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Volume 14: debated on Thursday 3 December 1981

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


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about security in the Province.


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


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


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any statement to make on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Since I last answered questions on 29 October, I have to tell the House with deep regret that five members of the security forces and nine civilians, including the Rev. Robert Bradford, have died as a result of terrorist attacks. Several others have been injured, some seriously. There has been a particularly vicious series of attacks on part-time members or former members of the UDR and the RUC Reserve.

The House will be aware of additional security measures which have recently been taken. In particular, the Army's Spearhead unit has been sent to Northern Ireland, and more policemen have been deployed on operational duties. The GOC is deploying the UDR flexibly, with some units from peaceful areas supplementing those in the more difficult areas. All these extra measures have enabled the security forces to concentrate on the border areas. Everything possible is being done to protect those most at risk, but a good deal inevitably depends on the vigilance of such persons themselves.

The security forces are working extremely hard to prevent further terrorist attacks, from whatever quarter. They have had important preventive successes which, by their nature, are inevitably unseen. They continue to arrest suspects. Since 29 October, 102 people have been charged with terrorist offences, making a total of 865 charged with such offences this year. Prevention and conviction represent the right way forward. The interests of law and order and of reconciliation between the two communities cannot be served by people trying to take the law into their own hands. I am determined that terrorism will be defeated, but it must be done through the rule of law. We are entitled to expect all people to lend their full support to the established forces of law and order and to make available any information they may have which could help prevent or detect criminal acts.

Order. I propose to call first the five hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of hon. Members wholeheartedly support and congratulate the security forces on their recent successes? Is he further aware that there was a report on the tape today that various officials of the United States of America were coming to London to discuss the problem of Northern Ireland with his Department? Will he make it plain to the House that the problems of Ulster are the problems of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and have nothing whatever to do with any other foreign power?

I am sure that the matter to which my hon. Friend refers is a speculative piece. I am certain that the Americans, as much as the rest of the House, understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the support that he gives to the security forces.

My right hon. Friend, despite the representations of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), has ruled out selective detention. Since we have not yet got extradition from the South or any efficacious alternative, will my right hon. Friend ask the Foreign Office to renew its efforts in Dublin to secure either extradition or that efficacious alternative? Is he aware that the people of this country will not be content for ever to listen to these melancholy communiqués in a 100 years war.

The Irish Government, I think, have not been left in any doubt about our views on extradition. It is true that so far extra-territorial legislation has not been very effective, but we now see encouraging signs that this is changing. I am hopeful that the talks between the two Attorneys-General will result in further action. Anything that can be done to bring pressure on the Irish Government in respect of criminals who take refuge in the South should be done.

Will my right hon. Friend pass on the congratulations of the House to the security forces on their recent successes and thank them for bringing a greater measure of security to the Province? Will he confirm that the situation is such that there is no place whatever for any so-called third force? Does he realise the great concern, not only in Ulster, but on this side of the water, a the prospect of such a force being allowed a free rein?

Yes, Sir. I confirm absolutely what my hon. Friend said. I think that that would be the view of the whole House. I believe that the availability of information is the most important method by which we can bring criminals to justice. The more that both communities get on with this, the sooner we shall solve our problems.

All hon. Members continue to deplore the senseless and mindless terrorism of the Provisional IRA, but is the Secretary of State aware that there is no support in the House or in the country for the bullying and intimidating manner in which those associated with a third force speak? Does he agree that this sort of action should be repudiated? Will he assure the House that the negotiations with the Dublin authorities regarding the Province will continue and that he will not withdraw from those talks?

I am seeking to pursue a policy in which the majority and the minority groupings in Northern Ireland can live in peace with each other. No one should say anything that makes that task more difficult.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we have played our part in devising mechanisms entirely within the law to provide the channel of communication for information to be fed to the security forces? Will the right hon. Gentleman refute reports to the effect that the special security measures to which he referred, which were announced on 17 November, are to be reduced by next Wednesday? Will he assure the House that this time the security forces will be encouraged to finish the job of eliminating terrorism, from whatever source? As the Royal Ulster Constabulary is now rapidly approaching its recruitment target, will the right hon. Gentleman recommend that its establishment be increased by another 1,000?

If the police authority or the Chief Constable put forward proposals for an increase in the size of the force, I shall consider them carefully.

On other matters, it is not only the open, but the covert, side of security that is important. I lay special stress on that. I have no plans at the moment to make any change in the disposition of forces in Northern Ireland, but this is still a matter of consultation between myself and the GOC and the Chief Constable.

I warmly welcome all information that is made available to us. I hope that it will be strictly within the law. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has sought to do in that respect.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he will find a ready response from the Opposition to his statement on security and the way in which he is tackling the situation? We also back the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have always believed that the security forces are as good as the information they receive? The best way to get information from that great block of people in Northern Ireland between the two extremes is for them to see a ready response to their pleas for social, economic and political activity as well.

Yes, Sir. I have always believed that there are three parts to a tripod which can lead eventually to peace and greater security in Northern Ireland. The most important part of that tripod must be security. I am grateful for the support that I have received in recent days from Churchmen of all denominations and the pressure that they are bringing to bear on the community.

My right hon. Friend has exhorted those who wish to play a part in the security of the Province to come forward and join the official security forces—the UDR and the RUC—but is he satisfied that the regulations governing the acceptance of new recruits into those forces are not unduly restrictive?

I believe that I am, but I shall reconsider the regulations. There has been a problem about those who have reached the age limit. I have had consultations with the GOC to see whether he can be more flexible about those who are nearing the age limit. If my hon. Friend has any points in mind about entry to the UDR, I shall see that they are examined.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, while it is obviously desirable, extradition is not likely to be achieved in the foreseeable future, for many complicated reasons, and therefore further and greater co-operation between the security forces north and south of the border is of the essence? Is he aware that that has been achieved in recent months?

Co-operation is much better, but it is never perfect. The talks between the Attorneys-General could do much more to help. However, the Government of the Republic are more aware now of the strong feelings in Northern Ireland and in the House about criminals in the South.

In the measure that the Secretary of State has undertaken to deter terrorism in Northern Ireland—that terrorism is not restricted to one section of the community—will he be ever mindful that there is now real fear in the minds of the minority in Northern Ireland about the creation of a third force? Will he give an undertaking to me, which I am sure would be accepted by the House, that anyone found in Northern Ireland in an illegal assembly and wearing a mask, whether in the IRA or the so-called third force, will be arrested immediately? Is he aware that it has been stated that members of the third force are, in another line of duty, members of the UDR and the RUC? Will he give a further undertaking to the House that if anyone waving a licence, or a so-called licence, permitting him to have arms is found to be a member of the third force, he will have those arms withdrawn?

I have made it clear that private armies have no place in our society. They will not be allowed to take over the work of the security forces. The Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding are investigating allegations that members of the RUC and UDR have taken part in so-called third force demonstrations carrying their weapons. I am certain that appropriate action will be taken if that is proved to have been the case. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is far better, having laid down the general principles from the House and the Government, to leave the interpretation of the law to the Chief Constable and the GOC, in whom I have the utmost confidence.

Order. I propose to call both hon. Members, because five questions are being answered.

The Secretary of State congratulates himself smugly on the messages of support that he has received from various bodies in Northern Ireland for his security policy. Does he realise that he will not get any congratulations from the relatives of those who have been foully murdered or cruelly maimed by the Provisional IRA in its vicious, sectarian campaign of violence against Protestants and members of the security forces——

—and will he now accept that it is time for the Government to do something, after 13 years, to protect the lives of those who live, daily and nightly, under fear of death?

The hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear me correctly. I did not say that those messages of support had been conveyed to me. I said that the Catholic Church and the Churches in Northern Ireland generally were now playing an active part in advising people to give information in a way that perhaps they had not done previously. I do not wish in any way to minimise what Northern Ireland has suffered for 12 years. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do all that he can to help me to bring about peace and reconciliation between the minority and the majority elements in that society.

The Secretary of State talked about prevention and conviction as being a way forward, and I believe that most people would agree with that in a normal situation, but what consolation is that to people living along the border in Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh, who neither see prevention at work nor a conviction? When he is bearing in mind what has been said by Church leaders, does he remember the words of the Archbishop of Armagh a few weeks ago, when he said that the campaign along the border amounted to nothing more or less than a constructive attempt to drive people off land that they and their predecessors had lived on for centuries? Will he consider reopening some of the small police stations that existed along the border in the 1950s and 1960s in an attempt to instil some confidence into those communities?

As I said in my original answer, 102 people have been charged with terrorist offences since 29 October, including, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, a number for offences that may have been committed in the border area. We are making every effort to catch the criminals. The hon. Gentleman has been to see me with a number of proposals. I have taken those proposals seriously and implemented them wherever possible. He has produced another proposal this afternoon. I shall see that it is examined, but the difficulty about opening small police stations is that, quite often, they are the focus of attacks by terrorists and it is better to have people out on the ground than in police stations. However, we shall examine the matter again.