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Army Casualties

Volume 957: debated on Thursday 9 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the number of British troops killed and wounded in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years and so far this year.

I will, with permission, publish full details in the Official Report. In summary, the number of deaths has dropped from 58 in 1973 to nine so far this year, and woundings from 278 to 25.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, although that information will be regarded as good news by both sides of the House, British troops were sent to Northern Ireland in large numbers and these men have died in order to buy the time in which politicians could create a political settlement? Does he recognise that, although there has been a welcome improvement in the security situation, we are as far as ever from procuring a political settlement in which Northern Ireland can live at peace without a veritable army of occupation? How many more soldiers' lives does he think have to be lost before the politicians in Northern Ireland play their part?

Despite the fact that the so-called political solution has not been found, the security forces, with determination, courage and skill, have managed to get on top of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The figures that I have just given are an indication of how well they have been doing their job. In the past year or so, nearly 1,000 troops have been withdrawn. As the situation improves and in keeping with security in the Province, we shall have to consider step-by-step withdrawal. However, I will not condone the precipitate withdrawal which the hon. Gentleman has suggested. Indeed, that is just the language that the Provisional IRA love to hear. They are his friends in Northern Ireland. He is giving them joy and causing despair among the people. During the past weekend the Social Democratic and Labour Party, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), has suggested that withdrawal is desirable and necessary but that it must be in keeping with a political solution.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he will have the full support of the Conservative Party for what he has just said? Is he aware that what the deputy leader of the Liberal Party has been urging involves much more than a withdrawal of soldiers from Northern Ireland? It would involve the removal of Northern Ireland as an entity from the United Kingdom. Is not it also somewhat naive of the deputy leader of the Liberal Party to link demands for political settlement to the killing of British soldiers? Is that not just what encourages the terrorists?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The policy enunciated by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe)—he is, I think, on his own in his party in doing so—is a policy for despair. We are not prepared to accept that.

Allied to the presence of the British Army in Northern Ireland and the fact that, so far as anyone can see at the moment, there is no possibility of a political solution being found, would my right hon. Friend take it from me, with all honesty, that the proposal to increase the number of seats in Northern Ireland will make it all the more difficult to find any sort of agreement? Will he accept that, contrary to what he said earlier, the seats will be created within the city of Belfast and will almost inevitably go to Unionists unless there is deliberate gerrymandering? In that situation when politicians are desperately trying to find a means of success, would my right hon. Friend consider implementing PR for the elections to this House?

My hon. Friend will have a full opportunity to express his point of view on the Second Reading of the Bill and in Committee. He will also be aware that, during the course of the Speaker's Conference, Mr. Speaker ruled that the method of election would be ruled out of the Conference's deliberations. Therefore, PR was not discussed in the Speaker's Conference and is not before us in the Bill.

If the people of Cornwall were under attack by a terrorist organisation of which the object was, by violence, to detach Cornwall from the rest of the United Kingdom, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government or the House would withdraw the assistance of the Army from those people?

In those circumstances the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), as the Member for a constituency there, would be clamouring for military assistance. No doubt those in his area are pretty well ashamed of what he has been saying recently.

Following are the details:




1978 (to 31st October)925