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Volume 931: debated on Thursday 12 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations have been made to him about the need for fresh measures to combat terrorism in Northern Ireland.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation.

My right hon. Friend fully shares the concern felt by many people about the continuation of violence in Northern Ireland notwithstanding the improvement in the security situation which has taken place. Security measures are constantly under review to adjust them to a changing situation and to increase their effectiveness. He is certain, however, that the best strategy is to work through the police, with the support of the Army, to maintain the rule of law. This strategy is achieving real results.

In the first four months of this year the level of violence, measured by the numbers of incidents and numbers of casualties, has been running at half the rate of last year. It is all the more regrettable that the UUAC, in seeking to compel a stoppage of work, ostensibly in part for the purpose of seeking improvement in security measures, should divert the security forces from their prime task of defeating the IRA. Indeed, the UUAC, or men claiming to act in support of it, is itself resorting to terrorism, intimidation and murder. Such action must not be allowed to succeed.

Will the Minister of State look again at the suggestion which has been put to him from the Conservative side that there should be a new offence of terrorism applying in Northern Ireland? Secondly, in view of the con spicuous success of the SAS Regiment, deriving from its particular anti-terrorist training, does he not think that there is a case for increasing the strength of the SAS and increasing the anti-terrorist training of certain units in the Army?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's suggestions concerning the SAS and the security front, these things are being carried out, but they involve some extensive training for a lot of people within the Army. The hon. Gentleman is basically agreeing with me that it is possibly not numbers that count but the expertise of the people who are there to do the job.

The laws dealing with terrorist offences are fully comprehensive at the moment but are always being reviewed. We do not think that an offence of terrorism, in regard to which the prosecution would have to show political intent, would be useful or appropriate at the present time.

Does the Minister recall that, on the last occasion when we had Questions concerning Northern Ireland and I asked his hon. Friend about the change in emphasis of the crimes within Ulster, his hon. Friend agreed with me? Does he further recall that it was then indicated that the Secretary of State would tell us of the new plans that the Government would have for dealing with a change in emphasis in the violence in Ulster?

Quite apart from the events of the past week—in regard to which I join in the congratulations to the Government—is not the Minister aware that many of us feel that the Government's view as to the way to handle changed security situations in Ulster is now in a rut and needs fundamental rethinking?

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about a complete rethink of security policy in Northern Ireland. It is constantly under review and progress is taking place. There are no short cuts and there is no panacea to the problem in Northern Ireland. Our policies are continually under review to meet the continuing situation, and they are having the desired effect of eating into the terrorists.

Many people on all sides of the House will share our admiration for my hon. Friend's remarks at the outset about the role of the security forces in Northern Ireland. Will he go back to Northern Ireland and tell the leaders of the strike who have fomented the events of the last few days that it is no good telling the Government that they must tighten security and take murder by the throat when some of the leaders of the strike appear to be shaking murder by the hand in the intimidation they have been practising?

Hansard is read very closely in Northern Ireland, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's remarks will hit home.

What specific proposals about security have been put to the Minister by the leaders of the action council? Which of these proposals are already in operation and which has the hon. Gentleman rejected?

Security is continually under review. If we are to keep one step ahead with it, there will be times when it will be best to say as little as possible about the Government's intentions.

Did the Minister of State say just now that there would be more specialist training in anti-terrorist work for the Army? If that is so, we welcome it very much. We on this side have been making representations for a long time for a special force based on the SAS to form an anti-terrorist brigade. Will the Minister consider that in connection with a possible future conference on this matter with the Opposition?

There is and will be an increase in SAS-type activities. SAS-type activities are now taking place throughout the Province and as the GOC wishes. The forces in Northern Ireland are undergoing more training to build up their expertise. Expertise is now as important as the numbers of troops involved.

It gives us a great deal of contentment to know that security training is being carried out. Does my hon. Friend realise, however, that the level of security is not directly proportionate to the number of troops engaged? For him constantly to be asked to increase the number of troops will not lead to a solution to the problem. Is he aware that in Northern Ireland we face a political problem and that, important as security is, the politics of the situation must be considered in the search for an ultimate solution?

The politics of the situation are taken into account, but security is the number one priority in Northern Ireland. It is in that direction that people look for improvement. The politics of the situation come second, as has been shown lately to a great extent