HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1789-92
2. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will initiate discussions on possible arrangements for Commonwealth forces to share in the policing of Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)

I do not think assistance from Commonwealth forces would be appropriate or practicable.

Mr. Hooley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I support the Government White Paper on Northern Ireland and regard the Convention as a very important step forward, which I believe will succeed? But does he think that some reinforcement measures are needed? One useful measure would be to play down the British Army's rôle as a policing force and to try to introduce a body which, in its composition, would be manifestly more neutral in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Orme

I can tell my hon. Friend that the Government are reassessing the rôle of the Army regarding policing. A statement was made yesterday and my right hon. Friend will be developing this matter in answer to further Questions.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Will the right hon. Gentleman repudiate the implication in the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Healey (Mr. Hooley) that the British Army is not neutral as between the two communities?

Mr. Orme

I do not think that my hon. Friend was implying that. I think that he was trying to assist by suggesting, as he has done on previous occasions, that troops of either the United Nations or the Commonwealth could assist. In the Government's opinion it is not believed that they would assist. We recognise that the Army has had a difficult job in policing. It is not the Army's rôle, and that is why the Government are now re-examining the matter.

Mr. Fitt

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the final analysis the only answer to this difficult problem is to be found in the bringing into existence of a police service composed of Northern Ireland people who will be freely and readily accepted by both communities? Will he take urgent steps to involve the representatives of both communities with the idea of bringing such a service into operation as quickly as possible?

Mr. Orme

I welcome my hon. Friend's statement and the manner in which he has put it to the House. It is at the basis of the proposals that my right hon. Friend wishes to discuss with all sections of the community following today's Questions and his statement.

12. Mr. Molyneaux

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representation he has had about the creation of a Home Guard; and if he has considered its formation within the structure of the UDR and the RUC Reserve.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

Various proposals have been put to me and I am examining how best to make use of local willingness to support the RUC and to make a contribution towards policing throughout Northern Ireland. I have no plans for the creation of a Home Guard.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that in order to facilitate the eventual phasing out of the Army from Northern Ireland it would be preferable if such a force were created within a reorganised RUC Reserve? Will he give an assurance that if and when it comes to the creation of such a force it will not be recruited and organised on a sectarian basis?

Mr. Rees

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not seeking sectarian policing. I am discussing the matter which he raises with the security forces and I have had discussions with members of political parties, and it is my intention to continue with those discussions. But at the appropriate moment—I hope it is not long delayed—we shall come forward with proposals as a result of discussions with the community as a whole. Such discussions are necessary because the proposals would have to be accepted by the whole community. We shall find a way in which the community can play its part in policing in Northern Ireland under the control of the RUC.

Mr. Fitt

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those people in Northern Ireland who seem to be advocating the creation of a Home Guard are advocating the return of a force such as the former discredited B Specials? Does he further agree that, given the experience which the House has had with that force, the Government must not tolerate the bringing back into existence of that type of force?

Mr. Rees

There is no intention of bringing back the B Specials. Those people in Northern Ireland who, for good reasons, are asking for the end of detention and of the emergency provisions, and for the withdrawal of the Army to barracks, will, I hope, realise that that could create a vacuum. Such people would have to be prepared to play their part in policing, because that vacuum would be a recipe for sectarian murders.

Mr. Kershaw

Will the right hon. Gentleman free himself from any political bias in this matter—I am not suggesting that he is biased, but pressures are put on him in different ways—and agree that it is essential that if security is to be safeguarded there should be a local force with people from the local community rather than visiting troops? Does he not agree that this is a technical rather than a political matter?

Mr. Rees

With regard to political bias, I find it difficult when asked to be non-political. I thought that we were in this House because we were political. I look at this matter in as objective a way as I can. My aim is to withdraw the Army from the streets of Northern Ireland. The Army, having been given a job to do, has done it under impossible conditions. But we can withdraw the Army only when everybody—both main communities—are co-operating.

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