion. At the present moment, I have it from unimpeachable sources, the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland is doing his damnedest trying to create a left-wing backlash. He has has personal contact with many Members of the other side of the House. He is going to maintain this pressure in the hope that he will be able to defeat the Conservative Party and so bring about discontent in the ranks of the Government. He believes that then they will be forced into the position of creating Stormont once again.
Would the hon. Member who is so bent on attacking Mr. Faulkner consider what he might do greatly to assist the environment in Northern Ireland at the moment if he were prepared to say that the barriers of the Roman Catholics should be brought down at this present stage before next weekend? If he were to do that he would make a really great contribution which, I am sure, would do more good than his attack on Mr. Brian Faulkner. That is what we should like to hear from him, rather than his attack on Mr. Faulkner. That would be a contribution to peace.
I recognise that many hon. Members want to take part in this debate and I am certainly not going to waste time replying to the assinine point of the interjection by the hon. Member who has not in fact heard what I have been saying.
When the Stormont régime was brought to an end, and the Conservative Government brought that initiative in Northern Ireland which meant the end of Stormont, I was one who said then, and I have said it repeatedly ever since, that the campaign of violence should be brought to an end. I have never believed that the campaign of violence, waged as it was by elements in Northern Ireland, could in any way advance by one single second the unity of Ireland or bring about the achievement of their political aims. I do not think there is anyone in this House or outside who can question the bona fides of where I stand in relation to violence. Mr. Brian Falkner, the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is interested only in violence, because if violence continues then it will prove that he was right in introducing internment and introducing all the other oppressive measures which he introduced.
I do not wish to raise heat in the debate but I want entirely to repudiate what the hon. Member has said in relation to Mr. Faulkner, and I want to place on record that Mr. Faulkner has said, and I repeat it, and it has been my view, as it is now, that we have a vested interest in the success of the initiative, but we have the very gravest doubts whether the criterion on which it is based gives it a hope.
I was not making my remarks to the hon. Gentleman. I was directing them to the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.
One has only to look, even from this side of the water, at the galaxy of talent there was at Banbridge last Saturday—the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell); a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Brookeborough, who certainly did not enhance his reputation by the repressive steps which he took in his 20 years as Prune Minister of Northern Ireland; Mr. William Craig, the leader of Vanguard; and Mr. Faulkner, the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland—every one seeking to attack, probably for different reasons, the initiative promulgated by the Conservative Government, but every single one of them trying to defeat the initiative which is now in the hands of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
It must be quite clear that there are people in Northern Ireland within the Unionist Party who are deliberately engaged in making the initiative a failure, and there are such people in this country too. Whether he likes it or not, the Secretary of State may be forced to the conclusion that in the onerous responsibilities he has undertaken he has more friends on this side of the House than on his own side—
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has fallen into a confusion. I spoke and voted in this House against the legislation at the end of March. I have repeatedly given my reasons both here and outside for believing that what is called "the initiative" will fail. The hon. Gentleman should not confuse that with either wishing it to fail or promoting or encouraging anything which would bring about its failure. That is the contrast, and that is the confusion.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not too well versed in the thinking of the people of Northern Ireland. In recent months he has become a constant visitor to Northern Ireland and people are wondering why he is evincing such an interest in Northern Ireland affairs. In the minds of the people of Northern Ireland every remark he has made since he began to take this interest is calculated as an attempt to defeat the initiative. That is the only interpretation which can be put on the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. I warn him—not in a hostile way—that he will have to accept the great responsibility which will be his if and when Ireland slides into civil war. He will be responsible because of the remarks he has made.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) wants to be absolutely fair. It is only right that the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) should be reported in the House because they were completely against what was said by Mr. Craig on the platform. The right hon. Gentleman said:
Loyalty to what? Union with what? The answer is not loyalty to Ulster, nor Ulster to yourselves. The answer is not the union of these six counties, nor union among yourselves. The answer is loyalty to the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
I think the hon. Member for Belfast, West will agree that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland agree with those remarks. But Mr. Craig said something completely different. He said that he believed over the next two or three weeks—
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. All I can say to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) is that he should choose his company better. There is an old saying that birds of a feather flock together and there were some queer birds on that platform.
The Secretary of State said in answer to a Question of mine last week that he had initiated investigations into the activities of certain Special Branch officers against whom allegations had been made in relation to the ill-treatment and torture of detainees. I have since found out—and again I am sure of my sources—that the person carrying out the investigation under the aegis of the Secretary of State is not permitted to meet or to question the Special Branch officer of whom the allegations are made. All he can do is speak to the superior officer of that Special Branch officer who will question or interrogate the Special Branch officer and report back to the person carrying out the investigation who will in turn report back to the Secretary of State. This means that the superintendent of the RUC Special Branch who has gone through the ranks in the same force is questioning one of his own officers.
It is the superintendent who has made a report to the Secretary of State and the only answer he can expect is "Not guilty". If the Secretary of State is intent on carrying out impartial investigations into allegations made against members of the Special Branch in Northern Ireland, he should make certain that the person to whom he delegates that responsibility has an opportunity to interrogate the officer concerned.
It does not seem that any steps can be taken in the next two or three weeks to de-escalate the tension which exists in Northern Ireland. I wish I had the time to mention the economic deprivation in my area and to stress that it has the highest unemployment rate in the City of Belfast. The discontent in Ballymurphy has been brought about because of the fact that between 45 and 50 per cent. of the males in the area have been unemployed for 5 to 10 years. Throughout the whole of Northern Ireland, and particularly in my own constituency, there is great discontent, and I believe that cogent measures must be taken by the Secretary of State to try to bring employment into these areas which have been so economically deprived in the past.
I wish the Secretary of State well in the onerous task he has undertaken. I wish to make it clear that I do not support anybody who is engaged in a campaign of violence. I certainly include in my remarks the Provisional IRA and the threats of violence which come from the Unionist side, from UDA and Vanguard.
I believe that the Official IRA should be given a little commendation for calling off the campaign of violence when it recognised that it was leading the two communities into a sectarian confrontation, and possibly into a civil war. I have no hesitation in saying that it should be commended in the steps which it took at that time.
The Secretary of State, over the next weekend, undoubtedly will be living in a dangerous time. I was asked whether it would be possible for me to call off the campaign of civil disobedience. It was obviously believed that if this happened it would bring an end to the campaign of violence. I suggest that it would do no such thing. I have already said that there are those in the Unionist community in Northern Ireland who are intent on keeping this going in the hope that it will bring Stormont back into existence.
I hope that we shall be given the opportunity to engage in political discussions when internment is brought to an end. I shall not elaborate on the problem of internment, but I wish to pose one question to the Secretary of State. Obviously he knows that a great feeling of discontent exists in the majority Unionist community. Has this influenced him in any way in his policy of internment? Have the phased releases been brought to an end because of the threat of a Unionist backlash, or will he continue with the releases? There are rumours circulating within the Catholic minority that because of pressures built up in the UDA and Vanguard movements the Secretary of State will find himself unable to release further internees. I hope that this is not so since it will serve only to increase tension.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has made many highly controversial statements, but the House of Commons is none the worse for controversy, and I did not disagree with all that he said. I was surprised that he was so pessimistic, because I see as one optimistic feature in the situation the hon. Gentleman's co-operation with my right hon. Friend, as a result of the Governments policy.
I must admit that my last visit to Belfast was a depressing experience. It was like a city at war, as compared with earlier visits at Easter and Christmas. But much more serious than the outward evidence of violence is the increasing bitterness and hostility of the Protestant majority.
We all know that my right hon. Friend's policy of conciliation has had considerable successes in securing the greater co-operation of the hon. Gentleman's SDLP, a cease-fire by the official IRA, a reaction against violence by the women in the Bogside, the Creggan and Andersonstown, and the improved posture of Mr. Lynch with regard to the IRA. All these are very hopeful developments which I do not believe could have been achieved if the Stormont Government had still been in existence. To that extent I agree with what the hon. Member for Belfast, West said. A gesture of good will from the moderate Protestant leadership would be very helpful indeed, because the danger now is the mood of the majority, which is angrier than I have ever seen it before.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies) pointed out, the patience and restraint of the Protestants in the recent past has been remarkable. Their fears and frustrations today are very understandable. But hitherto moderate, liberal-minded men and women are now becoming very hard line. The most worrying feature of all is their lack of trust in the word of British Ministers. The catch-phrase, repeated again and again, is, "We have been sold down the river." It is a meaningless, parrot sort of phrase, but it is believed even by normally sensible people, and it is worrying.
Many Protestants think that our ultimate policy is the unification of all Ireland by stealth and deception, without their consent. Their fears are completely groundless, but they are felt sincerely. There is a sense; of real outrage over the "no-go" areas in Londonderry. But they are not anew problem, as my right hon. Friend said. There has not been an RUC police station in the Bogside for years.
I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) that if we tried to clear the area by military force tomorrow there would be such an appalling loss of life as to shock the world and, moreover, to kill for years the hope of community reconciliation. I beg the Vanguard Movement and the Ulster Defence Association to bear that aspect in mind. I pray that Mr. Craig and his friends have not created organisations which they can no longer control. I beg the Protestants to trust the Government to restore law and order in Londonderry as soon as it can possibly be done and to believe that it cannot be done by military action alone. It is asking a lot of the Protestants to be patient in the face of great provocation, but surely it is not asking too much if the prize is peace in the Province of Ulster.
If the Protestants do not believe us, what alternative is open to them? Ulster is part of Britain, and a UDI would be totally unrealistic. The only alternative to the success of my right hon. Friend's policies is civil war in Northern Ireland. I regret that I do not think that that prospect is reduced in any way by the sort of speech made in County Down at the weekend by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I implore him to consider whether he is not venturing into very deep and dangerous waters. As I read it in the reported version, his speech was not only a direct, rather caustic attack upon Government policy, but almost an incitement to Protestant action. That is a very dangerous and irresponsible line to take, because it brings nearer the appalling prospect of civil war in part of the United Kingdom.
As my hon. Friend did not take the trouble to obtain a copy of what I said I shall hand him a copy, and he can point to the passage which he has in mind which contains any suggestion whatsoever of an encouragement to violence.
In accordance with our normal conventions I warned my right hon. Friend that I should be critical of his speech in this debate, but he did not send me the full speech and I had to rely on a newspaper report. If I have in any way misquoted anything that my right hon. Friend said, of course I withdraw it immediately, but as far as one could judge from the report in the Press the atmosphere of his speech in County Down was unhelpful in the context of the future peace and prosperity of the Province.
My hon. Friend is entitled to say what he thinks is helpful or unhelpful. I wish to assure him—and he will accept this from me—that nothing in what I said could be construed in any way whatsoever as an incitement to violence or to defiance of the law. The whole of the speech was beamed in the opposite direction.
We must not continue with this argument. I have said that if I misquoted my right hon. Friend I would withdraw my statement. I promised that I should be short, and I do not want to enter into a great controversy on this issue.
As one who has a real interest and stake in Northern Ireland, I beg my fellow Protestants in Ulster to believe in the good faith of British Ministers. I beg them to believe that they will not be let down by my right hon. Friend. I beg them to believe that Ulster is at the top of every Cabinet agenda and that not only my right hon. Friend but his junior Ministers and senior civil servants—and I know this from talking to them—have acquired a real understanding of this problem and a sincere determination to resolve it.
Lastly, may I, with respect say something to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? It would be a reassurance to the majority if he could pay another visit to the Province. I asked him to do so when we had a two-day debate, I think last November. He paid a short visit just before Christmas, but it was very short, and it was six months ago. The people of Ulster, as I was made aware when I was there at Whitsun, notice that he has time to go to Denmark and Japan, and they would like to see him in the only part of the United Kingdom which is in strife and turmoil. An early visit by him would give a certain amount of additional confidence to the Protestants and would to that extent be helpful.
There is now a slender hope of success in Northern Ireland, as a result of my right hon. Friend's policies. I put it no higher than that. There is a slim hope of success, but there will be no hope at all of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland if these policies fail.
We have just heard the second gloomy, despondent speech in a row, with very little hope to it.
As a result of his visit, the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Nigel Fisher) has voiced the fears of the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland that the British Government's policy, whether we like it or not, and whether they like it or not, is to try by stealth to engineer—that was the phrase quoted by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—Northern Ireland into some kind of united Ireland.
I am not endeavouring to engineer Northern Ireland into a united Ireland. I do not believe that the British Government are trying to do that. I do not believe that the official Opposition in this country want to do that. But there are many of us—I suspect on both sides of the House—who, after the history of the last 50 years, believe that it is a tragedy that Northern and Southern Ireland are not united. We want them to be united. I believe in one nation in Ireland, but I have no intention of trying to force them into it. I do not believe that we ought to try to do this by stealth, and I hope that there is no one on either side who is trying to do it by stealth.
In view of Irish history, no one starts from scratch. We all carry a sense of history, and on no subject do we have a stronger sense of history than on the whole matter of Ireland. There are different views on Ireland. The view that we take of the past will inevitably determine the view that we take of the present and, indeed, of the future. My view is quite clear, and I put it on record particularly in view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Surbiton. Ireland always was one nation, and as one nation it was troublesome to Britain. We settled it with loyalists to teach the natives a lesson, and we created the racial as well as the religious divide where there had been none before.
At the turn of the century, the loyalist, non-Celtic population was a small minority. It did not want unity, but it would not have fought to avoid unity, whatever may be the case now. This House took that minority's view fully into account in its vote at the time, when it voted by a majority of about 130 for Home Rule; even leaving out the Irish Members, the majority was more than 100. We would all agree that that was a substantial majority.
The vote of that House would have been implemented then, by and large peacefully, but for one thing—the desire of the Conservative Party of the time to bring down the Liberal Government. They took the best tool to hand for the task. They dispatched a Conservative Front Bencher, Carson, to whip up the bitterness and bigotry which undoubtedly existed then and certainly exists now. The purpose of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition was to set aside by non-constitutional action what they could not defeat by constitutional action. It is a grim political irony that it is the Conservative Party that now has to deal with the appalling mess left behind by the foul actions of its predecessors.
To come up to date, I regard Ireland as essentially one nation. It therefore follows that I believe that our whole policy should be directed towards removing the barriers in the minds of Irishmen, and in the minds of Northern Irishmen too, which exist against the creation of one Ireland.
I am open about that, and I do not want to do it in any sense by stealth. I am of course aware of the Secretary of State's warning today. I accept that unity cannot be achieved except by agreement. There is no question of forcing them into any spurious unity. I therefore join the right hon. Gentleman in the guarantee which I am sure is given by all Members of the House of all political persuasions, that of course no British Government will ever force Northern Ireland into a united Ireland.
The violence which has been spoken of tonight, the violence that we have seen on our television screens and which many hon. Members have experienced and have seen for themselves, is appalling and horrifying. I understand that those who are suffering from it at first hand do not perhaps place any great hope in constitution-mongering. But I believe that the only long-term hope is for the institutions of democracy and it is towards those institutions that we have to turn. It is in those that we have to have confidence. We have to tailor them for the future, bearing in mind the feelings and the bitterness which we have around us now.
I want to look beyond the violence—I am certain that it will come to an end—and consider the rest of the Government's package. It is absolutely useless to have the local government elections if they are based on single-member wards with the x factor voting. They can only be of purpose in righting the appalling shambles and bitterness in Northern Ireland if they are elections by proportional representation.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go beyond the package that he has already introduced, such as it is, and ensure that these elections are held this autumn—the sooner the better—but that they are held by means of proportional representation. I hope that he will go even further in his thinking and recognise that, when the time comes to bring back some kind of institutional democracy in Northern Ireland, whether of a GLC-type or some form of Northern Ireland Parliament, anything that looks remotely like a Government in Northern Ireland must also be a multi-party Government. It is no use having proportional representation to elect whatever parliamentary institution there is. There must be proportional representation for selecting the Government of the day.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the initiatives he has taken so far. He has lived up to the highest hopes which were expressed by the Leader of the Liberal Party when his appointment was announced. We did not expect miracles but we support what he has done. The action on internment is a start. It is not far enough for some of us, but it is at least a start. The right hon. Gentleman must be the best judge of
that at present. I remind him of one promise to us when we moved the Amendment to repeal the Special Powers Act a little while ago. I shall not quote him in detail because I do not have time. On 29th March, the right hon. Gentleman said:
I cannot go as far as that. I will review the Act and, when I have done so, I will report to the House."—[Official Report, 29th March, 1972; Vol. 834, c. 569.]
The Secretary of State knows perfectly well the views of my right hon. and hon. Friends about the Special Powers Act. We want it repealed. We want him to act through the normal process of law which is available to the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that tonight we shall hear something of the Government's intentions regarding the Special Powers Act.
This evening I have come direct from Belfast—a city that has faced much trouble and turmoil over the weekend—to speak of the situation there as I see it. I am sorry to say that I found little in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State which would encourage my constituents, or make their burden lighter.
I join with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in saying that in this debate one speaks with considerable pessimism. By a majority of some 480, on 28th March the House took a decision to go for direct rule. Having seen some of the difficulties and problems that that has brought, I ask: is the House certain that that decision was right? I believe that my right hon. Friend has been given an impossible brief. One sees this as the situation develops. At Question Time five or six weeks ago, in no spirit of hostility I asked my right hon. Friend whether he felt that he had earned the confidence and respect of the majority. I felt that the answer to that question was, "No".
Today there is much that one can say about the situation, but time is limited. One could talk of the moves for peace. There is a tremendous desire for peace among the people of Northern Ireland as a whole. One could talk of the limited but welcome response from the Catholic community. I could talk of the limited but welcome response from Mr. Lynch. However, the vital point with which I wish to deal is the extent to which the initiative and what has happened since has had the effect, for the majority, of destroying normal political activity.
On 24th March the Prime Minister said that the aim of the initiative was to encourage "the moderates". I commented then that the effect of the initiative was to act as "a recruiting sergeant for the Vanguard Movement". Was I right or wrong?
I am bitterly in despair at present. The effect of this activity by the Government and the anger and frustration that we saw boiling up over the weekend show very clearly that people are moving outside the political arena. Perhaps they have lost faith in myself and all other hon. Members as their political representatives and are moving to events on the street. That spells ruin for Northern Ireland if it is persisted in. I greatly regret the lack of faith and trust in democracy that we have seen develop. That is what the House is now seeing happen. If right hon. and hon. Members bury their heads in the sand, the situation will become even more grim over the next few weeks.
I give some advice to my right hon. Friend as to how it is possible for him once more to return to a situation where he can gain the confidence of the majority. First, it is essential that the Government and the House should show clearly that they recognise the strain under which the people of Northern Ireland are suffering and give them sympathy, encouragement and understanding in the situation. We do not want platitudes; we want real sympathy and support.
Secondly, there is the question of the extent to which we believe in Northern Ireland that we are being kept out on a limb. So many matters are being kept in cold storage. This must be ended. The Government cannot keep open all their political options. They must give clear information as to the way in which they see the areas of negotiations, the limitations and the extent of the opportunities for the renewal of a regional Parliament. They cannot keep the question of the referendum in cold storage. Too many options are being kept open by the Government, and that is causing uncertainty.
Thirdly, there is the question of the security of the Army. There is no doubt that the Army is operating on a low key or low profile basis. The position is deteriorating as the IRA is able to reform and regroup. That is not the way to bring back peace. The Army must operate on a much more positive basis.
Fourthly, I welcome what my right hon. Friend said this evening, namely, that there is no question of forcing the people of Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. That cannot be repeated too often. It is vital that the majority should be constantly reminded of that statement The statement made in a radio interview yesterday by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark brook (Mr. Hattersley) as to the "engineering of the situation, towards ending partition is the kind of thing that makes people apprehensive. They say, "The Westminster Parliament will not force us out of the United Kingdom, but what will be the position tomorrow?" I put the question, but if we are to give confidence to the majority there must be no doubt on that matter. I welcome what has been said on that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) will have heard what the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said officially for the Opposition. I regard the fact that I said it and that the hon. Member for Leeds, South said it as immensely important. All that I am asking, and I am entitled to ask, is that every single right hon. and hon. Member who goes over to Northern Ireland says that, and does not try to cast aspersions on my honesty and standing on this matter
I accept that point from the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). I am glad that the matter is firmly and clearly on the record. It cannot be said too often by both Front Benches.
Fifthly and lastly, we must try to move into the arena of political discussion. The SDLP have an important rôle to play, particularly in the rent and rate strike. It would be an enormous gesture to start the ball rolling.
Equally important is that Government Ministers and all hon. Members should show the people of Northern Ireland that they have both their sympathy, their understanding and their support. We must try to rebuild the shattered confidence that we see so gravely fractured at this moment.
The debate this evening has taken place under a shadow of a weekend of violence which has caused much comment throughout the evening in many speeches. The debate has shown some new common ground but has once again shown some deep differences between hon. Members on both sides of the House about what is happening and what should happen.
It was suggested at the beginning that I should speak on economic affairs, and I am hoping a little later in another debate to go into some detail on economic and industrial questions.
It might be for the convenience of the House if I spend the few remaining minutes before 10 o'clock trying to answer as many as possible of the queries and questions which have been put by hon. Members on both sides. I will try not to miss out any points.
After my right hon. Friend had spoken we heard a speech by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) who talked about a crash programme of construction and training and the trade union movement in Northern Ireland.
I agree strongly with what the hon. Gentleman said about the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. Its leaders deserve the highest praise for the rôle that they have played and are playing in the incredibly difficult situation facing them.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about a crash programme of construction, but it is worth bearing in mind that crash programmers, particularly where heavy investment is concerned, are not the quickest or best way of producing jobs. This is a difficulty which must be faced. The overall development programme for 1970–75 is well advanced. We have plans to look at ways of accelerating it, but we have to be wary of suddenly trying to switch on the various industrial programmers.
I agree strongly with the hon. Gentleman about training. I hope to be in a position to announce something shortly which will meet some of the hopes he expressed.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) asked a number of questions. First, he asked what was being and could be done about re-housing. The housing executive is now in operation. It acts extremely swiftly these days. The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that, for instance, 13 families have already been offered re-housing and arrangements have been made after last night's disturbances. That is an example of the speed with which the housing executive is able to operate.
The hon. Gentleman asked about foreign gunmen and whether we had any evidence about them. We have no hard evidence. The method of operation of certain snipers which has been observed gives rise for suspicion, but we have no hard evidence on that matter.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Border control. This matter has been raised before. Control has been toughened. Many more vehicles are being searched. However, the basic difficulty remains. The Border is virtually uncloseable to those who wish to pass over it on secret, hidden missions at night on unidentified roads or across fields. However, as I said, control has been toughened. I cannot go into the precise methods, because they are covered by the Security Forces' necessary discretion, but there has been some toughening, and more vehicle searching takes place than hitherto.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) asked about internment, which was answered there and then by my right hon. Friend.
The hon. Gentleman asked about proportional representation, or some variant of it. This matter, which has been raised by other hon. Members as well, has been discussed and put forward in various forms to my right hon. Friend and is being considered. A number of points of the kind which have been made in the debate have been put to my right hon. Friend concerning that matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies), who has great experience of these matters and spoke with authority, reminded us that Ulster Members on both sides of the House live close to the danger in Northern Ireland and that it is easy for us to stand back and preach and not realise the intense atmosphere of tension which surrounds hon. Members who have to return to their constituencies in Northern Ireland at the weekend. Some of us have had a little taste of that tension and what it is like to live with it. However, we must bear in mind that the conditions which hon. Members from Northern Ireland have to face and live in must necessarily condition their views.
My hon. Friend asked specifically about recruitment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. At present it is 296 below establishment. This is just a shade up on 1st January when it was at a strength of 4,083. Its strength now is 4,130, but it is still below establishment. Moves have been announced by my right hon. Friend for stepping up publicity for a more effective recruitment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), speaking on behalf of the Opposition, gave general support, which is welcome, to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the question of debt repayment. My right hon. Friend is looking forward with interest to receiving the views and comments of Professor Townsend when the opportunity arises, which I believe will be soon.
The hon. Gentleman then said that the time had come for discussion. We welcome that. This point has been rightly made. The hon. Gentleman talked about a Green Paper, on which I am not so sure. On the whole, we take the view that the initiative must come from the people of Northern Ireland. Perhaps in a way there are already too many pieces of paper and pamphlets floating about the place. The next stage possibly lies elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Unionists must be given reassurance. My right hon. Friend pointed just now to the fact that on behalf of the Government he had followed my right hon. Friend in giving that assurance. This cannot be said too often. It has been said by my right hon. Friend again and again. Of course Ulster in not to be bundled into a united Ireland against the wishes of the majority. That will not be countenanced. The Government have said that again and again. Indeed, it is enshrined and embodied in the law under which we govern. The people of Ulster are not expendable. Suggestions that they are or are thought to be by us are misleading and false. That must be said, as it was said at the beginning of the debate and in the middle of the debate; and now let it be said again, because it is the position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) stated his views in his usual trenchant style and gave some interesting examples of support and the ways in which his views are developing. I do not think that my hon. Friend asked any questions. I have no doubt that later on this evening he will have many detailed questions to ask me.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke of the pessimism in the situation that has developed over the weekend. This was echoed elsewhere, alas. The hon. Gentleman spoke about action against the Ulster Defence Association. He must be realistic about this. It is the policy to avoid unnecessary confrontations. That is the policy in relation to both sides, so to speak. There is a temptation, which must be resisted, to have cake and to eat it, or to demand that what goes for one side should not go for the other. If barrier obstructions are placed in the way of an ambulance or other essential service, the barriers come down. That is understood. That has been done in operations over the last few days.
The hon. Gentleman then made allegations as to allegations against the Royal Ulster Constabulary, if that is the right way to put it—more precisely about the methods used to investigate allegations. I will bring these to the notice of my right hon. Friend, who had slipped out of the House at that moment. I am sure that the allegations will be closely studied.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Nigel Fisher) spoke movingly about the very real fears of the majority, which are widespread. My hon. Friend has special experience of this. He reminded us that these fears are groundless. I can only repeat the words which have been repeated again and again—that no change will be made without the express support of the majority. The people of Ulster are not expendable. Let that be made absolutely clear. Let those who would argue otherwise state their reasons.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) asked about the Special Powers Act review. My right hon. Friend is reviewing this Act and he will report. That is all that I can say at this hour, and indeed it is practically all that I have time to say.
The last hon. Member to speak was my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who has spoken at times with great wisdom and understanding in the very difficult situation in which he and his hon. Friends find themselves. My hon. Friend spoke of his despair. This is something which we should all note at this time. For all the talk of violence and for all the note of despair that one or two hon. Members have echoed this evening a great deal is going on and is steadily progressing in Ulster.
For example, a workable and effective Administration has been established and is now operating, thanks very largely to the superb Northern Ireland Civil Service which has truly shown administrative excellence under immensely difficult conditions. Major programmers of economic development have been speeded forward. A far-reaching programme of local government reform is being picked up and taken forward. Detailed measures for bringing work and activities to the areas of highest unemployment and deepest poverty are being swiftly hammered out. These are the positive things that are happening.
Although our concern here is with the violence of today, our eyes are on the Ulster of tomorrow—strong, prosperous, peaceful and stable. That is the goal that can and will be attained.