HC Deb 16 November 1972 vol 846 cc586-7
4. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give the number of prosecutions during the last 12 months in Northern Ireland for the illegal possession of arms.

Mr. David Howell

The figure is 484

Mr. Cox

I am sure that the Minister will agree that these are extremely disappointing figures in view of the known vast numbers of illegal arms that are in circulation. Can the hon. Gentleman say what further action the Government intend to take to try to reduce the number of illegally-held arms, and can he, in particular, say what action they intend to take to stop the exportation of arms from this country—especially from the north of England and Scotland—to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Howell

The security forces always want to capture more illegally-held arms, but it would be wrong to write down the very considerable successes there have been in discovering caches of arms. Major finds have been made in both Protestant extremist areas and in Provisional IRA areas in many places in Belfast and the countryside, and considerable numbers of illegal weapons have been picked up. Nevertheless, we remain very concerned about, and are making stronger efforts to stop, the importation of weapons used to murder innocent women and children, and soldiers.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I join in those sentiments, and welcome the very great success of the robot telephone system, but has my hon. Friend any estimate of the total number of illegal arms held at present in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Howell

I cannot give an estimate. Almost by definition, the arms we do not know about are those that we want to find. There can be no estimate of illegally and secretly held arms.