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Volume 929: debated on Thursday 7 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what changes he has made in the Government's strategy for the defeat of terrorism.

The Government's strategy for the defeat of terrorism rests on the vigorous implementation of present policy. No changes are therefore necessary.

The essentials of this policy are to pursue the terrorists through the courts; to encourage the development, effectiveness and acceptance of the police so that they can still more effectively detect, arrest and charge those responsible for terrorist crimes; to foster police/Army co-operation, and to build up the rĂ´le and full time strength of the UDR; and to maintain the Army in sufficient strength to meet the demands of the security situation.

While all must be done under the law, is it not extraordinary that the Secretary of State should say that changes to bring the masters of murder to justice are unnecessary? Is the right hon. Gentleman content with the admittedly impressive yet low level of success referred to by the Under-Secretary of State in replying to the previous Question? After so many years, can no light be shown at the end of this tunnel of terror? Has the Secretary of State studied the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) for a specially trained and regularly constituted anti-terrorist formation?

The hon. Gentleman was asking about the strategy for the defeat of terrorism. I think that the strategy is working and that it is unnecessary to change it. As for the introduction of a special anti-terrorist squad, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that there are 14,000 British troops in the Province. There are 7,500 members of the UDR, the RUC and the RUC Reserve. In addition, the SAS is operating throughout the Province and is helping with intelligence, and helping the RUC in its fight against crime. That gives a total of 31,000, a ratio of one law and order agent for every 50 of the population.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the proposal of the Alliance Party that the promotion of terrorism should be made an offence? Will the Secretary of State comment on that?

I answered that point the last time we had Northern Ireland Questions on the Floor of the House. It is unnecessary to have an offence of terrorism. Every act of handling bombs or weapons is in itself an act of terrorism in Northern Ireland. If there were a charge of terrorism it would hold a political connotation, and we want to get away from that.