HC Deb 20 July 1972 vol 841 cc882-4
5. Mr. Duffy

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the operations of the British Army in Northern Ireland.

Lord Balniel

The Army continues to help the civil authorities to keep the peace by countering terrorism and preventing inter-communal clashes.

Mr. Duffy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those hon. Members on this side of the House who were in Dublin this week met everywhere understanding of the rôle of the British Army in Ireland and a deep concern and sympathy for the unenviable task of the individual soldier? Does he not think, therefore, that it is all the more disturbing that an academic study in this month's issue of the Economic and Social Review should suggest that the Army has passed from the rôle of independent peace-keeping to one-sided peace enforcement? Will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that nothing is done that might appear to lend credence to this most unfortunate suggestion?

Lord Balniel

I am appreciative of the tribute which the hon. Gentleman paid to the British Forces serving in Northern Ireland. I have not read the article to which he refers, but certainly the intention and aim of the Army is to remain utterly impartial and to be seen to be utterly impartial. I believe that this is generally recognised by all objective people in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does not my right hon. Friend feel grave concern at the skilful way in which the IRA is using the news media to turn every incident into a propaganda attack upon the troops, and the manner in which it makes use of the local population, for instance in the Lenadoon estate, to restrict military activity where the IRA is in a weak position and where it could be routed?

Lord Balniel

When my hon. Friend refers to the Lenadoon incident he is quite correct. The current IRA propaganda is to lay the blame for the ending of the cease-fire on the shoulders of the Army. This is done with the intention of alienating the Army from the Catholic community. In that sense my hon. Friend is completely correct.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is to be a statement by the Secretary of State later.

19. Mr. Scott-Hopkins

asked the Minister of State for Defence what has been the total cost on the Ministry of Defence Vote to the latest available date of the operations in Ulster since August, 1969.

Lord Balniel

The extra cost which fell on defence Votes as a result of the operations in Ulster from August, 1969, to the end of March, 1972, is estimated at £22 million.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

That is a very high total. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is bound to escalate in the future, and that one of the most important steps one could take to help the army to decrease the number of troops which it has to have there is to set an early date for the elimination of the no-go areas? What date is he prepared to give to that?

Lord Balniel

Undoubtedly, there has been a high cost in terms of finance and in terms of lives in the attempt to preserve peace in Northern Ireland. I appreciate the concern which my hon. Friend expresses about the no-go areas. The army has the military power to remove any barricades, though at the risk of some civilian casualties. It is a difficult judgment. A basically military solution could put at risk the wider political objective of reconciliation which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is attempting to achieve. There is a very difficult judgment here, and the Government have it constantly under review.

Mr. Stratton Mills

In the light of the recent toll of death, injury and bombing, what is the current Army profile? Is it based on a concept of searching out and destroying the IRA, or is it based on a concept of merely responding to specific instances of attack by the IRA in individual circumstances?

Lord Balniel

The instructions to the army are to respond to violence from whatever quarter it comes at the level which is considered necessary. At the same time, it must be made quite clear that violence will not succeed and the army can and will respond, as it did recently, in the Lenadoon estate.

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