HC Deb 10 May 1973 vol 856 cc724-8
2. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the security of Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. William Whitelaw)

The general level of violence is declining.

The security forces have had important successes in their operations against terrorists, and in seizing illegal arms, ammunition and explosives, and so far this year 587 people have been charged with security offences. It remains the object of the security forces to end violence and thus maintain the conditions necessary for the success of political reforms.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I welcome the attitude in Dublin to the problems of law and order and the constructive speeches made in Dail Eireann recently about the North, but does not my right hon. Friend think that despite the improvement the situation on the border is serious? Are we getting nearer to joint security control of the border? Would it not be a welcome gesture of good will if we had full reciprocity in extradition, North and South?

Mr. Whitelaw

On my hon. Friend's first point, he will have noted the considerable operation mounted by the security forces in the Republic last weekend in the Dundalk area, following the tragic loss of three soldiers as a result of mine explosions. This operation was most helpful. One looks forward to cooperation of this sort in the future. I am grateful for it.

As to extradition, yes, we have our duties as far as our courts are concerned, and we have no means politically—and quite rightly, as an executive—to interfere in any way with the judgment of the courts in these matters. Equally, the Republic has its reciprocity measures. I accept what my hon. Friend says, that where we make requests for extradition I hobe that they will be granted.

Mr. Stallard

Does the Secretary of State accept that I, too, welcome any attempts made to reduce tension in the Six Counties? Does not he agree that the case recently exposed by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in which a young fellow was being blackmailed by the security forces—a charge which was admitted by the Secretary of State for Defence—does not help the situation? Furthermore, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the House is entitled to an explanation and a statement about that case?

Mr. Whitelaw

I believe that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has spoken to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) about this case. I confine myself to the general point that, bearing in mind all the problems that exist in a situation like Northern Ireland, mistakes are made from time to time on both sides. I, for one, have never been prepared to deny that. Nevertheless, the performance of our security forces is something of which the House can be properly proud.

Captain Orr

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there has been any change in the political directives given to the Army? Will he confirm that there have not, in view of certain rumours? Has he anything fresh to say about cooperation between the Army and the police?

Mr. Whitelaw

There has been no change in the directives to the Army. The best evidence of that is that one is accused, on the one hand, of having given directives for greater action of some sort and, on the other, of having directed restricted action. The best answer is clearly that there has been no change, nor should there be. It is the job of the Army on the one hand, to do everything possible to end violence and to keep up the most constant pressure on the terrorist. The other duty, which it understands full well, is not in any way to do wrong to innocent members of the population.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

We all agree that the Army should withdraw from the policing rôle in Northern Ireland as soon as possible. What prerequisite does the Secretary of State have in mind before this can be done?

Mr. Whitelaw

There must be no doubt in the first instance that co-operation on the part of the whole population with the security forces is a vital feature in the security of any State. Co-operation from the population in Northern Ireland, as evidenced by use of the robot telephone, confidential systems and the rest, has been increasing all the time, is still increasing, and is a major factor in the improving successes of the security forces. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, North (Captain Orr) also asked about co-operation between the Army and the police. This co-operation is certainly a major and important factor in the security operation and in the immense successes there have been in bringing people to trial for various offences.

Mr. Mather

Will my right hon. Friend make a statement about the member of the UDR just reported shot and killed?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is always a great mistake in this House to make a statement about an incident until one has received a full and detailed report. I can say only that I regret to understand, from a very preliminary report, that a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment was shot off duty at a farm close to the border this morning. It would be wrong for me to go into further details.

Mr. English

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of persons charged. Will he assist the House and particularly the Northern Ireland Committee to obtain statistics of convictions and acquittals regularly? I regret to say this; in the light of the discussions we have had—but may we have the statistics distinguished in terms of the religious belief of the defendant?

Mr. Whitelaw

I would be trespassing far beyond what I would wish to say in answer to the original Question if I went into the subject of the discussions which have been continuing, in my absence, in the Committee on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. One of the most important provisions is bringing to trial and bringing forward charges against those whom one believes to be guilty of terrorist offences. That is the first task. The second is to ensure that those persons receive a proper and fair trial. That is encumbent upon any State. Equally, this House must understand the dangers of intimidation of juries from whatever source it may come.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will my right hon. Friend give some information about the automatic fire that was directed against the workers of the Sirocco works in Belfast when they left the factory a few days ago and came out into Mount Pottinger Road? Is he aware that the fire was directed from a children's play tower in Seaforde Street, and will he say what action the Army is taking in the matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I accept that this is an important matter. My hon. Friend the Minister of State had a meeting with all the people concerned. The Army is taking appropriate action, and it would be wrong for me to go further. However, I recognise the importance of this case.