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Policing

Volume 888: debated on Thursday 13 March 1975

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will take steps to restore normal policing by the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the whole of Northern Ireland and to ensure that the rule of law prevails.

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the future policing of those areas in Northern Ireland in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary does not at present carry out the full range of police functions.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on security since the latest cease-fire.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his policy in respect of the recent proposal that certain areas of Northern Ireland should be policed by locally elected forces rather than by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the future ô and composition of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

I would refer the hon. Members to the statement I made to the House yesterday.

I realise that the statement made by the Secretary of State yesterday pre-empted this Question. Will the right hon. Gentleman list the areas in Northern Ireland where there is not normal policing? Will he assure the House that the RUC will have the necessary manpower to do normal policing when it can go into these areas?

I think that the areas of Northern Ireland where there are particular difficulties are known—for example, parts of West Belfast and Londonderry. There are one or two other problem areas in the sense of policing. I shall willingly reply to the hon. Gentleman and obtain specific information. However, I think that we know the areas to which we are referring. I stand by what I said in the House yesterday, namely, that there is only one police force—the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The problem areas for policing are not new. It would be foolish and idle of me to pretend that the matter can be solved overnight. I think that we must take our time. On this matter I listen very much to the views of the police themselves, because they know the areas concerned. I think that the House would be wrong to believe that there is an immediate solution to this problem. Like so many other problems in Northern Ireland, I think that we should take it slowly.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the statement that he made yesterday. I recognise the difficulties that he spelt out and the need to establish, perhaps after the Convention, a proper police authority. What does the right hon. Gentleman think should be the ô of the Army in the meantime? Should it assume increasingly the style of a police force, possibly carrying lighter weapons than are carried now and executing more of the functions of a police force than hitherto it has been called upon to undertake?

The Army performs certain functions of a police force under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. As I reported yesterday, over recent weeks the Army has taken on a different posture in those areas where violence has decreased rapidly. There is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman said about a differing ô for the Army. That is a matter which we are considering daily with the Army. The Army is not unaware of the problem. I shall bring to the notice of the Army in its current considerations one or two of the points made by the hon. Gentleman.

First, the number of patrols that it makes are fewer. There are fewer men making the patrols. There is no daily searching of houses and looking for information about recent explosions. There are other ways, as well, in which one can add it up. All I say to my hon. Friend is that he would only need to visit those areas now to find a completely different atmosphere from recent weeks.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as indicated by his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) and also by Dr. Garret Fitzgerald when addressing the Anglo-Irish Parliamentary Group, on the record, that there is some misgiving in Dublin that Her Majesty's Government sometimes lack firmness? However that may be, will he answer that point? On our side—especially in view of what has just happened to Mr. Littlejohn—are we not entitled to insist on reciprocity in extradition? Is he aware of the concern lest the Criminal Jurisdiction Bill which has been introduced in the Dail as well as in this Parliament may not reach the statute book at an early date?

As regards the hon. Gentleman's first point about the views of the Government of the South, I am always pleased to listen to them on any matter. None the less, the final decision is for Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government have to face the problems in Northern Ireland, and nobody else. That must be clearly understood.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's second point about reciprocity, the report which gave rise to the current legislation illustrated the position, but I am sure that we must press ahead. It may be that in the course of time we shall get better arrangements. The reason for not being able to get better arrangements shows the legacy of history in Ireland about the events of the past.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that if the police force is to be able to take over from the Army it must have sufficient strength on the ground and it must be acceptable to the community as a whole, as it depends upon the consent of the people with whom it is doing its duty? What thought has the right hon. Gentleman given to Mr. Basil Glass's suggestion that there should be a conference of elected representatives to consider the whole structure of the police?

I am most interested in that idea, but if I called a conference I would want to be sure that the other elected representatives came along. The indications are that that might not happen. It might be a good idea, after we have had the Convention elections, when people are meeting at Stormont. It may well be that elected representatives from all parts of the Province would be prepared to talk to each other at such a conference.

Reverting to the question put by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), may I ask what information the right hon. Gentleman has about the progress of the corresponding Irish Republican legislation to the Criminal Jurisdiction Bill?

I have no information as of now. I understand that it is going through the processes in the Dail. As I think it is important to have this legislation, what we can best do by precept is to move quickly in this House and in another place and thus show that we want it operating.