Before I call the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to open the debate, perhaps I should repeat to the House that I have a list of many, hon. Members who wish to take part in it. No fewer than six members of the United Ulster Unionist Party wish to catch my eye. How many do so will depend on the length of the speeches of those who succeed in catching my eye. We cannot have speeches of 30 to 35 minutes.
It is right that the House should today debate the affairs of Northern Ireland. The time is ripe for the new administration to assess the present prospects and put forward the policies required to lead us forward.
When we were in opposition we supported the previous administration in its policies. We had our differences, but on all matters of principle there was all-party support for the Government of the day. It is our aim to maintain this approach towards Northern Ireland in this Parliament. Our policies will be firmly based on those followed by our predecessors in office.
What, then, did we support in these policies? We thought it right that in devising a new constitution for Northern Ireland the views of the people of the Province should be taken fully into account, and we knew that the Northern Ireland Constitution Act was the outcome of extensive consultations. We agreed that there should be devolution of government functions to Northern Ireland, that Northern Ireland should have its own Assembly elected by means of proportional representation, and that the machinery of government should incorporate the important concept of power sharing. All this has now been achieved.
There followed lengthy talks, as a result of which practical effect was given to the concept of power sharing, and a Northern Ireland Executive representative of a wide range of opinion was formed. This was a great achievement, and particular credit must go to the Secretary of State at the time and the parties in Northern Ireland who agreed to recognise each other's aspiration and are working together in the Executive.
I do not believe that most people in Northern Ireland object to the sharing of power between representatives of the two communities. While there remains a wide divergence of ultimate aspirations, most people in Northern Ireland are increasingly accepting that power sharing is the only responsible and fair way of governing a country in which there is a divergence of views on basic issues.
The House will know that the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, passed by an overwhelming majority in this House, is founded in Section 27 on the basis of a four-year term for the Assembly. Of course, there are provisions for an earlier dissolution in certain circumstances, but the four-year term is the norm, and this House will, I am sure, wish that the new power-sharing Executive should have a proper chance to show to its electorate what it can achieve.
Democratic institutions need an Opposition if they are to work; the Northern Ireland Assembly is no exception. We all of us realise the difficulties of parties in opposition: of course, it is everybody's right to oppose peacefully and politically those things which they think wrong, but the problem is to be constructive. I hope that those parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly which are not represented on the Northern Ireland Executive will now face up to their proper rôle of constructive opposition. They owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to express their views within the framework of the constitution which the Parliament at Westminster has provided for them—a Parliament to which some members of the Opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly now belong.
Then there is Sunningdale. In opposition we supported the Government in reaching this carefully balanced settlement. I would remind the House that what was agreed at Sunningdale was not, as one might suspect when listening to its critics, solely provision for a Council of Ireland. The settlement involved many aspects of the life of both North and South. There are provisions on the status of Northern Ireland which the Taioseach has recently clarified. There is the Law Enforcement Commission set up to make recommendations as a matter of extreme urgency about the most effective means of dealing with those who commit crimes of violence north or south of the border. Our hope is that on the basis of the report of this commission both Governments will be able to agree on a fully effective means of dealing with fugitive offenders which can be put into operation quickly. On the vital problem of border security, we are, in the spirit of the Sunningdale Agreement, in close touch with the Dublin Government to discuss how we can improve co-operation on both sides of the border, and we hope that we shall, in agreement with them, find the means of reducing terrorist activity in the border areas and preventing the use of the Republic as a base.
As far as the Council of Ireland is concerned, it is important to remember that the basic reason for establishing it is to provide a means of improving cooperation between the North and the South on a wide range of common interests; for example, how best to utilise scarce skills, to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort in the interests of economy and efficiency and to ensure complementary rather than competitive effort where this is to the advantage of agriculture, commerce and industry.
These are eminently sensible proposals, and the interests of Northern Ireland are more than protected by the vitally important unanimity rule which means that the council can only take action which has the wholehearted support of the Northern Ireland Executive. The settlement must be seen as a whole and not broken down into parts. We think that this settlement was right and fair, and we expect all parties fully to deliver their obligations. We will continue to play our part to give effect to it as a balanced package.
When dealing with Northern Ireland an overriding consideration must always be that of security. At the moment in Northern Ireland the security forces—the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary—are trying to restore peace and law and order, but they do so on behalf of the community. Law and order can only be maintained by the community itself, and it is important to stress again and again that law and order can be brought back only if all—I repeat, all— the people of Northern Ireland whole-heartedly wish it and co-operate. The security forces have a vital rôle, and I want to place on record again our recognition of the skill and fortitude with which all members of the security forces, both Police and Army, carry out their duties. But their success depends upon the attitude of the community at large and the acceptance by the community of their activities.
I believe the cornerstone of security policy should be a progressive increase in the rôle of the civilian law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland. So long as so much of the burden is being borne by the Army, it is altogether too tempting to many members of the community to undertake less than their share of responsibility and to feel that law and order is a matter for the United Kingdom Government rather than for them. This is not a situation which can be allowed to continue indefinitely.
Much will depend upon the RUC, which has operated in appalling conditions over the last few years. It has suffered many grievous losses of life and injury. Everything that we can do to help it must be done. I am, therefore, supporting the Chief Constable and the Police Authority in their plans to press ahead with a number of changes in the RUC which are designed to increase not only operational efficiency but the acceptability of the RUC within the community. I am also going ahead with the important decision of my predecessor, announced in the Sunningdale communiqué, to set up an all-party committee from the Assembly to examine how best to introduce effective policing throughout Northern Ireland. This is a problem which is immensely difficult and will require support of all men and women of good will.
I plan to make a number of arrangements aimed at associating members of the community in police matters. Some of them, like the all-party committee for the Assembly I have referred to, were part of the Sunningdale communique. Although some of these will depend upon the formal ratification of Sunningdale before they can be brought to full fruition, there is a good deal of progress that can be made in the meantime. For example, I propose shortly to lay before the House the necessary Order in Council providing for the reconstitution of the Police Authority. Among other things, this will provide for the inclusion of members of the Assembly in the Police Authority. I hope that it will soon be possible to make progress in setting up the proposed local police liaison committees.
No, I have not said that.
The operational command structure of the RUC is being reorganised to provide assistant chief constables with operational commands for regions based on Londonderry, Belfast and the border areas. This should improve operational effectiveness. The administrative command structure is also being reorganised by the Chief Constable. In addition, other measures are being taken to help to bring Catholics into the RUC and the RUC Reserve and to increase their overall strength, including a new non-residential cadet scheme. There is also to be increased police effort on community relations. To sum up, we need to move as fast as possible in restoring the full responsibility for law and order to the RUC.
I am sure the whole House will warmly welcome a statement issued by the Northern Ireland Executive—an Executive which is composed of three parties—after its meeting on Tuesday this week, in the course of which it said this:
We all want to see normality in Northern Ireland—a normality in which detention will have ended and in which law and order can be preserved by a civilian police force and not by the presence of heavily armed troops.
We now call upon all those in Northern Ireland who are appalled and disgusted by the recurrent violence to recognise that there are practical steps which they can take to create that situation of normality. If reliance upon the Army is to be reduced, the locally recruited security forces must be in a position to take on further responsibilities. This they can only do when they have the support of the whole community. This is our objective.
The best way to deal with men of violence is through the effective operation of the ordinary processes of the law. But the law cannot be effective until each citizen accepts a personal commitment to see to it that his area, his housing estate, his street is not used by the bomber or the gunman.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he had in mind a new non-residential cadet institution. What does he mean by "nonresidential"? Does he mean people from outside Northern Ireland?
I think that at present young men come over here to the Hendon Police College. What I have in mind is to use, on a non-residential basis, the resources of the technical institutions in Northern Ireland.
The statement issued by the Executive is an admirably forceful and concise summary of precisely the policy which the Government intend to pursue and to which they intend to give their maximum support.
This is one of the reasons why, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, I have called for a security review. We are looking afresh at the rôle of the Army in the towns, in the rural areas and on the border. If I have separated them in that way, it is simply to emphasise that perhaps the rôle of the security forces is different in those three circumstances.
The question of the number of troops and the degree of flexibility we can produce are closely bound together. What we are aiming for is the minimum number of troops actually in Northern Ireland which the needs of the situation require, together with the maximum degree of flexibility and speed in response to any change in the situation. It will be possible in the next few weeks to withdraw one unit from Northern Ireland, and this will come from the Londonderry area. In preparation for this we have, with the Chief Constable, taken steps to ensure that there will be a consequential increase in civil policing in Londonderry.
At the same time we shall be mounting special operations as the situation may require—as, for example, the massive search operation in the Ormeau Road last week. Today a temporary reinforcement of two companies has been dispatched to Northern Ireland at the request of the GOC to assist the troops already there in a major operation designed to prevent movement of arms and explosives into the cities. If, as seems possible, we are able to develop this approach of increased flexibility in our military response, there will be further
limited withdrawals of troops actually stationed in Northern Ireland in the course of the year. Let no one suppose that this implies any weakening in our determination to deal with terrorists. As I said in the House on Monday,
I pledge this Government to act resolutely to deal with the terrorists from wherever they come."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 881–82.]
The House will be interested in the successes of security operations. For example, in the year between 1st April 1973 and 1st April 1974 the security forces searched over 4 million cars and removed from terrorists' hands nearly 1.600 weapons and over 35 tons of explosives, 19 tons found before it was made into bombs and 16 tons found in made-up bombs. In the same period of a year, 1,292 terrorists have been charged with criminal offences, almost all of them of a very serious nature ranging from murder to armed robbery.
Let me say again quite clearly and categorically that sufficient numbers of the Army will remain in Northern Ireland to assist in maintaining law and order. But we believe that in the long term it must be the community itself and normal police activities, not military operations alone, which will finally defeat the terrorist.
Let me emphasise, as I indicated to the House in my statement on Monday, that there is a lot that can be done by self-help. I was very glad to learn that there was a recent meeting in Belfast between the security forces and the traders and their representative bodies in which a number of new ideas for improving security in the city centres were put forward. These are being assessed, and I hope that out of them may come definite measures to improve security against the bomber.
I recognise the difficulties, but there is no doubt that security in stores and shops in many parts of Northern Ireland could be more effective than it is. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) knows from practical experience what I mean by that. To take Lisburn, for example, which has suffered severe damage in the town centre, several months ago the security forces strongly recommended that the town centre should be closed to vehicular traffic, but the local traders felt that to do this would make it really difficult for them to earn a livelihood. Measures to prevent the destruction of city centres are bound to be inconvenient and may well reduce the volume of trade in some cases, but there is a limit to the risks which it is reasonable to run.
Tremendous problems would still remain even if the politically motivated violence on either side were to come to an end. Before the current emergency, armed robbery was an uncommon crime in Northern Ireland, but the total value of goods stolen by armed robbery over the last two years comes close to £11 million. Protection rackets and the other forms of intimidation proliferate. Publicans, hotel managers, small businessmen live under the threat of "pay up or be blown up".
The influence of parents, schools and Churches has given way to the influence of the terrorist and the gunman. Thus, a whole generation of young men and women is growing up in Northern Ireland who often lack not only the opportunity of honest employment, but also any desire or incentive to take it up. This indeed is a problem which calls for the united effort of the community as a whole, and, indeed, it is one which must be of deep concern to the United Kingdom as a whole. We must and will tackle it together, and I look to all the people in Northern Ireland to support me in this and to show that they have the will and determination to re-create a peaceful and orderly society.
I turn now to the question of the law and violence in the context of Northern Ireland. There is a special problem here. There are para-military forces in Northern Ireland. There is bombing. There are sectarian murders. I remind the House that 717 were killed in the last two years alone: the Army and the reserves, 195; the police and the reserves, 30; civilians, 492. It occurs to me every day as we talk here about political action that it is extremely difficult for some people with the memories of their families and friends and killings to concentrate their minds as we think that they should.
The extent of damage to property has been evidenced by the amount of compensation that has been claimed—about £110 million since 1969.
Without going into the history of it all, it was to meet this situation that there is now on the statute book the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, which has two parts which deal with fundamental issues of justice—first, modification procedures in the courts and, secondly, the provisions for detention by Commissioners.
As I said in the House when the Bill was being debated, we did not deny the Government a Second Reading because of the peculiar situation in Northern Ireland, but we had grave criticisms and doubts about it. We shall therefore want to make some changes in the legislation. In the meantime, we have to face the fact that the Emergency Provisions Act will run out in July of this year. We cannot be ready with fresh legislation by then. I am not prepared to leave the security forces without any cover while we talk here in the House of Commons about the best way of providing changes in the law which we think necessary. I shall therefore, at an appropriate time, invite the support of the House for an order extending the duration of the Emergency Provisions Act for a further period.
As a Government we shall be thinking of what changes may be needed but, as the House may recall, I quoted here in December 1972 from a letter which I had written to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) proposing that a commission should be set up which would examine the question of the maintenance of the rule of law in circumstances such as those which have prevailed in Northern Ireland in recent years. I think that there is still need for an inquiry on these lines.
I have therefore decided, in consultation with the Attorney-General, to set up a committee to undertake this task. Lord Gardiner has accepted the chairmanship, and the terms of reference are as follows:
to consider what provisions and powers, consistent to the maximum extent practicable in the circumstances with the preservation of civil liberties and human rights, are required to deal with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland, including provisions for the administration of justice, and to examine the working of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. 1973; and to make recommendations.
I will announce the other members as soon as possible but I can say now that Northern Ireland will be well represented.
I shall not, however, wait for the recommendations of that committee before beginning to deal with the difficult problem of detention. There was a clear statement in the Sunningdale communiqué of the policy of the then administration on detention. It was as follows:
The conference took note of a reaffirmation by the British Government of their firm commitment to bring detention to an end in Northern Ireland for all sections of the community as soon as the security situation permits…
This is our policy.
But I believe that we must try a fresh approach and one that engages the help of local communities as much as possible. Simply to release people without any assistance is not enough, and there is within Northern Ireland a fund of good will which can be used to help us to bring the released detainees back into the life of the community. I therefore propose to begin a phased programme for releasing detainees and I am considering whether they can be assigned to sponsors in their homes who will undertake at least a measure of responsibility for their good behaviour and help them to become assimilated once more in local life and to avoid becoming involved again in violence.
In all this I believe that the social service departments of the Northern Ireland Executive can make a major and constructive contribution, and I include in this the making use, where appropriate, of Government training centres, which could prove of great importance.
I have asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State to carry out an urgent study of all this in close consultation with members of the Executive. As well as the various Government agencies in Northern Ireland, there are voluntary organisations which I am sure would be willing and able to play a positive part in this vital work of resettlement.
It has been widely reported in the Press that the security forces have been gravely concerned about the Government's intention to release batches of detainees. Is the Secretary of State now saying to the House that the security forces feel it right in present circumstances to release detainees despite the fact that they are reported as saying that these men go back to violence or are training youngsters to plant bombs, to shoot and to destroy?
As far as I am concerned no matter where these people come from—whatever side of the community—they will be dealt with firmly. I advise the hon. Gentleman not to believe everything he reads in newspapers.
I have consulted everybody who has to be consulted about the proposals I am now making including, absolutely firmly, the security forces.
The studies which my right hon. Friend has mentioned are to be welcomed. However, as the composition of the committee to be chaired by Lord Gardiner has not been finalised, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that some of us would like to see on the Gardiner Committee an American, with some experience of Vietnam in the 1960s—a Frenchman with experience of Algeria in the 1950s, or one of our own people with experience of Palestine in the 1940s?
The appointments to the committee may not necessarily be on the judicial side, but people with experience of this kind are vital. It has not been a new discovery for me to find that situations in Palestine, Cyprus or Vietnam are rather different from those in a society in which the indigenous people are at each other's throats. This is the basic point, and so the situation in Northern Ireland is rather different from that in Vietnam, which involved people who were going into the country from elsewhere.
How many of the detainees who have been released from detention since detention began have been recommitted to detention for further crimes which they have committed?
That is not true. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to throw out figures about which he cannot have any idea. That is not good enough in this situation. A small number of people have gone back to committing crime and have been picked up. This is one of the reasons why we are setting up the scheme that I have mentioned. What can one expect of a man from a ghetto area of Belfast when he goes back there from the Maze? He is returning to the environment from which he came, and against such a social background it would require an extremely strong character to resist the temptations which will arise.
My right hon. Friend will be aware from the interventions so far that there are two groups of people wanting to keep detention going for their own particular purposes. He will also be aware that under the terms of the Emergency Provisions Act it is within the power of the Secretary of State at the end of a year to indicate those parts of the Act he will not reactivate. Is it his intention to reactivate the whole of the Act, bearing in mind criticism of the Act last year, and notwithstanding that there is to be a committee under Lord Gardiner? Can my right hon. Friend give more details of the sponsor scheme, which is imaginative and is to be welcomed?
More will be said about the sponsor scheme later. The point regarding the Emergency Provisions Act is most important. I have discussed this at great length with the Attorney-General and there will be an opportunity when we debate the order to look at these matters further. However, we have already looked at them most carefully and they are apposite to the situation.
Does not part of the problem lie inside detention centres where people who are, relatively speaking, not dangerous mix with those who are dangerous, and are thus being contaminated? Is this aspect of the matter receiving more attention, bearing in mind the difficulties of space and accommodation?
The hon. Gentleman is right and this is not the first time that this has happened. It is not just places such as Long Kesh which have become training areas for people who are inside. I hope the House will take it that this proposal to try to break away from that background is a positive means of dealing with the effect of detention or internment or whatever it may be called on the morale and attitude of people who are inside.
In considering future releases of detainees, one of the factors which I should take into account is the extent to which individuals are prepared to take advantage of such facilities as we can offer to help in their return to the ordinary community. At the same time I must make it quite clear—and I dealt with this earlier in reply to a question—that if released detainees return to violence there will be no hesitation in dealing with them.
I wish to deal now with those who have been convicted of terrorist offences by the criminal courts. I gave figures for this earlier—figures of those who had been through the courts and had not been detained. In this House, Governments of whatever party are urged to use the normal processes of the law to arrest people and to bring them to trial.
There is a widespread belief in many quarters that these sentences will not have to be served, and that early release can confidently be expected. I have no intention of introducing an amnesty for people who have been convicted by the due processes of the law of crimes of violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland—crimes of murder and of extreme bestility.
What we are trying to achieve is a restoration of normal political life in Northern Ireland, in which those who want changes are at liberty to argue for them and to try to persuade. As I said in the House on Monday, what I find impossible to understand is the motivation of those, from whichever side they come, who believe that political ends can be achieved by violence or who seek to destroy the Constitution Act and power sharing not by political action but by bombing and killing.
As the House knows, we have consistently expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the whole concept of proscription as laid down in the Emergency Provisions Act. But this did not and does not in any way imply a willingness to "go soft" on dealing with para-military organisations. The wider matter of proscription as such will be considered by the Committee under Lord Gardiner.
In my view there are signs that on both extreme wings there are people who, although at one time committed to violence, would now like to find a way back to political activity. It is right to encourage this as much as possible. It is the counterpart of our action against those who use violence. Republican Clubs were de-proscribed by the previous administration. I intend to move in the same direction and will bring forward the necessary order to take the Ulster Volunteer Force and Sinn Fein off the list. I make it clear that membership of a de-proscribed organisation is no protection for men of violence, and we fully support the statement in Paragraph 94 of the White Paper that no person
can expect to be allowed to claim to be acting politically at one moment and then. given what appears a favourable opportunity, to turn to violence and subversion.
Anyone who acts violently, and hon. and right hon. Members know what I have in mind—irrespective of the organisation to which they belong—will be dealt with on the basis of the violence. This is the only way forward.
The Government proposals are based firmly on the policy we have supported in recent years. There is a balance to strike between the political and military action. We pledge our support for action against violence in co-operation with the community. Now is the time to try to make further political progress. Irish politics, like politics in other parts of the world that we know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is full of "maybes". It was W. B. Yeats who said:
And there is a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms.…
There is always the thought, "Maybe it will turn out this way".
I tell the House frankly that there is no simple way to success. In the face of 700 years of history there is no prospect of a simple solution. Such simplicity gets stronger the further from the scene that advocates get.
My first full month in the Province has reinforced one belief I held before, namely that it is the people in Northern Ireland alone who must settle their future, Gael and Scot. Enough of this cry of "Scottish settlers" as if they are not Irish. They have been there for 300 to 400 years. It ill becomes people who have become settlers in other countries for much shorter periods to look down on Protestants in Northern Ireland. They are there, they are Irishmen, and they are proud of their background. What we have to do is to help, no more than that, to find a means of bringing the two communities together.
At the beginning of this Parliament I put our policies before the House. It is only with the overwhelming support of the House that we can maintain the way forward. I ask for such support.
I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member upon his appointment as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and upon the manner in which he has set about his task. It is a daunting and exacting one. At the outset I can assure him that we on the Opposition benches will do all we can to contribute towards that more peaceful and settled situation in Northern Ireland which everyone so desperately wants to see.
No one can deny that the present period in Northern Ireland is crucially important. There is an intense struggle going on and it is necessary to understand its nature. There are three main elements in it—the IRA campaign which continues unabated, but with varying degrees of intensity, the scale of the political changes in Northern Ireland, which are something approaching a revolution in themselves and which are the outcome of direct rule and the Constitution Act, and, thirdly, the opposition to that Act and all that flows from it, including the Sunningdale agreement.
Everyone in the House knows the time and effort that went into the creation of the Act during the last Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) played a key rôle in this and made Herculean efforts to establish a new system of government in the Province and to bring the short period of direct rule to an end. The heart and core of his achievement was the new power-sharing Executive, and it must be of satisfaction to him and the House to know that among the arguments and controversies that have raged in Northern Ireland recently there has been a remarkable degree of genuine acceptance of the good sense of this arrangement. Even the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West), although he wants a different method, supports the principle of power sharing.
I said that the right hon. Gentleman favoured a different method. Since it took office on 1st January the Executive has been carrying out its work with an admirable determination and cohesion. It has been in existence for only three months. It needs not only time to show and prove its worth and gain the fullest confidence throughout the Province but also a period of calm, because with terrorism at its present level its work must be greatly hampered.
It may be that the establishment of the Executive and its evident success in setting aside the long-standing differences that have existed between different sections of the community is one of the contributory causes of the present upsurge of violence. The Constitution Act is experiencing a double challenge, a challenge from the IRA which must be dealt with ruthlessly and firmly by the security forces—with the help of everyone else—and a challenge from those who do not wish it to succeed because they would prefer to have their own, either sectarian or other political sytem in place of the Executive and the Assembly and appear to be willing to stop at nothing to criticise and occasionaly even abuse those who support the Act, regardless of the consequences.
I assure the House that after the agony and the struggle we have been through we on this side stand foursquare and resolutely behind the Act. We shall continue to give our fullest support and backing to the Executive and all the elements and aspects of the agreement that make power sharing and the devolution of power to the Executive possible. Let no one think that either bombs or those horrible sectarian killings or that abuse which is sometimes of an hysterical or theatrical and television-orientated nature will deter us from putting our weight behind those who are striving to put the Act into effect.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has repeated what he said on Monday about the period of time available to the Executive. Four years is the period contained in the Act and time is required because the scale of change for Northern Ireland is very great. It is an error to under-estimate the magnitude of the change which has itself led to certain confusion and even fears about the future. One cannot help but sympathise with those who have been misled as a result. That is why time is needed. We know that in an ordinary Parliament where one party has an overall majority Governments need three or four years to do their work before the country is asked to go to the polls again. It is the same in Northern Ireland. I support what the Secretary of State said on this matter, which is what the House decided.
One of the reasons why emotions have been running high in Northern Ireland in recent weeks is the proposed Council of Ireland. Many wildly inaccurate descriptions of what has been proposed and intended have been—sometimes deliberately it seems—implanted and fostered in people's minds by those wishing to damage the decisions of this House. I understand, of course, that some people are against any Council of Ireland on any basis, and they are entitled to that view and to express it. But we have witnessed in recent months what seems to me to be nothing less than a campaign of exaggeration, if not misrepresentation, designed to create fear or hostility where none need exist. I regret this and believe that it has been positively harmful, because it has caused widespread political uncertainty when calmness and stability was what was required and could have been provided.
I should therefore like to state the position as I believe it to be. Last year the border poll was held to provide an opportunity for the people to make clear their wishes on the status of Northern Ireland. As expected, the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of Northern Ireland remaining inside the United Kingdom. We, then in Government, accepted that verdict which governed our whole approach to the arrangements eventually formulated.
At the same time, we recognise the reality of the need to assist closer relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic, to make possible much more effective action against terrorism and cooperation on social and economic matters. It was part of the agreement at Sunning-dale to set up a council to further these purposes.
Some people have spent much time in recent weeks peddling the misconception that this House is determined to use the council as a means of pushing the people of Northern Ireland into an Irish Republic. The House knows that there was and is no such intention. The council, as envisaged by all the parties at Sunningdale, provides a means for the discussion and expression of the conflicting aspirations which exist in Ireland—those who seek to aspire towards a united Ireland, and those who seek to retain British citizenship. This double, or split, allegiance, is one of the inherent features of the whole Irish situation.
The proposed council is not designed to make either of those aspirations more difficult or more easy to pursue. It provides a framework with numerous safeguards for the working out by consent of whatever co-operation the representatives of Northern Ireland and the Republic may find mutually beneficial. To underline this intention, consider the safeguards. There could be no decisions in the Council of Ministers without unanimity. No powers could be transferred to the council without the consent of the majority of the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland in the Assembly.
Those are very powerful safeguards, but there is even more than that. A precondition for the setting up of the council was the acceptance by the Irish Republic of the present status of Northern Ireland. That was written into the agreement and, as the Secretary of State said, has been publicly restated since by Mr. Cosgrave. Yet, despite these provisions, there are unionists who maintain that the council undermines their political aspirations, which, in some cases, seem to be simply to get back to where we were before, which I do not think this House will accept and which, in truth, Northern Ireland itself does not want.
I readily admit that there are some in Northern Ireland who have declared the council to be the vehicle by which a united Ireland will be created. They are fully entitled to hope to achieve that aim by persuasion, just as others are entitled to talk of an amalgamated Ireland, and some most carefully thought out proposals on these lines have come from surprising quarters lately. Yet others are entitled to take a different view of the future, but most certainly it is not in accord with the spirit or letter of the Sunningdale agreement to suggest that the council contains any design to bring about an all-Ireland republic. That is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. The safeguards speak for themselves and afford the very protection which I believe the unionists, very reasonably, want and are entitled to expect.
I have already said that the Constitution Act and the power-sharing Executive are widely accepted in Northern Ireland. During the election certain hon. Members concentrated their attack entirely on the Council of Ireland and made little criticism of the Executive, which is significant. Some hon. Members from Northern Ireland claim that they come here with a mandate to renegotiate the Constitution Act, but, as far as I am aware, they have put forward no constructive alternative policy; and a negative platform is not really a platform at all.
I confess that the people of Northern Ireland are highly skilled in the art of opposition; I think that that has been shown over the years. Besides, I understand that one of the parties to which a majority of hon. Members from Northern Ireland belong still has as its policy support for the establishment of a regional executive. We in this House realise that the people of Northern Ireland would be under an illusion were they to think that this House had any willingness to water down the Constitution Act and would be extraordinarily reluctant to begin all over again. We have been through too much. We share the longing of the great majority in Northern Ireland for a time of peace and calm.
I did not say that. I said that I thought that the House would be extraordinarily reluctant to begin all over again. My hon. Friend is perfectly right.
The Constitution Act is a fair and reasonable framework for government, providing safeguards for the rights of all the people of Northern Ireland. No one need be excluded from a share of power under its provisions, except those who wish to exclude themselves. When some people talk of it as an "imposed" or "undemocratic" solution they sound as though they have forgotten the long hours of debate in this House. The Act has the overwhelming support of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It has the support of a substantial majority of the elected representatives of the Northern Ireland people in the Assembly. It has been formed only after lengthy consultations with all those prepared to play a constructive part.
It is a travesty to describe such a settlement as undemocratic. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and must recognise the decisions of the United Kingdom Parliament. It is worth quoting Mr. Faulkner's words in the Assembly on 19th March:
I have a simple definition of a Unionist and for that matter a loyal citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He is a person who accepts that the laws of this realm are made by the Queen in Parliament.
I come to the question of violence. Recent experience has been an increased incidence of bombing of a dramatic and horrific kind. Even before that it was at an unacceptably high level. People's anger and dismay are understandable. How can it be, why is it, that these terrible events persist? Essentially they are the work of groups of fanatics into whose vicious mind it is impossible for any ordinary, decent person to enter. There is no logic about it except the expression of murderous hatred. No one can foretell from where or when the next explosion or shot will come, which is one reason why it is extremely difficult to deal with the matter.
The ending of violence is the paramount aim and objective. There was a time when political change was seen as the essential precondition to ending terrorism, and so it may be. But the one has not, at any rate so far, followed the other. The security forces have an appallingly difficult task and work exceptionally hard to give the maximum possible protection. That protection cannot be complete in the sense that the security forces cannot be everywhere all the time, no matter how numerous they are.
It is for that reason that I always took the view that the ending of violence was a task for every man and woman in the Province, and the Secretary of State has expressed himself as being in sympathy with that view. They have their part to play in rooting out the maniacs who bomb, who kill or, indeed, who riot. It is no use passing the buck. There is a need for more information on terrorist activity, and for people on both sides of the sectarian divide to take positive action to ostracise the men of violence in their community. I appreciate the difficulties, especially the intimidation, which is an appalling cruelty.
The people of Northern Ireland have an indespensable rôle to play in this campaign, and they can do it better than anyone else. This is one of the two main reasons why a strengthening of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the RUC Reserve is surely the most urgent and important single step to be taken now. I was very glad indeed to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about that. The problem that we are dealing with is one of policing. The people of Northern Ireland must give their wholehearted support to the force that is doing that work. In the conditions which prevail there, that wholehearted support is likely to be more readily forthcoming for a Northern Ireland force than for any other force.
The second main reason for a strengthening of the RUC and the Reserve is that the British Army cannot stay in Northern Ireland in its present numbers for ever, and at some stage it must reduce to more normal levels. I suppose that one cannot express the objective of our policy more starkly than by saying that it is to reduce the Army to its normal level. It follows that what we want to see—that is why I was glad to hear what the Secretary of State had to say—is the progressive transfer of what is called security from the Army to the police. We look forward now to seeing the police growing in strength and doing a job which they are designed and best fitted to do. We want to see a situation in which all sections of the community regard the RUC as genuinely their police force and provide recruits for it. After all, the people of Northern Ireland know the people of Northern Ireland better than anyone else. Anyone who wants to make his contribution to seeing the law enforced can best make it by joining the RUC, the RUC Reserve or, indeed, the Ulster Defence Regiment. This would be far more effective than threatening a private enterprise action, which would only give a new twist to violence itself.
There was much discussion at Sunning-dale and after about the need for complete public identification with the police. It was recognised that time would he needed, but it seems to be running out. I was very glad indeed to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he is about to set up the all-party committee referred to in paragraph 17 of the Sunningdale communiqué. I had, indeed, set the wheels in motion that he has now decided to complete. Equally, I am extremely glad to know that he is about to reconstitute the police authority and to include elected representatives from the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Before leaving the subject of violence, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) will have other things to say when he concludes for the Opposition, I should like to express to the House now a very personal view on one aspect of this deeply disturbing campaign of violence. What I shall say is not a criticism of anyone or anything but is my own genuine opinion.
In the unique circumstances of the present troubles in Northern Ireland, my experience there, short though it was, left me with the inescapable impression that without the slightest intention whatever of doing so, the reporting and presentation of events contributed something however small, to the violence itself. It must be a daunting and often a dangerous task to be responsible for recording and reporting the frightening incidents which occur. A remarkably able and courageous corps of men bring to the world a factual, accurate and fair account of what is going on. They do a very professional job. But of course, rightly and properly, they go for the most newsworthy events and the most interesting or extraordinary occurrences. That is their job, their profession. But the nature of the most newsworthy incidents is their excitement, controversiality or horror. In the Northern Ireland context, that means that day after day and night after night there is a constant stream of news about all the frightful things that happen. It is accurate reporting, but the end result of the endless stream seems to be at best a flavour of the inevitability of violence and at worst almost a sort of competitive incitement to somebody to do something even more scarifying. In other words, I feel that the cumulative total effect upon people of the continuous presentation of these awful events contains an element of self-perpetuation.
If it were possible for every newspaper and every television and radio channel to base its presentation of events on the deliberate policy, and with the express purpose, of making the best contribution that it could to emphasise the ordinary, the good and the normal and to pay minimal attention to the violent, the mischievous and the theatrical, my belief is that they might have an influence for peace for which millions of people would be deeply thankful. I realise the difficulties of this line of thought, but we are dealing with peace and war, life and limb, and I would think it a sin of omission if any stone was left unturned in the search for peace in Northern Ireland.
The House will take very careful note of what the right hon. Gentleman said on the highly difficult subject of detention. It is so difficult, it seems to me, because the self-evident need to lock up murderers and terrorists who are hell-bent on destruction and disruption is in conflict with the aim of bringing detention to an end ultimately. It is a running sore in the community, but so are the people detained a running sore. They cannot have it both ways, and yet we have to have it both ways. There has been criticism of the releases. I bear my full responsibility for some of them. But the Sunningdale proposition seemed to me, as to all parties at the conference, sensible and sound. The right hon. Gentleman read it out, and it is a sound, right and wise policy
I welcome the announcement that the right hon. Gentleman made about a review of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. Certainly I give wholehearted support to what he said about his plans for taking trouble about those who are released at some stage or other, in some circumstance or other, to take part in work at Government training centres or through the help of voluntary organisations. I have no doubt that this is absolutely the right machinery to set up.
I should like to ask the Minister of State to say something about the courts in Northern Ireland. How many accused are awaiting trial? Can the manning of the courts be increased? Is not undue delay there damaging, and would it not be better if this could be accelerated? I am sure that the House would agree that the position of the courts and the judiciary is important. We should like to hear something about that.
I turn now to the Republic and the contribution that the Republic can make. There are those in Northern Ireland who can hardly bear to hear the word "Republic" mentioned. But it has a vital rôle to play not only in security but over a whole range of matters where cooperation on an all-Ireland basis is the only sensible way to proceed. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of these matters. Electricity supply is obviously an example, but there are plenty of others. There is no justification for any political mistrust, especially if that mistrust is based on events of 50 years ago. Those of us who have met and talked with Mr. Cosgrave and his colleagues completely accept their good will and good intentions in the matter of North-South relations and the ending of terrorism.
There was a time, particularly after Sunningdale, when the magnitude and the urgency of the situation in the North did not appear or seem to be as fully appreciated in the South as it might have been. Perhaps there was a weakness in communication or expression of the real concern of the Government of the Republic, but at any rate there was an inadequate response to the doubts that were fostered and then allowed to grow. Strenuous efforts have been made to correct this impression and action has been taken in a number of ways. We have heard that an extra 500 men are to be recruited to the Gardai. There has been the first meeting for many decades between the Chief Constable of the RUC and the Commissioner of the Gardai. The Legal Commission has been hard at work. I am very glad to hear that its report will be ready soon. I am certain that much importance will attach to what it says about fugitive offenders. This is an area in which urgent action is needed.
Co-operation on security between North and South is fundamental to the whole situation to ensure that no part of Ireland provides a haven for terrorists. It has taken time for the will of the Republic Government to deal with terrorists to be translated into action on the ground at the border. The platoons each side of the border must co-operate no less than the generals. I hope that the best possible radio communications are being provided so that the local forces on each side can keep in the closest touch, and that there are regular meetings now at all levels of command. I was most interested to hear what the Secretary of State said about military reinforcements going to carry out an exercise either on the outskirts of Belfast or along the border.
We heard at the start that there are many right hon. and hon. Members who want to speak and I have therefore trespassed long enough on the time of the House. However, none of us can feel other than anxiety about the situation in the Province. There is tension in the community and a sense of frustration. Any attempt at analysis reveals the labyrinthine complexity of the emotions and the prejudices that go to make up the mixture that is Northern Ireland. We on these benches have spared no time or effort to contribute everything of which we are capable, regardless of cost, to try to restore peace and calm, and I know that the Government will do the same. Though now the Opposition, we shall continue our endeavours unabated. I believe that the influence of this House on Northern Ireland is very great and I urge every right hon. and hon. Member to use his influence and weight to help to bring peace back to this part of the kingdom.
The sense of unreality that anyone from Ulster feels in this debate is almost breathtaking. It passes belief. I wonder what some of the widows of those who have lost their lives in Ulster would think were they sitting in the Gallery now.
We had high hopes of the Secretary of State. We watched him during the long debates on the White Paper, the Constitution Act and the rest when he was leading for the Opposition and we took him for a sensible, sensitive, wise and reasonable man. It is astonishing to me, and I say this to him with all courtesy, that we should now hear reiterated, as if nothing whatever had happened, all the old arguments that were used by the previous Government when they were in office. It is the most extraordinary situation. It is simply to ignore the fact that there has been a General Election and it is to ignore totally and absolutely that the Ulster people have expressed their views about this matter in the most unmistakable manner. It is astounding to those of us who come from Ulster that both sides of the House appear to behave as if absolutely nothing had happened.
During those long debates I wearied not only the House but myself by arguing that the Constitution Act, the assumptions upon which it was based, and all the assumptions that lay behind the Sunningdale Agreement, were founded upon an illusion. One of the most important illusions was that they would command the assent and consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. I said repeatedly that they did not. I can well understand the House at that time and before the General Election thinking that my analysis was wrong. I can understand the House thinking, in the light of the advice that Ministers were getting then from other quarters, that I might be mistaken, but how anyone could assume that now, in the light of what has happened, is something which is impossible to understand.
The Ulster people have used the election to express their opinion plainly about three matters. The first concerns the restoration of order. Secondly, they have emphatically and overwhelmingly rejected the assumptions that lie behind the Sunningdale Agreement. The third—and here I take issue with the Secretary of State—concerns the Constitution Act.
The right hon. Gentleman distinguished between Sunningdale and the formation of the Executive, but he will remember that one depended upon the other. It was not the Executive which went to Sunningdale, but the Executive-designate. If agreement had not been reached at Sunningdale it is doubtful whether the Executive would have come into being and it is doubtful whether the House would have passed the order in council devolving the powers. Thus the two are inextricably linked and must be taken together. If the Ulster people have rejected one they have rejected them both.
I regret that I shall he unable to stay for very much longer because I have had an urgent call. Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not suggesting that after eight weeks on an important issue of this kind a General Election for the Westminster Parliament could be taken as the deciding factor. Of course, the people of Ulster will have to decide. All we are arguing is that after eight weeks the General Election cannot possibly be regarded as the time to decide.
Is the hon. Member seriously arguing that it is necessary to wait a long period of years before this House can express its views about an international agreement which has been entered into? Is he telling his constituents that that is the right attitude to take about the EEC? An agreement was entered into at Sunningdale. That agreement was brought before the House. The Northern Ireland representatives here made it plain that they did not approve of it. The Northern Ireland electorate was asked whether it approved or not and decisively said it did not. The electorate rejects Sunningdale because the whole edifice of a Council of Ireland is totally and absolutely unnecessary.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has argued that many things contained in the agreement might have been necessary. It is certainly necessary to deal with the question of fugitive offenders. They could be very easily dealt with by an extradition treaty. There are certainly many economic matters which are of common concern to our part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, but there is no need for the erection of an elaborate organisation with a Council of Ministers and an Assembly drawn from the two Parliaments in Ireland, and for the erection of a secretariat and everything that goes with it. They are unnecessary, and, therefore, there must have been another reason.
This edifice has been created to deceive someone. As I said during our previous debate on the matter, it is designed to deceive. It is designed either to enable the Government of the Irish Republic to deceive their people into thinking "Yes, we are moving towards a united Ireland", and to help the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) to deceive his supporters into thinking "Yes, we in the SDLP are making advances towards a United Ireland", or to deceive the Ulster people. It is one or the other. With the veto provisions and everything else built into it, it is an elaborate piece of deception. The people of Ulster, whichever side of the political fence they are on, are sufficiently mature to recognise deception when they see it.
It is not only unwise of the House. It is leading towards a major catastrophe if the House builds its political concepts and methods of dealing with such a situation upon that kind of illusion.
Is not this a familiar technique, saying, "By this you are committed to nothing", and then in a few years' time asking, "Do you want to reverse all of this process, which has become established and which was scarcely controversial at the time?" It is, first of all, too soon and then too late.
My hon. and learned Friend's analysis is absolutely correct, as his analyses usually are. It is true, and the people of Ulster know that it is true. They know perfectly well that if they went forward, and were led, along those lines they would in clue course find themselves in the very trap that my hon. and learned Friend suggests. They know it, and they have expressed their view in the ballot box in no uncertain terms.
The other thing that the people of Ulster said was that the constitution was undemocratic. Here I must deal with the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, the former Secretary of State. He says that it is nonsense to suggest that the constitution is undemocratic. But of course it is. One has only to think about it. The Parliament of Northern Ireland was removed, and in its place there has been put an Assembly elected by proportional representation. It does not have the same powers as the Parliament of Northern Ireland had. Major powers are reserved to this House—power of taxation, power over internal security and power over defence. The three major powers that any Government should have are reserved to this House, where Northern Ireland is grossly and unfairly under-represented. How could that conceivably be democratic by any yardstick that can be imagined?
One expects that kind of argument from the former Secretary of State, because he has to defend the policy. We understand that, because he was one of its architects. What we cannot understand is why the right hon. Gentleman who has just come into office should defend it so vehemently and adamantly, without proper consideration. What I object to, and think is so unwise of the Government, is that they do not say, "We will take a little time. We will look at the effect of the policies and consult people in Northern Ireland. Above all, we will take account of the clearly and unmistakably expressed view of the Ulster people." The new Secretary of State's decision is one of the greatest unwisdom, which I thought he would not take.
What is the answer to the situation in Northern Ireland? How on earth will anybody get out of the difficulty in which the House finds itself? The first thing the House must do is to rid itself of certain illusions. It must get out of the habit of thinking that it is possible to reconcile the irreconcilable. It cannot be done. One cannot at the same time say that one can support the people who ultimately believe in a united Ireland and those who believe in maintaining and strengthening the link that binds us to the rest of the United Kingdom. Those two ultimate aims cannot be reconciled. The House cannot base its policy upon trying to reconcile them, because it will not work.
I say to the House, "What you must do is to decide which of the ultimate aims you support". The House must decide whether it intends to support the union with Great Britain or to make its ultimate objective a united Ireland—one or the other. It cannot do something in between. It will mean endless bloodshed, endless murder, more widows and more anarchy, if the House does not come to a decision as to its ultimate aims.
If it is the intention of the House to support the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland it must found its policy upon that basis. It must begin by seeing that Northern Ireland is represented in the House in the proper way, and it must make it plain that whatever constitution is ultimately evolved for Northern Ireland, whether a Kilbrandon-type assembly or whatever, it must be based upon the will of the majority and command the assent of the majority.
That is not to say that the House does not have the right to write in any kind of constitutional safeguard it thinks necessary for what is of necessity a permanent minority within the State. Certainly it has that right, and every fair-minded person would support that view, but the House cannot have it both ways. It cannot try to erect in Ireland a structure designed ultimately to facilitate a move towards an all-Ireland republic and at the same time tell the people of Northern Ireland "It is our intention to maintain the union as long as you wish" The two things are irreconcilable.
I tell the House solemnly—and it may well be the last chance for the House—that if it ignores the expressed will of the vast majority of the Unionist people of Northern Ireland, of the people who wish to maintain the union with Great Britain, and if it does not take note of their wishes, the House cannot lecture the people of Northern Ireland about acting in a political way. They have already acted in a political way: they have been to the ballot box. If the House ignores the freely expressed will of the majority of the people of Ulster, a will expressed in the ballot box, it is upon the hands of the House that future blood will lie.
We who represent Northern Ireland have asked our people constantly to act constitutionally. We have condemned the men of violence. We have done our best. If the House now rejects what we are saying, other men will do their worst.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has made an impressive and eloquent speech. I fear that I am one of those whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman must naturally make his target, because I was one of the architects of the system about which he complains.
I fully understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman's comments. As an English Member, I learnt a great deal about Northern Ireland when I visited it practically every week in the two years in which I had a responsibility in Northern Ireland. The dangers and the difficulties were clear, but the difficulty came in trying to find a solution. It is so difficult in Ireland to find a solution which would solve or go towards solving the problems of the Province.
We have heard the impressive words of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South. Such a speech could equally be made—perhaps not such an impressive one—on behalf of the other faction in calling for the House of Commons to put right what it believes to be the wrongs which were imposed upon it.
I do not want to join in controversy with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I have a purpose in speaking today—namely, to bring to the attention of the House a matter on which there is considerable feeling. I refer to the complaint which has been made by the Government of the Republic of Ireland to the European Commission of Human Rights which accuses the United Kingdom of being guilty of some of the gravest crimes ever alleged by one sovereign State against another. The accusations relate not only to what is said to have occurred before the United Kingdom took full and direct responsibility but to the months in which United Kingdom Ministers had responsibility.
Two main accusations have been made to the international forum to which I have referred. The first accusation was that the United Kingdom was guilty of the administrative practice of shooting civilians. That was peremptorily dismissed some 18 months ago. The second accusation is that the United Kingdom is guilty of the administrative practice of inhuman or degrading treatment, or torture, of persons held in custody. By the jurisprudence of the commission an administrative practice is defined as official tolerance of acts of torture in the sense that the superiors of those immediately responsible, though knowing about such acts, take no action to punish those responsible or to prevent repetition of such acts, or that higher authority, in the face of numerous allegations, manifests indifference.
The Republic alleges not only that torture takes place and took place hut that higher authority is indifferent to it. The Government of the Republic are thereby accusing in an international forum not only the senior ranks of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British Army, the administrative service of the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland civil servants, but United Kingdom Ministers of what I can only describe as the vilest conduct which could be alleged against other human beings.
At the same time Ministers of the Republic negotiate at Sunningdale, dine at Downing Street and call for friendly co-operation between the two States. The Republic should be well aware that since March 1972 the sternest instructions and orders have been given and that impartial machinery of prosecution has been established. There have been warnings that immediate prosecution will follow for assaults of persons in custody. The impartial machinery which has been established is headed by one of the most distinguished public servants in Northern Ireland who has the confidence of all sections of the community. Indeed, some prosecutions have followed.
In a country where there is a Bench and a Bar which is well recognised on both sides of the border to contain men of distinction and impartility, it should be recognised when wrong has been done that either a prosecution will follow or that a person brings, and has brought successfully, a claim in the High Court in Northern Ireland for remedy by way of damages. I do not believe that the Taoiseach, Mr. Cosgrave, of whom I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) saw much at Sunningdale, wishes to continue the ugly and protracted proceedings to which I have referred, which are now in their third year.
The jurisprudence of the convention calk for a method of providing an honourable settlement. That is what could and should happen. The continuation of these, proceedings bedevils the relationship between men of good will. The persistence of the Government of the Republic in pressing these accusations causes intense resentment to those who have had and who now have responsibility. That persistence has dismayed those who would normally be the friends of the Government of the Republic. It has increased the suspicion of moderates—and there are many moderates and decent people in Northern Ireland—of the rôle and motives of the Government or the Republic. All that it has done is to harden the attitudes of the extremists. Its persistence has been applauded only by the extremists on both sides in Northern Ireland.
There may be those around the Government of Northern Ireland who may he happy to see the present situation continue. There may be others who fear the political consequences of abandoning such proceeding. I suggest that now is the time when there is a need for political courage on the part of Ministers, the kind of courage which has been shown by Mr. Faulkner and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) I hope that when tomorrow the Prime Minister speaks with the Taoiseach he will refer to the proceedings which make such grave and unwarranted accusations against the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British Army, British administrators and British Ministers. Such an attitude does disservice not so much to those who are accused as to Ireland itself.
I believe that it is customary for an hon. Member making a maiden speech to indulge in some pleasantries, but such is the grave situation in Northern Ireland that I shall have to set aside those pleasantries and get down to the facts which unfortunately some hon. Members on both sides of the House will not face.
I am privileged to represent Belfast, South. It is a constituency in which there are two distinct groupings. It is largely a residential constituency. It contains many working-class people and a tremendous number of professional and managerial people. Many of those people are in positions of great trust and responsibility in the commercial and professional life of Belfast. I represent a constituency which is far from having a kind of backwoodsman mentality. It has a broad cross-section of the population of Northern Ireland.
There are some questions which I believe our people are asking themselves tonight. The first question is when this honourable House will give the British Army—our army—and the Royal Ulster Constabularly the freedom which they need to deal fully and completely with terrorism. We have been told of recent initiatives. One such initiative took place in my constituency. An Army search took place in the Ormeau Road but no such search was conducted in the Markets area, a renowned terrorist area from which bombs and terrorists exude. It is a well-known fact, which apparently is admitted by the security forces in Northern Ireland, that the bomb which created such havoc during the weekend in the centre of Belfast came from the Markets area.
The second question which our folk are asking is when the British Government will cease deliberately to miss the point. It is not enough to align the UDA and the UVF with the IRA. It is not enough to state that the Protestant extremists are as bad as the Republican extremists. We in the United Ulster Party deplore so-called Protestant Ulster extremists. We deplore any man who bombs, kills or shoots in our name. He does not fight our cause. He does not fight our battle. But we must remember that the violence and the terrorism began with the IRA. It continues under the clear auspices of that movement, and because of the ineptitude of this House and of the forces under strict political control there was reaction, and there still is reaction.
Another piece of casuistry can be found in the Secretary of State's continual references to the Ulster Freedom Fighters. It might interest the House to know that, when Senator Fox was murdered, within minutes the UFF claimed responsibility, but the security forces of the Republic are perfectly clear and aware that the IRA committed the murder. Not one single case involving the UFF has come forward to my knowledge for trial, and not one person claiming to be a member of the UFF has been brought before our courts. It really will not do for the issue to be clouded deliberately by such casuistry by the present Government.
We are always asked to accept democratic rule by a democratic body. We are prepared to accept the democratic ruling of this democratic House as long as the content of its legislation is democratic in itself. But that is not the case with the Constitution Act, which disgraces the very name and concept of democracy. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has elaborated on that point, and I shall not take the time of this honourable House in reiterating his statement.
The Constitution Act bears no resemblance to democratic legislation. Indeed, it is interesting to note that this House refuses some of the things involved and included in the Act because they do not reflect the kind of traditions which obtain in the United Kingdom. For example, there was refusal to accept power sharing in this House but for the Ulster people it is regarded as being the only answer. We have in the Constitution Act a distortion and a freak of democracy. The great Lion of Judah has brought forth a subtle, slimy snake called Sunningdale, and we are asked to accept that this is British democracy.
I think that the root cause of the confusion is the fact that in Northern Ireland there is an attempt by aspirants and supporters of one sovereign State to disinherit another sovereign State. I do not care how far one goes back in history—whether it be three, four or seven centuries or even to William the Conqueror; the facts are simple. The people of Northern Ireland are citizens of the United Kingdom. They are under attack by the aspirants and the supporters of another sovereign State and there has been the deliberate confusion of a political issue with a religious issue.
This honourable House would never conceive of a time when, if there were enough of them, the Pakistanis here would declare that this island, because they had a majority, should become a colony of Pakistan. Morally, however, there is no difference in the situation in Ulster. Ulster is British. Ulster wishes to remain British. Ulster does not want to be disinherited and will not be disinherited.
I have not attempted today to rattle the sabre. I will not attempt at this stage to rattle the sabre. But I warn this honourable House, as my hon. and gallant Friend has done, that the people of Northern Ireland will not take for ever the rejection of their democratically expressed views and opinions.
I had hoped that the Labour Government would indulge in honest, open government. They made that claim at the beginning of the Session with reference to other parliamentary matters. They have promised the country, and rightly so, to look again at the EEC membership into which we were dragged without the consultation which had been promised. They have said that they will look for the mind of the United Kingdom on that issue.
Why, then, are the Government denying the Ulster people precisely the same right to express their opinion on a matter which is so very dear to our hearts—our continued membership of this wonderful and historic nation? We ask for nothing more than to be permitted to remain British and to have that status safeguarded, not by the devious document called the Constitution Act, but in clear, explicit terms which can and must and, I trust, will go from this honourable House. There are faithful sons and daughters in Ulster tonight who are waiting for the return of a prodigal mother.
The hon. Member for Belfast. South (Mr. Bradford) disclaimed at the outset of his maiden speech his intention to call in aid the courtesies and conventions of the House. I wish that I could call them in aid in following him. I think that you in your charity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would at least expect me to welcome him to this honourable House, but I hope you will accept that it would require a deranged sense of generosity, not only on my part but on the part of many other hon. Members, for me to compliment the hon. Member on his speech.
The hon. Gentleman may decide on reflection that his reference to Pakistanis was most uncalled for, not only because of its obvious connotation but also because it did his argument a disservice. It only requires a slight acquaintance with Irish history to recognise who would be the hon. Gentleman's Pakistanis in the Irish context. But I push the argument no further because I want to do all I can to reconcile both communities, not to apply the indigenous label to either community, and therefore to ascribe no more right to one community than to the other.
In all my speeches in this House about Ireland, I have tried to strike that kind of note. In the speech that I made when the House was recalled in September two years ago, I argued that a united Ireland, if it had any appeal, would provide a basis for constituents like those of the hon. Member and his colleagues who are here with him today to join forces with their fellow Irishmen elsewhere in Ireland and to work with them. This would give them a bigger stage on which they could really exercise their talents and not condemn them for ever to a constricted society, philosophically as well as physically.
So I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman used that argument. I welcomed his repudiation of so-called Protestant terrorists, although I was less prepared to accept his doubt whether the UFF actually exists. But I cannot accept his description of the Constitution Act or of the Sunningdale Agreement. I think he described it as a case of the British lion having brought forth a sullen and slimy snake called Sunningdale.
I value Sunningdale, for three reasons.
It is a little premature of the hon. Gentleman to make that kind of criticism. If it is to be made at all, it should surely come later. I am only just starting my speech and I may yet meet the hon. Gentleman's wishes.
I was saying that I value Sunningdale for three reasons. First, it forms a basis for rapprochement not only between the two communities in Northern Ireland but between the six counties of Ulster and the remaining 26 counties of the island of Ireland. Second, it acknowledges that the Northern Ireland crisis, with which Sunningdale dealt, is essentially an Irish problem that Ireland, North and South, will in the main have to resolve. Whitehall is, of course, vitally interested, militarily as well as financially, but the last administration and the present one take the same view—that the Northern Ireland crisis must be resolved finally between Irishmen. Third, the institutions proposed at Sunningdale, noticeably those providing for the Irish dimension, must have the capacity for growth, providing that the will is present.
Inevitably, there has been a reaction to Sunningdale. It could not have been otherwise. Sunningdale is not a facile solution. Given the structure of politics in Northern Ireland, historically it was only to be expected that there would be opposition. Too much significance, however, should not be attached to the return of the hon. Member for Belfast, South and the other 10 of his colleagues from those 11 of the 12 Ulster constituencies who have been treated in the Press as having returned anti-Sunningdale candidates to sit in this House.
After all—I am trying to be charitable —what do we see when we look at them? We see men who have no real philosophy of politics—
Well, I have here the latest utterance of the hon. Member's leader, contained in a letter in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. That letter gives me no grounds for taking any other view or for believing that he and his colleagues have changed at all in outlook, that they have advanced one iota, despite all the events of recent years.
Without being offensive, they are men who have no real philosophy of politics, who no longer have any links with any party in this House—that could not be said in the previous Parliament or in any Parliament in the last 60 years—men whose insistent proclamations of loyalty to the Crown are increasingly embarrassing to everyone here who has to listen to them, men who appear to promise nothing more than a return to the plain old-style bigotry. Their exclusion from the Sunningdale talks was entirely their own fault and their recalcitrance has constituted a grave obstacle to the acceptance of the agreement.
Let them be in no doubt, however, that any success that they claim in recent weeks has been not against a particular party to the agreement in Ireland but rather against this House and against British policy, against the known wishes of more than 600 hon. Members on both sides of the House. Indeed, we have had evidence in their public speeches in recent weeks that they aware of this. Their speeches are becoming increasingly directed against the British Government as well as against those of their former Unionist colleagues like the Assembly Unionists who accept and are courageously trying to implement the policy of this House.
I suggest that if the tactics in Stormont of hon. Members on that bench are any guide, they believe that they can succeed only by bullying, by persisting, that is to say, in tactics that they dare not introduce in this House. We know of their two faces, especially one of their number. We know that he is quite a different person here from what he is in Northern Ireland, judging by the reports that we read in the Press in the Library about his behaviour and tactics at Stormont.
I submit that these men will not succeed in the Assembly in Belfast if the Assembly Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance keep their nerve. After all, the Assembly Unionists have a policy, even if they have to be stiffened in its application. They are also fortunate in their colleagues in the SDLP and the Alliance.
It was not the SDLP who were defeated by hon. Members opposite. It is not the SDLP who continually claim that they are being let down here or are disappointed there. It is not as if the SDLP had got all they wanted from Sunningdale. They still want the police reform and an end to internment, not to mention the Irish dimension. But this has not prevented them from getting down to the job of representation in the Assembly and of government on the Executive or from appearing before the people on all possible occasions to explain and justify.
That is the right attitude. As a result, new reputations are being won. Nothing has given me and some of my hon. Friends more satisfaction than to know that one or two members of the Executive are being remarkably successful in the discharge of their responsibilities.
I hope that the SDLP will continue in this way, however bitter the short-term disappointments, however rough the going. I hope, above all, that they will avoid any threats of withdrawal and simply put their heads down and get on with the job, working for the good of all the community. When they talk they should talk positively and straight, do it often and go on television and the radio as often as they can to tell the people of Northern Ireland just what is being done on the Executive by them and their colleagues.
That is the way to defeat hon. Members opposite. I recognise that there will be difficulties, but there are also opportunities. The old Unionist monolith has gone for ever. Real politics have burst openly on the scene and that explains some of the difficulties. Mr. Faulkner represents a body of Unionists, however, who recognise this change, this fundamental break with the past, who are facing up not only to the omissions of the past but also to the hopes of the future.
This policy, based on power sharing, is not only the best hope of peace in Northern Ireland, it is the only apparent hope of securing the consent of the two communities. There is no other way. Mr. Faulkner may have experienced disappointment, but that is not unknown in parliamentary life. He may have experienced defections, but parliamentary leaders elsewhere experience them. He may be in a minority, but so are we, yet we do not behave as though Parliament will end next week and we shall be out on our necks. There is a different climate in our party than there was a few weeks ago.
If Mr. Faulkner had seriously contested the recent election he must have increased the pro-Sunningdale vote. I ask the House to make a little analysis, to look at the constituencies, at the distribution of candidates and at the constituencies which were contested and to slot in a Mr. Faulkner candidate here and there. I ask hon. Members to make an assessment of the outcome, not of course of the success of the Faulkner candidates, but of the SDLP candidates and to have some regard for the aggregate vote at the end.
I do not think that I have to give way. What I am saying is a matter of opinion. I am inviting hon. Members who disagree to make an analysis in the way I have suggested. They may then see that it is probable that there would have been a different outcome. There must have been a bigger pro-Sunningdale vote, and it is possible that more SDLP candidates would have been elected.
I will come to that. We must not ignore current realities. There are many Ulster Loyalists who oppose any institutional links with the Irish Republic, but the question must continually be posed: why do they do so? Few would deny the need for co-operation in economic and social spheres. Increasingly as time goes on we hear the call for cooperation on grounds of security, even by the military authorities. It is futile to argue any longer against the Irish dimension. The longer the crisis continues, the more it will be seen by people in Northern Ireland—as already it is seen by the majority of the people in this country —that the key to the crisis and its resolution is Southern Ireland. It is no longer London, it is Dublin.
Opposition to a Council of Ireland is not based on economic realism and other emergent realisms. It is based on a misguided notion of what the Council of Ireland purports to do, as the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) recognised. That suits the book of hon. Gentlemen opposite well, and it can be met and contained only by public discussion, which means carrying the argument to them and, in short, doing what John Hume was obliged to do last week on Irish television.
There can be no going back. Any hon. Gentleman opposite who suffers from the delusion that we can go back to the drawing board, back to square one, should remember that we now have as Prime Minister a man who made a remarkable speech in November 1971 on Ireland and not merely on the crisis in the north of Ireland and put forward 15 points for reunification. I say that with the greatest respect to the Leader of the Opposition, for whom I have the greatest regard, when I consider his record in Northern Ireland, as well as that of his Secretary of State.
What of the future? However sombre the present scene, there are some hopeful aspects. Like some of my hon. Friends, I go to Northern Ireland as often as I can. I was there a few days ago, a few weeks before that and a few weeks before that. I have been going there all my adult life and I know Northern Ireland as well as do most hon. Gentlemen opposite—and some parts of it better than they do. I know just how depressing is the present scene, but there are some hopeful aspects.
The most notable aspect is the one I stressed this afternoon in Question Time, that is, the harmonious way in which the three-sided Executive is working. That is a triumph. The Executive represents a majority of the people in Northern Ireland who voted for it and, in doing so, voted for partnership rather than confrontation.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have no such policy and no such appeal. Any appeal they might have must surely diminish as time goes on and as the Executive has time to show results. Time, therefore, is on the side of the Executive and of the Assembly. The Secretary of State assured the House this afternoon that he will ensure that both do have time. More than that, in his announcement he injected new elements into the situation and demonstrated his resolve to retain the initiative.
Today's debate and any vote that may follow are opportunities for the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House to demonstrate their support for the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, just as we when we were in opposition were anxious to demonstrate our support for our predecessors. There is an opportunity tonight for hon. Members to reaffirm their support for our Northern Ireland Ministers, for their policies and, above all, for Sunningdale.
I am not sure that I share to the full the optimistic outlook expressed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). May I first, however, unreservedly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) on surviving the ordeal of making a maiden speech. In contrast to the hon. Member for Attercliffe, I should like to say two things to him. First, the House is designed to accommodate widely differing opinions, and wide differences are obvious. Secondly, those who are tolerably familiar with the Northern Irish scene will acknowledge that my hon. Friend spoke bravely for a great number of his constituents.
I will follow closely, though in a different vein, the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson). I do so with a feeling that the situation in Northern Ireland, whatever we may wish to hope and feel, is almost certainly a little worse than we want to think. I will thus direct my remarks to one quarter—perhaps the quarter—which could decisively give us an important breathing space. I refer to tomorrow's meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Mr. Cosgrave. That meeting could be of crucial importance and in some respects decisive. Unless Mr. Cosgrave can be persuaded of certain inexorable facts and to act upon them, I fear that some aspects of our affairs in Northern Ireland will be subject to increased peril.
My reflections will be couched in no spirit of hostility to the Republic. On the contrary, we need all our friends and it is well to be realistic. It is clear that there are some people there—and people of influence, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell said—who do not wish us well. But, alas, it could also be argued that at this moment as much active hostility is felt and expressed in Northern Ireland as in the Republic against this country and its régime. This is a new development in our relationships.
In what I propose to say I am not unaware of the political dilemma that faces Mr. Cosgrave. The plain fact is, and it must be accepted, that he cannot do all the things we have earnestly wished him to do and wish him to do now—things which might help considerably to move us back from the brink—without considerable political risk to himself and his Government. We in this country understand these things. After all, we too have our own political balances, imponderables and margins in this House. Nor is it fair to blame Mr. Cosgrave for any mistakes we have made. I believe—I express a personal opinion—that last year we made two miscalculations. The first was perhaps to hold the Sunningdale conference so soon after the Northern Ireland elections and the fragile experiment of power sharing. The second miscalculation—again, this is a personal view—was perhaps to give such definite form to the Council of Ireland before the Executive of Northern Ireland had found its feet. Some of us expressed this reservation at the time, and I think that one is now entitled to recall it.
I know the pressures involved at the time and I appreciate the reason for the timing. It is fair to say, however, that the risks inherent in that timetable of events could have been foreseen. Indeed, I well recall that there were those in the Republic who perceived those risks and acknowledged them. In the event we on this side left office, and although the timing of the General Election in Northern Ireland in February could not have been foreseen at the time of Sunningdale the result has heavily underlined the consequences.
In Northern Ireland our General Election only reflected and did not create what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) would call the revulsion of opinion in Northern Ireland. No one who is familiar with the state of mind and with any feeling for Northern Ireland can honestly feel surprised that the Sunning-dale communiqué produced such a result. To my mind it would be dishonest to conceal that awareness. Of course it can be right said that the Sunningdale communiqué was misrepresented, at least by some, in the course of the General Election campaign, but it was also foreseeable that it would be misrepresented because it lent itself to a degree of misrepresentation.
In reality the situation is not quite as simple as that since, in my view, extremism in Northern Ireland is directed against different things. The principal target of the Provisional IRA is power sharing, which spells exclusion of the IRA from relevant politics; it makes the IRA irrelevant. The principal target of the extreme Right, in my judgment is Sunningdale and the Council of Ireland which interpret as an embryo a Parliament of 32 counties. In one sense this marks a distinction from what confronted the previous Labour Government and now confronts the present Labour Government.
The previous Labour Government left office in conflict with the IRA. They resume office now with a reality of the two extremes—and all past experience in other countries suggests that it is a deadly formula. This is something to which I hope the Prime Minister will direct the attention of Mr. Cosgrave. We cannot rule out—nor should Mr. Cosgrave—the possibility of both extremes finding common cause in what at best can only be described as a marriage of extremes and what at worst could become a gangsters' federal Ireland.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead the House or leave the wrong impression in his remarks about the Labour Gov- ernment having left office in conflict with the IRA. I think it is within the recollection of most of us that the Labour Government left office in June 1970 in confrontation with the Unionists rather than with the IRA. That is a very important distinction.
It is a matter of interpretation. I was saying that the Labour Government left office at a time when the actions of the security forces were mainly directed at the activities of the IRA. Today the change in the situation since the Labour Government resumed office is in reality that there are now two extremes, and those are the two extremes of which I am speaking. I do not dismiss as idle speculation the possibility of those extremes coming together. If that came about, Mr. Cosgrave would find himself no less precariously situated than was Mr. Faulkner.
Mr. Cosgrave has been guilty, as we have been, of misjudgments. I do not think that he has totally misread the mood of the North, but I believe that he has failed properly to assess what he has read. Mr. Cosgrave's concern has been to avoid doing the needful things concerning extradition, law enforcement and action on the border to the point at which they would incur too large a political risk from his political opposition, namely Mr. Lynch's Fianna Fail.
I can well understand Mr. Cosgrave's anxiety and difficulties as a politician, but I believe that he has his priorities wrong. Bluntly, I believe that he secured very much what he sought at Sunningdale, but he has since hesitated to pay the required price for it. I hope that this will be said quite bluntly to him tomorrow by our Prime Minister, who now has as big a stake in the Sunningdale communiqué as anybody. Mr. Cosgrave has hopefully taken the view, as have many in the Republic and also in this country, that the intransigence of the Right, the Loyalists in the North, was a bluff, and a bluff that could be called. I do not think that that is now the case, but I believe that Mr. Cosgrave has been guilty of that kind of thinking in the past. He is now landed with the consequences of this error, we are landed with it, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is certainly landed with it.
I see no reason why some of us should sing small on this matter. I have made many misjudgments on this topic, as have most other people, but never since the Orange Day marches in the late 1960s have I underrated the potential of the Loyalists, and I have done my best to bring that into our reckoning.
The realities in Northern Ireland now pose for Mr. Cosgrave a similar dilemma to that which confronted my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) when he first became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Mr. Cosgrave will have to display a similar capacity for compromise, and even for displeasing his friends—a capacity which my right hon. Friend was required to show in the earliest days of his office. It is not for the British Prime Minister, as it was not for my right hon. Friend, to reflect upon the timetable of the Sunningdale communiqué and in particular on the Council of Ireland. It is for Mr. Cosgrave to persuade the SDLP that a reconsideration of the timetable and the sequence of events may now be necessary.
It is for Mr. Cosgrave to read opinion in this country, which, for all the brave words of the Secretary of State, is in some quarters coming dangerously close to revulsion against involvement in Northern Ireland. This is not a danger of which we ought to make light or which we should too readily dismiss. It should be emphatically brought to the attention of Mr. Cosgrave. It is for him to decide that he must take political risks in the Republic, which have so far seemed totally unacceptable, if he is to avert the risk of possible disaster. I am uttering no reproaches about his failure, real or imagined, to fulfil certain obligations. I am, however, entitled to reproach Mr. Cosgrave with failing to grasp the obligations which Sunningdale imposed upon him.
I conclude by saying that no doubt Mr. Cosgrave, as he is entitled to do, weighs the political risks of certain courses of action. But has he also weighed the risks which are being taken on his behalf and on ours by those who now constitute the Northern Ireland Executive? Has he weighed the political risks taken by the deputy-leader of the Executive?
I think we should concede that some Republicans in the North, whether we accept their opinions or not, have at least acted like men, whereas other Republicans in the South have acted more like mice. That is an important distinction.
Mr. Cosgrave has so far adopted a slogan which was used by a former revered leader of my party, Stanley Baldwin, who went to the country on the slogan "Safety First". That led to his resounding defeat. My inclination is to warn Mr. Cosgrave that this same approach could lead to a similar defeat, not only for him but for the hopes and expectations of many of us.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) began his speech by reminding the House that in Northern Ireland's eyes the tone of the Secretary of State's remarks was one of unreality. I share that feeling completely.
In listening to speeches of hon. Members I have been filled with a sense of foreboding, because I have come to the conclusion that there is here a very poor appreciation of the awful collision that now confronts Northern Ireland. The persistence to fulfil policies that have failed is an invitation to destruction and civil war in Northern Ireland.
It seems to me that in this House the two larger parties find it difficult to enter into a coalition on other matters but they seem able to do it in terms of Northern Ireland. If the results are anything to go by, it is fortunate for the United Kingdom that they cannot enter into a coalition on other matters, because the consensus policy on Northern Ireland has destroyed the effectiveness of Parliament. This Parliament has been unable to look realistically at the problem in Northern Ireland.
Much that we have endured is due to the folly and inept policies of successive Governments here. It is easy to pin all the trouble or all the responsibility on the men of violence, but it is increasingly clear to me that the folly of Governments is more and more the cause of our troubles.
I am sure that we all echo the sentiment expressed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he called for political action to deal with our problems. He resolutely declared that the men of violence will not alter the policies of the Government. We admire the declaration but, sadly, we do not believe it, because in Northern Ireland the men of violence have brought about political change. The men of violence caused the discarding of an efficient, impartial police force and they were responsible for the destruction of a democratic Parliament and for the discarding of the basic principles of democracy.
In this present grim situation in Northern Ireland, where security policies are so inept, I ask the Government—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way, as I have responsibility for security in Northern Ireland? What security policies would he adopt in Northern Ireland if he has such clear ideas? To talk about ineptitude is not good enough. Everybody wants to know what the right hon. Gentleman, who has never had the courage to say that he would tell a Protestant extremist not to shoot at a British soldier, would do. Let him tell us. We want to hear.
If the right hon. Gentleman had cared to listen a little longer before interrupting, he would have got the answer. I do not believe that one can apportion any of the blame to the men who lead the security forces. The inadequacy of the security policies is due entirely to the political policies that prevail. We cannot ask either the Army or the men of the police force to deal with this situation unless the Government and politicians recognise its true nature. Something has to be defended in terms of security. It is not the rôle of the security forces to stand in between what is right and what is wrong, what is peace and what is disorder. I do not believe that any security policy can ever succeed until we have a political policy that declares itself fully as seeking to achieve a definite position.
The conflict in Northern Ireland is between two nations, between those who identify with the United Kingdom and those who identify with the Republic of Ireland. The answer to that conflict is not to decide that Northern Ireland should be governed jointly by the Republic of Ireland and by the United Kingdom. In effect, however, that is what is now being proposed, because the present policies do not in reality treat Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The security forces would have a much better chance if they were acting on directives that charged them with maintaining Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
No solution is to be found in either the Constitution Act 1973 or the Sunningdale communiqué. It is an in-between, indefinite position which gives every incentive to those who seek to overthrow the constitution.
The Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly are an affront to us. They are not, as some would maintain, democratic institutions. We are told that the Assembly may have some legislative function if it is prepared to agree that a Secretary of State here will appoint the Northern Ireland administration—an administration not to give effect to the will of the people expressed at the polls in the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly or to give effect to policies approved by the people at the polls, but to give effect to a policy of the Government here and this Parliament for the joint administration of Northern Ireland between the Republicans and the British. That is why so many of us have refused to participate in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are not prepared to pay that price for the exercise of a legislative function.
The present Northern Ireland Executive cannot claim to have any support in the community, because the last election for the Northern Ireland Assembly did not give support for the formation of such an Executive. Indeed it is astonishing that Mr. Faulkner today tries to claim that he had some endorsement for joining with the SDLP, bearing in mind that when he was Leader of the Unionist Party he said quite clearly that he would never share power with Republicans.
I was saying that they do not command the support of the majority of the electorate of Northern Ireland because none of them was elected on a mandate to take part in such an administration. Indeed, that is the lesson to be learned from the election to this Parliament. There were only two issues before the electorate at the election—Sunningdale and the power-sharing Executive—and 11 of the 12 constituencies, by sizeable majorities, rejected both. If the Secretary of State is to give any meaning to his appeal to solve our problems by political action, he must pay heed to the views that have been expressed at the polls.
I shall endeavour to deal with that in due course.
If appeals for political action are to have any meaning, the political action of the people of Northern Ireland must be heeded. We are told in Section 2 of the Constitution Act that the Secretary of State may appoint an Executive if he is satisfied that it is likely to have widespread acceptance in the community to the point that it creates government by consent.
No one can pretend that the Executive which has been appointed has or is ever likely to have widespread acceptance in the community. I have asked previous Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland to tell me what we must do to demonstrate that there is no such acceptance. This is an important aspect of government. There must be consent, and consent from a sizeable majority. The old Parliament of Northern Ireland was abolished because it was alleged that 30 per cent. of the electorate were opposed to it. I am saying now that about 60 per cent. of the electorate of Northern Ireland are opposed to the Northern Ireland Assembly. There can be no pretence that the necessary degree of consent exists.
If the right hon. Gentleman has any doubts about that, he has an easy way of getting to the facts of the matter, and that is to have an early election for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Instead of a by-election in May for the vacant seat in North Antrim, there should be an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps we would then be able to say to our people that political action had some meaning.
We are frequently reminded that we owe a loyalty to this Parliament. Some of us would dispute that our loyalty lies to Parliament as such. Our loyalty lies to the Queen as Head of State, but we would concede that it is the duty of every citizen to owe respect and obedience to Parliament. But Parliament must earn that respect. Parliament must act fairly and justly if it is to ask for obedience. The tyranny of a Parliament is no different from the tyranny of a dictator.
The Secretary of State would do well to have proper regard for the opinion of the majority in Northern Ireland. One hopes that a political settlement can be found that will bring the conflict to an end. I believe that the present proposals are more likely to hinder than to advance a settlement. Certainly no settlement can ever be reached on the basis of divided loyalties. If there is to be any lasting settlement of the conflict in Northern Ireland, there has to be a common loyalty and a common allegiance.
I do not think that it is impossible to find a basis for that common loyalty. I believe that we can create the conditions in Northern Ireland in which everybody's first loyalty will be to Ulster. I do not purport to speak for those who owe their allegiance to the Republic, but I do purport to speak for those who owe their allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and to the United Kingdom. We are certainly willing to think of a basis upon which our loyalty would be to Ulster, a loyalty that would not sacrifice our British birthright.
In this day and age a great variety of constitutional relationships are open to us. We can think in terms of a federal relationship, a confederal relationship or simply a political entity. Many people have become adjusted to the idea of the European Community. We in Ulster would like people to think in terms of a community of the British Isles. It is in that direction that one can see some possibility of a political settlement.
What happens if we do not find a settlement that is acceptable right across the board? One cannot leave the situation as it is now, a situation of war. If such a settlement cannot be found, one that enjoys the widest degree of support is the next best alternative.
Clearly the majority in Northern Ireland sees that alternative as maintaining Ulster as an integral part of the United Kingdom, governed exactly as any other part of the United Kingdom. Indeed we say that it is the duty of this honourable House to ensure that we are governed exactly the same as other parts of the United Kingdom are, save that if one departs from those standards and systems the consent of the people concerned must be obtained for any change.
There is not the necessary consent for the Northern Ireland Constitution Act. There is not the necessary consent for the surrender of sovereignty to a Council of Ireland. In the absence of any agreement on an alternative, it is the duty of this House to preserve the territory of Her Majesty the Queen, the territory known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and to govern on an equal and fair basis.
I was horrified when the Secretary of State apparently ruled out any possibility of increased representation for Ulster in this House, notwithstanding the fact that the Kilbrandon Report made such a recommendation. Every argument points to increased representation.
I was asked, what is the alternative? The alternative is to integrate Ulster into the United Kingdom unless an agreed form of devolution or an agreed form of federalism or any agreed form of independence is arrived at. It is our desire to bring this war to a speedy end, to see it brought to an end with the least possible bloodshed. I hope that those who are now in charge of our destiny will realise that they must do the job with the consent of the greatest possible majority. Present policies are alienating that majority.
I came to this honourable House freed of party tags in the acceptable British sense, resolving that I would take my decisions on what I thought to be the best interests of the United Kingdom. I would still like to be able to do so. If the present Government proceed to carry out the policies which have failed and the policies which have been refused the consent of the people in Northern Ireland, I shall have no alternative but to seek to bring this Government down at the earliest opportunity.
However, lest there be any misunderstanding I should not like the Conservatives to think that this means that my support would go to them, because if the Conservatives were to proceed with such policies I should with equal energy and determination seek to bring them down.
Of course I do, but I am aware that the Conservatives hope that some day they will be able to bring down the Labour Government, and in this Parliament they cannot do that without our assistance. If the Conservatives were to suceed in that task, the Labour Party would be seeking to bring them down. We are not as naive as we may look at times, and we know that in this Parliament our votes can be very useful, though we will not bargain. We shall seek to do what we believe to be right.
I have the feeling that the present Government have decided to go to the country at an early date, because their policy in Northern Ireland is capable of no other interpretation. We in Ulster will welcome another bout at the polls and those Labour Members opposite who think that there could be a better Sunningdale vote will see Mr. Faulkner get another chance and see him suffer another defeat.
One of the things of which I do not think anyone in the House would accuse the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) is naivety. One might say that the right hon. Gentleman had a native cunning, a certain shrewdness. One might employ a few other descriptive nouns which might not be parliamentary, but one would not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of being naive. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well what he wants, but again he refused to spell it out in the House today. He talks in terms of "possibly this, possibly that, possibly the other". The right hon. Gentleman says, "If we cannot have an independent Ulster or a Stormont in our own way, we will integrate. If we cannot have any of those, we will have an independent Ulster." This seems to be the right hon. Gentleman's idea.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is not only the policies of the men of violence but the follies of Governments that have caused this calamity in the Six Counties. When one remembers the right hon. Gentleman's rôle as Minister for Home Affairs, when people were asking for simple basic rights in the Six Counties and he denied them the democratic right of demonstrating for those rights, one is entitled to ask what sort of democratic Government the right hon. Gentleman was talking about in those days.
I have just listened to a sweeping general allegation. I should like the hon. Gentleman to be more specific and to tell me what democratic rights were denied to the minority in Northern Ireland. Will he tell me what rights the majority had which the minority did not have and what rights, in particular, I as Minister for Home Affairs denied them?
Certainly. I will itemise one that springs to mind. First, let me say that one would be happy with the right hon. Gentleman's protestations on this point if he had appeared and given evidence at the time of the Cameron Inquiry. One thinks of the right hon. Gentleman's refusal to allow people to process and of the happy alliance that he happened to have with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who, whenever there was a civil rights march, suddenly popped up with one of his marches so that all the marches had then to be cancelled. This may well have been an accident, pure chance. However, it caused us a great deal of suspicion, and that is the sort of reputation which the right hon. Gentleman brings with him to the House. We on this side are not prepared to be deceived by the quietness of his tone and delivery and his apparent sweet reason.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of having had an efficient and impartial police force. He knows that was not so. He knows that this was the key to the whole situation in the six counties. The most important part of my right hon. Friend's speech today was his announcement of reforms in the administration and operational structure of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Unless we can have the police force respected by all sections of the community we shall never make any progress in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that some members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are guarding the life of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). The vast majority of those members of the RUC that you are maligning are still members of the RUC. Those men did not kill, maim or shoot anything like the hundreds and thousands of people who have been killed by supporters of the hon. Member for Belfast, West.
That last comment was one of the dirtiest comments I have ever heard in my life. No one more than my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has in speeches in this House attacked men of violence from wherever they have come, right across the board, and at the risk of his own life.
As the hon. Gentleman has made several points he should let me reply to them, and then perhaps I will give way. Certainly those gentlemen are at the moment defending my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West, but I can remember the skull of my hon. Friend gushing with blood from a baton blow delivered by those same gentlemen. What is needed—[Interruption.] Michael, keep quiet for a moment.
The police need to be accepted throughout the whole of the community, and I mean not only the Catholic community but also the Protestant community. Till the police are accepted as impartial law enforcers there is no chance of getting rid of the British Army, or the problems in the Six Counties. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's insistence upon reforms in the RUC are most important.
My right hon. Friend speaks in terms of what are apparently to be three different county police forces based at Derry, at Belfast, and at the border, but can he spell out in more detail what is to be the rôle both of the regional police authorities and of the assembly members in the new police authority?
If I said three police authorities I am prepared to be corrected. Perhaps I should say three police divisions based on Derry, Belfast and the border, which I understand are to have local groups acting as advisory committees—
What is to be their rôle in trying to improve community relations, and what is to be their rôle in recruiting members of the minority into the police force, which will be of prime importance?
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Emergency Provisions Act, and the review which is to take place. This must be examined carefully, particularly as considerable disappointment could result from action taken in this regard. It seems that my right hon. Friend was in some ways ambiguous on this matter, judging from my earlier intervention. Will there be an indication, before the new order is laid, about those parts of the Act which are to be retained and those which are to lapse? Will the provisions of the Act be retained lock, stock and barrel?
Many of us would be unhappy to have such provisions imposed again. We recognise many of the problems involved in considering what provisions are to lapse. We also recognise the important rôle which Lord Gardiner is to play, and we remember his minority report on the security commission inquiry. We welcome his appointment. However, it is important that the Government are aware of the great distaste with which we on this side would regard the continued operation of the Act.
I accept that, but there are powers within the Act for many things to be dropped rather than to be reactivated, and these matters can be looked at more carefully.
When one looks at what has come as a result of both the creation of the Assembly and of power sharing, and when one considers the Sunningdale Agreement, one must recognise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) indicated, that Sunningdale is for many of us a watering down of the 15 points which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister originally made. It is very much a compromise between what may have been the aspirations of one part of the community and the fears on the other side. It is a compromise which allows the aspirations of those who wish to see a united Ireland. At the same time, it has safeguards for those who wish to maintain the link with the United Kingdom. Therefore, they have their guarantee and their right to have a plebiscite, and their veto so that only unanimous decisions of the Assembly can affect relations with the Council of Ireland. These are important. But, equally, the minority have a right to aspire to something which is no mean ideal, to have a united Ireland, and to hope they can persuade by democratic means a majority to accept their solution for the Ireland in which they live.
These are the terms of the present concordat between the two communities. These are the terms on which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West and Mr. Faulkner and the Alliance Party are working. Not everybody is happy about this, but it is the best compromise in this most unhappy situation.
Therefore when the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) tends to suggest caution and a watering down of what is contained in the Sunningdale Agreement, as well as a slowing down of the pace of implementation in this regard, he is playing right into the hands of extremists from both sides. These extremists have an interest in maintaining a fluid situation, for in such a situation there can be permitted para-military marches, and pressures, leading to a vacuum in which as much trouble as possible can be stirred up—that is, if trouble can be stirred up in a vacuum.
Therefore, I urge upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and upon the Prime Minister, who meets the Taoiseach tomorrow, to ensure an early, positive ratification of Sunningdale to close that gap and to give members of the Assembly an opportunity, in a period of relative political safety to work, to show that they can deliver the goods as a Government, and that the Opposition in the Assembly can behave as a responsible Opposition, should they seek to reorganise the situation in their own favour at the election, when it comes.
We must aim at this as a policy. If Sunningdale fails, as some people want, that will not necessarily mean the solution which has been advocated today from the Ulsterites. There are more people involved than merely the representatives of Northern Ireland in this House. There are people of all extremes who will not stand idly by and see created a situation in which their voices are the least heard. Suggestions of complete integration, of an independent Ulster, or of a federal solution, could mean that the aspirations of many Republicans and Nationalists would be thrown out of the window. People who say that such would bring a happy, contented society are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. It would do nothing of the sort.
Those who are Republican or nationally-minded know that they can merely walk down the road and be in the Republic. On the other hand, those people who think that they can shoot and bomb their way into the Republic must realise that there is a majority in the North who do not want it that way.
It will be tough and difficult if we do not adopt the positive policy of ensuring that Sunningdale works. We have to try to make it work. If we do not, the cost for us in this country as well as for the people of Northern Ireland will be immense.
To say that we must work for Sunning-dale is not to say that we must cast out every other political thought. It does not mean that Mr. Boal's ideas must be thrown out of court or that other ideas of an Eire Nua must be discarded. They have to be discussed and the people must be brought into that discussion. This is why the decision to lift the proscription on Sinn Fein is so important.
I welcome in part what my right hon. Friend has done today. I am disappointed about certain things. I particularly welcome his commitment to Sunningdale and to do something about the police. As he said, the key to the situation is the civilian policing. Getting this accepted will be the main part of his task, as it was for his predecessor and for the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw).
I am sure that everyone would wish to congratulate and welcome the right hon. Gentleman upon his appointment as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It is a most important office and his accession comes at a time when, perhaps, Northern Ireland has a most difficult period ahead. I welcome the proposals contained in the right hon. Gentleman's speech dealing with the police authority and the de-proscription of Sinn Fein—what I would call the recognition of Sinn Fein as a legitimate party in the North.
I can address my mind to the Northern Ireland problem with only the deepest sense of humility. For five years we have seen the failure of policy to achieve results. This is the tragic situation in which we now find ourselves. A year or so ago I wrote a long article for The Times—which it was kind enough to publish—and spoke in this House about the great dangers of colonial rule.
Unfortunately and inevitably any Minister sent out from this country to Ulster, whether from the Front Bench of my party or of the Labour Party, has had to adopt a stance close to that of a colonial governor ruling in a colonial fashion. This, alas, is done with none of the advantages of a colonial régime, but with the police and the Armed Forces equally subject to the discipline of the law—which they need not be in a purely colonial system. The Forces are constrained by legislation and by the fact that they are acting before the whole world. At the same time there is the inevitable fact that, far from being merely in support of a civil power, the military becomes the civil power with all the deterioration, moral and otherwise, which that must mean for a nation. This is the problem facing us in Northern Ireland. It is a problem to which, within the present terms of reference, I see little solution.
Let us try to put ourselves for a moment in the position of those youths, some not even teenagers, who throw rocks at the military or at the police. Whether they be Catholic or Protestant they have not a pleasant political prospect. If it be a Catholic boy he sees south of the border a State which is not prepared to support his political aspirations and is not prepared to protect his brother Protestant by controlling the forces of disorder in the South. If he be a Protestant boy his father will tell him, "Once upon a time there were people who went to London to represent us and who were one with the great Conservative Party across the water. Now many of our representatives are regarded by the same Conservative Party as being almost political pariahs".
This is the change, when the great heart of Ulster, whether it be Catholic or Protestant, seems rejected by both homelands. This is the tragedy of the State which is being created—a colonial State with all the dangers and the destruction of morals and of will that follow. The way out of this situation requires not just a reappraisal of the military and police situation, which the right hon. Gentleman has rightly undertaken. It may need something more profound.
One thing has first to be made clear by the House. The tragedy of Ireland has often been due to a misunderstanding of Ireland by the House of Commons and to the illusions created of Ireland by the House of Commons. The one thing which we ought to make clear beyond peradventure both Front Benches and all three main political parties—is that the idea of the full integration of Northern Ireland into this country is not something which will come about. This is said frequently but without much authority. It is the thing which ought to be said with the maximum authority by all the political parties. Then the people of Ulster would know far better where they stood. This would bring about a new situation.
It is for the people of Ulster to decide their fate. I believe there would then be an argument for looking at the condition of the 1920 Treaty. There would be an argument for having an independent Ulster in the same way that there was a concept of an independent or semi-independent State in the south of Ireland. Persons belonging to such a State would have the chance to come here, to vote here. They would have the right to grants on a tapering basis. Perhaps that is a way in which the authority of the ordinary people could be restored.
If we pursue this colonial régime, with endless numbers of British troops, it will present to the young people of Northern Ireland an endless vista of British bayonets. That solution will not work. No country has suffered more than Northern Ireland. No people have suffered more. They must be the people to choose the way. We in this House must in great humility give them the opportunity to make that choice.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), who, as usual, made a refreshing and intelligent speech. I cannot agree with all that he said. It is my view that the opportunity to choose a particular system has been placed before the people of Northern Ireland. The system must now be given the opportunity to be tried. I welcome some of the points made by the Secretary of State, including the developments in the police authority, and the setting up of the Gardiner Committee. There are other matters to which I shall refer. The position about the Emergency Provisions Act is understood, although we hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look carefully at each provision before seeking to continue it.
One thing above all which must be stressed about what the Secretary of State said is the importance of the review of security. There is no getting away from the fact that there are large groups of people in both sections of the Northern Ireland community who will not be persuaded of the virtues of any political settlement until there is an improvement in the security situation. The confidence is simply not there. Indeed, quite wrongly, the constitutional changes themselves attract the blame for continued violence and they are associated with that violence in many people's minds. There is only one sense in which the constitutional changes are the cause of violence, and that is that those who desperately do not want them to work or do not want to see power sharing in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland being reasonably governed are brought to more and more despicable measures of violence. It is to those people that there must be no surrender.
Until the rôle of the Armed Forces can be taken over completely by locally-based services, it is they who carry the burden of trying to create and maintain conditions in which the Sunningdale decisions can be given a fair trial. Anyone who speaks about Northern Ireland in this House must be conscious that it is easier to utter fine words than to cope with the dangers and horrors which are commonplace to the soldiers in Northern Ireland. Many hon. Members taking part in the debate will number among their constituents, as I do, soldiers who are serving in Northern Ireland and their families.
Many young men from the North-East of England and the Borders have served in Northern Ireland. Some of them have been among those killed and injured. We all owe it to them and to their families to spell out clearly to the British public the reason why British troops are there. I hope that the Government will lose no opportunity to get this across to the public and to make clear the purpose of and necessity for the policy on Northern Ireland which continues to be supported by the three main political parties in Britain.
That support would be more clearly seen if the Conservative Party could make clear whether its links are with those Unionists who support the principle of a power-sharing Executive rather than, as they still appear to be, with those who oppose it. If the Conservatives appear to be offering the party whip to the latter group, tripartisanship is put in doubt. The former Secretary of State spoke in a forthright manner earlier in the debate, but I hope that opportunity will be taken later in the debate to make this point a little clearer. The expression "hon. Friends" has been flying around the Chamber with a frequency which leaves me somewhat puzzled about who is allied to whom.
We also owe it to the soldiers and to their families to ensure that everything is done to back them up and to reduce their difficulties. I therefore ask the Government for assurances on certain points. First, what will be the effect of the Government's defence cuts on our troops in Northern Ireland and their backing? Are any further cuts contemplated which could affect them adversely? It is difficult to see how Northern Ireland can be totally shielded from the effect of any cuts, especially when they follow the £178 million cut by the previous Government, unless some other part of the national defence system is being jeopardised. Clarification of the defence cuts would be welcome.
Second, on a much smaller and personal matter, although it is related to expenditure, are there not ways, some of them quite small, in which the welfare of the forces could be improved? Are these matters under constant review? I should like to give one small example, which was raised by one of my constituents. I have come across several instances of young soldiers—some of them single, some married—whose relatives get very concerned about them, and the soldiers telephone their relatives at home as frequently as possible. Perhaps the relative is a widowed mother or wife who is on this side of the Irish Sea. There are often very few telephone boxes in military quarters. Often the families of soldiers do not have a private telephone. People therefore wait outside public call boxes for telephone calls informing them that their lad or husband in Ireland is safe. I wonder whether means can be found to make this kind of communication easier. Often in barracks there may be only a couple of public telephones and the soldiers form long queues. Improvements in little things like this could make a difference.
I hope also that we shall have no more of the delays, which have occasionally been lengthy, in the payment of pensions to soldiers disabled in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the Government will not hesitate, if the evidence is presented to them, to make the necessary protests to countries from which it can be shown that arms have gone to Northern Ireland, whatever other considerations of foreign policy may be involved.
Perhaps I may briefly answer the two main points that the hon. Gentleman has raised before he moves on in his speech. On his second point regarding facilities for forces, I shall certainly look at the proposition about telephones. It has not been drawn to our attention as yet, but it can be looked at. Regarding the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the withdrawal of forces, this has been done in conjunction with the GOC and the Ministry of Defence and it is part of an overall policy which is acceptable to all the Ministries concerned.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It has not escaped our notice that there are demands for still further defence cuts. I hope that Northern Ireland Ministers will be to the fore in making clear to their hon. Friends the continued needs of Northern Ireland if the question of defence expenditure is raised.
The power-sharing agreement and other conditions revealed at Sunningdale are our only hope. Some hon. Members have referred to them as being "in between". But they must perforce be "in between" because they are trying to reconcile the difference between two communities which are bitterly and inevitably divided. There must be some kind of bridge to enable them to live together. We cannot accept that criticism.
The Sunningdale Agreement is no easy subject for renegotiation. There was what could be called a "delicate balance of sacrifice" between the parties involved in the agreement. Despite the political storms, each party must recognise that it cannot go back on Sunningdale without driving wedges between the other parties and their supporters. The Government of the Republic must show that they realise this as well. We must look to tomorrow's meeting to see that the Republic clearly demonstrates that it can give backing to the things it said at Sunningdale.
Last month's Westminster elections were no fair test of Sunningdale. First, it was too soon for any judgment to be made. The Council of Ireland can assume demon-like proportions in some people's imaginations because it is not yet in existence, no one has had an opportunity to see it operate and it can be portrayed in the worst possible manner. The Executive has not had time to prove that it can do an effective job. In both respects it is a premature kind of judgment.
The Westminster elections were not fought, as we Liberals know to our cost, under the proportional representation system, which is one of the foundations of power sharing. With proportional representation there would have been 10 times as many Liberals in this Parliament—all pledged to back Sunningdale—but there would have been only six or seven anti-Sunningdale Unionists. The fact remains that the substantial portion of the Northern Ireland electorate which voted for parties backing Sunningdale has also the backing of all three major parties in both Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Those who oppose Sunningdale should remember that the two different nations to which they each differently aspire have both made it clear that they want power sharing to continue.
Liberals have supported the common Northern Ireland policy, common between all three parties, because it was not only the best policy for the future but was based on principles, in which we firmly believe, of power sharing and proportional representation. Both of them, we believe, are also needed on this side of the Irish Sea as well.
There are points on which we have differed from the other parties, and I shall mention three. First we have pressed for a review with the object of ending internment without trial, which causes security problems as well as solving them. I believe that the Secretary of State will wish to see an end to internment and will be looking for means of bringing it about. The community disaffection brought about by internment must be studied in the balance sheet against the benefits which flow from it. The Secretary of State is aware of this and I have confidence in the fact that he will review this matter constantly and will be looking for a means of ending it. The sponsorship scheme appears to be an imaginative attempt to achieve something in this direction.
Secondly we do not believe that, following the abolition of Stormont, there is any case for the continuing under-representation of Northern Ireland in this House, and its representation should be increased forthwith. Kilbrandon has been cited as evidence. An hon. Member who spoke earlier referred to his desire to see all parts of the United Kingdom governed on the same basis, including Northern Ireland. That is one of the things in the Kilbrandon Report which we would support. We look to Kilbrandon for the development of Assemblies or Parliaments in the other parts of the United Kingdom as well as in Northern Ireland, and for proportional representation and a fair increase of representation at Westminster.
The Secretary of State talked about a divided society and said that this was one of the things which made him unwilling to support increased Northern Ireland representation here. In our submission there is no better way of representing a divided society than to increase its representation to a fair level and to make that representation proportional. We look to having proportional representation in the elections for the Westminster Parliament as well.
The Northern Ireland Ministers in the Government here must also look to some of their hon. Friends to be a little more understanding on the EEC dimension of the Northern Ireland situation, because the kind of co-operation between neighbouring countries which the EEC will bring about will begin to make some of the arguments put forward about cooperation between North and South look past and academic. However, with these qualifications, about which we hope that the Government will do something, we have no hesitation in supporting the new Secretary of State, whose appointment I personally welcome, and his hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman's task and that of the members of the Northern Ireland Executive is as difficult and fraught with dangers as anyone's task could be, but both the Secretary of State and the members of the Executive have shown that they have the courage to carry it through.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) on an outstanding maiden speech in which he expressed himself with knowledge, clarity and a vehemence which entirely suited the subject of the debate. I do not think the House would in any way expect a Member coming here from a place with a history of murder, violence and explosions, and taking part in a debate on Northern Ireland, to express himself in any light or facetious manner. Rather we expect him to give expression to strong feelings in strong words. That my hon. Friend did admirably. I hope that we shall hear from him again on many occasions. There will be some who will say that in order that they may interrupt him to challenge his opinions, but I, who share so many of those opinions, do not put it in that way.
Some of the troubles that we are discussing today spring from the fact that we are imposing upon Northern Ireland solutions devised in London. Our critical faculties have been almost drowned in a wash of self-congratulation and complacency. When all parties at Westminster agree, it is time for deep anxiety. We do best when we are a little bit more critical of ourselves than we have been over the solutions we have propounded for Ulster. In those solutions I find particularly what I would call an arrogant metropolitanism in which to seek to impose upon others the standards which commend themselves to a rather cosmopolitan metropolis—the almost inverted self-consciousness, pot-bound self-consciousness of politicians and parties, especially in the South-East of this country.
That is particularly shown in the condemnation which is so often made of the people of Ulster for taking issue on matters of religious differences. That is condemned. I shall explain in a moment that I do not believe that this is a true description of what happens in Northern Ireland, but even if it were I would not condemn it as easily as that. People expect and require others to argue about the sort of things that they themselves want to argue about. In this country we differ, I suppose, primarily upon economic and social policy. When I say "this country" I mean the island of Britain. We take it for granted, therefore, that those are the only respectable subjects upon which politicians and people should divide. However, people divide on those things they care most about. Labour Members care enormously about distribution of wealth and think it is an entirely legitimate subject for political controversy even though it occasionally leads to strong emotions and great bitterness.
In Ireland there are many people who care tremendously about religion and the denominations in which religion is formulated, and that is just as legitimate a matter of controversy, argument and difference as any secular, economic or social matter of the kind we so often discuss at Westminster. Therefore I dissociate myself from those who complain about the apparent religious polarisation of politics.
This country, not with my acquiescence, is sticking its head into the haybag of the European Community, a Community in which a great many of the political parties have a denominational base. It is fairly common in those countries to have Christian Democrats, parties which are primarily Protestant and those which are primarily Catholic. That is one of the reasons I have alleged in the past why we would never attain any significant and useful political integration with them. However, I shall not go into that wider subject now. I merely point out that denominational politics are not to be so lightly and facilely condemned as they have been.
However, in Northern Ireland there is far less of the politics of denomination than is generally thought. There are, admittedly, politics of community. There are discernible differences of standards and preferences between the Protestant community of Northern Ireland and the Catholic community, not because they are Protestant and Catholic but because those communities have different origins. Primarily the Protestants are Scots or English and primarily the Catholics are—I was about to say of Celtic origin but some of my fellow Scots are that—they are of Irish origin. One does not need much acquaintance with Ireland to realise that there are differences of attitude and standards in matters such as cleanness and neatness—
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) need not get so excited. There are different standards of approach, different attitudes as to what matters most in life and what matters less and I do not pass value judgments upon them. I merely state my belief that it is things like those which govern—
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain what he means by saying there are different standards of cleanness and neatness? Does he believe that one section of the community is better than the other in those respects?
If the hon. Member will just consider it he will understand what I mean. The hon. Member for Belfast, West is certainly familiar with Ireland. Consider the general appearance of a small Scottish village—he knows what I mean—and the general appearance of a small village south of the border in Ireland. He will see exemplified what I mean. I pass no value judgment on that. I assert that it has nothing to do with religious denomination—[interruption.] These are not matters of religion but matters of community. They are things which one ignores at one's peril in assessing events in Northern Ireland. The basic fact we have to take account of is that the majority community of Northern Ireland, for whatever reasons it may be, and whether they be reasons we approve of or not, are at present determined not to be ruled from Dublin nor to form part of a single Irish nation. Unless we accept that, we shall plough along in error for as far ahead as we can see.
The Secretary of State said repeatedly the other day at Question Time that he did not want to talk with the men of violence. I agree with him about that. He said that he was always willing to talk with those who spoke politics, and that he wanted these matters regulated by those who spoke politics.
That is admirable. But I should like to put two thoughts in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. First, if Northern Ireland is to be governed by institutions which are decided here in this Parliament as the right hon. Gentleman emphasised it, at Westminster and nowhere else, is it not essential that Northern Ireland should be fully represented here at Westminster?
Secondly, if indeed it is the political expression of the public of which account is to be taken, how can the Secretary of State ignore the expression of public opinion which took place in the General Election? The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed talked about proportional representation. I remind him of the enormous majorities by which the hon. Members who represent Ulster came into the House at the General Election. My hon. Friends the Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), I think, each received, and certainly between them received, more than twice as many votes as all their opponents put together. There cannot be a more emphatic expression of public opinion than that.
While in this country we were talking about the miners' strike, which, thank goodness, we are no longer talking about, they were talking and voting in Northern Ireland about Sunningdale. That is what the election was about there. Some may regret it, but it is true. The people of Northern Ireland voted with the greatest emphasis, sometimes putting aside long loyalties to other representatives of the Unionist Party, some of whom we knew here. There must have been a great wrenching of personal affections. In spite of that, 11 out of the 12 Ulster constituencies returned Members opposed to Sunningdale, in some cases by enormous majorities.
If 37 per cent. voted one way, 63 per cent. voted the other. I took Antrim, with its more than two to one against all the others together, but those figures show that in the Northern Ireland constituencies in total the proportion was not far from two to one against the Sunningdale Agreement.
Surely it is true that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) was opposed only by a member of the SDLP? It is surely possible that voters who were Unionists and believed in power sharing but supported Conservatism and the other policies believed in by my hon. and gallant Friend decided to vote for my hon. and gallant Friend and against the SDLP? It surely cannot be said that the whole of my hon. and gallant Friend's vote was cast against power sharing?
We must not get too deep in psephological analysis. If we do, I shall have to allow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) to intervene in the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour), and then I do not know where we shall be. But I think that I know where you would be, Mr. Speaker, if that began to happen. I shall content myself with stating the broad fact that a large majority of those who voted in Northern Ireland were against the Sunningdale Agreement.
My hon. and gallant Friend is undoubtedly right about that. That 37 per cent. is a composite quantity, which includes a considerable range. However, I think that it would be wise to content myself with the broad point that the public spoke with an emphatic voice in the recent elections.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that Mr. Faulkner called on his people not to cast their votes in Down, South, so that if they obeyed Mr. Faulkner they did not vote for my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr)?
That just shows the complications of all these matters. If I have learned one thing from them, it is that Irish politics are very special, and that the English should venture into them with more humility than I have detected in recent months.
If the public have spoken as they have, how can it be logical to ignore them and apparently, according to the right hon. Gentleman, to ignore them for four years? In other parts of the world the Labour Party is most jealous of, and insistent upon, the rights of public expression. It has little quarrels running with Chile, Greece, Portugal, South Africa and Rhodesia. It has a little cliché about NIBMAR—no independence before majority rule. Yet majority rule is precisely what it is not willing to give to the public of Northern Ireland. Majority rule must be restored to Northern Ireland if the problems of that Province are to be solved.
It seems to me that there are only two ways in which those problems can be solved. One is by total integration into the United Kingdom, with full representation at Westminster. The other, and I think the more difficult, is the restoration of a real Parliament at Stormont. The Sunningdale Assembly survives only as a monument to the obstinacy of politicians. Disowned by the people it is supposed to represent, it is despised and ignored by all.
The Secretary of State's attitude that the people of Ulster shall have a constitution decided for them by the Parliament at Westminster is the typical attitude of the British to Ireland, which has led to endless trouble and will lead to endless trouble in the future.
While there has been much talk of bi-partisanship and tri-partisanship, I find that the Labour Party has been much to blame for the development of this trouble. Some Labour Members in the last Parliament and the one before it were—unconsciously, I have no doubt —responsible for inflaming the issue to a degree to which it would never have been inflamed if they had left it alone.
Somehow or other, we must now build up the police force in Ulster. We cannot bring the B Specials back out of limbo, but in retrospect one can see that their disbandment was the cardinal error in the whole handling of this episode. I remember—I thought of it at Question Time today, when some Labour Members were pressing for the Army to be brought out of Ulster—how it was the Labour Party which pressed four years ago for the Army to go into Ulster. I remember the cheer which greeted the announcement that British forces were going in substantial numbers to take over the running of the Province. I think that we all recognise with hindsight that it must be a police operation and that it must stop being a military operation. The troops do a magnificent job, but they are there for perhaps only six months and they are anxious to get out —who would blame them? Just when they are beginning to get to know the country and to know the people of the area, to know who is who, it is mercifully time for them to return to Britain.
The whole point about the police is that they know one person from another and they are able to stop controversy before it gets to the shooting stage. The police know their neighbourhood. They can act as policemen. They do not have to sit in sandbag emplacements. They are able to mix with the local population in a way that the best soldier cannot do. I am convinced that until we withdraw the Army progressively as we build up the police force we shall not solve the problem. And lastly, the Labour Party must be cured of its inveterate habit of fishing in troubled waters. The Irish will live happily together again, as they did before, a life that is turbulent and sometimes violent by our English standards. I think that they like it a bit that way. I believe that they will return to a way of life in which violence will be contained within understood and accepted limits.
Violence will never for long exceed those limits provided that we in the larger island can control our meddlesome fingers and do not vaingloriously assume that the compromising and anaemic standards currently prevailing in our overcrowded, over-governed and over-sophisticated society, are superior to those in the more distant and robust parts of the Kingdom.
I did not intend to participate in this debate, but having listened to a few of the speeches I have been moved to intervene if only to try to air some views that I doubt will be aired by Opposition Members.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) will forgive me, I hope, if I do not follow his remarks. I found some of them about different standards to be repulsive, pompous and arrogant in the extreme. I suggest that much of the trouble in communities in Northern Ireland or anywhere else is caused by that kind of remark. I hope we have all come to realise in the past few years from the debates which have take place on the Six Counties that that kind of remark is best left unsaid.
I am happy to say that not only in my opinion is it wrong but that in fact it is wrong. I venture to suggest that I know as much about Southern Ireland, Western Scotland and South-East England as the hon. and learned Gentleman ever did or ever will know. I am willing to match my knowledge of the situation against his knowledge any time and anywhere. I suggest that he is entirely wrong. I believe that he was mischievous in the remarks he made and that they can do no one any good.
I listened with extreme interest as I always do, to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). He speaks frequently and knowledgeably in these debates. I have been in his company in the Six Counties on a number of occasions. I was saddened to hear him make certain remarks about the situation in the Six Counties which would have been better left unsaid. On reflection I do not believe that he thinks we can now absolve ourselves from all responsibility by blaming the Taoiseach. It will not help in a political situation to say that Mr. Cosgrave in the South is responsible because he has not not done this or that and that he has not even tried to understand the situation. The right hon. Gentleman over-simplified the the difficulties that have emerged in the South.
I do not want to go hack over history, as we constantly do in these debates. It has been said repeatedly that we rewrite history every time we have a debate on the Northern Ireland problem. It seemed to me that the right hon. Member for Ashford was trying to blame Mr. Cosgrave for erecting the border and for all the troubles that have since ensued. He suggested that the responsibility was on Mr. Cosgrave and the Southern Ireland Government to get rid of the problem on our behalf. I do not think that was a very helpful suggestion. It would lead the right hon. Gentleman to speak against the very things which I know he would support and has supported in the House.
I welcome the remarks that were made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I especially welcome his remarks about those issues for which I have campaigned and will continue to campaign relating to the problems of Northern Ireland. I welcome his statement about legalising Sinn Fein. I do so because I have always firmly believed that the solution to the problems in the Six Counties is and must be political. If we believe that, we must set up various organisations and create an atmosphere in which political discussion can take place.
That means that discussion can take place not only on one side of the divide but on all sides. That is an omission that could have been rectified some time ago. However, I shall be delighted to see it rectified with the legalising of Sinn Fein. That would bring into political discussion many of the people who have hitherto been outside and rejected. They have had to use other means to get their points of view across. I hope that early discussions between the various parties will be encouraged.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance regarding the ending of detention and internment without trial, which is another matter which hon. Members on both sides of the House have opposed. The House will remember that we recalled Parliament in 1971 to discuss the introduction of internment. Many of us said at that time that it would be a disaster. I still believe that it was a disaster and that as long as it continues it will be disastrous. I see my right hon. Friend's assurance regarding the ending of internment, provided that it is carried out as speedily as possible, as another step in the right direction in a bid to create an atmosphere in which people can have political discussion.
We must get rid of the oppressive measures that have so far hindered people getting together to talk about the need for a permanent political solution. Another issue which my right hon. Friend raised is one which I have raised on a number of occasions—namely, the Bill of Rights. It appeared in one form or another in the previous Government's White Paper. There was some reference in the White Paper to a kind of Bill of Rights along the lines which some of us have campaigned for in the past three or four years. At the end of the debate I should like to hear what steps my right hon. Friend intends to take or can take to implement the remaining parts of the Bill of Rights which were left outstanding.
I also welcomed my right hon. Friend's reference to training. That is something about which I am interested for a number of reasons. Even during the days of Stormont and immediately afterwards, some areas have always paid a great deal of attention to industrial training and have had a very good industrial training set-up, albeit that it did not get across to the entire population.
I have always had great respect for that approach. My criticism in those days was that it should have been extended. My criticism today is still that it should be extended to cover a wider spectrum of the population. I welcome this new approach to training and I hope that it might be possible now to interest voluntary organisations, if necessary setting up training organisations separately in the two communities. Youngsters would, I hope, be encouraged to take part in training. For example, if it were in the construction industry they would have a vested interest in putting up property rather than pulling it down.
I realise that at first these facilities would probably have to be separate to each community, but I believe that it would be possible to foster such organisations for training to encourage youngsters, who at present have nothing else to do but to get into mischief, to take up instructional and recreational pursuits.
Continuing my theme about creating an atmosphere in which people can have political discussion, I recently visited again the internment camp, prison or detention camp—call it what one will—at Long Kesh, or the Maze. Having spoken to many of the detainees incarcerated there, I felt and still feel a growing awareness among them on both sides that they should discuss with each other first their common problems in the camp and then perhaps other issues affecting people on a broader scale outside the camp.
Certainly those men could exercise considerable influence outside, given some kind of encouragement. Whatever machinery were to be set up for the formation of joint groups within the camp for rehabilitation as well as release, those people could play a great part both inside and outside the camp in creating an atmosphere in which many more of their fellows could join in discussion of issues of the day. I feel that there is room for that kind of approach within the camp, because otherwise we are simply polarising people within the camp and in other prisons. We should take advantage of the opportunity to bring these people together in discussion groups. Such a project would initially be on a modest basis with a modest agenda, but this is the sort of spirit we have to aim for. Both communities have to get together at some time. Whenever there is a chance to bring them together, we should take it.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's reference to the reform of the police. Many of us have said that this is probably the most crucial area of reform still outstanding. But it is the one point which seems to have defeated all of us in our approach to the problems of the Six Counties. The main point is how we are to police the area if we withdraw the troops, as some of my hon. Friends have suggested we should. By keeping them there we would be ignoring at our peril the growing demand, for a whole number of reasons, from our people in the rest of the United Kingdom for a complete withdrawal of our troops from Northern Ireland. We must therefore exercise our minds about what we would replace the troops with if we were to withdraw them. Indeed, I hope that we shall be able very soon to announce withdrawal of the troops.
We might not be able to do better than to start on a modest level by having individual street patrols or even patrols simply for individual blocks of flats, recognising that they would have to be separate for the communities but hoping to bring them together eventually. This is the sort of move in the right direction that I welcome.
Finally on the theme of creating the atmosphere for political discussion, I hope the House will agree that every obstacle should be removed from the scene. One of the obstacles is the continuation of detention and forced feeding of prisoners on this side of the Channel. While, for good reasons, prisoners are freely transferred from Northern Ireland to this country, we still refuse to transfer prisoners from this country back to Northern Ireland for the same kind of good reasons. But undoubtedly this constitutes a flashpoint and when the forced feeding is added it worsens the political and medical dangers. The situation is in danger of creating more martyrs and worsening an already dangerous problem.
The hon. Gentleman feels concerned about the Price sisters. I disagree with him on the matter, and I remind him that it was put to the test in Belfast, West, whose people gave very few votes to Mr. Price, the father of the two girls. This would seem to indicate that the voters in Belfast, West have no strong wish to have the Price sisters brought back to Northern Ireland and that they feel, on the contrary, that the law should be fulfilled here in Great Britain.
I do not want to get into an argument about who voted for whom, because it could be argued that the votes cast for Mr. Price, the abstensions, the boycotts, and the rest, were greater in total than the votes actually counted. The main issue in the election was Sunning-dale. In any event, the number of votes cast for Mr. Price is not the test that I apply in judging whether this type of situation, with its danger of martyrdom, is necessary and whether transfer in both directions is being conducted fairly.
I have always argued that the only ultimate solution for Ireland is reunification. I have opposed everything that does not lead in that direction. For that reason I welcome reservedly the Sunningdale agreement because it included the Council of Ireland and seemed to be another step in the direction which I support. I continue to support Sunningdale for that reason, just as I shall continue to oppose those who want to go in another direction. I shall resist any attempt to water down that one point, because I believe that it is the one point which gives credence to Sunningdale.
I rise to speak for the first time for the constituency and the city and county of Londonderry—and that is a heavy responsibility for any hon. Member, because Londonderry is no ordinary constituency. Londonderry is the place where it all began and it is still the place where murder and arson continue.
The constituency is large in area but by Northern Ireland standards its numbers are only average. There are only about 93,000 electors. The main centres of population are the city itself and the town of Coleraine. There are also within the constituency several smaller towns and many villages and hamlets. My constituency is split in two by the Sperrin Mountains. The principal industry is farming and there is a number of factories producing mainly man-made fibres, as well as a number of more traditional industries.
It is an area in which the inhabitants have a great pride, and I am proud to represent them. My predecessor, who represented Londonderry for many years, was Mr. Robin Chichester-Clark, who has, I know, many friends in the House. No doubt he would still be its representative if it were not for the fact that he supported in this House policies regarding Northern Ireland which the majority of his electors rejected. The view of the constituency was democratically demonstrated on 28th February, and the general view of the inhabitants will now be expressed in this honourable House.
Practically every town and village in the county of Londonderry has felt the icy fear that stalks the whole province. The small town of Kilrea, for instance, is reputed to have had more bombs per head of the population than any other town in Ulster. A walk or a drive through it by any hon. Member will soon convince him of the accuracy of this statement.
At the other end of the constituency is Londonderry City itself, which many of us call the maiden city. It is, I fear, a maiden no longer, because it has been ravaged by murder, by arson, by bomb and by bullet, by violence of every description. Death and terror have been constant companions in its streets. The London companies built the city of Londonderry in centuries past. The city in which we now sit is the mother of Londonderry; I fear that it is the mother of a badly battered baby. The citizens of Londonderry hold the Members of this House and them alone responsible for the conditions in their city, because this is the House that made the policies that brought these things to pass.
I was appalled to hear the Secretary of State talk of withdrawing troops from that town. Last week Londonderry had several major incidents of terror that were carried out with an awsome ferocity and inhumanity that the Members here cannot understand or refuse to understand. Londonderry needs not less protection, but more; the border can be easily crossed. One of my constituents told me recently of crossing the border to Eire and returning. His car was searched by the Army as he entered the South but not when he returned. I was not aware that the IRA was carting explosives out of Northern Ireland. My constituent and I would like to know the reason for this difference in searching.
Within the city there has always been and still is a strong IRA element, and a lowering of troop numbers means that this body of evil men can say that their actions against this Government are succeeding; some people will believe them, and the murderers' strength will grow apace. At the end of the day the situation will be worse than it was at the start. I view the further changes in the police with dismay and consider them no more than another sop to the enemies of that force. All earlier acts of appeasement have failed. Why should this one succeed?
This House over the years has proceeded with a course of action with regard to Northern Ireland which finally produced the present government arrangements. Throughout the gestation, the Members here were continual in their cry that it was for the people of Northern Ireland to settle their own affairs. This has been repeated today by many hon. Members. In one respect the Ulster folk have settled their own problems. They have rejected your decisions, and they have rejected them by the democratic process on 28th February.
Much play has also been made today with the border poll and the Assembly election results. The border poll did not support or reject any system of government in Northern Ireland. It simply stated a general principle. The Assembly elections were fought before the shape of Sunningdale became clear, and the election was the first chance that Ulster people had to declare their will—and they did so loud and clear. No matter how steadfastly the Members of this House look the other way, facts are facts and they will some day have to face them. Talk of support for the Assembly is hollow when the people have spoken against it.
We have been told today that a Government need three or four years to do their work and bring their policies into practice. Are we to understand that the main Opposition party here will not try to remove the present Government from office for at least three years? Yet this should be their line of action if that reasoning were correct. It was admitted today that the parents, churches and schools no longer control the young in Northern Ireland. If that is not an admission of policy failure, in God's name what is?
I was a farmer. I was happy in my work and I would have been glad to remain one of those unknown men in muddy boots who feed this kingdom, but a minority of my neighbours wanted to take away my birthright as a Briton and to that action I objected. My objections have brought me here to speak for a slandered people, for a slandered country, for a slandered policy, to express the anger of the people whose views have been far too often ignored, to tell this House of the bitter fury I have often felt as I walked with broken glass crunching under by feet to watch a close friend's house flame like a great open fire. Have hon. Members of this House ever seen that? [An hon. Member: "Yes."] I have seen my own property go up in flames. Have hon. Members ever seen that? It is even worse to watch the grave-digger shovel dirt and muck on a good man's coffin. I cannot say shovelled on his face, because a shotgun does not leave a face at 10 yards.
I am a farmer. I am an honest and a blunt man. I heard a friend of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) say today that he saw another hon. Member with blood streaming down his face. My constituents in Londonderry have often told me that it was one of the hon. Member's own supporters who was the cause of the blood. And that same hon. Member to whom I refer was the very man who called the mobs on to the streets of Belfast to take the pressure off the rebels in Londonderry. That is something that we will neither forgive nor forget, for we hold him and his friends largely responsible for the murder and the terror in our streets and our villages and the blood that runs in every gutter in Ulster.
This honourable House in its wisdom cheered Chamberlain many years ago when he came back from Munich. It rejected him a few years later. It cheered also, in more recent times, a dear little girl from Cookstown. When I mention her name to hon. Members today, I am met with nothing but the shuffling feet and downcast eyes like village urchins caught in the farmer's orchard.
I say: "Gentleman, you are not invincible. You are not beyond reproach. You are not repository of all the wisdom in this nation." We have heard talk today of the transfer of the political prisoners. I know no political prisoners. I know the Price sisters as people who took part in the murder of the citizens of this nation, and for them I have neither respect nor sympathy.
In accord with the traditions of this place, I have not been too controversial in what I have said. No doubt I shall rise to speak again and I shall speak more bitterly and more vehemently. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker and hon. Members, for your tolerance of me.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) in his maiden speech described himself as a blunt and honest person. He certainly made a blunt and forthright speech, as perhaps one might expect from someone who comes from Londonderry. He perhaps realises, when he says that he blames this House for everything that has happened in Northern Ireland, that from now on he must accept his share of blame or praise for what goes on in the House of Commons.
I have been to Londonderry on several occasions and I first entered the no-go area five days after Operation Motorman. I have also seen the appalling destruction in the centre of Londonderry city, which horrified me, as it did everyone who visited it at that time. It compared with what has happened recently in Belfast and elsewhere.
I was interested in some of the Secretary of State's proposals, particularly the proposal to enlist the support of local people. Many people have argued that we cannot defeat terrorists who engage in guerilla warfare without enlisting the support of local people. We have not done so until now, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is in earnest when he says that he intends to do it.
I have great anxiety when the right hon. Gentleman announces that he will withdraw troops and thin them out as from this moment. He is right to enlist the support of the local people and to reorganise and expand the RUC to make it increasingly responsible for law and order, but that must happen first, before we begin to think of withdrawing troops from Northern Ireland. We have just been through some of the worst security situations that have occurred in the past two years. It is a strange moment at which to make an announcement about the immediate withdrawal of troops. We read in the newspapers today that reinforcements have arrived, so it seems to be somewhat rash to talk about the withdrawal of troops.
The hon. Gentleman, with his background, will know that the security forces operate in different ways. The troops arriving today are on a Ministry of Defence exercise to show the capabilities of forces that do not necessarily have to be there permanently. Surely the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are advantages in rephasing the number of visits which troops have to make to Northern Ireland. Some regiments are going back there for the fifth or sixth time over a short period. These visits must be recycled, and that recommendation comes strongly from the military authorities.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said. I am in favour of flexibility, which is what we tried to achieve when the Conservatives had responsibility in Northern Ireland. What I was criticising was the announcement of a policy of gradual withdrawal. It is a strange time to make such an announcement, although I am as keen as is the hon. Gentleman to withdraw as many troops as possible as soon as we can.
During the course of this sad story we have never tried to train a force to take the place of the British Army when it is eventually pulled out. If the police and the RUC are to take over this rôle, we must see that the RUC is equipped and armed to enable its members to defend themselves, other people and property. The members of the RUC will be able to play this part only if they are formed into a gendarmerie.
I ask the Secretary of State to consider other sources of manpower in Northern Ireland which have so far been untapped. One finds as one goes round visiting UDR regiments that there is a great need for extra capability, particularly for operations in the daytime. Most of the UDR volunteers are available only at night. Some time ago it was suggested that there should be a regular battalion of UDR, but there was an immediate outcry against that, not least from many of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this suggestion, particularly if the organisation could be such that each bat- talion had a regular company with a capability of operating not only at night but also in the daytime
If it is a question of economising with British troops there is a territorial army in Northern Ireland consisting of about 3,000 men. There are special circumstances in which that territorial army can be called out. It is unwise entirely to ignore this body of trained and organised men which could be called up if the need arose.
In considering the rôle of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland we must put ourselves in the position of the ordinary common soldier who goes out on night patrol.
There is a case of a soldier serving in Northern Ireland which is sub judice, and I mention it only in general terms. Few of us were aware that the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act was not aimed merely at terrorists but could include British soldiers. It puts British soldiers in a false position. They are not on active service in Northern Ireland because it is part of the United Kingdom, but I am sure British soldiers would feel much happier if they could be put on that basis.
At Question Time one or two requests were made for the complete withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. We must be clear that under present conditions, and without having anything to put in their place, that is quite out of the question. To do this would be to make a fatal mistake. We should in effect be saying to the terrorists, "If you attack us hard enough we shall be prepared eventually to go." It may be said that we have moved out in face of terrorist attacks in other parts of the world, but, with a threat of this kind, we have to decide exactly where the buck stops and, so far as I am concerned, the buck stops in Northern Ireland.
I view the suggestion of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) that an alternative force should be established before our troops are withdrawn with a certain amount of suspicion and reservation. The history of Ireland and of other parts of the world suggests that para-military organisations are not necessarily a useful solution.
I feel I am entitled to speak in this debate because a considerable number of young men from my constituency have served, are serving and will serve in Northern Ireland for a substantial period ahead. Although I am a Protestant Yorkshireman and not particularly well-versed in the complications of Irish politics, I feel that some of us from the provinces of England should pass on the comments which are made to us by our constituents who witness the procession of young men going for a four-months' or 12-months' tour of duty in Northern Ireland.
Another justification for my speaking in the debate is that my constituents are taxpayers. In addition to the demands on our young men, there are heavy demands upon the British taxpayers to ensure security and allow hope for the future in Northern Ireland.
The British taxpayer will have to pay increased attention to the problems involved in the Northern Ireland situation. The province places a heavy economic burden on the United Kingdom. It is a pity that in financial terms the political situation in Northern Ireland seems to mean that for every step forward, we take one backward step within a very short time. It is a pity that this is not fully realised in Northern Ireland. It is also a pity that the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland this afternoon was not greeted with general approval in Northern Ireland. A short time ago I was in the television studios and heard the response to my right hon. Friend's speech by some Northern Irish leaders. It was no more encouraging than has been their response to every other initiative taken by successive Governments in the last four or five years.
I am not very familiar with Northern Ireland, but I have visited the Province. What appals me is that, in an age of increasing leisure and greater mobility, opportunities seem to have been ignored by the people of the Province. It is an attractive Province with great tourist potential, but because of the troubles revenue from tourism has dropped by a third in the last five years. In real terms the loss is very much more bitter and cruel.
The loss of revenue has occurred despite the increasing assistance given to tourism in the Province. Hotel developments attract 40 per cent. grants, there is good fishing round the Northern Irish coasts, and there are adequate and generous grants to encourage and promote fishing. There has been a tremendous amount of expenditure on roads to assist both commerce and tourism in Northern Ireland. It is possible to travel about Northern Ireland by car much more easily and more comfortably than in most areas of Britain.
In addition to expenditure on communications and tourism, there has been a vast promotion of economic activity. The Northern Ireland Finance Corporation received a grant of £50 million, and many millions of pounds have been earmarked to attempt to deal with poverty in the area.
It has been suggested that a question I asked in the House this afternoon lacked compassion in that it was concerned with damage to property and should have been directed to loss of life. Those of us who have had a large number of troops sent from our constituencies to Northern Ireland need not ask questions in the House about the number of people killed and injured in the province. We know the toll in human life and limb in Northern Ireland.
We hope that the people of Northern Ireland are equally concerned about death and destruction in Northern Ireland. Certainly in many small villages and towns in Britain many people who have not set foot in Ireland have good reason to mourn and feel bitter about the casualties among our troops in the Province. Perhaps some of the anxieties over Sunningdale and the Council of Ireland are justified and many people of Northern Ireland may find those proposals to be somewhat indigestible, but they must begin to realise that the alternatives are bound to be very much less palatable.
In statistical terms the year 1973 in Ireland was a good deal better than was the year 1972. It is clear that less property was destroyed in 1973 than in the previous year, fewer lives were lost, and a greater number of people were apprehended for firearms offences. We can only hope that the year 1974 will see an improvement in the situation.
Unfortunately, the events of the last few weeks seem to suggest that the pattern of improvement in 1973 must be taken as in isolation. I am not competent to give the answers to the situation for I feel that the answers to a large extent lie in the hands of the Northern Ireland politicians. They cannot expect solutions to be imposed by this country. The solution may come as a result of the fact that sucessive British administrations have bought valuable time to enable the politicians of Northern Ireland to arrive at a solution. Unfortunately, the events of recent months do not give much grounds for hope that the politicians in the Province are determined to achieve a solution.
What grieved me during a visit to Northern Ireland was to see Army units posted outside schools. As a former teacher I am aware that it is easy to be over-sensitive about the effects of television, cowboy films and all the rest on young minds, which are remarkably resilient. However, I am concerned at the effect of a daily dose of military presence and weekly doses of violence, which surely in the end must disfigure the minds of the children. I hope that my right hon. Friend's initiatives today will be considered a little more carefully than has been obvious from the hasty response which they have drawn so far in Northern Ireland. It is time that the politicians and people of Northern Ireland began to think a little more about my right hon. Friend's proposals and to respond to them. I hope that we shall get a different reaction from that which was displayed today by some in Northern Ireland, who have responded without very much thought or good sense. I hope that sort of attitude is not typical in view of the steps that Northern Ireland should be taking both now and in the future.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland today took the first tentative steps to make certain that politics begin to work again in Northern Ireland. Throughout the past two months, particularly since the announcement of the General Election, politics in Northern Ireland have remained static. I do not blame this on the Conservative Govern- meat, but I blame it on the voices of dissent to Sunningdale which we have heard so strongly this afternoon.
It is evident that a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland oppose the Sunningdale Agreement. When we look closely at the figures, we see that they represent a third of the total electorate in Northern Ireland. Nobody can say with any accuracy in what way other votes would have been cast, had they been cast. We know that the SDLP, which was party to the Sunningdale Agreement, increased its vote in Northern Ireland. Because of particular reasons, it can be said that the constituencies of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and also Mid-Ulster could not be classified as being anti-Sunningdale.
We must analyse the position in which we find ourselves. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken positive action to try to make politics begin to work and to bring about the total rejection of the men of violence in Northern Ireland.
We must be clear who the opponents of Sunningdale are. There are the members of the Provisional IRA who set off the bombs and use the guns to murder. They are using violence to defeat the Sunningdale Agreement.
There are others in Northern Ireland who, whilst they may not prime a bomb or fire a revolver or a rifle, by their every utterance incite men to violence. I include within their ranks members of the United Ulster Unionist Committee in this House. Clearly over the past few weeks their whole stock in trade has been to build up fear and suspicion in the minds of the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland that they are to be dragooned and coerced against their will into an Irish Republic.
Anyone who has knowledge of what happened at Sunningdale will know that that is contrary to the facts stated there. Sunningdale recognised that there were two traditions in Northern Ireland: one, the Protestant majority who wish to maintain their links with the United Kingdom; two, the minority community who at some time in the future, by peaceful means, not by coercion, aspire to live in a united Ireland. Those are two legitimate aspirations. The majority cannot claim total victory over the minority and the minority cannot claim total victory over the majority.
Northern Ireland has had four centuries, if not more, of direct open confrontation between those two communities, particularly since the institution of the first Government in Northern Ireland in 1920. In every decade—in the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1960s and the 1970s—we have had outbreaks of sectarian trouble because of the political situation in Northern Ireland. We have had a one-party ascendancy Government which there was no possible hope of defeating. That Government, sure in the knowledge that they could not be defeated at the polls, became completely arrogant to every honest plea made to them by the then very small Opposition. Consequently, that situation built up frustrations in the minority community who saw themselves being deliberately excluded from any legitimate attempt that they were making to participate in the everyday running of their affairs. We had almost a caste system.
I bitterly resent the racialist speech by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) in which he referred to cleanliness and other standards. This is the master race mentality of someone who would seek to divide the people of Northern Ireland on those grounds. I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman has ever been to Northern Ireland or to Southern Ireland. If so, he has learned very little. It would be better if he were to sit in this House and keep his mouth shut instead of trying to add flames to the fires that are now raging so furiously in Northern Ireland.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on lifting the proscriptions from the Provisional Sinn Fein and the Ulster Volunteer Force. I recognise that this is a calculated political chance. It may or may not be a success. I sincerely hope that it will allow the Provisional Sinn Fein to participate in any future elections that may take place in Northern Ireland and that it will then seek to go for the success of the ballot rather than of the bullet. I also hope that the Ulster Volunteer Force will begin to engage in politics rather than to resort to violence.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) on his maiden speech. I am sure that we shall hear more from him in future. He said that the IRA first began the troubles in Northern Ireland. It was not the IRA which first began the troubles. It is not so long since 1969—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Minister of State will recall when the matter was first raised in this House—when the UVF caused explosions in water pipes and water mains in Dunadry with the specific intention of defeating the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O'Neill. They began the present campaign of violence in 1969 because of what was happening politically when there was such a clamant demand for the institution of civil rights and social justice in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend has lifted the proscription from the Provisional Sinn Fein and the UVF, but there is another sinister organisation operating there, and that is the UDA. Only recently, one of its members, a Mr. Baker, was convicted in a court in Northern Ireland of four brutal and callous murders. Many people thought that more murders were involved, but no evidence could be obtained about them.
Here was a member of an organisation proclaiming his membership of it and giving sordid details to the court about how brual murders were carried out, yet this organisation has never been proscribed. One hopes that it, too, will desist from the campaign of violence in which it has been engaging and will instead engage in political action.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South referred to the brutal murder of Senator Fox in the Republic and said that immediately afterwards a claim was made that the murder had been carried out by the UFF. I think the hon. Gentleman was trying to imply that there is no such organisation as the UFF. Be that as it may, many people in Northern Ireland believe that there is such an organisation and that it has been responsible for the carryying out of many brutal murders. I am thinking particularly of the murder of my own election agent, Senator Patrick Wilson.
I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman admit that there is such an organisation in Northern Ireland. I believe that it is composed of various sections of the UVF and the UDA. It is a breakaway group from those organisations, and it has been responsible for many murders. The Secretary of State has lifted the proscription from other organisations. The UFF is dealing in death, destruction and murder, and I urge the Secretary of State to take every step to bring its members before the courts.
The debate is about whether one supports or rejects the Sunningdale Agreement. It may be right to say that in the circumstances which then prevailed a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted against the Sunningdale proposal, but I am sure it will be freely admitted by everyone in the House that the election did not take place at the best time for Northern Ireland. The new Executive had been in operation for only five or six weeks and it had not had an opportunity to prove that it was acting in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
Considerable hysteria was quite deliberately created by, in particular, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and those associated with him. It is understandable that because of all the fears and suspicions a majority of the people seemed to be rejecting Sunning-dale, but one has to consider the matter in another way.
It was no myth. The election took place in a political atmosphere similar to that in which Hitler and the National Socialist Party were elected to power in what subsequently became Nazi Germany. At that time the figures of hate in Germany were the Jews. The figures of hate created and fostered by UCC candidates were the Catholics and so-called Republicans. There is no doubt about that.
In recent weeks, the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) has said quite clearly that he rejects Sunningdale and power sharing. He will not have power sharing with Republicans, and he likes to designate them. He will have nothing whatever to do with the SDLP. As it happens, the SDLP is at present the authentic voice of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. It proved to be so in the Assembly elections and also in the recent elections to the House of Commons.
I accept that. My hon. Friend is not the only Member who has had to comfort widows either in his constituency or in any other. I have had to comfort many widows and I have had to attend the funerals of many innocent people who lost their lives in the city of Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland. So when sympathy is extended to widows this should be right across the board and Northern Ireland must be included. The past has created this situation and it was in an effort to change the politics of the situation that the Sunningdale Agreement was arrived at.
In Northern Ireland there is a deliberate attempt by the Provisional IRA to bring about the unity of Ireland against the will of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. On the other hand, there are Members of the UUUC—one needs to be almost a Patrick Campbell to pronounce that correctly—whose only alternative to the present situation is to defeat the power-sharing Executive and the Sunningdale Agreement and to restore a one-party ascendancy in Northern Ireland as existed in 1968 and 1969.
I believe that those days are long gone and that this Government and the present Opposition will not in any circumstances tolerate a return to a one-party Unionist Government in Northern Ireland. I also believe that they will not allow themselves to be blackmailed or intimidated by men of violence into departing from the Sunningdale Agreement—and I support them in that.
What is left in between? I hear hon. Members, particularly in the Northern Ireland Assembly and their spokesmen here, calling for a renegotiation of the Sunningdale Agreement. What do they mean by a renegotiation of that agreement? They mean to scrap it. The right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has already said that he will not talk to the SDLP representatives. To whom will he talk? Whom does he regard as being the authentic voice of the minority in Northern Ireland? With whom is he prepared to sit down and negotiate in an attempt to bring about an acceptable form of Government in Northern Ireland which will represent all its people? I believe that the SDLP is the only political organisation that can speak with the voice of authenticity in this situation.
Again, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) spoke about the tyranny of Parliament. He should be an absolute expert on the tyranny of Parliament, because he was the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland when under the old Unionist ascendancy there was real tyranny in Northern Ireland, tyranny to an extent which forced the then British administration in 1968 and 1969 to take effective steps against it and which effectively forced a Conservative Government to abolish that citadel of unionism in Northern Ireland, Stormont. The lesson should be made very clear to its spokesmen here this evening that this Parliament and this Government will decide that there will be no return to the old Stormont.
We have heard from the Secretary of State that a new system is to be brought into operation which will be headed by Lord Gardiner and which will look into the whole question of detention and internment in Northern Ireland. I welcome that announcement by my right hon. Friend because I personally—I know that here I speak for many people in Northern Ireland—have a great deal of faith and trust in the integrity of Lord Gardiner. I remember very well when he wrote that dissenting report from one of the numerous reports which emanated from Northern Ireland a few years ago.
We have felt—I speak for the minority community here; I know that this also involved the majority community—that detention without trial in Northern Ireland must be ended as speedily as possible, because whilst there is internment without trial there is no hope of making politics work. The raw nerve of internment will make it impossible for many Catholics and Protestants fully to participate in a return to normal politics.
Since I entered the House—I do not think anyone can question my bona fides on this—I have at all times voted with the Labour Party, in government and in opposition. I hope to be able to continue to do that. If, however, there is any intention—I believe that there will be, from what was stated this afternoon—by the Government to replace or continue in its present form the Emergency Provisions Act, I shall reluctantly and sadly find myself in the Lobby against the Government. My conscience would never allow me to go into a Lobby to support the unjust system of detention and internment.
My hon. Friend knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set in train a committee and proposals—which I have been given the job of looking into—relating to the phasing-out of internment. It is the Government's intention to do this. My hon. Friend will agree that some of the violence at the moment, particularly from the Provisional IRA, is intended to prevent the ending of internment. It ought to be known that there are certain people in Northern Ireland, of both extremes, who see in violence the advantage of maintaining internment, while the Government want to get rid of it.
My hon. Friend has confirmed what I have said on many occasions since the outbreak of the present violence. There are elements in the Provisional IRA who want to keep internment in operation. They realise that it is an emotional issue which gets them sympathetic support from sources from which they would not otherwise get support. I have said for many years that there are elements in the Provisional IRA who are prepared to sacrifice many innocent people in Long Kesh and the Maze because they believe that this will help to gain them political sympathy.
I now make a specific call, as I did recently in the Assembly, to all who supported the SDLP in the past. I appreciate that it takes courage for people to go to a polling station and put a cross on a ballot slip and I ask all those who have had the courage to support the party in the past—the party which I have the honour to lead—to take whatever steps are necessary to isolate the men of violence from the community.
A man may be told by the Provisional IRA—at the point of a gun—to take a bomb, perhaps a 500 lb or 600 lb bomb, into the centre of Royal Avenue, causing a terrible explosion. I recognise the feelings of frustration in the minds not only of Protestants in Belfast but of all citizens in Belfast about this. This action, in turn, leads to the assassination of many innocent Catholics, merely because extremists from the Unionist majority community cannot get the men who perpetrate the bombing in the first place. The number of innocent Catholics who have been assassinated through the actions of the Provisional IRA results in a scar on the hearts and minds of many people in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State proposes to take steps in relation to the RUC. I have repeatedly spoken about the RUC in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) says that we should not talk about the past, but we must talk about it if we are trying to create a future.
The RUC always seemed to be identified with the Unionist Party, with one-party Government in Northern Ireland. Many of its actions made this clear. At Sunningdale we tried, without compulsion or coercion, to reach an agreement whereby an acceptable police force could be created, one which would be accepted and defended by the whole population in Northern Ireland. The only way to do this is through the Council of Ireland. That link must be established to allow the minority community there to identify itself with the police force.
We hear hysterical shouts now from people who say that they do not like the Sunningdale Agreement and who say that we ought to scrap the piece dealing with the Council of Ireland. That agreement was arrived at quite freely. Every part of it must be fulfilled before there can be any hope of party politics becoming operational once more in Northern Ireland. At present power sharing, despite what has been said by dissident voices today, is accepted by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, Protestant or Catholic. They recognise that John Hume has as much ability and integrity as any Minister of Commerce in Northern Ireland ever had and that Austin Currie has as much ability and integrity—
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that power sharing was enacted by the Queen in Parliament? The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) has raised this point about loyalty. Does the hon. Member agree that it is not possible to be loyal to the Crown without being loyal to Parliament, because they are one and the same thing?
This is what we hear repeatedly from the Unionist Members in Northern Ireland. They say that they owe their loyalty to the Queen but do not owe any loyalty to the Parliament in Northern Ireland. A member of this Parliament may disagree with the laws that are enacted but he is part of the decision-making process. There are at least two men now sitting on the UUC benches who should be sitting on the Labour benches because at heart they are Labour men. Because of the historical divide in Northern Ireland they find themselves sitting with the Conservative Party.
From what we have heard from the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, it seems that he will vote against this Government if he does not like what they do, then against the Conservative Government for the same reason. There will be an election every six weeks and shortly the hon. Member will be supporting the Scottish National Party and everyone will be happy.
Some of my hon. Friends will not agree with what I am about to say I was perturbed when the former Attorney-General appeared to be castigating the Irish Government for proceeding with their case at Strasbourg. He appeared to be asking for a withdrawal of the charges. I do not think that is fair. The charges are well founded. One of the affidavits used by the Irish Government was made by myself and I have no intention of withdrawing any allegations I made. I recognise the emotional issues involved with the British Army. Hon. Members from all parts of the House represent constituencies from which soldiers have gone to Northern Ireland, some to be killed.
But it would be less than honest to say that every soldier in Northern Ireland is an angel. I had discussions with the Northern Ireland Office this morning about a serious case in my constituency. An inquiry is to be conducted. Therefore, I shall say nothing about that. But the soldiers, acting in a very dangerous and difficult situation, sometimes do things which should not be done by anyone in those situations.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East said that other types of constitutional settlements will be possible if the Sunningdale proposals fail and if the power-sharing Executive does not get an opportunity to prove itself. Every sentiment that the right hon. Gentleman uttered leads clearly in one direction. He is saying, "If we do not have a return of the old Stormont and if we proceed with the proposals for a Council of Ireland, we shall declare UDI." That is what the right hon. Gentleman has been saying for many years. That is what he was implying. If that is his intention, supported as he is by his colleagues, I can clearly see that this is the road to disaster in Northern Ireland.
I accept what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State —that Sunningdale at present is the only possible direction which can be taken. Those opposed to it have no alternative. I hope that the present Government and Opposition will not allow themselves to be deflected, intimidated or blackmailed by those who want to return to the old system, which has proved to be such a disaster.
We in this House today have been discussing matters that affect the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. Perhaps hon. Members who do not come from Northern Ireland might have thought that there was reality in this debate. I am afraid, however, that the debate will have no crumbs of comfort for the people of Northern Ireland who at present have one great matter before them. It is not the matter of political institutions and whether or not they work. It is the matter of their peace and safety. It is the matter of the peace and safety of their children going to and from school, the peace of the workman going to his place of business and seeking to earn a livelihood for his family and the peace of the community at night, so that people can indulge in the things in which they want to indulge after their day's work.
I ask the House to reflect upon how the people of Northern Ireland, who are anxious for peace and tranquillity in their homes and anxious to carry on with their work, will react to the statement that has been made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the statement made by the Opposition today. Is there anything in those statements that will help the people of Northern Ireland towards peace and prosperity?
Today we have had the announcement that certain troops are to be withdrawn from the city of Londonderry. Those of us in Northern Ireland who know the situation are quite aware, as I am sure the Secretary of State is aware, that the police force is not up to the total strength that the Chief Constable had in mind and that recruiting for the police has not been as rapid as one would have liked. Is police manpower available so that when the troops are withdrawn from the city of Londonderry there will be enough men to give some sort of protection to the people there?
Lord Richard Cecil, who served in the city, told the people of Northern Ireland that he found his hands as an officer tied and that political considerations entered into the military operations. That has never been adequately repudiated by anyone. As long as political considerations enter into the campaign against terrorism, there will be no defeat of terrorism. The hands of those in charge of the security operation should be untied and they should take the necessary action to defeat the terrorists.
Any advice for anything I have done has been taken from the security authorities. I am not an expert in these matters. I take advice from the security authorities, and I want to make that abundantly clear. Lord Richard Cecil, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, it does not matter. I take advice from those who are skilled to know, not from a captain of the Army who is leaving the Service.
I do not believe that the Secretary of State has understood my point. I was trying to argue the view of the people in the city of Londonderry, the view of the man and woman sitting at their fireside. Those of us who have been in the city know the tremendous pounding it has received. Its centre is almost destroyed. This House has already taken a decision about removing the defences of Ulster. Ulster had an armed police force that was trained to combat terrorism Ulster had the B Specials, which for 50 years kept the IRA at bay. The British Army was then brought in, but before the defences of Ulster can be re-erected the troops are to be withdrawn from the city of Londonderry. The people of the city will certainly feel strongly about this move. The important question is whether the men are available in the RUC to take the place of the troops. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) to make noises, but he does not sit for the city of Londonderry and he has not been burned or bombed.
One of the important questions is who represents whom and who can speak for whom. In opposition the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State used to put that question forcefully to the House. There has been an election. Whichever way the results of it are read, the hard facts are that 11 out of the 12 Ulster Members were returned by an electorate which said that it did not want enforced power sharing with the Republicans and it did not want the Sunningdale Agreement. Those policies were clearly set out in the election addresses of all 11, as well as the election address of one unsuccessful candidate. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was returned on a minority vote. Let us make that perfectly clear. If the hon. Gentleman thinks he can tell the House that he is representing people on that matter, the House can draw it own conclusions.
It is very difficult under the British electoral system, with one vote being cast for one candidate, to obtain a complete majority in any part of the community. We know that the Labour Party does not have an entire majority in the country. But on that system the total votes in Northern Ireland provided a clear overall majority. If the House wants to reject the ballot box it can do it, but in so doing those who have advocated that the Northern Ireland people should settle their differences by the ballot box are now taking away the power to persuade the people to stick to the ballot box.
There has been a reference to Mr. John Hume, who heads the Department of Commerce. The hon. Member for Belfast, West said that Mr. Hume was a man of integrity. But Mr. Hume released a pamphlet in the city of Londonderry in which he called on the people to take part in a rent strike and said "You will never be asked to pay back your rents." Now the same gentleman is telling people to pay up, after promising them in that leaflet that they would never have to pay their rents. Those are the facts, and the House needs to be told the facts.
I should like the Minister of State when replying to the debate to enlarge on the question of the release of detainees. My position on the matter has always been clear. I have opposed internment without trial, and I opposed the emergency provisions, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. [Interruption.] I have a few other things to say in a minute or two that the hon. Gentleman will not like. We have heard of two organisations that are coming off the proscription list. One is the Ulster Volunteer Force and the other is Sinn Fein. I understand that there are Protestants in Long Kesh who, on being charged before the commissioner, were told that they were there because they were members of the UVF. I do not think that anybody is in Long Kesh because he is a member of Sinn Fein. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not yet."]
I asked Questions about the release of detainees, but the Minister was not forthcoming. He would not answer. After detainees have been released the security forces have been told of their release, with the statement that the men concerned hold office in the IRA. Some are listed as officers commanding battalions, brigades and so on. If a man is a member of the Provisional IRA and the authorities know that he is a member, why is he released from detention without trial? Why is he not brought to a court and charged with membership of that organisation?
It is dangerous to tell men "You are put into Long Kesh because you are members of proscribed organisations", to keep a proscription on certain organisations and then to let out those men, with the security forces being told that they are out and that they are leaders of the IRA, instead of dealing with them before the courts.
What we need in Northern Ireland is a return to the proper courts system, a return to jury trials and British justice in our courts. Until we have that, there will be no confidence among any section of the community on the law and order issue. That is an important matter and one to which the House should bend its will.
I know that time is limited because the hon. Member for Belfast, West took a lot of time, as he did in the Assembly recently, much to the confusion of the Assembly. I shall keep to the time limit which you have given me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
We have been told that the RUC is to be divided into three sections—Londonderry, the border area and Belfast. Apparently an assistant chief constable will preside over those areas. Is this the beginning of the end of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as it is presently organised? Is the new section of the RUC on the border a preliminary to a joint border police force? That is what the people of Northern Ireland want to know.
The people of Northern Ireland did not enter freely into the Sunningdale negotiations. The representatives of the majority community were not invited to be full members of the Sunningdale conference. Indeed, Mr. West was not invited to take part in Sunningdale. We must realise that we cannot force on 60 per cent. of the population something that they do not want.
Some former Opposition Members have talked about loyalty and the laws which Parliament has enacted. They have agitated against the Industrial Relations Act and they are now to do away with it. It was not so long ago that the hon. Member for Belfast, West was elected to the Belfast Corporation. He raised a row about the visit of Princess Margaret. He said that she should not be allowed in the streets of Belfast. They are now talking about loyalty to the Queen.
We in Northern Ireland intend to use the ballot box and not the bomb. We believe that truth will prevail and that our people will eventually get a settlement in which all people will be able to take part.
Every debate on Northern Ireland seems to take place against a sombre background, and the background to the present debate is even more sombre than usual. IRA terrorism in recent days has been more than usually appalling. The several hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland who have spoken today have left us in no doubt about the seriousness of the present situation in Ulster. Despite that, it is my pleasant task to begin by extending my congratulations and the congratulations of the House to those hon. Members who have today made their maiden speeches.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford), for reasons which I am sure the House will understand and appreciate, did not fear to be controversial. He spoke with a quiet sincerity which was highly impressive however much one may have disagreed with what he said.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) spoke his mind without reserve and without fear of controversy for equally valid reasons. He spoke eloquently of his constituency and the horrors that it has suffered. He left no doubt of the passion that he feels. The House will look forward to hearing both hon. Members speak often in future. I am sure that they will do so.
I shall talk chiefly about the security forces. However much many people inside and outside the House would like to see the Army withdraw, no one could deny its importance in the Province. The security forces have not had as much attention today as might have been expected. I hope the House will agree that in the last five years the Army has had a most onerous, disagreeable and dangerous task and has carried it out superbly well. Unfortunately, the security forces are always being criticised from one side or the other, occasionally from both. Over the years from time to time, the Army has been strongly criticised by some newspapers and on television.
Although I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) that the impact of television on the troubles in Ulster has not always been happy or helpful in some of the things it has done, it has been very beneficial in at least one respect. The British people have been able to see the Army in action and some of the very nasty things the soldiers have had to do and some of the very nasty treatment they have received. But above all, the British people have been able to see British soldiers appear on television describing and explaining what they have been doing. The British people have been able to see soldiers of all ranks giving an account of themselves, often under very hostile questioning. They have been able to see the essential decency of the British soldier and the restraint, magnanimity and courage he has shown.
Having seen the British soldier on television, the British people have rejected conclusively the horror stories, the atrocity stories, the hate propaganda put around by the IRA and its lackeys. Since, fortunately, the public often influence the media more than the media influence the public, the Army has lately received much better treatment from the media than it used to receive.
The Army, of course, is also involved in the accusations of the Irish Government at Strasbourg, about which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) spoke so strongly and effectively. As he said, the Irish Government have made accusations of the vilest conduct against soldiers and many other people as well. I am sure that we all—except the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—share my right hon. and learned Friend's hope that the Irish Government will withdraw these allegations forthwith.
Then, of course, verbal as well as real sniping is still carried on by the IRA. It often picks on a new unit and says that it is discriminating against the Catholic population, or behaving with lack of humanity or with brutality, or is behav- ing like Attila the Hun or the SS, and so forth. But the Army has got used to that sort of thing. Allegations are made that the Army is opposed only to Catholic terrorism and treats Protestants and hard men on the Protestant side with kid gloves and excuses their illegal and dangerous activities. These allegations do no harm over here because we know that they are untrue, but they may do some harm in Ireland.
Then there is the opposite propaganda which sometimes come from extreme Protestants. This alleges not that the Army has been too harsh or too brutal to the Catholics but that it has been weak or negligent and has been guilty of appeasement of the enemies of the State. I must admit that I find this Protestant propaganda every bit as ungracious, ill-conditioned, unbecoming, inaccurate and false as the propaganda of the IRA and its contemptible front organisation—except for one thing. While the Army is completely under civilian and political control, as it always has been in this country, and therefore accusations of brutality and inhumanity against soldiers are ultimately the responsibility of the British Government, the Protestant allegations of so-called weakness and appeasement are even more directly pointed against the politicians in this House. However untrue the propaganda, I find it preferable that it should be directed against us as politicians sitting comfortably and safely in this House than against soldiers who are living in great danger in Northern Ireland, under conditions of considerable rigour and strain—against soldiers, many of whom have given their lives or been severely wounded in their efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
There have been some allegations this afternoon. The hon. Member for Belfast, South talked about the ineptitude of the forces. Unless I understood him wrongly, I think that the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) made similar allegations. But the best example of the sort of thing to which I am referring occurred in a letter in the Daily Telegraph yesterday from the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. West). In that letter, the leader of the official Unionist Party said:
But five years of appeasement of our enemies and careless throwing away of young
soldiers' lives has exhibited Britain's sick inability to meet its responsibilities.
The hon. Member made similar remarks at greater length but with no greater proof in an article in The Times today.
I find that allegation peculiarly repulsive and very hard to forgive. Nothing whatever could be better calculated to lower the morale of the Army in Northern Ireland. Luckily, that morale is so good—
I have not quite finished with the right hon. Member yet. If he will forgive me, I should like to deploy the full case against him.
Luckily, that morale is so good that the right hon. Member's allegations will have no more effect than similar allegations by the IRA. No one, even before this debate, and certainly not after, would deny that the Protestant community, indeed the whole community in Northern Ireland, has been under appalling strain, or that the overwhelming majority of the population, who are law abiding, have conducted themselves with the most admirable fortitude, patience and restraint.
Equally, nobody would claim that the British Government or the British Army have always got it right. We obviously have not always judged every situation correctly. We have not always decided on the best dispositions. We have not always made the right predictions or decided on the right course of action. Of course not—such perfection is obviously impossible.
But the suggestion that the British Government and the British Army have not at all times been determined to do whatever was possible to stamp out terrorism without making the situation worse or that they have wantonly thrown away the lives of young soldiers out of political cowardice or in the pursuit of some ulterior political aim is utterly false and is on the same sort of level as the opposite allegations of the IRA.
I resent the right hon. Gentleman using the phrase "extreme Protestants" and then looking in our direction as if implying that we are extreme Protestants. We are proud to be Protestants, but we do not deserve the title "extreme".
The right hon. Gentleman could hardly dispute that the policy has not been successful over the last four years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] Could he dispute that the policy of the British Government in Northern Ireland has not been successful over the last four years? Is he aware that I asked a former Secretary of State in Northern Ireland to repudiate a letter which Lord Richard Cecil had written and which appeared in a paper there saying that he had resigned his commission because there were political restrictions on the activities of British soldiers in Ulster?
If the hon. Gentleman is a moderate, I am very glad to hear it. No doubt he will show that by his conduct, and no one will describe him again as an extremist, but his journalistic activities will have to alter before our description of him is likely to alter.
Throughout the period of the previous Government I was at the Ministry of Defence. My colleagues and I made frequent visits to Northern Ireland. We always talked to soldiers of all ranks and asked whether they were lacking anything. Some of the questions raised related to welfare matters and we tried to improve conditions wherever possible. We could not do as much as we would have liked to do, but that is in the nature of things. My colleagues and I always followed up those questions by asking whether there was anything more that the troops would like to do militarily. We asked whether they thought they were being stopped—as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said—by higher authority from doing things that they thought would help to stamp out terrorism.
There were occasional complaints about certain people being released from detention, but the soldiers always understood the political reasons for the releases. Apart from that, my colleagues and I found that the soldiers did not believe that they had the answer to terrorism and that they were prevented from giving it by weak or cowardly politicians. The idea that the Army has been shackled by politicians and that left to itself it could have eliminated terrorism is totally false and is certainly not held by the soldiers themselves.
The Army in Northern Ireland is politically sophisticated and appears to have a much better understanding of political and military loyalties than has the leader of the Official Unionist Party and his colleagues. If the hon. Gentleman and his friends think that they have the answer to terrorism, they have had plenty of opportunities to give it, either to the previous Secretary of State or the present one. They have come up with nothing of any use. It is no good pretending that for the Army to go in and shoot up a lot of people will help the Northern Ireland situation in any way.
I reassure the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone that the one thing the Army in Northern Ireland wants is peace so that it can return to its normal duties. The one thing, except for terrorism, that the Army dislikes most in Northern Ireland is the activity of politicians that makes the attainment of peace and normal life more distant and difficult than it would otherwise be. If, by chance the hon. Gentleman wants to help the security forces, instead of criticising them, I hope that he will remember that it is the activities of the extremists, the activities of those who are not prepared to compromise, which are responsible for the continued involvement of the security forces in Northern Ireland and the continued killings of our young soldiers.
The Secretary of State announced this afternoon some reduction in our forces in Northern Ireland, a reduction to which the hon. Member for Londonderry expressed strong opposition and on which the hon. Member for Antrim, North expressed considerable doubt. The Government have been keeping this difficult subject under continual review, just as did the Conservative Government. The question of overstrain and turbulence in the Army, the separation of soldiers from their families and other welfare and management problems are relevant considerations, as are the fears and hopes and the welfare of the population of Northern Ireland. A balance has to be struck, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will strike it.
One other aspect to be borne in mind is that it is not true that the more troops there are in the Province the more security one necessarily has. No less an authority on this subject than General Grivas laid down that in a guerrilla or terrorist situation there was an optimum of troops that should be deployed, but his view was that the optimum was not necessarily the highest number. It is possible to have too many troops. This is quite apart from any considerations advanced by my right hon. Friend this afternoon about wanting to take the Army out of security duties. It is a matter which I am sure the Secretary of State and the House will bear in mind.
We all know, as has been emphasised today, that the Sunningdale Agreement has caused much opposition and alarm in Ulster. The hon. Member for Belfast, South spoke of the slimy snake of Sunningdale and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East talked about a surrender of sovereignty to the Council of Ireland. I find it difficult, looking at the Sunningdale communiqué, to understand how people find the communiqué so frightening. It contains a phrase which should set all fears at rest:
The Council of Ministers would act by unanimity.
It is difficult to think of a greater safeguard than that. I doubt whether there has been anything like this since the old Polish Diet where the liberum veto operated and one solitary Polish noble was enough to block a measure.
I am saying that there is no surrender of sovereignty, because the Council of Ireland can act only by unanimity. Unless the right hon. Gentleman seriously imagines a situation in which all the members of the Northern Ireland Executive are not Unionists but are all members of the SDLP—which is rather unlikely—there can be no surrender of sovereignty. Therefore, fears about Sunningdale cannot be justified. I was hoping to enter into a philosophical exercise with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), but because of the shortage of time we shall have to postpone that to another occasion.
I end, as I began, by saying that we all recognise the appalling terrorist situation in Northen Ireland. We all know that the greatest amount of damage, murder and terrorism has been caused by the Provisional IRA. It is principally against that body that the Army has to direct its forces. Unfortunately it is also true that there has been some Protestant terrorism and sectarian murders, although not directed against the security forces. It is the duty of the security forces to act against terrorism from wherever it comes at any time. I am sure the House will agree that the security forces have opposed all forms of terrorism with total and exemplary impartiality, bravery and skill. The House will continue to give them our full and wholehearted support.
This has been a debate of major political significance for this House and for Northern Ireland. I shall do my best to answer many of the points which have been raised in the debate.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) in a sense attempted to lecture the House about the responsibilities of the rest of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland. He made several attempts to underline the responsibility of the rest of the United Kingdom for Northern Ireland and he put his points clearly to the House. It is only fair to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the rest of the United Kingdom has some points to raise about Northern Ireland. These points are being increasingly pressed on us and must be taken into account.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) referred to the letter written by the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) and sought to deal with the role of the security forces. He referred to the economic factors affecting Northern Ireland. When considering the responsibilities of the rest of the United Kingdom, certain figures should be taken into account. In 1971–72 net payments to Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom amounted to £181 million. In 1973–74 that figure had risen to £315 million. The forecast for 1974–75 takes that figure close to £400 million. Included in that figure is the subvention since reorganisation to Harland and Wolff of about £65 million. The figure for compensation—not claimed but paid —for property damage is £61 million and for personal damage £7 million. All these figures exclude military expenditure in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about Northern Ireland's contribution in return to the United Kingdom. We welcome the fact that commercial enterprises have kept going and I shall be referring to some of the industries in Northern Ireland at a later stage. Nevertheless there is an imbalance between exports and imports with respect to Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
I am not in any sense making threats or suggesting that the Government want to change the policy regarding assistance to Northern Ireland. I think that the British people, despite their economic troubles, will willingly continue to pay this money in future, but they ask in return that there should be a genuine desire for a political settlement in Northern Ireland. We have a right to ask for that.
People glibly talk about pulling down the Assembly and the power-sharing arrangements. I remind them that the patience of certain people in Northern Ireland is reaching the limit. I welcome the fact that views have been frankly and freely expressed in this House, but it must be understood that other people in this country in all political parties who have been very quiet on this issue might, if the political solutions fought for so hard by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side and others are destroyed, be roused to anger which will more than match the anger which has been expressed in Northern Ireland. These facts must be stated, and I believe that the House would wish me to speak frankly.
I turn now to the question of detention and the action that is to be taken. Irrespective of the provocation that has been used against the Government, it is our intention to phase out internment and detention, as promised in the Sunningdale Agreement. To achieve that end, I ask for the co-operation of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The question of Protestant detainees at the Maze was raised by one hon. Gentleman. I believe that his assistance would be as invaluable as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in getting this matter resolved.
I have been asked for details of what we are attempting. A working party of officials from the Northern Ireland Office, the Department of Manpower Services, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Community Relations has already been set up, and the first report is before me.
The working party will consider the whole question of detainees, their background, the problems that exist, whether they need training, whether they would be prepared to co-operate, the problems affecting their families and the problems which they themselves would face if they were to return to what might be difficult communities. I shall consult the full Executive to try to get its assistance in dealing with the problems affecting detainees.
Perhaps the most important help that we could receive would be for courageous men and women in the hard-line ghetto communities to come forward with offers of help in resettling detainees. We need that kind of help, and I know that members of the SDLP and other parties in Northern Ireland have offered to give such assistance. It is in what one might perhaps describe as the grey area of resettlement that the most difficult problems will arise.
We do not underestimate the problems, nor do we underestimate the difficulties arising from the violence in Northern Ireland, but if violence were ended tomorrow by those who are said to be motivated by political ends, would that bring an end to the violence? What about the young people who have almost been brought up on violence?
There are difficult problems, and they will have to be dealt with by the community in Northern Ireland as a whole as well as by the United Kingdom as a whole. We all have a responsibility in this matter, and I therefore urge my hon. Friends to let us have any suggestions that they think will help the Government to carry out their policy of phasing out detention. We need this help, because detention is a problem in the way of obtaining a political settlement. I noted what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who has made his views known to the House on many occasions. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman and to his hon. Friends, just as I do to the hon. Member for Belfast, West and his hon. Friends, to help the Government.
The work of phasing out detention is going ahead and a pilot scheme is already in operation. I know that the House will not want me to go into more detail about that. This work is of major importance and I am pleased that the Government are pursuing the matter. My right hon. Friend has asked me to tackle what could be an extremely difficult job but one that is worth while and important.
Much of the debate has centred on the Sunningdale Agreement. This comes back to what I said about the rest of the United Kingdom. We can play about with figures and prove all sorts of things. It has been said that the vote in Northern Ireland was on Sunningdale and that the settlement was overwhelmingly rejected. I recognise the strength of feeling on this matter, and it has been put clearly to the House this evening, but I think one is entitled to say that the election was called at a most unfortunate time. The Executive had only just started its work. It is true that many people in Northern Ireland expressed a view by their votes, but we do not accept that as the ultimate rejection of Sunningdale. While the rest of the people of the United Kingdom were perhaps voting on very different issues, we might even ask them what their views are on Sunningdale at some future date.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to show the House tonight what he feels about this. Does he reject the proposals that are coming forward and the reaffirmation that has come from right hon. Members opposite —it certainly comes from us—not to be deflected from Sunningdale? We intend to see that that policy, which was freely and readily agreed, is implemented together with the acceptance of all the parties concerned. It is the job of the House to advocate to the people of Northern Ireland, if necessary alongside the right hon. Gentleman, the values of the Sunningdale Agreement and the safeguards contained therein, which are not fully understood in Northern Ireland.
I cannot understand why Members like the right hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) and for Belfast, East and the hon. Member for Antrim, North, who come here and fight for a point of view, do not join in the proceedings of the Assembly and seek to ensure, as is written into the Sunning-dale Agreement, that the interests of every section of the community in Northern Ireland are put forward and prevail.
I am sure the Minister of State is aware that in the Government White Paper it was stated that leaders and elected representatives were to be at the Sunningdale conference. It is no use the hon. Gentleman asking why we do not go and fight our corner when the present Leader of the Opposition refused us the opportunity to do so.
That is not true. The hon. Gentleman was invited to go and put his point of view, but he refused to go.
We welcome the general acceptance that there should be a political initiative, which we believe is essential to fill the vacuum created by the General Election, which occurred at a somewhat unfortunate time for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately this vacuum was, so to speak, filled by violence—bombings on one side and assassinations on the other. We welcome the moves to end this situation with the de-proscription of Sinn Fein and the UVF.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Antrim, North about our proposals for Londonderry following the withdrawal of British troops. I emphasise that this withdrawal will be taken with the concurrence of the GOC in Northern Ireland. I believe that even if the whole place were to be saturated with troops unfortunate events could still occur. I was in Bangor last Sunday and saw the shattered shops. A ring of steel could not have prevented a young woman from carrying in a packet of conflakes and putting it on to the shelf of a shop and destroying the place.
The argument was raised in a rather muted sense tonight that the hands of the Army should be untied. I do not know what was meant by that. Is it meant that the Army should go into certain areas and blast people out? That is what people imply when they talk about untying the hands of the Army. Is that a substitute for political action? I believe that it is a recipe for disaster. This Government are not prepared to accept such an approach.
Of course there must be security. There must also be political initiatives. Every military commander to whom one speaks says that there can be no military victory and that there must be a political solution.
Questions have been asked about policing and the RUC. The head of the RUC is drafting extra people into Londonderry. This has been agreed. He is satisfied with the proposals. Positive steps have been taken.
I did not hear the speech by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) but I am informed that it was an impressive one in which he raised the question of withdrawal of the British Army. This was also raised by Mr. Marks in the Daily Express the other day. I advise the House that to avoid a holocaust in Northern Ireland we should not advocate an immediate withdrawal of the Army.
To do so would be a disaster for both communities. I warn the House that if the Army were withdrawn the disaster would not necessarily be confined to Northern Ireland or the Republic. We would perhaps all bear the brunt of what could be a bloody civil war. Certainly we want to see the British Army withdrawn ultimately. The reduction of forces is a positive step in this direction.
Questions have been raised about prisoners awaiting trial. At the end of last month 526 prisoners were awaiting trial. The normal waiting period is four months, which is too long. All speed is being used in this regard, hut we cannot necessarily speed up the judicial process by the wave of a hand. However, 56 cases were heard during last week.
I have dealt with some of the major points raised, but we are left at the end of the day with having to find a political solution to the problems in Northern Ireland. I do not accept the philosophy of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Capt. Orr) or the right hon. Member for Belfast, East that it is impossible in 1974 for Protestants and Catholics to live together.
I do not accept that philosophy. Since I have been dealing with Northern Ireland with my right hon. Friend 1 have tried to look at the human side of the problem, and during the past month I have had meetings with all sections of the community. I have been well received by all sections, without hesitation—
I shall leave the House to judge that point of view. I understand the feeling of frustration and anger and I do not resent people putting their points to me. I have in my mind the situation in the streets of Bangor surrounded by angry people, but I must point out that there is no military solution to the problem, only a political one. Everyone in Northern Ireland, without exception, must accept that. I have spent some time with the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, with Billy Blease and officials, who have been helpful and co-operative.
Following a meeting of the Ministers of Commerce and Manpower, Mr. Hume and Mr. Bob Cooper, I called a meeting of the senior shop stewards from Harland and Wolff at Stormont Castle. Thirty-five shop stewards sat round the confer- ence table together with full-time officials. We discussed the industrial problem of Harland and Wolff and the economic and political problems of Northern Ireland. We had a strong exchange of views, and a further meeting was requested so that the dialogue could continue. That meeting is to be arranged.
I am having a meeting next week with representatives of trade unions throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. I have met representatives of the RUC and its trade union, the Police Federation. I am shortly to meet officials of the Fire Brigades Union. I have met and will be meeting again shortly representatives of employers' organisations.
I invited Mr. Bill Hull and a group of engine-shop stewards from Harland's for a drink the other night to talk over the problem. They talked with pride about the engines they produce. They were prepared to see their own conditions stand still so that retooling and modernisation could take place. I have been discussing these issues freely with the men in terms which we can both understand. I refuse to give up on political issues when a dialogue of that kind can be conducted on other matters.
It is a difficult problem but I intend, with my right hon. Friend, to continue that dialogue with all sections of the community, to go out and to explain power sharing, the Executive and Sunningdale. We will explain that the United Kingdom will maintain its economic and political support of Northern Ireland. We will explain that what we want is a real political movement, an endeavour in which people may have to alter their views and to compromise. We can achieve these aims while at the same time leaving unaffected the aspirations of those who want a united Ireland and those who wish to remain within the United Kingdom.
I do not see this as being a contradictory position. Those aspirations are there. It is the people of Northern Ireland who will decide when any changes should be made. There is no threat to that position. If Opposition Members do not like our proposals, let them use the vote which they have been given from Northern Ireland. I urge the House to support the political proposals which my right hon. Friend has put forward today. I urge the House to say that no matter how difficult the problem may be we will not be deflected from trying to achieve a political settlement.