HC Deb 05 February 1974 vol 868 cc1019-22
5. Mr. Duffy

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

Mr. Ian Gilmour

As I said on 29th January—[Vol. 868, c. 82]—the Army has worked with the civil authority to bring about a reduction in violence, and will continue to do so for as long as necessary.

Mr. Duffy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the allegation made in this House last Thursday by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—I have written him a note—to the effect that the British Army was responsible for the shooting of an ex-member of the UDR? Is he further aware of his allegation that British Intelligence is out to kill him? Have such allegations assisted the Army in its operations in Northern Ireland? Has the right hon. Gentleman considered making a statement?

Mr. Gilmour

The hon. Member will be aware of what my right hon. Friend the Lord President said last Thursday. The alleged harassment of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is total nonsense.

Mr. McMaster

Following the dreadful events of the past 48 hours, may I ask my right hon. Friend to abandon his equivocal attitude and admit that the IRA is waging war against this country and Northern Ireland? Will he further admit that almost 1,000 people have been killed? Will he ensure that in areas such as Crossmaglen, where the IRA has complete control, law and order is restored and the battle is taken up with the IRA so that peace may be restored in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Gilmour

I am bound to say that I was not aware that I had an equivocal attitude towards the IRA. Of course the Army, the Government and the whole House are out to stamp out terrorism wherever it may be. We have had considerable success in what we are doing. I honestly do not think that allegations such as those produced by my hon. Friend are helpful.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he will be supported in any action he may take to crush terrorism in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the realm? Will he now return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and expand on what he has said because we are concerned about the serious allegations being made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)? It is incumbent upon the Government to refute them in the most absolute detail and to make a statement.

Mr. Gilmour

I am grateful to the hon. Member for the comment in the first part of his question. I cannot do much more than say that what was said was absolute nonsense. That seems to be clear and fairly concise and as much as the hon. Gentleman could want.

Mr. Goodhew

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no one in the House who will deny what he has said about the Army contributing greatly to bringing about the peace in Northern Ireland? May I ask him to assure the House that nothing will be done politically to prevent the forces from carrying out their difficult duties?

Mr. Gilmour

I am glad to give my hon. Friend that assurance. He will be aware that a terrorist situation of this sort is fairly complicated and some police measures are not always most likely to be effective. The Army at all levels is aware that no efforts are being made by politicians to hamper its work. The hon. Member will have been to Northern Ireland and seen the situation there. He knows that such a suggestion is not true.

13. Mr. McMaster

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the number of soldiers serving in Northern Ireland now as compared with the number six and 12 months ago respectively.

Mr. Dudley Smith

The number of regular troops was about 16,500 at the end of both January and July 1973, and about 15,500 at the end of January 1974. In addition, UDR strengths on these dates were 8,814, 7,910 and 7,860 respectively.

Mr. McMaster

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he not appreciate that the scale of violence in Northern Ireland in recent months has been escalating, and that—despite the disbandment of the B Specials and all reforms, including power sharing—the number of murders and bomb attacks has increased? Will he appreciate that while he and his governmental colleagues talk of combating all terrorists, people in Northern Ireland are dismayed at the situation? Does he appreciate that the IRA has been carrying out this campaign, and will he take steps to wage war on those responsible for death and destruction in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Smith

We take action against all people who indulge in violence and terrorism, from whatever quarter they come. I recently visited Northern Ireland to see the security forces and was very impressed with the morale and sense of purpose of troops of all ranks. The idea behind our activities is to maintain the flexibility and credibility of the Army. I believe that this is being maintained at present.

Mr. Rose

In the light of yesterday's terrible atrocity and also of today's discovery of Bren guns and a number of rounds of ammunition, which apparently belong to a UDA gang arrested in the north of England, will the hon. Gentleman pay special attention to assisting Service men and their families in the North-West and will he look into the security of key areas of transport? Will he give the House the latest information concerning today's arrest and any connection which it may have with yesterday's events?

Mr. Smith

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into detail on the point he has raised, since the news is too recent. As for the terrible incident yesterday, we shall give every help we can to the families of the dead and injured. We are currently reviewing all security processes in connection with Army camps and Army personnel. This is a vast problem and nothing can be 100 per cent. foolproof.