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Royal Ulster Constabulary (Arms Supply)

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the purchase of arms for the Royal Ulster Constabulary from the United States of America.

The United States Administration are reviewing their policy on the issue of licences for the export of arms for use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has made our views on this matter unmistakably clear. I understand that the Administration have decided not to process further applications for export licences pending the outcome of the review. They have been left in no doubt of the RUC's needs. The British Government therefore hope and expect that the review will be completed soon; and that no restraints will be placed on the export of arms by United States manufacturers for use by a legally constituted police force in the United Kingdom.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a disgraceful situation in which a friendly power is refusing to supply arms to the legal police force of another friendly power? Is it not a fact that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is being greatly inconvenienced and that arrangements made for training in this particular firearm have been cancelled? Is he prepared to shop elsewhere to get over this inconvenience?

The RUC is not yet seriously inconvenienced by the fact that the orders have not come. It is still using the Walther 9 mm semi-automatic pistol which it has had for 10 years. The RUC believes that the replacement Ruger pistol from America is a superior weapon. I will not disguise the fact that if the issue of licences is not forthcoming in the reasonably near future there will be difficulties. I hope very much that the United States Administration will complete its review quickly and authorise the manufacturers to export the remaining part of our order so that the RUC will get the weapons it needs when it needs them.

Why on earth was a police force ever armed with an automatic pistol in the first place? Even if these American weapons are made available, is the Secretary of State satisfied that there will be a satisfactory supply of spare parts and necessary ammunition?

I do not know why the RUC chose the Walther semi-automatic 10 years ago. However, it did and it believes that those weapons have been useful. But it believes that the Ruger is even better. The question of spare parts is closely tied up with the supply of the weapons because the order is not solely for weapons; it is for ammunition and spare parts as well. We hope that the whole order will be authorised by the United States Government shortly.

Is not this evenhandedness between law and murder unworthy and uncharacteristic of a great country that was once known as the arsenal of democracy? Will the Government do everything possible to change this attitude speedily?

Yes. There can be no question of being even-handed between a legally constituted police force and terrorists. The United States Administration are entitled to be even-handed or to stand back from discussions about political aspiration, but I am certain that they are not in that position as regards arming a legally constituted police force to defend itself against the evil of terrorism, which is all too damaging.