HC Deb 11 March 1971 vol 813 cc597-605
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

In Belfast last night three soldiers of the Royal Highland Fusiliers were murdered in cold blood. They were off duty, unarmed and in civilian clothes. The crime was clearly deliberate and premeditated.

I am sure the entire House will wish to register its condemnation of this appalling crime and our deep sympathy with the relatives of the men who died at the hands of these evil forces. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

As I informed the House on 15th February, the situation in Northern Ireland has recently changed to a more vicious form. The organised groups of armed terrorists have been stepping up their campaign of murder and violence. The security forces have been intensifying their campaign, not without success. I am sure the House would wish me to confirm once again that the Government will give all possible support to the security forces in carrying out their dangerous and distasteful duties, and I am equally convinced that the overwhelming majority of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, to whatever community they may belong, equally join in condemning these brutal acts and in wishing to see the criminals brought to justice. Every effort will be made to see this is done. In addition the G.O.C. is considering urgently whether any additional precautions are necessary in respect of movements of soldiers when off duty.

I think it is important at the same time to remember that the aim of the terrorists is to destroy peace and order throughout the province. To this end they are clearly trying to provoke the security forces into reprisals which would appear to be aimed not against the criminals but against large sections of the population. In this way they clearly would like to inflame relations between the Army and the public and to stoke up once again the sectarian violence on the streets which in recent months has shown hopeful signs of diminishing. The Government do not intend that they should succeed in this objective. The battle now joined against the terrorists will be fought with the utmost vigour and determination. It is a battle against a small minority of armed and ruthless men whose strength lies not so much in their numbers as in their wickedness.

Mr. Callaghan

The Home Secretary has spoken for the whole House in his expression of sympathy with the bereaved and his condemnation of these barbarous crimes, and especially his sympathy for the Scottish family that was struck twice.

I have only one question to ask, but may I be allowed just this observation: I wish that the unanimous feeling in the House might influence those who are concerned in these crimes, but I fear that it will not.

I am glad that the Home Secretary has said that the security forces will not be provoked into taking reprisals against whole sections of the population, because these were fractional crimes by fractional groups, and it is essential to secure the support of the population. In view of the changed circumstances since the troops first went in—and we discussed this in February—has the time arrived when the right hon. Gentleman might undertake a large-scale review of the relations between police and Army to see whether there is any prospect of reviewing both the methods of protection and detection to try to overcome the wall of silence that exists, which in my view arises from a feeling of mistrust of the police in certain quarters combined with a misplaced loyalty and certainly a fear of the gunmen? Is not it a most difficult operation for the security forces to conduct? Has not the balance changed rather, and would not it be worth while reviewing the whole scale and system of our security effort in order that the small number concerned with these crimes, who are murderers with a political motive, should be arrested, charged and brought to justice?

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for all that he has said. I am deeply grateful that there should be no division in the House on these matters. I fully accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the need further to strengthen the combined effort of the security forces in the hunt for and apprehension of the gunmen.

Sir F. Maclean

Will my right hon. Friend convey my sympathy and that of other Ayrshire Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), to the bereaved families, and also express our admiration of the conduct of the Royal Highland Fusiliers in such particularly difficult circumstances? Will he ensure that effective steps are taken to safeguard troops off duty against this sort of attack? Will he also say how it was that a boy of 17 came to be employed under what amounted to active service conditions?

Mr. Maudling

The sympathy of the whole House extends particularly to the family who have been so gravely bereaved. I should like to state once again my admiration and that of everyone for the remarkable and unique bearing of our Army in the circumstances in Northern Ireland. I know of no armed force in the entire world that could measure up to what it is doing. I will make inquiries on my hon. Friend's third point.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Home Secretary aware that the whole House will be appalled at these brutal and senseless murders and would wish to be associated with the sympathy which he expressed for the relatives of these three young men? Is he aware that, as the Army goes about its difficult task calmly and courageously, it will have the support of the whole House in seeking to maintain peace in Northern Ireland and to counter threats to that peace from whatever quarter they may emanate?

Mr. Maudling

Yes, I am grateful for the words of the right hon. Gentleman.

Captain Orr

I confirm my right hon. Friend's impression that the whole of Ulster deplores not only the crime, cold and inhuman as it was, but joins him in expressing sympathy to the Scottish families concerned. On the point made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), may I say that, although we might possibly disagree on the reason, he has made a key point, that of intelligence. Bringing these people to justice, as everybody wishes to see them brought to justice, must be looked at as a matter of great urgency.

Will my right hon. Friend please convey to the Army the gratitude of the people of Ulster, and our determination to sustain the Army in the difficult and dangerous job it is doing?

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend. I confirm that the security authorities have been given by the Government all the authority and the resources for which they have asked to deal with this problem, and we shall continue to do this.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no possible defence for nor would anyone seek to justify any of the happenings that took place in Belfast yesterday? Is he also aware that to me this is a very sad occasion, because my own local regiment went into Derry when the troubles first started to separate the warring factions? Is he further aware that his statement about the security forces not being provoked and not allowing community hatreds to build up again is one of the most encouraging things to have come out of this afternoon's discussion?

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to the hon. Member. It perhaps is unnecessary to say that the Armed Forces will not be provoked, but, as it is clearly the motive of the terrorists to do this. I think I should do so.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While I am sure that the whole country is equally as horrified as the House by what has happened, will my right hon. Friend bear two things in mind? It appears highly probable that this awful crime has been perpetrated not by those who are indigenous to Ulster but by the I.R.A. which comes from the South—

Mr. Molloy

It could be anyone.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

It could be anyone, I quite agree, but there is strong suspicion against the I.R.A., and the I.R.A. comes from the South. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the need to bring home to the Southern Irish Government the importance of ensuring that where men are found guilty they are properly punished for crimes of this sort? Secondly, will he ensure that everything is done to enable the British Army in Ulster to have an adequate intelligence service?

Mr. Maudling

I certainly agree on the great importance of intelligence, and we are doing all we can to strengthen the intelligence available. I see from the tape that Mr. Lynch has utterly condemned these brutal murders. On my hon. and gallant Friend's first point, I did not point a finger at any particular organisation. There are, I am sorry to say, operating in Ireland a number of organisations of a terrorist character. It is the job of the police to fix the blame on the appropriate one, and I profoundly hope they succeed.

Mr. Rankin

I thoroughly and completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. Is he aware that Private D. McCaughey, who died in the circumstances described, was a constituent of mine in Govan, and, therefore, this affects me personally? When the moment comes, will he consider the future of the dependants of these soldiers and give special consideration to the circumstances in which their soldier sons and brothers died in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Maudling

Everyone is aware of the tragic circumstances of this family, and I have no doubt it comes home deeply to the hon. Member, as it does to the right hon. Minister who is responsible for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Powell

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that terrorism can only continue as long as those responsible believe that there is some prospect of their aims being achieved? What further measures do Her Majesty's Government intend to take to make it clear that there is no possibility of the attainment of those political aims?

Mr. Maudling

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. I said something rather like this in the last debate. What on previous occasions has brought an end to these waves of violence has been the realisation that they cannot succeed. To make clear that they cannot succeed, we have made sure that such resources as are required by the security forces in their battle against the terrorists will be made available to them.

Mr. Ross

Does the Home Secretary appreciate that these young men came from one family in my home town and were members of the regiment in which I was proud to serve? All these cowardly killers have achieved has been a sense of anger and outrage in Scotland, and it is all the more important, therefore, that we should be calm and ensure that whatever action we take is effective in the long-term aim of pacification of this part of the country.

Mr. Maudling

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's personal connection, I am particularly grateful for what he has said.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I should like to associate the people I represent with the expressions of sympathy that have been offered in the House today. I came from Northern Ireland this morning, and I know something about the feeling in the City of Belfast last night when this awful crime was revealed, this cold, callous, calculated nurder of three young men serving in Her Majesty's Forces. Will the Home Secretary take action to put pressure on the Government in Dublin to see that such murderers can no longer have sanctuary there? If these men escape over the border they have a sanctuary there, they cannot be extradited for political murder and face the charge which they should face in a court of law.

Mr. Maudling

As I have said, Mr. Lynch has forthrightly condemned these brutal murders, and the objective of pursuing these men, wherever they may he, and bringing them to justice is in the forefront of all our minds.

Mr. Molloy

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, nothwithstanding the minority problems in Northern Ireland, the fact that there has been some progress and that sincere people have attempted to resolve these difficulties is the cause of this foul and cowardly crime? The people who have committed this crime are on no one's side except the side of evil. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider calling together over the weekend members of all political factions and of the Churches, including the Primate of all Ireland, in the atmosphere which must exist now, to prevent any outburst by innocent people who feel aggrieved and to provide a united leadership not only to condemn this abominable crime but to get back on the road to sanity?

Mr. Maudling

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the situation at the beginning of his remarks. On his second point, it is now quite clear that all leaders of communities in Northern Ireland have united in condemning this crime. The trouble is that the perpetrators of the crime listen to no one.

Mr. McMaster

I should like to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy with the relatives of the men who have been killed. I speak on behalf of all my constituents of every class and creed, who are horrified at what has happened. Will my right hon. Friend pay particular attention to the fact that there are areas in Belfast where the police cannot go and where the terrorists terrorise the people? Will he use his efforts to make sure that law and order are restored to every part of Northern Ireland so that the police can act freely in all parts?

Mr. Maudling

I see my hon. Friend's point, and I know how concerned he is on the basis of his personal experience and responsibility in these matters. One of the sad things about this latest tragedy is that it occurred in a part of Belfast which up to now had been regarded as peaceful.

Mr. Kilfedder

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should receive urgent consideration, namely, the cold-blooded murder of three soldiers"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? Is he aware that the Army Estimates are to be debated later today?

Mr. Kilfedder

The reasons I wish to give, Mr. Speaker, refer to other matters than the security forces. Perhaps I may read on: the cold-blooded murder of three soldiers, which is the latest in a series of dastardly crimes committed in Ulster—arson, violence, explosions and the killing of civilians, police and soldiers; the need to review the whole security position in Northern Ireland to give maximum encouragement and hope to civilians and members of the security forces; and the equally urgent need to make the Eire Government take effective measures against the Republican gunmen who seek and receive sanctuary and assitance in the Irish Republic. Obviously, the latter aspect cannot be debated on the Army Estimates, and this is the principal reason why I ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House. In my submission, the specific nature is disclosed in the terms of the Motion, and I believe the fact that the situation demands urgent consideration is also apparent, because the cowardly murders have grave implications over the weekend for Northern Ireland. Hon. Members are right in saying that the great majority of the people of Ulster, irrespective of their political and religious beliefs, utterly condemn this outrage, which is the latest of a series of despicable acts of violence.

Unfortunately, the morale of the Ulster people has been shattered by the incidence of violence, and this latest act has no doubt brought that morale to a very low level. Unfortunately, the recent visit by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has not allayed the fears which exist. The Army is taking every possible measure and we are proud of its activities. [Interruption.] In conclusion, if I may allay the anger of the House, finally the position is that no matter what measures are taken by the Army the terrorists who engage in these crimes can escape across the border and receive succour and held and medical aid in the Republic. I ask leave to move the Adjournment because the Government should, I feel, immediately seek action by the Eire Government in stamping out the I.R.A. who are in the Republic, where they recruit and collect money.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not develop the argument he would use if he were granted leave to move the Adjournment of the House. Will he now bring his submission to the Chair?

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and urgent matter which he thinks should receive urgent consideration, namely, the cold-blooded murder of three soldiers, which is the latest in a series of dastardly crimes committed in Ulster—arson, violence, explosions and the killing of civilians, police and soldiers; the need to review the whole security position in Northern Ireland to give maximum encouragement and hope to civilians and members of the security forces; and the equally urgent need to make the Eire Government take effective measures against Republican gunmen who seek and receive sanctuary and assistance in the Irish Republic. As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 Mr. Speaker is directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reasons for his decision. I have given careful consideration to the representation made by the hon. Member about this extremely serious matter, but I have decided that I cannot submit his application to the House.