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Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions)

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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7.35 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1977, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th May be approved.

Do I understand that we are discussing at the same time the second motion:

"That the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1977, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved "?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I believe that that will be convenient.

As the House will recall, the arrangements for direct rule under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 are renewable for a maximum of one year at a time. At present I believe it is right that direct rule should continue, and I am therefore seeking the approval of the House today to an order extending the statutory basis for direct rule for a further year from 16th July.

Although the security situation has improved in recent months, the emergency in Northern Ireland continues. Accordingly, I seek the renewal of the various emergency provisions under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Act 1975 and the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1974 for a further six months from 24th July.

The Government are directly responsible to this House for governing Northern Ireland, and it is therefore to Parliament that we must account for our actions there. Direct rule is not the Government's preferred form of government for Northern Ireland but we shall continue to administer it wholeheartedly, positively and caringly for so long as circumstances require. Although direct rule is providing stability, it is no substitute for a final constitutional settlement. I have never been of the opinion that a "solution" to Northern Ireland's problems will be found overnight, but I believe that the last year has been one of steady progress in Northern Ireland.

Defeating terrorism, searching for a durable and acceptable constitutional solution and improving the economy of the Province are the three aims of Government policy, each of which has a degree of dependence upon the others. Continuing violence hampers economic progress. It inhibits potential investors. Resources have to be diverted to deal with terrorism, and eradicating terrorism depends not only on the continuing success of the security forces but also on the creation of agreed political institutions in which the community as a whole has confidence. And, in turn, political stability will be greatly helped by eco-mic prosperity.

Accordingly, in recent weeks I have taken steps to intensify security operations and to encourage Northern Ireland's political leaders to consider whether constitutional progress can be made and I have taken measures to stimulate the economy. I must make clear that our security policy rests upon the recommendation of the Ministerial Committee on Law and Order which my predecessor outlined to the House almost exactly a year ago today. The central themes of the Committee's recommendations were the importance of developing the effectiveness and acceptance of the police and tackling criminal violence through the basic methods of the law—detection of criminals and their prosecution before the courts. This policy is fair and impartial. No one is imprisoned in Northern Ireland for political beliefs. Conviction depends upon proving the case against the accused by the submission of evidence open to cross-examination in open court.

There have been significant developments in the organisation, operation and acceptance of the police during the last year, and improved arrangements have been made for police and Army co-operation. The Army's task in Ulster is to act as the essential buttress of the law and order policy and it will continue to carry out that task. It supports the police in the sense that its activties are devoted to the same goal—the detection and suppression of crime and the restoration of the rule of law.

The progress made during the last year is reflected in the figures. Of course, figures must be used with care, as all of us who are aware of the sensitivity of these matters know, but two clear points stand out. First, the charging and conviction rate is up. Secondly, terrorist violence is down.

During the whole of 1976, 963 persons were convicted for scheduled offences on indictment, and 214 of them received sentences of 10 years or more. Up to 20th May this year, 436 persons had been convicted in this way, 141 receiving sentences of 10 years or more. Comparing the past six months with the corresponding period last year, charges laid for serious terrorist offences have risen from 581 to 682, so the trend is showing an increased charging and conviction rate.

Over the same period, shooting incidents are down from nearly 900 to just over 650 and bomb explosions are down from almost 400 to 228. The weight of explosives used by terrorists has gone down from nine tons to two tons, and deaths have gone down from 174 in the first six months of 1976 to 79 in the first six months of this year. Injuries, too, have been cut by half. This represents a noticeable decline in terrorist violence.

However, as the House will recognise, incidents of brutality continue to occur, especially attacks on members of the security forces. They are now bearing the brunt of any attacks, as last night's murder of two young soldiers shows. Nevertheless, the overall trend of violence is unquestionably downwards. This is not to say that I am or that the security forces or the Government are in any way satisfied with the position. But these trends give us confidence that our general strategy is the right one.

One also notices that the nature of the violence has changed. Street violence and widespread rioting is no longer the problem. Politically-motivated violence enjoying a measure of community support has been much reduced. Therefore, those responsible have no realistic political cause and no political or democratic backing. We now have to deal with a relatively small number of criminals, some of them hardened by years of crime and violence who intimidate their friends and neighbours. But the gap is widening between these criminals and the community in whose interests they claim to act. They really are being isolated. But they are deeply embedded in the social structure as a consequence of the past years of violence, and our task of dealing with them—within the law, based on evidence—makes this aspect of our task a little more difficult.

I do not believe that blanket measures will achieve this. The reintroduction of detention or indiscriminate search-and-destroy operations would produce few practical dividends to offset the alienation of the many innocent people who would experience the inevitable arbitrary and unfair consequences of such policies. By intensification of the security effort, therefore, I mean a study of the effectiveness of our different methods and continued and continuing intensification of those methods which are proving effective.

Let me explain this as it affects the police. First, the Criminal Investigation Department has been reorganised by the Chief Constable. It is now a cohesive and highly effective crime-fighting unit. It is supported by improved technical and forensic science services. The three regional crime squads are now well established. They work closely with the Headquarters Crime Squad to concentrate on serious terrorist crime and focus on leading members of terrorist organisations.

The criminal intelligence units have been developed into a complete collation system with a network of local offices and they are at the core of the activities of the CID and the crime squads. The nucleus of a Fraud Squad has been established, and arrangements are in hand to form a special squad for serious crimes. In total, the number of detectives and other experts involved in all these activities has been increased by 150. These developments enable the police to get information and to put it swiftly into the hands of those who can use it effectively against the leading criminals.

Second, the Special Patrol Group has recently been reviewed by the Chief Constable so that its efforts can be more effectively directed towards the detection of bombers, travelling gunmen and sectarian murderers. It is essential that the RUC has a built-in flexibility in the use of the resources to enable it to meet and in many cases to pre-empt shifts in terrorist tactics. The Special Patrol Group, which provides assistance and support in areas where it is most needed, now numbers more than 300 men.

Similarly, the Chief Constable is forming 10 divisional mobile support units; two are operational and eight others are in training. These units will each have their own vehicles, and they will provide divisional commanders with a mobile squad of experienced officers to combat terrorist activity.

The Chief Constable also envisages a wider, more interesting operational rôle for the RUC Reserve, and members of the reserve will form part of these mobile support units. The reserve already performs a most valuable function in supporting the regular force and providing an obvious police presence on guard duty or on patrol. Henceforth they will also be more directly involved in operations.

Thirdly, the capacity of the security forces for surveillance operations is being increased. Hon. Members will appreciate that terrorist violence is essentially clandestine. Attacks are conceived, planned and, until the critical moment, carried out in the maximum secrecy. Therefore, the forces of law and order must have a corresponding capacity for the patient collection of intelligence. More has been done in this field of activity than is generally realised, although for security reasons it would not be right for me to give precise details.

These SAS-type activities are now being stepped up. Additional troops specifically earmarked for duties in this field have recently arrived in Northern Ireland. More use is to be made, for specialist operations, of the military resources already in the Province, and greater emphasis will be placed on training for operations of this type. Particular attention will be given to integration and co-ordination and to close working with the police. The final result will be more information geared to the arrest of dangerous terrorist leaders.

Against that background, the police and Army must be properly manned and supported for their tasks. The strength of the RUC continues to increase, and now stands at 5,423 compared with 5,055 12 months ago. In the first six months of this year there were 1,360 applications to join the force, and already 278 recruits have been accepted. The aim is to improve on last year's record figure of 581 recruits.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the corresponding figures for the RUC Reserve?

I shall be coming to that shortly.

As to the future, I announced on 8th June that we shall have no inhibitions about recruiting beyond the present establishment of 6,500 officers, should this be necessary. Similarly, the strength of the full-time RUC Reserve now stands at 943, compared with 729 on 30th June 1976. As for building and equipment, in the current financial year we are spending almost £4 million on the police building programme. The size of the force vehicle fleet has been raised to more than 1,200 vehicles. New Land Rovers fitted with improved protective devices and new weapons are being acquired.

By way of illustration of the procedures, the Ml carbine was the weapon selected by the Chief Constable as the most appropriate for police use in Northern Ireland; its acquisition was approved by the police authority, and the necessary resources were made available. As the House will recognise, there may from time to time be supply difficulties, because the needs of the police are not immune from the hazards of the commercial world, but these problems are being tackled and overcome; the new vehicles and the new weapons are coming into service.

We must remember, too, that policing in a civilised society is not simply a matter of numbers and equipment. It is founded on the principle that the police and the public are one. The liberties of the community rest on the law and its enforcement, and the effectiveness of the police depends in large measure on their reputation in the eyes of the community. The conduct of the RUC during the events in May has drawn praise from all sides. I cannot speak too highly of it. Its actions represented the clearest possible demonstration of the ability and the will of the RUC to enforce the law effectively and impartially.

I believe it is right to remind the House that one of the main terrorist organisations—namely, the Provisional IRA—is waging war not only with bombs and bullets but with propaganda. One facet of this is a campaign of complaints against the RUC, alleging ill treatment of suspects. I would never condone ill treatment by the police, and I know that this is the Chief Constable's position too. The RUC must act within the law; it is not above it. But I have no doubt that behind many of the claim about police brutality is a concerted campaign to discredit the police and the operation of the rule of law. It is because the RUC is so successful and effective with its detecting, arresting and charging that we have had this campaign.

I should like now to say something about the significant part that the Ulster Defence Regiment has to play in defeating terrorism. If the members of the regiment are to discharge adequately their responsibilities to provide first-line support, it is clear that they must have units available for action at all times. The Government have therefore embarked on a programme to develop the UDR's full-time strength. All full-time members are now liable for operational service and full-time operational platoons are being progressively developed. Our aim is that there should be at least one for each of the 11 battalions. Five are already in operation and a sixth is in the course of formation.

That fulfils the commitment made by my predecessor on 2nd July last year to increase the size of the permanent cadre of the UDR. As hon. Members will recall, I announced on 17th December last that, as a first step, 200 additional full-time members were to be recruited specifically for operational duties. Recruitment is proceeding satisfactorily and we have now authorised recruitment of a further 700, up to a total of 2,500 professionals.

I know from his previous interest that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will be glad to have this confirmed. The official Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance Party have all made representations on this score. We have taken on board the various aspects of security, made in the representations.

We are always alert to deal with gaps in the law and to ensure that it has teeth. We shall soon be debating the Second Reading of the Emergency Provisions (Amendment) Bill, the main provision of which is to double the maximum penalty for membership of a proscribed organisation to 10 years' imprisonment. I am also bringing forward an Order in Council dealing with three other proposals for improving the law in relation to conspiracy, explosives and hoax bombs. Further details will be given by my hon. Friend, the Minister of State in the later debate.

Security policy is more than laws and measures. There is no praise too high for the members of the security forces who every day patiently and courageously face the vicious violence of the terrorist. I know that the GOC and the Chief Constable count themselves fortunate in the men and women under their command, and we owe a particular debt to the reservists. I also pay tribute to those services such as the Prison Service, which carry a particular burden today.

I believe that this policy of selective and intensified effort points the way ahead for the future. It is, of course, necessary to maintain the basic structure of emergency powers. I therefore seek the approval of the House for the continuance of the measures within the emergency provisions legislation, including the power to detain, although, as I have made clear before, I would have recourse to this only as a last resort.

I turn now to the operation of direct rule and to the improvements we are seeking to make in the way it operates. Hon. Members will recall that during the debate on the renewal of direct rule of 2nd July last year it was proposed to remove the limit on the number of sittings that the Northern Ireland Committee could hold in any one parliamentary Session. This was done, and two further sittings are planned before the Summer Recess. We also undertook to facilitate discussion in the Committee of proposals for draft Orders in Council when there was a general wish to do so among hon. Members. We have done this also.

The result has been a significant increase in the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of our proposals for what is, in effect, primary legislation for Northern Ireland. And this scrutiny has been possible at a stage when we could modify our proposals before laying them before the House as draft orders.

Before the Secretary of State passes from that point, perhaps he would wish to place on the record that this opportunity has proved not to be theoretical. As a result of the procedures, very substantial alterations have been made to the draft orders before they have been presented to the House. I thought that the Secretary of State would wish to have that put on the record at this stage.

I watch these orders very carefully, but my hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary dealt with these matters a great deal. We have made substantial progress on the method we have adopted of laying a draft order before hon. Members for consultation before the orders are laid before the House. This has been very helpful to hon. Members from Northern Ireland.

My predecessor also announced in last July's debate that the Government would, in appropriate circumstances, give sympathetic consideration to extending the normal one and a half hours' debate which draft Orders in Council receive on the Floor of the House. The House will be aware that there have indeed been such extended debates on a number of occasions during the present Session— indeed, a total of 20 hours was spent on the debates on five orders, an average of four hours each.

We undertook, too, last year to legislate for Northern Ireland wherever possible by extending the application of Westminster Bills to the Province. This is now a firm policy and we shall continue it wherever this is feasible.

In view of what the Secretary of State has said, would he say that he will bring in immediately the Family Law Reform and Divorce Bill, as advised by the Royal Commission?

The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights has presented a report to me on law reform and homosexuality. I shall give consideration fairly soon to publication of the report and to making a statement alongside publication.

If I may now turn to political and constitutional matters, I should like to emphasise that there should be no misunderstanding about the Government's objective in Northern Ireland. This remains the restoration of a devolved legislative Government. The essential criterion for the successful establishment of such a Government is that it should be widely acceptable in the Province— that is, acceptable to both parts of the community.

As hon. Members will know, at the end of last month I held separate meetings with representatives of the Official Unionist Party, Social Democrat and Labour Party, Alliance Party and the Democratic Unionist Party to discuss both security and constitutional matters. At these meetings I explained to the parties that a fully devolved legislative Government in Northern Ireland remained the goal of the Government, but that we had seen no indication that the parties were yet ready to reach agreement on the form this should take. Some parties, however, showed an interest in continuing the discussion by exploring the desirability of some form of Administration short of full devolution, and this exploration is continuing.

I told all the political parties I met that I was prepared to consider an interim arrangement which would involve the devolution of real power and responsibility, provided that it commanded widespread support from both parts of the community. I can also report the position on another constitutional subject. Hon Members will recall that on 23rd March last my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a firm commitment that we would seek to have the issue of Northern Ireland's representation at Westminster referred to a Speaker's Conference.

Agreement in principle has been reached with the party leaders, and the details will now have to be settled through the usual channels. I would hope, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining stages will have been completed in time for you to be able to begin your work before the House rises for the recess.

Before leaving constitutional issues, I should like to say again that the Government's policy is that, as provided for in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for so long as that is the wish of the majority of its people. Against this background, I believe that the problems are most likely to be solved by our own efforts. There is, therefore, no question of the Government relinquishing their responsibilities in Northern Ireland or of declaring any intention of doing so.

There will shortly be a new Government in Dublin led by Mr. Lynch. I have always kept closely in touch with Irish Ministers because of our range of common interests and I look forward to continuing good relations with Mr. Lynch and his Administration. One vital element in these relations is the recognition that we face a common enemy in terrorism. Whatever their alleged aims, terrorists challenge the authority of Governments and menace the welfare of everyone in both our countries. It is in our interests to work together to defeat them. Cross-border co-operation is therefore of vital importance to us both, and I look forward to developing further within the framework of our policy for Northern Ireland the good progress made over the years.

I now turn to the economy. The Province has suffered from high unemployment and a dependence upon declining industries. I hope that the actions of myself and my colleagues illustrate our determination to try to alleviate short-term difficulties, to try to broaden the industrial base and to regenerate existing undertakings for the long term.

Economic and social progress is as vital a factor in securing stability in Northern Ireland as are security policy and political progress. By providing people with jobs, better housing and good education, we can instill confidence in the future and steadily erode the influence of extremists and men of violence.

My first concern on being appointed was to meet the trade unions and employers' organisations. I attach great importance to partnership with them and consequently look forward to a positive contribution from a new Economic Council.

I have been anxious to push ahead with the appointment of the council, and no doubt hon. Members will share my impatience. However, they will appreciate that the delay has been due to factors outside the Government's control. The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has just recently finalised its policy on the council and let me have its nominations for appointment. I hope to be in a position to get the council under way within the next few weeks.

The Economic Council will be a body outside the Government whose rôle will be to consider the problems of the economy and industry as a whole. I see it as contributing actively to Government thinking on economic matters, advising on policy and originating ideas and proposals.

I aim to attract new investment in growth industries. We have been conducting an aggressive campaign at home and abroad, especially in the United States, to "sell" at better image of Northern Ireland to potential investors. Present and prospective investors in Northern Ireland can be sure of encouragement and help from the Government in maintaining their competitive position. Writing off the deficit of the Northern Ireland electricity service and freezing the main commercial and industrial tariffs has been important in that respect. We are also reviewing, in the light of the Quigley Report, the scope for improving the already substantial investment incentives in the Province.

Two important measures for combating unemployment in Northern Ireland have been the youth employment subsidy and the temporary employment subsidy. Their extension was recently announced by the Minister of State as part of a new £13 million employment package. In view of its important contribution, the selective employment premium has been retained in Northern Ireland, even though its equivalent was ended in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Also, there are schemes and programmes, such as Enterprise Ulster, tailor-made to meet Northern Ireland's own special needs. We have also been concentrating, perhaps more than Great Britain, on training and apprenticeship schemes. Those being trained are being kept off the unemployment register and are being given skills which help to attract potential investors who need a trained work force.

I am particularly concerned about unemployment among young people. Hon. Members will be aware of the announcement yesterday of the Government's plans for dealing with this problem. I have decided that in Northern Ireland the existing schemes for young people should be significantly expanded and developed into a new co-ordinated programme. The new programme will be called the Youth Opportunities Programme for Northern Ireland and will provide some 6,000 training, experience and employment places in a variety of settings but in all cases in an employment-oriented environment. Young men and women admitted to the programme will be paid a standard wage allowance of £18 per week.

The detail of the new programme will take a little time to work out carefully with a variety of interests. Indeed, if the programme as a whole is to succeed, there must be the maximum possible community involvement. I have therefore decided that a basic precept of the programme will be the seeking out and involvement of those in our community who are concerned about young people's economic needs and who can contribute to meeting these needs.

I said earlier that steady progress had been made in Northern Ireland in recent months. I recognise that there are no easy solutions, but equally I know that sustained, determined efforts to deal with terrorism, to promote understanding among Northern Ireland's political leaders and to stimulate the economy are the way forward. These three strands of the Government's policy have a common theme and purpose. It is to give real hope of a stable future in which the people of Northern Ireland can live in peace and work together for the common good. As we work towards that better future, the Government's responsibility is to provide Northern Ireland with impartial, responsive government. In order to discharge our responsibilities, we require the legislation for which I seek renewal today.

I commend these orders to the House.

8.18 p.m.

We welcome both these orders as necessary for the security measures that the Secretary of State must take in Northern Ireland and for the renewal of direct rule for one year from 16th July. We also strongly support his efforts to uphold the rule of law for Northern Ireland and we welcome the figures that he gave of arrests and convictions.

I also welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about a Speaker's Conference on Northern Ireland representation in this House. We look forward to a discussion through the usual channels on the precise terms of reference and membership of that conference. We want to avoid delay so that Mr. Speaker's Conference can begin as soon as possible. We have for many months favoured the inclusion of Northern Ireland representation in the Speaker's Conference, although earlier proposals covered matters affecting the whole of the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) drew attention to this matter on 23rd March. Fortunately, the Government had changed their policy since 1st February, when the Leader of the House rejected any amendment to the Scotland and Wales Bill. Last year about this time the Secretary of State's predecessor declared that to talk of extra representation in this House was to fly in the face of history and cultural attitudes.

I hope that that point of view does not continue, because it has been clear for a long time that the Province is under-represented in this House, and the Conservative Party so stated in its election manifesto. We therefore welcome the Prime Minister's statement on 23rd March when he replied to the debate on the motion of confidence. The situation of the Government at that time, with the collapse of the Scotland and Wales Bill, may explain changes in Government policy in this matter, but it is none the less welcome, and we await the setting up of a conference.

We agree strongly that the interim period should be extended When we debated a similar order last year I referred to the need to make direct rule more sensitive to public feeling, and I believe that the Secretary of State has the same view. We also agree that direct rule is no substitute for a constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland. However, since the end of the Constitutional Convention I have urged the creation of a political forum. It is essential. The initiative should come from Government in consultation with the political parties. I was therefore glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about holding discussions about constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland. If the right, hon. Gentleman is able to reach an agreement on an interim elected body that would give the whole community a proper share in local administration we should like to study the proposals.

We agree that the restoration of a fully devolved legislative system must be acceptable to both communities. Ways must be found of giving back to the people a voice in their own affairs and of giving direct rule a human face. We have found recently that many people in Northern Ireland are in favour of restoring the Queen's representative in Northern Ireland, which could have a unifying effect. The idea needs serious consideration, and when I next see the right hon. Gentleman I should like to talk to him about it.

There is another aspect that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that must be tackled, and that is the matter of Northern Ireland legislation—especially in the form of Orders in Council—that comes before the House. I raised this matter last year and I agree that substantial progress has been made by laying draft Northern Ireland Orders and Bills before the Northern Ireland Committee in the way that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. However, I wonder whether the system could be speeded up. I should like to talk about the possibility of a Select Committee of the House considering Northern Ireland legislation in future. Perhaps the Minister would be prepared to discuss that idea with hon. Members from Northern Ireland.

I am sure that the whole House would agree that the Minister was absolutely right to lay great emphasis on the economic plight of the Province. Clearly the Government now look at the deep-seated problems in Northern Ireland with more sympathy than they did a year or two ago. They are to be congratulated on their attitude and the vigorous attempts at salesmanship that have flowed from it.

During the last year the Northern Ireland Office has exerted itself strongly to stimulate the interest of British and foreign businessmen in the economy of the Province which, as experience shows, can bring rich returns to those who invest. Twice the usual number of trade missions have been sent to various parts of the world. I was pleased with the optimism of the Government, because that is an encouraging sign and they should go on being optimistic. In a recent statement the new American Ambas- sador said that Northern Ireland is an attractive place in which to invest.

Of course, we cannot ignore the rather gloomy note of almost all the surveys on the economy that have been carried out during the last year, or the Quigley Report of last October, which the Secretary of State described as a valuable basis for discussion. The concern for the future that it expressed has been endorsed by other inquiries. The Government have not had much to say about these reports, and I should like to know more about the setting up of the proposed new Economic Council for Northern Ireland, Possibly the Minister will refer to this in his speech at the end of the debate. We have been looking forward for many months to the establishment of this important non-political forum, which has been promised for some time. Can we be given a firm date for an announcement? We hope that after its creation the difficult task of dealing with the structural problems of Northern Ireland's economy can be set in hand.

Throughout the year the Opposition have concentrated on the Government's security policy and the need for a sense of realism. I congratulate the Minister and the security forces on the great progress that has been made. The particular form of guerrilla warfare in Northern Ireland requires a new approach—as I believe the Minister realises, because he responded in his speech on 8th June. We have already announced our support for these measures and wish them every success, but the right hon. Gentleman—as a former Secretary of State for Defence— knows that they will take time and that there is none to be lost.

An offensive by the Provisional IRA is predictable—like the serious ambush of the Light Infantry in Belfast yesterday evening, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The deaths of the two young soldiers, aged 18 and 19, must harden the Government's resolve to succeed in their efforts. We express our deep sorrow to the families of those killed and wish those wounded a speedy recovery.

Meanwhile Parliament must continue to speak up for the security forces, particularly about the conditions of service in the Army and the RAF in Northern Ireland, as well as the Ulster Defence Regiment and the RUC. If soldiers are to face this unpleasant type of service, more consideration should be given to their domestic problems. In the debate of 16th June the Secretary of State announced relief for those serving in Northern Ireland from changes in food and accommodation charges. I shall not go into them in detail but are these measures and the increases under phase 2 sufficient to meet the soaring cost of living in Northern Ireland? We hear of cases of married men advising their wives to return to England because, despite these changes, they cannot afford to stay. I have a case of that sort in my constituency. The Ministry of Defence will come under strong pressure this summer. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is concerned and that he will talk to his colleagues about this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) raised the matter of the allowance of 50p for single men serving in Northern Ireland. This is quite ridiculous, especially when the army on the other side of the border is paid three times as much. Is the 50p subject to tax? I should be pleased if we could be told the answer. The right hon. Gentleman should ask his colleagues about the paltry allowance for the privilege of serving in Northern Ireland and about whether—as my hon. Friend for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) suggested— there should not be more for second and third tours, bearing in mind that some units have done no fewer than seven tours. That is a constructive point, which the Minister might consider.

I should point out to the Opposition spokesman that during the course of the debate the Under-Secretary of State for the Army is taking note of what he is saying.

I am much obliged, and I welcome the Under-Secretary here because in taking note of what I am saying I hope he will take action as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked whether the Ministry of Defence inquiry into pay and conditions, which was mentioned in the debate on 16th June, is still proceeding. I know that this may not be the direct responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office but it should be of grave concern to it. It does little good to overstress some of the anomalies that may exist in pay between the Army and the RAF, the UDR and the RUC, but the Secretary of State must be aware that his success and future reputation may well depend on the well-being and morale of the ordinary private soldiers in Northern Ireland.

If it is the right hon. Gentleman's policy to give the RUC the major rôle in future security operations, he must have regard to the questions of comparability that arise. Often the police take home twice as much pay as the soldiers. I am sure that the Secretary of State is already familiar with such problems. The Government should therefore look urgently at their pay policy, especially as it affects the Armed Forces and the forces in Northern Ireland, because surely no soldier should be financially worse off through serving in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Defence stated, in a Written Answer on Tuesday, that by retaining No. 41 Commando he hopes to alleviate the burden of continuing duty in Northern Ireland. However, if certain Press stories are even partly accurate, there is strong feeling about these matters among the soldiers.

The Minister gave us an important analysis of the security situation and the type of terrorism that is occurring in Northern Ireland today. The struggle in Northern Ireland today is between two communities of extremely unequal size. I put this slightly differently, but it comes to the same thing. There is a small group of terrorists manipulated and controlled by 100 or so godfathers of crime, pitted against the vast majority of the population who wish only for peace, order and reconciliation.

The terrorists have no realitic political cause. The two communities are, therefore, the dedicated unyielding band of subversives led by the "godfathers", without whose removal it will be impossible to restore order, and the law-abiding people of both religions and varying political persuasions. There can be only one outcome. The overwhelming majority must prevail, but they need all the help the Government can give to bring this bloody eight-year marathon to an end.

Victory has to be gained over the murder gangs of the IRA and the Loyalist thugs who are at war with the State. It was because of the great chance presented by what I call "Mason offensive" that I appealed to the media recently to place more emphasis on efficiency and courage and less on understandable mistakes by those in the front line. I did not ask them to ignore breaches of discipline or allegations of brutality, nor did I suggest that they should be political instruments. The Secretary of State was reported on Friday as having defended the right of the media responsibly—and that is the key word—to publish without censorship what happens in Northern Ireland. I agree with what he said. I was seeking to avoid actions by the media that give a propaganda advantage to the terrorists, especially in their present campaign to discredit the police.

We all agree with what the Secretary of State said about the great changes that have taken place in the security situation in the past year. I am glad that the Army is at last to be used in the much more specialised rôle that I have always advocated, with an increased emphasis on SAS operations that have brought results in South Armagh and elsewhere. The need for SAS-type training for those serving in Northern Ireland has been clearly recognised, and we welcome the covert rôle that the Army is to play.

While the Army has been given new duties calling for great skill and resourcefulness, the RUC has taken on greater responsibilities for carrying on the day-to-day campaign against the terrorists. The recent crime figures show that the force is having excellent results and we congratulate the police officers, and especially the Chief Constable, Mr. Newman, on the reorganisation of the force and the more positive rôle given to the RUC Reserve. We also welcome the recruiting figures for the past year.

The Secretary of State has rightly said that the RUC now has the admiration of every police force in Britain. It enhanced its reputation still further during the recent strike by its firm and impartial handling of the situation. It dealt a sharp lesson to all those who regard intimidation as a legitimate tactic in an industrial stoppage. No doubt the Secretary of State will keep us informed about the prosecutions under the Protection of Persons and Property Act 1969 that have resulted from cases of intimidation. On 23rd June, the Under- secretary told us that 40 people had been charged and 110 charges still had to be processed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It was a dispute and, without prejudice to what follows, it is essential for public confidence everywhere that the law be upheld.

The RUC is achieving success at a high cost to itself. So far this year, 13 members of the RUC have been killed and 37 injured. The force is clearly in the front line and we owe it to the officers to keep their equipment and training under constant review in order to minimise casualties as far as possible. We must make sure that they have the most effective weapons to deal with various situations. Other police forces in Great Britain and the Irish Republic have a greater range of weapons than has the RUC.

Is the Ml the right weapon for both urban and rural areas? I know that the Chief Constable requested it—I had the pleasure of talking to him about it—but I should not like to confront terrorists with the latest automatic rifles armed only with an Ml. The right weapons for one situation may be unsuitable in another situation. The RUC must also be able to rely on vehicles being supplied promptly when they are needed. This is not always the case at present. Workers at British Leyland should be encouraged to recognise that they can assist the cause of liberation in Northern Ireland by quicker delivery of these vehicles. I hope that the Government will draw attention to that fact.

Finally, the RUC should be spared unnecessary criticism from politicians in Northern Ireland. Recent statements by the SDLP have been disappointing. The great majority of Catholics wish to see the RUC going from strength to strength, and I hope that voice will be given to that desire. Every encouragement ought to be given to young men to join the security forces, particularly the RUC, which continues to have a good level of recruitment.

We support the right hon. Gentleman in his statement on detention. We continue to support the Government in their decision to retain the power of detention, as a last resort but, like them we are in no way committed to its reintroduction. This is a bipartisan matter.

The work of the UDR requires recognition and thanks. It is showing great courage in this difficult time, but its position is not entirely free from difficulty. Like the RUC, the UDR has not been given the backing it deserves in some quarters. Some elaboration of its position when asked to support the RUC is required. In riots, for instance, the UDR could become involved in civil action.

The UDR should also seek to encourage the recruitment of Catholics in ever-larger numbers. I welcome what the Secretary of State said about the full-time establishment of the UDR being increased to 2,500. That, in itself, is a good reason for encouraging Catholic recruitment. The enlargement of the force also makes it imperative to clear up the uncertain legal position when the UDR is called to help out in a civil commotion. I know that the Government are well aware of this point.

I agree with what the Secretary of State said about the formation of Mr. Lynch's Government. We look forward to talks with Mr. Lynch and his Ministers because there is a great need for cross-border co-operation to continue, and, indeed, for co-operation in other areas, too.

In praising the Secretary of State recently, I said that the loss of life, the injuries and the reckless destruction in Northern Ireland are intolerable in a free society. Even hospitals are not exempt, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take action about the situation at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. We have had considerable correspondence on this point recently.

I am certain that, if correctly deployed, the security forces can inflict defeat on the terrorists during the next few months. But the security policy must be even handed. The RUC has not received sufficient credit for the conviction of prominent members of the UVF.

Let the Secretary of State get ready for a real drive against the terrorists and the whole community will back him. The only national interest that matters to us all is to see that the people of the Province are liberated from the fear of murder and to promote an air of reconciliation and calm.

8.30 p.m.

The renewal of these two orders provides an opportunity to take stock of the progress—or lack of progress—since the last occasion on which the House engaged in such an exercise.

The period since 17th December 1976, when we last renewed these orders, has not been uneventful. In the early months of this year, there was a campaign of brutal murder against the security forces, whose successes alarmed the terrorists and other gangsters to such an extent that the terrorists felt that they must counter the effectiveness of the measures taken against them. They acted in a cowardly fashion against the RUC, the RUC Reserve and the UDR. They did their best to deter those citizens from discharging the duties that they had willingly accepted. Not for the first time, the gunmen miscalculated and misjudged the men that they were trying to intimidate. That was borne out on another occasion.

As in constitutional matters, the thugs have succeeded in achieving the opposite of what they intended. They are now being hunted and hounded more than ever before. If they were possessed with any power of reasoning they would see that they are not only failing but that they and their allies are ensuring that the political and military results of their struggles will be even more unacceptable than before.

For us the lesson of the last few months is that there can be no substitute for concentration is rather more than assembling jectives. As a principle of war, that concentration is rather more than assembling the correct forces in the correct place at the correct time. It is also the art of ensuring that the directing brains are focused on the right objectives and, having been focused on those objectives, are not distracted by alternatives, however inviting they might appear to be from time to time.

One such objective has been the increase in the full-time element of the UDR. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are delighted that the Under Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is present. We appreciate and acknowledge all the efforts that he and his Department have made to bring about an increase in the full-time element. However, we are tempted to ask why it has taken so long to implment a decision that was first announced exactly one year ago. If we display a little impatience in these matters it is because the Government appear to be dragging their feet and to be reluctant to implement decisions that have already been made. That gives encouragement to terrorists and to all manner of evil-doers, because they are not convinced of the earnestness of the Government's intentions. It is difficult to justify that passage of a whole year.

We are pleased that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Defence have decided to raise their sights and increase still further the establishment of the full-time element in the UDR. My hon. Friends urge both Ministers to heed the pleas that we have made in the past to speed up and streamline the vetting procedures without lowering standards but ensuring that there is no undue delay in permitting responsible and reliable citizens to play their full part in restoring and maintaining the Queen's peace in Northern Ireland.

We agree with the official Opposition about the introduction of the special anti-terrorist units. I know that it is too easy to belittle their achievements, for the simple reason that little can be said of their successes. Improvements have been evident in certain areas in Northern Ireland. These speak for themselves. We shall certainly support any extension of the deployment of such units, which have proved themselves to be more than a match for the terrorists.

In the debate on 17th December I suggested that we ought to try to create a new attitude among the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that we can point to indications that this is now coming about. There is a new determination to return to a more normal pattern of life. There is a positive discouragement of all forms of law-breaking. There is freer movement and the opening up of town centres, which earlier—through rather misguided efforts—were becoming lifeless and foresaken; exactly the state of affairs which the terrorists and gangsters wanted.

Curiously enough—I am sorry to have to strike a critical note—it is certain elements of the security forces which seem to be slow to respond to this change of mood. They seem to find difficulty in breaking out of what is known as a siege mentality. One sometimes cannot help feeling that they are a little inflexible in their approach.

The Minister will not be surprised if I draw attention to a favourite topic—the security arrangements at Aldergrove Airport. I confess that I always shudder when I receive from the Minister of State a written assurance that everything possible will be done to reduce inconvenience to a minimum. I received one such letter recently and, frankly, when I came to that point where he announced that he was setting in train a new operating procedure to reduce delays I shuddered again. Sure enough, on Monday I had a report from a constituent, Councillor William Bell, a member of the Belfast City Council, who was chosen to represent the city council at a conference in Scarborough.

At noon on Monday 27th June, he was being driven to the airport by his wife. In the car were their two small children aged 1 and 3. On arrival at the checkpoint, or what was grandly called "the surveillance point", he was pulled in and asked whether he would object to his car being searched. Being a law-abiding citizen he agreed to co-operate. Except for his own baggage the car was thoroughly searched. The services of a sniffer dog were called in. The search seemed to all intents and purposes to be thoroughly satisfactory. Then the mystery began and he was told that he could not proceed into the airport terminal with or without his car.

No reason was given. Councillor Bell was detained for 45 minutes. He was released two minutes before his flight was due to leave for Leeds. Not unnaturally he missed the flight. Due to the restricted accommodation at the airport and the fact that his young children were becoming somewhat restless he drove out of the airport, stopped at the checkpoint and asked "Can I have an assurance that I will be spared this procedure when I return to catch the next flight later this evening?" No such assurance could be given. To this day he still does not know the reason for this.

The Minister of State has had personal experience of this, so what I have said will not come entirely as a surprise to him. I have no doubt that in the course of the next week or so Councillor Bell and I will once again receive apologies and assurances that this kind of thing will not happen again. We shall accept those assurances until these things do happen again. I suggest that a bit of common sense would greatly improve matters. It would not be beyond the facilities and abilities of the security forces to get in touch with the nearest police station to check the identity of such people. It is hardly likely that a traveller of this kind would be coming for the purpose of planting a bomb at the terminal and then seeking to escape with a wife and two children across open country in broad daylight.

Our half-day debate on 23rd February was followed by our meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence. This, taken together with the arrangements announced by the Lord President on 23rd March, provided improvements in discussions on security measures which led to the announcement by the Secretary of State on 8th June.

At this stage I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Members for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) for the important part that they have played in concentrating attention on specific remedies and spotlighting weaknesses in the security set-up. What one might call our tripartite efforts have produced results. More progress has been made in the past six months than in any comparable period.

We recognise that there will be setbacks and that, faced as we are with unscrupulous criminals, valuable and innocent lives will yet be lost. We share the regret expressed in the House this evening at the tragic murder of the two young soldiers in West Belfast yesterday. We join the hon. Member for Abingdon in expressing our sympathy to their families.

There can be no room for complacency. There must be very close scrutiny of these latest measures and no reluctance to examine and implement new methods if those are considered necessary. Now that a firmer lead has been given, the general public have an obligation to back up members of the security forces who are running enormous risks on behalf of our citizens. Those of us who are elected representatives and who are to some extent influencing events have a very heavy responsibility, because we can no longer claim a moral right to bargain over lives or withhold support from the security forces, which have clearly demonstrated the will and determination to stamp out terrorism in all its forms.

Turning to the Interim Period Extension Order, we have to look back over a period of a year since the last renewal of what is not very accurately described as direct rule. We must say that the improvements in the processing of Northern Ireland legislation represents a considerable advance. For example, under the former unmodified system it would not have been possible to scrutinise and amend the proposals for the compensation for criminal injuries, which are due to be considered tomorrow The advantage to Northern Ireland would be even greater if all the Northern Ireland Members attended and participated, particularly in the rather humdrum Committee work and in the task of ensuring that no opportunity is missed to improve the lot of those who sen them to this House. We can promise them no banner headlines, but they would share with us the satisfaction of at least having discharged their plain duty.

We do not deny that so-called direct rule has many shortcomings. We have evidence of one today. The Secretary of State and the Lord President will confirm that together with them I negotiated over the past five weeks to make sure that these debates today and tomorrow were arranged so as to provide maximum benefit for the people whom we represent. Unfortunately, the arrangements have been to some extent up-ended by certain other developments today. I do not suggest that that is the fault of either right hon. Gentlemen, but it seemed ludicrous that we had these very important items —the most important items in the calendar of Northern Ireland legislation— thrust aside. The BBC spoke this morning of normal business being set aside, but that on which we are engaged tonight is not normal business.

We are providing, I hope, for the continuing good government of Northern Ireland for another year. This is not a matter that should be brushed aside or forgotten. Northern Ireland takes second place to another topic on another occasion I hope that it will be a topic on which there will be a decision and perhaps a vote.

The complaint is often made to me that Parliament feels itself burdened by Northern Ireland legislation, but Parliament must remember that it is a self-imposed burden. I was one of the few hon. Members who voted against that imposition in 1972. Looking around the Chamber I see that there are many absentees from the ranks of the enthusiasts for that imposition, and one wonders what has become of them.

I share the regret of our party colleagues at home that a return to full devolved government in Northern Ireland remains conditional on the acceptance of arrangements which our own electorate would instantly repudiate. We have never accepted that such insistence on exotic structures could be justified.

If the parties in this country are sincere in wanting a return to full devolved government in Northern Ireland, they in turn must be realistic and show a willingness to work for a design which is not altogether different from the Westminster model.

The Secretary of State has given a full account of the discussions that he has had with separate parties in Northern Ireland. There would appear to be general agreement about the need for a level of government above that which exists at district council level. There also appears to be some agreement on the need for democratic control of the area boards. Certainly there is throughout the country and in the ranks of non-political people widespread support for an elected tier to supervise and administer the functions of government which affect people most in their everyday lives. The Secretary of State has confirmed that such a structure would not in any way prejudice the addition of a legislative tier at a later stage, and has referred to the subject of the present discussions as an interim structure.

That clearly indicates that what is being proposed is a first and fairly long step on the road to devolution for Northern Ireland. His assurances should remove the fears that the acceptance of such a limited Assembly would obstruct at some future stage full devolution and, secondly, that it would mean an unnecessary layer of government. In short, the intention as I see it would appear to be to give Northern Ireland something akin to that which already exists in Great Britain. That we welcome. I cannot for the life of me see what Ulster politician would wish—or dare—to object to such a concept.

My earlier mention of the Westminster model reminds me of the topic of representation for Northern Ireland here at Westminster. We were greatly encouraged tonight by what the Secretary of State said and by the terms of the letter which I received from the Prime Minister to-day setting out the terms of reference for a Speaker's Conference. But there seems to be some element of confusion, because in a letter to me yesterday the Leader of the Opposition said:
"I have today confirmed our agreement with the terms of reference which are now proposed."
So I would have thought that we were over that hurdle. I do not see what remaining details can possibly be holding up the operation, and I hope that before we finish tonight we may have an explanation of that point.

Again, there is the unfortunate impression that there has been a dragging of feet. It seems a long time since the Prime Minister and the Lord President announced and committed the Government in principle to full representation for Northern Ireland. That was on 23rd March. One can understand that it might not be entirely within the hands of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but he is in good company tonight, and I hope that being in such company he will take steps to ensure that the pledge which he gave on the summoning of the Speaker's Conference before the recess will be assured and that there will be no slippage at any stage.

We are grateful to the leaders of the other parties for their co-operation. We appreciate the way in which they have facilitated us in giving their consent to the idea of a special Speaker's Conference to deal with Northern Ireland representation only. However, I return to the reasons for haste and the reasons for giving such convincing evidence of the Government's intentions.

In the absence of any real evidence of action, we play into the hands of those who for personal advantage belittle the decision and thereby deliberately create suspicion and distrust. It is not in the Government's interest that that should continue. As I have said, any delay in the implementation of security decisions encourages the terrorists and those in the independence lobby in Northern Ireland to believe that Her Majesty's Government and Parliament are somewhat reluctant wholeheartedly to oppose attempts to detach Northern Ireland from the rest of the kingdom.

This is the fifth time that the House is being invited to renew in one form or another what is inappropriately called an interim period order. I have come to the conclusion that six years is long enough for the annual extention of what, way back in 1972, was considered to be a temporary arrangement. I have to tell the House solemnly that I shall not be prepared to support the renewal in its present form, if renewal is necessary, when we come to June or July 1978.

In the next few months those who have obstructed the return of normal government and normal structures of government to Northern Ireland must be brought face to face with reality. If by the end of this year the way is not clear, if there is still no hope of even a start on devolution, the alternative must be faced. At that point preparations must begin to apply to Northern Ireland institutions that exist already for the government of Great Britain. It would not be our first choice, but in our opinion it would be vastly preferable to drift and uncertainty.

Finally, I must encourage the Secretary of State to persevere, to increase the momentum, to exploit every success and to seek to do all in his power to deliver the goods, especially in the political and security spheres. The people of the Province have already had far too many elections, for all the good that they have done. They will not wish to throw back into the melting pot instruments fashioned to improve their lot. They will be in no great hurry to interrupt progress in the political and security spheres, provided that such progress is real and genuine.

8.54 p.m.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has told us of the painstaking negotiations that he has had with Government Ministers to have the Northern Ireland debates this evening and tomorrow and how the whole schedule was thrown out of gear by the debate on the Grunwick dispute. That is something that should not surprise the hon. Gentleman.

The attendance in the Chamber this evening gives an indication that Northern Ireland and its problems are considered to be peripheral by Westminster Members of Parliament. I cannot foresee any change. Whatever Government may be in power, whether they be a Socialist Government such as I now support or a Conservative Government, it will always be the fact that there is a decided disinterest. I do not say that it is malicious. I do not say that United Kingdom hon. Members are being malicious in having no interest in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is situated geographically on the island of Ireland and is no part of the land mass of Great Britain. Therefore, it is understandable that hon. Members representing United Kingdom constituencies should not be terribly concerned about it.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt first with the emergency provisions orders. I have made it clear throughout all the times that we have had enactments of these provisions that I do not believe that the introduction of such legislation will of necessity bring peace to the island of Ireland. Of course, they may be necessary. I should be the last to condemn every facet of this emergency legislation. On the other hand, I have strong reservations about its implementation, because there would seem to be a search for a military solution to the almost total exclusion of a political solution as the only hope of bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the security forces in Northern Ireland. I recognise that every country in the world pays great respect to its Army. The United Kingdom will not take lightly to criticism of the Army, particularly as it is operating now in Northern Ireland.

I have repeatedly said on the Floor of the House that the Army is a necessity in Northern Ireland. I do not want the Army to be withdrawn. It would bring about a catastrophe in Northern Ireland if it were withdrawn. However, as an Irishman I hope to live to see the day—in the short or the long term—when it will be unnecessary for the British Army to patrol the streets of my native Belfast.

I bitterly resent what hapened in Belfast yesterday afternoon when two 18-year-old soldiers, within 24 or 48 hours of arrival in that city, met their deaths. I have no hesitation in condemning, with all the vehemence at my command, the murderers who were guilty of killing those two young soldiers. Let not my stand be taken as in any way ambiguous or unequivocal. I do not support killing whether by the British Army, the IRA or the so-called freedom forces. Those two deaths yesterday, just like the thousands that have taken place over the past seven years, were completely unnecessary.

During the past few weeks and days a great controversy has been raging in the United Kingdom about Guardsman Holdsworth of the Coldstream Guards, who was charged with having committed an attempted rape on a young girl in Britain. However the court's decision was arrived at, the result was that he received a suspended sentence. The judge said that the reason for that decision was that the soldier had a career to look forward to in the Army.

I support all the criticisms that have been made in this House and throughout the United Kingdom about that decision. That young soldier should have suffered the full penalty of the law for the crime that he committed. I think that I would have the support of all liberal thinking people for that view. Indeed, I have the support of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, who said that he had no time for people who commit such crimes.

However, I cannot forget that five soldiers of the British Army serving in Northern Ireland were convicted of rape —not attempted rape—and were allowed to go away with suspended sentences. The magistrates in the case said that they were allowing them to go free because they had careers to look forward to in the Army.

If it is wrong—and it is—for a soldier to be given a suspended sentence for an attempted rape in Britain, it is equally wrong for five soldiers found guilty of rape in Northern Ireland to be set free on the same ground. It was sometime last year when the case of the five soldiers was reported in the local Press. The case was heard at Downpatrick. Many people resented what happened. Indeed, I spoke to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army at the time about the bitter feelings of resentment in the area. The months which have passed since then have alleviated the feelings of bitterness, but the reporting of the case in England has resurrected them. Where a soldier of the British Army has been found guilty of misconduct the Army should have no hesitation in pointing out this fact, and disciplinary action should be taken as necessary.

I heard yesterday that sometime before the end of July, before the recess, four or five mothers will be coming in a deputation to this House. Each of them is the mother of an innocent person who has been shot by the British Army in Northern Ireland. There is a Mrs. Normey, one of my constituents, and a Mrs. McCooey, also one of my constituents. There is a Mrs. McIlhone from Tyrone. There will also be a mother and father from Armagh and, I believe, one other person.

These are cases in which it has been proved conclusively that a soldier in the British Army, whatever reasons may have been given, was responsible for the killing of innocent people. The courts have subsequently proved the victims to have been innocent, but not one of the soldiers has been disciplined in any way for carrying out the killings. An excuse has always been found—for example, that they heard a shot and thought it came from "over there". In one case a 12-year-old schoolgirl was shot on her way to confession.

The members of the British Army responsible for killing Leo Normey were subsequently found guilty by Northern Ireland courts of planting evidence on persons in order to get them sentenced to terms of imprisonment. This is not only bad for the Army, bad for Britain and bad for Northern Ireland. It will in no way help to bring about confidence in the activities of British military personnel in Northern Ireland.

I know that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) can say that these are only a few cases compared with the number of soldiers who have been killed. I hope he will not say that. I hope that he will agree with me. I am stating once again my convictions that the British Army is necessary in Northern Ireland, and I am not attempting to condemn every soldier, but where the soldiers are worthy of condemnation. I have no hesitation in condemning them. I will defend to the uttermost here the lives of my constituents.

There was a reference by the hon. Member for Abingdon to the threat which has been issued to the Royal Victoria Hospital. I condemn this with some vehemence, because this hospital has done its utmost in the most difficult conditions to try to restore life and limb to many soldiers and to thousands of people who have been victims of the campaign of violence in Northern Ireland. It was in that hospital that the surgeons amputated the limbs of the two young girls who were blown up in the Abercorn disaster. People of all religions have been brought to it for treatment and it has tried in every merciful way to relieve their distress and suffering.

If the IRA is attempting to take over that institution, which has tried to help so many people in the past, irrespective of religion or political belief, every possible action should be taken in order to prevent the IRA from taking it over. I have no hesitation in saying this.

I have justly criticised the Army and the security forces, but I do not hesitate to level the criticism at the RUC. This criticism is levelled not at Englishmen, Welshmen or Scotsmen but at my own fellow countrymen in the RUC, even at people from my own city.

The RUC has lost many people since the outrages began in Northern Ireland. My own political party, from myself down to the member who has just joined, has always been consistent. Where the RUC was attempting to track down people who were guilty of murder, violence, hi-jacking or other terrorist activities, we have unhesitatingly given it our support, provided that it was carrying out its duties in an impartial way. But given the history of the Northern Ireland State, which has been under the control of the Unionist Party for 50 years—it has been almost a one-party State—it is understandable, to say the least, that there would be some suspicions about the impartiality of the RUC. We have come a long way in trying to take steps to make the police force acceptable throughout every area of Northern Ireland.

However, I must repeat that for the first time—and I was born and reared in Northern Ireland—I have been able to look at my television set, read the newspapers and commend the RUC for its impartiality, especially in regard to the strike led by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Paisley), who is conveniently absent from this debate. I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would take this opportunity to come here to justify what he tried to do during the course of that strike. It was not an industrial strike. It had nothing to do with wages and conditions of workers. It was an attempt to subvert the auhority of this Government.

However, the RUC carried out its duties in an impartial manner. I have no hesitation in saying that. But some Provisional and Official IRA men, and some other people, will never accept any police force and will never support me under any circumstances when I say that the RUC is acting in an impartial way. There is that type of person in Northern Ireland society today. But those people and their opinions do not intimidate me. If I believe that the RUC is entitled to be commended, I shall have no hesitation in doing so.

I believe that the RUC recently did very well in bringing before the courts the persons charged with a series of atrocious murders in the North and West Belfast areas. I had to attend the funerals because I knew almost every one of the people involved. Both the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) and I attended the funerals. As we were walking behind the cortege, the undercurrent of discussion among people whom I suspect of being IRA men was that the SAS had committed those murders. Some of the relatives of the murdered victims said that the RUC did not care as long as it was Catholics who had been murdered.

Those people were not being anti-RUC. It was their honest-to-God feeling that not enough was being done to apprehend those responsible for the murders. I told those people that I did not believe that. I told them that I felt the RUC was trying to help them. I stand here tonight and commend the RUC for doing that. If in the coming days and weeks the RUC continues to act in that way I shall have no hesitation in commending it, be it in Belfast or wherever else. I shall say it even though some people will say "Gerry Fitt has sold out and has almost become a Loyalist".

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the people who were murdered in North and West Belfast were Protestants as well as Catholics? I am sorry to introduce religion into it.

There were 11 murders, of which nine were Catholic and two Protestant. I, too, regret that it is necessary to refer to religion in this context.

My own party has issued a statement, and I have led a deputation to the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland. We have voiced our suspicions on several aspects. First, there are a number of rumours— perhaps more than rumours—which I should like to have substantiated or otherwise, emerging from the RUC station in Cookstown where it is alleged that many people are being ill-treated and that brutality is being meted out. The same allegations are being made about suspects who are being interrogated at Castlereagh. These allegations can only help the terrorists. They are the only people who gain from them. I have no hesitation in saying—and a statement was issued yesterday morning by my colleagues which also recognised—that some of these allegations are being made maliciously with the intention of damaging the credibility of the RUC.

But there are a sufficient number of these cases—and I have spoken to the individuals concerned—to lead me to believe that there is a strong argument for investigating them. Last week, for example, in a Northern Ireland court, two IRA men were brought before the court and charged with the murder of another IRA man. I believe that they were two Provisionals, and the charge was that they murdered an Official IRA man. They live in the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast North. They had signed statements to the effect that they were guilty of murder. Their statements were read to the court. The judge, Lord Justice Jones, a former Unionist Member at Stormont who could not be classified as a supporter of the IRA, or of the minority, or of the SDLP, said after hearing the evidence that there was sufficient room for doubt in the case and that he would not convict because of the allegations of brutality which had been made.

People are now being acquitted because judges in Northern Ireland are not prepared to accept admissions which have been made to the police. That can only help the terrorists. If people have been beaten into a state of mind where they are prepared to sign confessions when they are innocent, that is atrocious and it should be condemned by every Member of this Parliament.

But if I were a member of the IRA, if I had any command or was one of the Godfathers referred to by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), I would hold a seminar and tell all my terrorists "Once you are brought into Castlereagh, say anything. Then go before the court and say that you were beaten into submission in order to say that." That would defeat justice in Northern Ireland. It would be simple for the terrorists to bring about a position where no one believed any statement or confession signed by a guilty person.

It is not me at this point who is criticising the RUC. It is Northern Ireland's courts and judges. I remember the hon. Member for Abingdon, to use the Belfast vernacular almost "doing his nut" at a television programme when a Mr. O'Conner was given a long interview on BBC2 in which he made a series of allegations against the RUC. Everyone shouted "Unfair", "Close down the BBC" "They are all Republicans there", and "Look at the unjust publicity he is getting". Surely the RUC could have completed its inquiries into the allegations made on that occasion so that we had a result one way or the other. The police did not appear on that programme. They said that they were carrying out investigations into the allegations. But surely they had sufficient time to come up with an answer one way or the other. They should have put forward a reply to the serious allegations that were being made.

Then, on the subject of recruitment to the RUC, in the south of Belfast we do not have a problem with the RUC Reserve. I can only go on what some of my SDLP colleagues who represent rural areas tell me. They have the greatest suspicion about members of the RUC Reserve. If recruits are being sought for the RUC and the RUC Reserve, I urge the Minister to apply the strictest possible standards to those who are candidates for entry into these forces. If there is any doubt about the character or calibre of the recruits, it can only reflect discredit on the force. One can see what has happened already to the security force known as the UDR. Many members of that force have been brought before the courts and charged with the most vile things.

Let us move from the security situation and consider the order which extends the period of direct rule. The most important thing that has been said about the order was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, South in his closing remarks. He said in clear, unequivocal terms that he would not be prepared this time next year to endorse the prolongation of this legislation. That does not surprise me one little bit. We all know that he and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) do not want devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. They want something that will lead to the total integration of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

One has only to read Press reports which show that the right hon. Member for Down, South said at one meeting that he wanted some form of GLC-type administration and then at another meeting of the Unionist establishment said that he did not want that and wanted something else. His two speeches succeeded in confusing his Unionist audience—and that is not the most difficult thing to do in Northern Ireland.

I believe that the path to total integration of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom is fraught with difficulties and is very dangerous. Different peoples cannot be integrated. The history of relations between Ireland and England should warn the Government here to be very wary of any attempts to foist upon them ideas being put forward by certain Unionist representatives. These ideas are not being put forward by all Unionists. I do not apply my strictures to the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder).

Is the hon. Member saying that the people of Northern Ireland should be denied local government as it is enjoyed in Great Britain?

Yes. I have no hesitation in saying that. The whole history of Northern Ireland shows it, and the present outbreak of troubles was brought about by what happened in local government in the Province. The Scarman Report showed very clearly that local authorities were operating in an unfair way.

Does the hon. Member disapprove of the existing district councils, and does he wish to abolish them?

The existing district councils have been denuded of any importance in the functions that were given to them. I am not criticising the councils; I am a member of one of them. I bitterly oppose any attempt to restore functions to the district councils in Northern Ireland and I think that such an attempt is being made in an underhand way.

We hear a lot in Northern Ireland about the so-called Molyneaux plan. I think that that plan is notable by its absence. I do not think that the hon. Member for Antrim, South even knows what sort of a plan he is trying to put forward. We do not know what sort of administration he wants. Does he want a GLC-type administration? Does he want a one-tier system? Does he want to combine several areas together?

The reason why I have not spelt out the nuts and bolts is that it would be taken as the Official Unionist plan. It would be far better for the Secretary of State to take the initiative and to invite parties to contribute their views and for the Secretary of State to jog those parties to reach the ultimate objective. But I believe that it would be wrong for me, as an Official Unionist, to present a blueprint which other people would regard as being foisted upon them.

I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to tell the House that he has not engaged in any conspiracy with the hon. Member for Antrim, South in foisting on the people some kind of local government agency, because that is what has been said. I think that the apology given to the House will cause more concern in Northern Ireland than if the hon. Member for Antrim, South had not intervened at all.

I have my reservations about the setting up of a Speaker's Conference. I do not believe that one can seek closer ties with the United Kingdom and at the same time reject ties with those who live on the island of Ireland. It is a geographical reality that the six counties of Northern Ireland are on the island of Ireland, but we must remember that there is no Stormont and no forum in Northern Ireland. We know that there have been devolution debates in this House, and we also know that there will be no diminution in the number of hon. Members coming from Scotland to this House to represent their constituents. Nobody knows what will be the end of these debates. Speaking on behalf of my party, I wish that the idea of a Speaker's Conference had never been mooted. But if there is a Speaker's Conference we should like to avail ourselves of any opportunity to put forward the point of view of those who need representation in Northern Ireland.

I repeat my hope that there will not be a Speaker's Conference. I do not believe that one can set up such a conference with the intention of creating more seats at Westminster to the exclusion of trying to take steps to bring about devolved government in Northern Ireland. I believe that the creation of political structures in Northern Ireland, with the support of both the majority and the minority communities, is far more important than the granting of more seats at Westminster. If we were to be given four more seats in this House, two seats on one side and two on the other, or even if we were to be given anothed six Westminster seats, would it make any significant difference to happenings in Northern Ireland? We want locally-elected members sitting in Parliament in Northern Ireland and having behind them the support of the whole community.

The Secretary of State did not have a great deal of time to devote to the most important aspect of the situation in Northern Ireland—namely, the economy. It is almost taken for granted that Northern Ireland always has a 10 per cent. or 12 per cent. unemployment rate. My party has recently been in touch with the Secretary of State and told him that within a month there will probably be 10,000 young people under the age of 21 who will be unemployed in Northern Ireland. If that is not a recipe for frustra- tion, despair, distress and ultimately for the staging of violence, I do not know what is.

The Secretary of State also said that he was prepared, in conformity with statements in the House yesterday, to take steps to alleviate the plight of the young people in Northern Ireland. I do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman on this score, but when he says that young people will be given £18 while they are unemployed I must remind him of the many old-age pensioners in Northern Ireland who have worked all their lives to create some kind of society in Northern Ireland and who will not be receiving such sums of money. I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman, but I am pointing out that those old people are entitled to some consideration.

The hon. Member for Abingdon referred to the Quigley Report. That report was welcomed—if one can welcome a report which carries such depressing news about Northern Ireland. At least it highlighted the extent of the problem, and we were told that action was to be taken immediately. Eight months later, I must say that I have not seen much action on that report. As the Secretary of State has rightly said, by far and away the most important problem facing Northern Ireland is of unemployment. Immediate steps should be taken to discuss all the issues that were raised by publication of the Quigley Report.

I know that many of the problems that affect Northern Ireland are unique to that part of the United Kingdom, and we shall have an opportunity later this evening and early tomorrow morning of discussing them in greater detail, particularly during debate on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order. I urge the Secretary of State, in discussing the security of members of the security forces—whether the Army, the UDR or the RUC—to understand that reservations are held about the security forces. They are not held maliciously. Nobody deliberately wants to be anti the security forces, but those suspicions should be examined and taken for what they are—that is, an honest attempt to create a society in Northern Ireland in which it will be unnecessary to have security forces present in such large numbers.

9.26 p.m.

I must confess at the outset that I find it rather difficult to follow the rather tortuous thinking of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I do not want to be unkind to him in any way, because I have great respect for the courage that he has shown and because I have no doubt about his sincerity in wishing to improve the political situation in Northern Ireland and to bring greater stability to that Province. I hope that he will take these comments in the spirit that they are offered.

As I listened to the hon. Member to-night I could not help feeling that he protested too much. He may have good reasons for putting the emphasis on protest, but in the situation in which we now live our duty is to be wholeheartedy in our support of the forces of law and order. It is also our duty to support the institutions of State as best we can, no matter what the defects may be. That is not to say that we should not criticise. It is our duty as elected representatives to criticise.

However, I thought as I listened to the hon. Member for Belfast, West that his protest against the actions of a small minority in the security forces—whether it be the Army, the RUC or the UDR — far outweighed the other aspects of his speech. There is no hon. Member on either side of the House who will say that a soldier or policeman never makes a mistake. However, we should be united in paying tribute to the gallant men in all the security forces for their courage and steadfastness in doing what must be the most difficult job in the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall be able to enlist the hon. Member for Belfast, West in building up a growing respect for those who serve the community so well.

On this annual occasion I feel that we are perhaps being too glib in our approach. This is not an occasion from which we can draw satisfaction. It is an occasion of failure. We are renewing a system of government that cannot in any way be described as democratic, or as fitting in with the concept of British parliamentary democracy. Of course, one can say that the situation is such that there is nothing else left open to us, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has said this is the fifth or sixth occasion upon which we have renewed this legislation.

This is not good enough. I agree that this time next year the Northern Ireland representatives should have grave reservations about renewing the order. I believe that a devolved legislature and Government is of the utmost importance and the first priority in Northern Ireland, and I am disappointed that we are now further from that than we were a year ago. If we are unable to make progress towards devolution we must, in the interests of the Province, look at some other way of injecting stability. That is not to say that I shall give up my endeavours to get a devolved parliamentary institution as quickly as possible, but the Government can no longer expect us to rubber-stamp their inability to provide proper democratic government in Northern Ireland.

The window-dressing to make direct rule more acceptable is nothing but a palliative. It does nothing to disguise or diminish the horrible truth that Northern Ireland does not enjoy democratic government in the fullest sense of the word.

Our efforts must be directed towards putting that right. We have a duty in this respect, but the main responsibility lies with the Government, and I have not seen the same sort of lack of decisiveness in their approach to government in other parts of the United Kingdom, though so far their successes have not been impressive in those regions, either. However, they have at least grasped the nettle and it is now their duty to create a framework for positive development in Northern Ireland, preferably with a devolved legislature and Government. This is the key to all our problems. It would end the uncertainty that hampers and hinders the restoration of peace, law and order, economic growth and social advance.

I do not believe that there is an interim stage that will carry us over the uncertainty that is doing so much harm to our Province constitutionally, economically and socially. I do not see any other form that will bring about the reconciliation that is so urgently needed.

I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, South, that it is unrealistic to say that one is committed to a form of parliamentary devolution and then to set unrealistic terms of reference. We want reconciliation and institutions of government that are acceptable and that enjoy the confidence of the whole community. Anyone who seeks to achieve that by setting aside the normal rules of democracy is a fool. We shall get nowhere if we keep evading this reality.

I find it irritating when hon. Members rise in great indignation to insist that majority rule is the key to parliamentary democracy, when, in the context of Northern Ireland, their enthusiasm is in exactly the opposite direction. That is no way to make progress in Northern Ireland.

I suggest that the Secretary of State should take into account the great body of information that is available and apply his mind to establishing a suitable form of parliamentary devolution for Northern Ireland. The only thing that is open to doubt is whether a step towards a devolved Parliament is likely to bring about increased opportunity for peace and stability, or otherwise. It is only a question of time. It is not a question of what has to be done, or how it has to be done. The problem is to do it in a way that will bring confidence to the community, increase the hope for peace and bring stability to that beleaguered people.

I believe that it can be done. However, it cannot be done if we simply leave a vacuum on the ground. Politicians are not saints. One of our weaknesses is that we are at our most defective when we do not have to carry the burden of responsibility. If we are to get the best out of Ulster politicians, or out of politicians anywhere, it must be in the context of responsibility for what they do and say. Therefore, the Government's policy in the next year must reflect that it has faced up to the challenge. They must invite the politicians of Northern Ireland to share in a positive way the responsibility of making progress towards devolution. I hope that we shall not have to wait too long to hear from the Government about that matter.

My regret is that the approach to devolution in the United Kingdom has involved tattered bits and pieces. The strength of the United Kingdom would be better served if we had similar forms of government throughout the kingdom. That is perhaps being idealistic.

Northern Ireland cannot wait for politicians to sort out the United Kingdom picture as a whole. I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind that anything that he shapes for the better government of Northern Ireland should be capable of fitting into a pattern of devolved institutions throughout the United Kingdom. I believe that one day that will happen. I hope that Northern Ireland's form of government in the near future will be compatible with that which exists in the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall have the same standards of democracy rather than the double talk in the White Paper on direct elections to Europe, which suggested one franchise for Great Britain and another for Northern Ireland. Such thinking is not good enough. It will not instil confidence in the people of Northern Ireland.

These days it is the thing to do to pour scorn on the failure of the strike. As we recognise the failure, let us also appreciate that there were serious symptoms behind it that were shared by many people who took no part in it. The situation should disturb the complacency of us all as we consider the renewal of this legislation. If that strike had not been embarked upon in a foolish way there could have been a different picture in Northern Ireland.

The more immediate problem is that of people dying, being maimed and living in fear. It might not seem a real situation, or even critical, to these almost empty Benches, but the problem is real in Northern Ireland. I would be the last to give aid and comfort to the enemy of society, but I feel inhibited about being unduly critical of the way that law and order is being enforced in Northern Ireland. I certainly do not want to give the impression that progress is not being made. It is being made.

What I question is whether progress is being made fast enough or whether it is being made in a way that can last. This is not the first time that we have been invited to take note of the change of tone in the terrorist campaign—of the ups and downs of the statistics of terrorism. We can all remember many occasions when, with great optimism, we have been invited to take note of the fact that the number of arrests and convictions had risen and the number of explosions and shootings had fallen. Only a short time later our stomachs have heaved again with a fresh sense of outrage.

I hope that I am proved wrong. I hope that we shall not see another cycle of viciousness. I agree that the IRA is weaker now than it has been for a long time, but I do not think that it has been sufficiently weakened to give any reason for the community to feel safer. I have a fear that the measure of weakness that now exists could propel it into a fresh chapter of horror. Are we really satisfied with the situation? The Secretary of State can, with considerable satisfaction, draw attention to the success of the security forces and to the recent statements on arrest, but he must know, as we all know, that the people who mastermind this campaign of terrorism are in no way seriously deflected from their purpose.

I find that there is a little inconsistency in the Government's attitude here. We are told about the growing isolation of the IRA. Once we suggest that the forces of law and order be given greater powers, or that the penalties for these dastardly deeds be increased to match the dimensions of the crime, we are told that this cannot be done, because it would create a wave of sympathy for the terrorists. We must ask ourselves: Are the people recoiling from the horror of terrorism? Is the IRA really being beaten? If it is, surely the people should be prepared in all conscience to support reasonable, rational measures for ending the terrorism.

There are several lines of approach and I know that the Secretary of State is continually addressing his mind to them. We could follow the example of the Irish Republic; we could change the onus of proof in some respects. I confess that at one time I thought along those lines. On balance I came down against that, because I believe that the integrity of our legal system is far more important than short-term advantage. If we have to deal with a war situation it is better to deal with it in that context than to mess about with a legal system intended to cope with ordinary crime.

It is because of that recognition that I support the renewal of the emergency provisions legislation, although I do not believe that in itself it is a significant weapon to facilitate or step up the base for the defeat of terrorism. While we may need it, and it may well be used one day, as the Secretary of State says, in the last resort, our duty is to try to avoid disastrous results and see whether we cannot, within the framework of the criminal law, devise a code that is adequate and acceptable to the situation.

The Secretary of State has told us, I believe—my memory is bad, so I will be corrected if I am wrong—that about 290 people have been convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment of over 10 years. That is a fairly impressive figure. But while it impresses us sitting here, and people on the periphery, the tragedy is that many people, including those who have gone to prison, do not believe that they will ever serve anything like that term. Somehow or other the message has got to be got over that the law is what it is and that it means what it says. There is a big credibility gap, which needs to be tackled.

I turn, briefly, to the bread-and-butter issues of politics. It is difficult to deal with these problems when there is the present great instability and uncertainty, but one cannot sit back and do nothing. I am sorry that we, as parliamentarians, have not had an opportunity to debate in public and put on record our views on how the bread-and-butter issues, the day-to-day politics, should be developed.

While one may appreciate the opportunity of going to the Secretary of State privately to say "I think you should do this and do that", what matters in politics is what one is prepared to say publicly, what one will stand up for in front of the electorate. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West that the Quigley Report is to be welcomed, even though it contains a great deal of unpalatable information. It helps us to face reality. We have not had an opportunity to debate that report, either of the Floor of the House or in the Northern Ireland Committee.

We have had papers galore from the Government, who can spend far too long reciting policy documents which have been issued to us with invitations to comment. But we have been given no opportunity to debate those documents, for example, the document setting out the strategy for the physical development and improvement of the infrastructure of Northern Ireland is very important. The sooner that sort of issue is settled the better. Otherwise, economic and social planning can go haywire.

I happen to think that that document is the greatest lot of nonsense that I have set my eyes on for a long time. But at least it should be given an airing. I can write to the Secretary of State privately and say that it is a lot of nonsense, but it is important that the people of Northern Ireland should know why I think that it is a lot of nonsense, and they should be able to listen to the argument between the Government and myself or other hon. Members who might hold different views.

What about education and family law —matters that touch individuals very closely? The other day we had an education statement of considerable importance and far-reaching consequences, made not to the elected representatives of the people but outside the House. I have no idea when we shall be able to say in Parliament, either in Committee or in the House, what we think about it. I know that I can go to the Secretary of State or write to him and say all sorts of things about the latest declaration on education policy, but I ask the Secretary of State to take on board the fact that that is not how parliamentary politics work, that the word of a politician is only as good as the word that he utters before his electorate and has to answer to them for.

That is the greatest weakness in the system that we now enjoy, the so-called direct rule. The Government are not adequately answerable to Parliament let alone the people. I believe that it was Lord Hailsham who once went on record as describing the whole process of parliamentary government in the United Kingdom as an "elective dictatorship". One can argue about that, but the so-called direct-rule provisions certainly are elective dictatorship. I want us to get away from that as speedily as possible. Until we do, it is the duty of the Government to see that as much as possible of the policy decision taking is done within the framework of Parliament, that the people have an opportunity of hearing the debate and adjudicating upon it, and that one day all of us will have to answer to the electorate for our decisions and the sides that we took in the controversy.

I regard tonight's debate as a failure. We are merely reporting lack of progress, but I would not want to end on that note. I want to reiterate that the political and constitutional problems of Northern Ireland are capable of quick solution, provided we are not asked to tackle them from what is now called a vacuum—the Secretary of State calls it a whirlpool. Whatever one calls it, it is a situation in which politicians have very little positive rôle play and very little responsibility for their actions.

On this occasion, I gladly support the renewal of the legislation before us, but I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South that it has gone on too long and that next year will have to be very different.

9.52 p.m.

We have listened to outstanding speeches from the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). If I find that so much of what they say seems to ring so true, it is because I, too, have been thinking about the future of Northern Ireland and have had a chance to read the speech by the Secretary of State on 8th June. I shall return to that speech later.

I wish to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who said that Northern Ireland was peripheral to the interests of other hon. Members. However, the Army in Northern Ireland is drawn from regiments that draw their soldiers from all parts of the United Kingdom except Northern Ireland. Since the county regiment from my constituency has served in Northern Ireland, I do not feel it wrong, as an English Member, to involve myself in the security of Northern Ireland by speaking in the debate. I only wish that more of my hon. Friends and more Labour Members were here. The shooting incident yesterday bears out that the security forces in Northern Ireland are risking life and limb every day of the week. Two more Englishmen died yesterday in the Falls Road.

I was unhappy about the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the RUC and the Army. He claimed to be giving them support, but there was an opaqueness about the clarity of his defence that left me in some doubt as to what he was saying. If he is uncertain of what the RUC is doing about the investigation of Mr. O'Connor's case, I can assure him that if he writes to the Chief Constable, as I did, he will be told. I do not think there is any need to make a suggestion in the House that somehow the matter is being swept under the carpet, thus leading to an implied doubt about the integrity of the Royal Ulster Constabulary which I do not think is worthy of the hon. Gentleman.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not only myself who has cast doubts about it? Is he aware that two High Court judges who are members of a respected judiciary in Northern Ireland have done so? It is they who have cast doubts on whether the RUC has used brutality on suspects.

I was talking about Mr. O'Connor of Enniskillen. I say no more, because I suspect that I have made my point abundantly clear.

After listening to the speech of the Secretary of State, having read his speech of 8th June, he will forgive me when I tell him that I found a certain similarity in the two texts. However, there was a statement in his speech of 8th June—I cannot say for certain whether it appeared in his speech tonight—in which he said:
"there is no acceptable level of violence."
None of us would disagree with that. He then said:
"There is no lack of will to bring the Province back to peace and normality."
But what is the normality to which the Secretary of State referred? Obviously, that was the question worrying the hon. Member for Antrim, South and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East. One suspects that the Secretary of State equates peace and normality in Northern Ireland as being one and the same thing. I wondered whether he had given much thought to the use of the word "normality" and whether he meant that he was going to give Northern Ireland peace by returning to the 1967 situation with the parliamentary procedures and institutions that it then possessed, or whether he had some other idea of the normality that he thinks Northern Ireland should reasonably enjoy.

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is the normality of being properly represented in this place? Is it true that, when the Speaker's Conference has made its decision about how many more Members Northern Ireland should have in the House of Commons, it will be the General Election after next before those Members will take their places? I ask that question because I think that the right hon. Gentleman has a duty to tell us as he represents the Government of Northern Ireland at this moment.

One of the difficulties that the Secretary of State faces in answering that question is that he does not know the date of the next General Election. The answer to the question must to some extent depend upon whether the life of this Parliament is to be another six months or two and a half years.

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's comment, but at the same time there is a doubt in everyone's mind as to how soon the extra Northern Ireland Members will appear. The hon. Member for Belfast, West went cut of his way to say that he wanted to see no more Members from Northern Ireland in this House. Does he feel the same about Euro-Members from Northern Ireland? Would he prefer that they did not go to Europe? If it is possible for the House of Commons to debate direct elections next week with the intention of putting on the statute book an Act that will send a whole lot of people from the United Kingdom in general to a European Parliament, it seems strange that to do the same thing, in effect, by bringing the Northern Ireland representation up to its democratic level will take as long as I have suggested.

In talking about normality, perhaps we are merely talking about the end of terrorism or its defeat. But that in itself is not enough. The defeat of terrorism is the beginning of a new era for Northern Ireland and, therefore, the Government have a responsibility to the House of Commons to outline their thinking about new political institutions.

When we are told, as we are told endlessly, that the Secretary of State has met the political parties and discussed the various issues, and that when they are able to come to some common agreement he will take the next step in the re-creation of political institutions for Northern Ireland, I wonder why the Government do not say the same about Scotland or Wales. I wonder why they do not tell us that until the Scottish nationalists outside the House of Commons have come to an agreement with them about devolution there will be no devolution Bill. But the Government do not say that, because they believe that they govern in Scotland and Wales—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.