HC Deb 20 January 1972 vol 829 cc640-5
6. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the progress of the operation of the British Army in Ulster.

17. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the operations in Northern Ireland.

Lord Balniel

The security forces are continuing steadily to undermine the strength of the I.R.A.

Mr. Cronin

One can feel nothing but admiration for the work being done by the Army in Northern Ireland, but is it not the case that there is not yet any prospect of a decisive success on the part of the Army against the I.R.A. and is not the Army seriously handicapped in its operations by the circumstance that the responsibility for security still rests with Stormont? Is there not a very strong case for transferring the responsibility for security to Westminster?

Lord Balniel

It would not be right for me to refer to constitutional changes. That is not my departmental responsibility. But the hon. Gentleman is correct. Substantial progress is being made, but I think it is recognised that so long as a small number of terrorists have the will and support from a certain section of the community, they retain the ability, with even a limited number of explosions, to create terrible havoc in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Are not the Army and the security forces scoring remarkable successes? Will my right hon. Friend convey to them the admiration of this House? As it is largely an intelligence, propaganda and hearts-and-mind struggle, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that they have adequate men and money for these purposes? Will he also ensure that the brave men who join the Ulster Defence Regiment do not suffer financially because of the working of the tax system and the social security system?

Lord Balniel

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his expression of admiration for the work undertaken by the Forces, an expression of opinion which I am sure is shared by everyone in the House.

The progress which has been made can be indicated to the extent that arrests of wanted men are running at about 100 a week. I will certainly look into the last point my hon. Friend raised.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Minister accept the admiration certainly from this side of the House, and I am sure the whole House, for the rôle played by British troops in Northern Ireland in their most difficult and arduous task? May I remind the Minister of a Question I asked in December? Are they anywhere nearer to success now than they were then?

Lord Balniel

In military operations of this kind it is most unwise to speculate about the time scale of success.

Mr. Buck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, from a visit I made to the Forces in Northern Ireland 10 days ago, I can confirm that the morale of our troops there is of the very highest and that they are quietly confident about the situation? Would my right hon. Friend look into the question of giving a more active rôle to the Territorial Army in the Province? I realise that there are difficulties, but would he look into this matter to see whether that could be achieved?

Lord Balniel

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have recently put forward proposals which will assist the transfer of persons in the T.A.V.R. to the Ulster Defence Regiment and he will be glad to know that nearly 90 members of the Territorial Army have transferred to the Ulster Defence Regiment.

Mr. Stratton Mills

As much of the activity of the I.R.A. is helped by its bases in Southern Ireland, whilst I welcome Mr. Lynch's speech on the matter just before Christmas, may ask my hon. Friend whether the security forces are now fully satisfied with the support and co-operation they are receiving from the Southern Ireland authorities?

Lord Balniel

The support we are getting from the Southern Ireland authorities has improved recently and we look forward to further improvements in this respect.

15. Mr. Duffy

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he is now satisfied with the living conditions of British troops based in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith)

Although I am never satisfied with the living conditions of troops on operational duty in Northern Ireland, I can assure the hon. Member that everything possible is being done to improve matters. I refer the hon. Member to the replies given on 25th November to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) and to what I said in the House on the same day. Since then, four temporary camps have been built and occupied and another ship, the "Hartland Point", has recently been berthed in Belfast Harbour to provide improved accommodation for about 600 men. A substantial proportion of the £500,000 made available for meeting the more personal needs of the soldiers has, in consultation with unit commanders, now been earmarked.—[Vol 826, c. 1507–9, 1673–4.]

Mr. Duffy

Is the Minister aware that the editor of the Sheffield Star, Mr. Colin Brannigan, who was voted Journalist of the Year in 1971, visited Belfast only a month ago and described the living conditions for some of our troops in Northern Ireland as utterly disgraceful? In the Andersonstown area he found that 36 soldiers had been sharing one lavatory since August and he found 12 living in a 12 ft. by 12 ft. darkened hovel. He also found a so-called rest room that would have disgraced the oldest of our prisons. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the 13th/18th Hussars, recruited entirely within the Sheffield region, are due in Northern Ireland this month? Will he give an assurance that none of those lads will have to endure such primitive living conditions?

Mr. Johnson Smith

I had the opportunity of meeting the editor of the Sheffield Star and talking to him about his article. He was good enough to include in it our programme for improvements, because he was aware that the £500,000 had not had time to be put into effect at the time he wrote the article. Of course we are aware of some of the deplorable conditions in which our Servicemen live in Northern Ireland. Some of those conditions are imposed by the tactical nature of the posts where they carry out their duties. Considerable improvements have been made and are being made and I am satisfied, as a result of visits I have made, that the conditions are being improved substantially.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Will my hon. Friend consider attaching to units in Northern Ireland newspaper reporters —young and active, perhaps freelance chaps—who can report to the British public not only how our troops are living but what work they are doing? That might be more effective than the kind of instant reporting that is unfortunately all too prevalent now.

Mr. Johnson Smith

Such are the improvements in the pipeline and the efforts being made that I do not think any special measures are needed of the kind suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend. We have nothing to fear in the Army from a free Press.

Mr. George Thomson

Will the Minister assure the House that he has now been allocated enough resources? Is the £500,000 enough to make sure that the conditions described by my hon. Friend will no longer exist for our Forces in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Johnson Smith

The £500,000 is for personal amenities rather than for more substantial projects such as new accommodation. I mentioned that four new camps have been constructed since last November, and these will provide accommodation for about 600 troops. The "Hartland Point" will provide accommodation for a further 600. Another three camps will be ready by mid-June and they will give accommodation for an additional 600. In addition there is a substantial programme for the refurbishing of existing accommodation.

19. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will undertake an urgent review of the arrangements enabling the security authorities to trace the source of gelignite, fuses and detonators used in Northern Ireland, to establish their source of origin; and if he will indicate what progress has been made with the studies which are currently in hand.

Mr. G. Johnson Smith

Technical studies for this purpose are well in hand. I am sure my hon. Friend will recognise that it would be undesirable to reveal details which might give terrorists any idea of what to look out for.

Mr. Mills

I welcome the tone of my hon. Friend's reply, but is he aware that between 50 and 70 per cent. of the gelignite used legally in Northern Ireland is manufactured in Southern Ireland? As the overwhelming bulk of the explosives used in terrorist attacks comes from the same source, does my hon. Friend appreciate what a great advantage it would be to be able properly to identify the gelignite and the source from which it comes so that the individual firms in question can be identified?

Mr. Johnson Smith

It would certainly be very helpful if we could take steps of that nature. I understand that the authorities in the Republic are taking certain steps to tighten security.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the arrangements in this respect in this country, because that is relevant too?

Mr. Johnson Smith

We have taken steps to ensure that there are proper safeguards on materials of this kind. I am grateful for the co-operation which United Kingdom firms are affording to the studies to which I referred.

20. Mr. John D. Grant

asked the Minister of State for Defence what action is being taken by the security forces concerning the use of toy guns on the streets of Northern Ireland.

Mr. G. Johnson Smith

The Army authorities in Northern Ireland have drawn attention publicly to the extreme danger to anyone who plays with toy weapons on the streets in the present situation in Northern Ireland. I hope that this warning has been heeded by all concerned and particularly by any parents whose children possess such toys.

Mr. Grant

I welcome the action taken by the Army in Northern Ireland and I am grateful for the Minister's statement this afternoon.

Mr. Johnson Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said.

Mr. Pounder

Will my hon. Friend say to what extent there has been a falling-off in the use and presentation of toy weapons in Northern Ireland since Christmas, when they were at a very high and dangerous level? Has the Army's warning been heeded?

Mr. Johnson Smith

I have the impression that the timely warning by the Army has been heeded and I am grateful to the parents who have taken note of it.

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