HC Deb 16 January 1975 vol 884 cc663-6
12. Mr. Mather

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

13. Mr. Goodhart

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

Mr. Orme

I would refer the hon. Member to my right hon. Friend's statement in the House on 14th January.—[Vol. 884, c. 201–4.]

Mr. Mather

What means will the Government use to ensure that the ceasefire is not used simply as a welcome respite by the IRA—a tactical move in order to reorganise, re-equip and redeploy, so that it may launch fresh attacks against people of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Orme

I refer the hon. Member to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Tuesday, when he referred to the fact that the Army was aware of the situation, that it was manning the border and was looking for explosives if they were being moved about, but at the same time that its rôle had been reduced and that this had been welcomed by both communities in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Goodhart

If, as we must all hope, the cease-fire continues to hold and the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland can be reduced, is it not plain that the rôle of the RUC will have to be substantially increased? Does the Minister think that the morale of the RUC will be improved if the Government go ahead with their disgraceful attempt to cut the compensation awarded to three widows of RUC constables shot by terrorists?

Mr. Orme

I cannot refer to a case that is sub judice. We accept that if we can move towards a permanent cease-fire policing in Northern Ireland will become a major factor. It is the sort of problem that the Government will have to grapple with. I think that the Leader of the Opposition also found, on his recent visit to Northern Ireland, that the morale of the RUC is extremely high. The RUC wants to move into this new situation in which it can develop policing throughout the whole of the Province. I believe that once we get to that position, however difficult it is, we can grasp the nettle.

Mr. Fitt

Has my right hon. Friend had any communication today on the question whether there is to be an extention of the cease-fire or the true period?

Mr. Orme

We have no information to date.

Mr. Kilfedder

The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on his brave attempts to hold on to the fragile peace, but is he not aware that many people in Northern Ireland are disturbed at the suggestions which have appeared in the Press that a senior civil servant has been negotiating with the IRA? Will the right hon. Gentleman deny it, if it is not true? Does he realise that the IRA cannot be trusted to carry out its side of any negotiated settlement?

Mr. Orme

My right hon. Friend explained this point very fully in his statement on Tuesday. We are looking for an extension of the cease-fire into a permanent situation in which the matters we have just been discussing, such as policing and a new approach in Northern Ireland, can be effective. But in that regard my right hon. Friend does not go beyond his statement on Tuesday.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when millions of people everywhere are hoping that this fragile peace may be made permanent, any hon. Member who, by his sniping, encourages anybody in Ulster who wants to return to the position as it was in the middle of December is unworthy of membership of the House?

Mr. Orme

Not only in the House but, more important still, in both communities, the response to the cease-fire since its beginning has been tremendous. We believe that people in Northern Ireland want the cease-fire to continue and develop into a permanent peace. People in this country and Northern Ireland will not lightly judge anyone who brings it to an end.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is the RUC being allowed to adopt a higher profile as the Army has taken a lower profile during the cease-fire? Are the establishment totals for the RUC and RUC Reserve credible in view of the likely increase in policing that the right hon. Gentleman has already outlined?

Mr. Orme

The RUC wants to develop normal policing, comparable with what is done in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is what the Government are assisting it in.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In view of the increasing co-operation from south of the border, does the right hon. Gentleman think that we may be approaching the time when we can have joint or co-ordinated patrolling by the security forces in Northern Ireland and the Republic, without prejudice to national sovereignty on either side, of course?

Mr. Orme

There is a great deal going on. Co-operation between the RUC and the Garda is at a higher level than at any time. I should not like to take this argument any further now.