HC Deb 04 April 1974 vol 871 cc1426-30
6. Mr. Mather

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

17. Mr. Goodhart

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

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I made a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland in the House on Monday last, and I intend to refer to the subject in the debate later today.

Mr. Mather

On Monday last the right hon. Gentleman said that he had no intention of increasing the present number of British troops in Northern Ireland. If that is true it will be difficult to step up security with that number of troops. Will he consider local resources of manpower and, in particular, the Ulster Defence Regiment? Will he consider whether it is possible to establish regular units or special units of the Ulster Defence Regiment and also an augmentation of the RUC special reserve?

Mr. Rees

I shall be looking at all these matters in the way that the hon. Member has suggested and shall have something to say on some of these aspects later today.

Mr. Stallard

Does the Secretary of State accept that the security situation in Northern Ireland is exacerbated by the continued existence of detention and internment without trial and by the refusal of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to send back to Northern Ireland the political prisoners who are in gaols in this country? Will he bring pressure to bear on his right hon. Friend to deal with the second point, and will he bear the first point in mind?

Mr. Rees

On the latter point, and bearing in mind that my responsibilities are exclusively concerned with Northern Ireland and have no application at home, all these matters have to be looked at in the context of Northern Ireland. They must be considered not least in the context of my responsibility for the safety of prisons, prison officers and all those who would have to protect people of that nature, and other wider responsibilities that have to be taken into account. Of course, detention in the form set out under the emergency provisions legislation is a bone of contention in Northern Ireland. To explain this, however—as is my job—to the people who crowded round me in Belfast after a 500 lb. bomb had blown the city centre to bits is not easy. That sort of action makes it difficult for the Government to consider political moves forward.

Mr. Goodhart

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that certain recent court cases have created an unfortunate impression among some Service men that their actions are likely to be judged more harshly than those of the terrorists who are trying to destroy society? Will the Minister also bear in mind, in contemplating the release of further detainees, the effect that this might have on the morale of our security forces in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rees

All these matters have to be considered in the round, and I hope to do that later. The military, security and political aspects have to be taken together. They often conflict, but in the long run the political aspect must prevail. In the short run I am not prepared—and the last month in Northern Ireland has reinforced my view on this—to let people die while we talk.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Is not the policy of internment without trial pursued by the Governments of the Soviet Union, Chile, Portugal and Greece, and should we not now be giving serious consideration to ensuring that in Northern Ireland we do not follow the uncivilised policies which, as a party, we condemn when followed elsewhere in the world?

Mr. Rees

It is possible for my hon. Friend to take that view. I invite him to visit Northern Ireland. If he thinks that in discharging my responsibilities I am acting in the way he suggests he will discover that he is very wrong.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the morale of the security forces has been disastrously affected by the knowledge that the troops can be brought before the Diplock courts, which were brought in to deal with terrorists and not with those who are responsible for maintaining law and order, and that they often operate in areas where, if an incident takes place, the bystanders are hostile witnesses? On the point about the release of detainees, will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that every hon. Member realises that the security forces wonder whether it is worth while doing a job in Northern Ireland if the men who have been acting against them are to be released and will return to acts of terrorism?

Mr. Rees

On the last part I do not believe that the hon. Member has any right to say that as a generality. I speak to the security commanders daily. I also visit the troops frequently. I ask the hon. Member not to cast doubts on the morale of the soldiers in Northern Ireland.

On the first part of the hon. Member's question, there is a case which is sub judice and I do not want to discuss it. In the broader sense, it must be realised that the use of troops in this civil aid situation presents extreme difficulty. I would not want to put anyone at a disadvantage, particularly bearing in mind the background explained by the hon. Member. I believe that the courts are capable of judging all these issues, and it is something which must be borne in mind when the sub judice case is out of the way and we begin to consider the wider matter.

16. Mr. Carson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the security situation in the city of Belfast.

Mr. Orme

The security situation in Belfast continues to give rise to concern. In particular, the recent bombing outrages in the city centre have caused considerable disruption to the normal pattern of life. The security forces continue to use their best endeavours to prevent terrorist activities by every means at their disposal, but to achieve this end they are heavily dependent on the information and help forthcoming from shopkeepers and members of the public.

Mr. Carson

Is the Minister aware that the security situation is vastly deteriorating, especially in the centre of Belfast, where in the past 21 days a member of the security force has been killed and Constable McClinton, who was patrolling a street by himself in a troubled area, was shot in the back of the head? Has the Minister given any directive to the police not to have these areas patrolled single-handed? Does he intend to take action so as to give proper protection to the RUC, especially in Belfast? What action has been taken to prevent large bombs being taken into the centre of Belfast?

Mr. Orme

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I recently visited the centre of Belfast with both the Army and the RUC. I toured the Segment area and saw for myself what was happening on the ground.

My right hon. Friend and I have discussed this question with the security forces. As the hon. Gentleman knows, on this issue there is often conflict between the security forces, the business community and the people who must use the Segment. We are examining the situation extremely seriously and we shall proceed, wherever possible, to improve it.

Mr. Pym

Is the Minister satisfied that adequate attention is paid by firms and organisations to their own defences, for which they are responsible? It seems important that that aspect should not be left out of account. Is the Minister satisfied that firms are doing so adequately?

Mr. Orme

I am afraid that I am not. There have been recent examples of major, nationally known companies whose premises have been destroyed and who have employed no security force or staff—for which they may receive special allowances. Some stores are not protected or guarded. Some firms make little or no protection arrangements themselves, while others do. There is an unevenness, and we are bringing the matter to the attention of the business community.