HC Deb 03 July 1973 vol 859 cc229-31
4. Mr. Duffy

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

23. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make a further statement about the operations of the security forces in Northern Ireland.

30. Mr. Stratton Mills

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

Mr. Ian Gilmour

The Army is continuing to assist the civil authorities in the maintenance of law and order. It is continuing to make progress against the terrorists, and I am sure the whole House shares our gratitude for the efforts it and other members of the security forces have made to enable last week's elections to take place almost undisturbed by violence.

Mr. Duffy

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the slump in Army recruitment figures for April compared with a year ago? Will he say how far that is due to the operations in Northern Ireland, the campaign being conducted in this country for the withdrawal of the troops, or the economic boom? Will he undertake some market research to establish the facts?

Mr. Gilmour

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, there are two later Questions which specifically relate to Army recruitment. Northern Ireland is one factor, but it is only one factor.

Mr. Goodhart

Can my right hon. Friend say what success we are having with our policy of strengthening the Ulster Defence Regiment and the RUC? Will he say what reply we have had to the questions which have been put to the Soviet Government and elsewhere about the supply of Russian-manufactured rockets to the IRA?

Mr. Gilmour

The RUC is not my responsibility except in so far as the RMP works with it. I can tell my hon. Friend that co-operation is going very well and that the RMP is popular in the area in which it operates. I have no further information to give him on the second part of his question.

Mr. Stratton Mills

My right hon. Friend talks about progress being made against the terrorists: in his assessment of the situation, can lie point to areas where there have been major breakthroughs in the last couple of months? Can he give the House all the information that is available about the flow of information and the finds of arms, ammunition and explosives?

Mr. Gilmour

As my hon. Friend knows, the flow of information since last year has on the whole been very good and has continued to be so over the last two months. I can tell him that, since the beginning of the year, 775 people have been arrested and charged with offences of a security nature. Arms finds have included over 700 firearms, over 81,000 rounds of ammunition and over 16 tons of explosives.

Mr. Paget

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many people have been convicted by Northern Ireland juries of murdering our troops, and how many people who are known to have murdered our troops are not being arrested because it is not even worth putting them on trial?

Mr. Gilmour

It is difficult to answer the first part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question without the exact figures. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware of the great many people who have been put behind bars under interim custody orders and so forth who are probably murderers but who have not always been brought to trial for reasons of which the hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of the operations of the troops in Northern Ireland depends to a great degree on the morale of the troops? Will he confirm that the morale of the troops suffered when they read the headlines on the front page of the Daily Mirror of 11th June about the life-saver which our troops cannot wear? That was a reference to the jackets referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis). Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent upon the British Press to use facts and not to deal in innuendos and emotions?

Mr. Gilmour

My hon. Friend is perfectly right in saying that the morale of our troops in Northern Ireland is extremely good. Morale remains very high and it would not be affected in any way by an article of that sort. I am sure that the Press is fully aware of the need to use care when printing articles about Northern Ireland.

Mr. Wellbeloved

In view of the interest taken by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland about the continuing presence of British troops in Northern Ireland, will the Minister say what talks he will try to open with the Republican Government to try to ensure that murderers harbouring in the Republic no longer cross the border to murder British troops in Northern Ireland? Does he think that he will receive the cooperation of the Republic in suppressing such activities?

Mr. Gilmour

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, co-operation on the border has improved over the last few months. There is still room for greater scope. The border is very long, and that affects the South just as much as ourselves.