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Royal Ulster Constabulary

Volume 929: debated on Thursday 7 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will clarify the rôle of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, in view of the recent statement by the Police Federation in Northern Ireland.

It remains the rôle of the RUC to maintain law and order and, in furtherance of this, to prevent and detect crime and to prosecute criminals through the courts. In the present security situation much of the work of the force is directed against the terrorists. I am pleased to report to the House that the RUC has achieved impressive results in its fight against crime, and in particular the terrorist.

Will the Minister say with rather more precision exactly what were the points on which the Police Federation differed from the Secretary of State? Will he say whether those differences have since been resolved? Secondly, will the Minister agree that, whatever labels or descriptions may be applied to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, it is absolutely essential that it should be so equipped to enable it to defeat terrorism in all its forms?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that if any equipment is required the request is made by the Chief Constable, who has the full support of the police authority and the Government. As for differences of opinion that might have existed before the meeting between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, representatives of the Police Federation and myself on 16th March, I believe that members of the federation were under wrong impressions, but those wrong impressions were removed. My right hon. Friend gave an assurance to the federation representatives that the police would not be required to accept a para-military rôle, and that the Army would always be there when required to support them in their tasks and endeavours on behalf of the people of the Province.

Is the Minister aware that the Conservative Party supports the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) in asking for further assurances on this question? The interrogation of suspects obviously must not go beyond what is permissible in a civilised society, but will the Minister speak up for the overwhelming majority of the RUC against the sweeping allegations made against it recently, and will he speed up the completion of police inquiries into accusations of brutality made against the RUC on the BBC "Tonight" programme on 2nd March?

My right hon. Friend and I will do all that we possibly can to assist police to speed up their inquiries and the investigations necessary under the law. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend and I share with others in the House a respect for the work being done by the RUC. Provided that members of the RUC act within the law, they have our utmost support.

Now that the police have been civilianised, is it not an insult to Ulster people, who have suffered eight years of terrorism, for them to find that the Government's new secret weapon against the terrorists is the use of mobile civilian searchers? These searches could be carried out by the police and the Army, and if there are not enough members of those forces to do so, their numbers should be increased. The Army is not very evident on the ground in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The civilian search unit has been in operation since 1972, and one of its tasks has been to assist the police. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman does not know anything about it. I should have thought that as a representative of the people he would know something about it. Perhaps in that regard those whom he represents should feel apprehension that he is not aware of these things. The civilian search unit is there to assist in operational requirements and it is called upon by the police and the Army. I should have thought that, in view of the requests that the hon. Gentleman has been making recently, the activities of the unit would please, not displease him.

Since my hon. Friend has been asked by the Opposition spokesman to speak up for the overwhelming majority of the RUC concerning allegations of brutality and interrogation procedures, will he take that as an admission that there is a minority in the RUC which is engaging in illegal tactics? Will he further indicate that where allegations of brutality are levelled at the RUC these should be treated as a matter of urgency, and that weeks and months should not be allowed to drag by? In a situation such as this it is imperative that a decision one way or the other should be arrived at in the shortest possible time to ease the minds of the general public.

I am not responsible for the questions that are put to me. If I answer them it should not be taken to mean that I share the opinions of those who put the questions. I believe that until inquiries are completed there should be no admission or denial.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the reputation and integrity of the RUC is second to none?

I have said that many times, but I have pleasure in saying it once more. What is happening in the RUC is a credit to everyone in the force, but that is not to deny that from time to time situations arise which cause anxiety and concern.

In spite of what the Minister of State has said, for the police to be fully effective they must be more representative of the Northern Ireland community. What help is the hon. Gentleman getting from political parties, the Churches and other bodies in Northern Ireland to ensure that more Roman Catholics are recruited into the RUC?

If we could get more of the minority population to join the RUC that would be an achievement which would create a greater degree of confidence in the population as a whole. We are doing all we can to encourage that, but we have to be assisted by the population and by those whom we urge to apply to join the force. The hon. Gentleman asked me about those who are prominent in political or business life. Some of the statements that have been made have caused anxiety in the Police Federation because some of the suggestions have been outrageous.