§ 11.40 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
My colleagues and I were motivated to seek this debate on the Customs Service in Northern Ireland—with special reference to their functions in relation to the land frontiers—by three factors. The first was the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and me on recent tours of the frontier, where we noticed that there was no apparent liaison or co-ordination between the security forces and personnel from Her Majesty's Customs. That view was subsequently reinforced in various discussions which we had with people during that tour.
The second factor was the answer given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 16th January 1975 when, in reply to a question as to how many persons had been the subject of exclusion orders made under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, he indicated that no orders had been made. However, notwithstanding the difficulties involved, he considered that the control of the borders was essential, and said:I intend to carry out this Act because I believe that it is necessary." [Official Report, 16th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 654.]Strong representations were made to hon. Members with border constituencies by legitimate business interests who were concerned by the delays and difficulties experienced at the frontier crossings. As a consequence of our decision to seek this debate, I decided last weekend to investigate personally the conditions which existed along the land frontier of my constituency and with particular reference to the six approved crossings. I did not do that with any malice. I did it on three days within the last week, during the afternoon, when one would have expected normal conditions to have existed. I did it at what was considered by members of the security forces to be considerable risk to myself, because they refused to accompany me on one of the days when I asked for a security guard. Nevertheless, this was done in an attempt to produce a spot check report on conditions which existed there.
1918 Before giving that report I shall remind hon. Members of this part of my constituency. The border is extremely long, and meanders over desolate land and, frequently, mountainous country. When one looks round the barren greenness of this Chamber one almost feels at home.
There are approximately 90 crossings along that section of the frontier in my constituency. They range from the main trunk route between Belfast and Dublin to rutted mountain tracks. There are six approved crossings and two concessionary crossing points where the Dundalk-Castleblaney road enters and leaves my constituency. The Army, with varying degrees of success, have attempted to close many of the crossings. The six approved crossings are the A3 at Ardgonnel, two miles outside Middletown, the crossing of the B32 at Carrickduff, four miles outside Keady, the crossing of the B30 at Cullaville, two miles outside Crossmaglen, the crossing of the A29 at Tullydonnell, two miles from Forkhill, the crossing of the A1 at Killeen, on the Belfast-Dublin road, and the crossing of the Newry-Omeath road. That list reads like a war record.
On 18th January, accompanied by my agent Mr. J. A. Anderson, I visited the Middletown and Keady crossings. On Sunday afternoon, 19th January, accompanied by my wife, I visited the crossings at Omeath and Killeen, and on Monday, 20th January, again accompanied by my agent, I visited Cullaville and Tullydonnell.
At Middletown the customs post has been moved back four miles from the border. There was a sign displayed outside the temporary building stating "Customs—Stop". I drove past it both going out of Northern Ireland and returning to Northern Ireland. All the other traffic did the same, with the exception of one lorry. No attempt was made to stop me or even to request me to stop. However, I did stop and I returned to the post, identified myself to the customs officials there and learned that they make no attempt to stop any traffic. They told me that they were open from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., although I was unable to confirm that one way or the other.
Certainly they had no knowledge of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. I have learned subsequently that they did not need to have any knowledge of that 1919 Act, because they are not examining officers. But, as people involved in the control of the frontier, I should have thought that they would at least have been briefed about the order as it applies to Northern Ireland and concerned about its operation and perhaps how they might be involved in it.
The village of Middletown lies between the post and the border, and the Army has an efficient permanent vehicle checkpoint there. I understand that the Army feels that this would be a useful place for Customs examinations to be made. However, there is no liaison between the Army and the Customs. If soldiers venture anywhere near the Customs officers, they shut up shop and drive off in their cars. They will have no contact with the security forces, and perhaps this is understandable. But they perform no function as examining officers, and I question whether they perform any function as Customs officers.
At Keady, the post has been moved back a mile from the border. No attempt was made to stop me leaving Northern Ireland and no other vehicles stopped while I was in the area. I stopped there again when I returned to Northern Ireland and spoke to a Customs officer. He told me that the post was open from 9 am to 6 pm. I asked him what procedures I had to observe when entering and when leaving Northern Ireland. When I was last there, which was in 1968 or 1969, there were fairly strict procedures in operation. However, I was told that there are none now. What is more, due to the position of this post, vehicles can disperse before reaching it.
At Omeath, on Sunday afternoon, I was unable to locate the Customs post. Later I discovered that it is housed in an ordinary caravan parked at the side of the road. It is about two miles from the border. There are no signs indicating that it is a Customs post. There was no obvious presence there, the curtains being drawn and the door closed. Further up the road there is a permanent vehicle check point operated by the Army, and all vehicles entering or leaving Northern Ireland are checked.
As a result of the interest in Flagstaff Road, which has some notoriety because our security forces were obliged to take down a permanent blockage there, I 1920 turned into Flagstaff Road. I drove past the Eire Army's permanent check point. The soldier on duty made no attempt to stop me. I reversed and stopped beside him. I asked whether he wanted to ask me any questions or to search my car. He told me to drive on. A little further on, an Eire Customs officer pulled aside the barrier and let me drive on. We were assured that there was control on that very dangerous road, but I saw no evidence of it. I returned to Northern Ireland by an unapproved border crossing, which is illegal.
At Killeen, the post has been moved one mile back from its original position. I drove past it into the Republic. I turned, and drove back into Northern Ireland. As I approached the post, I slowed as if to stop. A Customs officer put his arm out of a window and waved me on as if I had no business even to think of stopping.
At Cullaville, the permanent post has been destroyed. This is one of the very dangerous areas in my constituency. There is no temporary post. I crossed the border. I did not realise that I was crossing it, but I noticed some Gaelic hieroglyphics on a sign and I realised that I was outside the Eire Customs post. The Eire official waved me on. He was annoyed when I did not move, and asked what I wanted. I asked where the British Customs post was. He said, "You need not worry; they are not here any more." That is an "approved" crossing point. At Tullydonnell, the permanent post has been destroyed. There are signs showing that there should be a temporary post, but it is not there. Traffic was moving quite freely.
So of six approved crossings, at two we have no control at all, at two there are efficient vehicle checkpoints manned by the Army, but no Customs staff, and four of the six have a Customs presence but no control is being exercised. The two permanent posts are at the extreme eastern and western ends of my constituency, so that whole border area is completely open to the free movement of traffic. The Secretary of State has said that the implementation of this statute is essential to control the frontier, so this needs some examination.
How many border posts are operational and effective in County Armagh even for 1921 the normal Customs function? How many uniformed Customs officers are engaged along that frontier? What are the opening and closing times of the Customs posts? What is their function? I have seen them perform none. Are they, as we have heard, authorised not to co-operate with the other security forces? Finally, are they really necessary? If they are performing no function, there must be something better they can do somewhere else. I should like to know who are the designated examining officers under the anti-terrorist Acts, and whether they are on the spot to perform their duties.
Over 100 lives have been lost in County Armagh in the present troubles, and over 50 were members of the security forces. A soldier going to Northern Ireland is twice as likely to be killed in County Armagh as in any other constituency. In the deep south of the county, 30 soldiers and one terrorist have been killed. One could ask, who is winning what war?
There is a free and easy transfer of arms and explosives over that border. I do not expect Customs officers to control that flow, but if we are ever to convince the enemy that we see the frontier as establishing Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, we should make sure that frontier controls work. We should use the Customs officers to show that any traveller is leaving a hostile country and entering my country.
§ 11.54 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I think it will be agreed that my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) has performed a service in bringing before the House the circumstances and conditions on which he has been able to report first-hand. But I think it would also be right to link with the recognition to my hon. Friend a word to the Financial Secretary, who is at present carrying a very heavy load in other directions and has made himself available, as the representative of the Department responsible for Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, to listen to the debate, to take note of the points and, so far as may be at this stage—no doubt more fully later—to respond. I would certainly link with that a reference to the representative of the Northern Ireland Office, 1922 for in this respect the responsibility of the two Departments of State is very difficult to disentangle.
There are two distinct aspects to the subject which my hon. Friend was covering. One is the functioning of the Customs on the international frontier in the narrower sense of the term—the Customs as the service which has the object of ensuring that whatever duty is payable is, as far as may be, levied, and that there is no reasonably avoidable loss of sums which are due by way of duty.
In that more limited context of the work of the Customs, properly so called, I think that a scandalous situation is disclosed in County Armagh. As my hon. Friend very reasonably observed, if the Customs officers and the Customs posts which are there are not in fact exercising any Customs control over the traffic passing those points, that manpower could certainly be better used in other directions. I may say that it could be better used not many miles away; for certainly the Under-Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office will be aware of the existence in Newry in my constituency, on the main route among those mentioned by my hon. Friend, of a vehicle Customs post, and I must bring to the attention of the Government the unsatisfactory nature of the service which is provided at that Customs post.
If I may quote from one statement which was given to me by the CBI of Northern Ireland:The service given by Customs"—at that point—has not been uprated to deal with the ever-increasing volume of traffic passing this way, and they have neither sufficient staff nor the right sort of premises to carry out checkson the type of vehicles and the volume of traffic which is now passing.
Again, the Road Transport Association of Northern Ireland, referring to the same post, describe it ascompletely inadequate, having regard to the volume of businessand says thatvehicles have no alternative but to park on both sides of the public highway causing a traffic hazard.There is also very serious complaint about the adequacy of the manning of the post at Newry. The opening hours at present are, at any rate ostensibly, from 1923 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In practice it is found that traffic builds up rapidly just after opening time and around the closing time. This has a very serious economic effect upon road hauliers who are making relatively short journeys; for a delay of that kind, at that time and at that point, can prevent a round journey being made within one working day, which especially for a small haulier, can be a very heavy economic burden indeed.
I should add finally, while I am on the subject of the unsatisfactory Customs arrangements at Newry, that while Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have assured the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who assembled these observations, thatany driver who is delayed or wishes to pass through Customs after 5 p.m. merely has to telephone and, on payment of a small fee, arrangements will be made to clear him outside hours,I must tell the Financial Secretary that this is a highly imaginative piece of information in the light of what I have been assured not once but repeatedly by the road hauliers who are using that road. So, merely for the proper performance of the ordinary Customs functions as anywhere else in the Kingdom, it is clear that major improvements are necessary at the Newry customs post both physically and in respect of manning.
If the Government are looking for the nearest place to find additional manpower the investigations of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh suggest that many of the personnel who are idle in Customs posts at or near the border which are not working properly could be utilised in Newry in order to facilitate the flow of traffic through the post there.
That brings me from the narrower aspect of the Customs to the broader and more urgent aspect of control in the wider sense over the crossing of the frontier. I venture to remind the House—though it is less full now than it was when the decisions were taken under two months ago—of the form of control which it then decided requires to be exercised. Section 8 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 empowers the Secretary of State—I pause there to observe that although, as is invariable in statutes, the power is couched in permissive form— 1924The Secretary of State may … providefor certain following things—the clear intention of Parliament, and the normal interpretation of the meaning of a statute, is that the Secretary of State shall provide. When the House passed the Act it did not mean that it would be no bad idea if, occasionally, when he thought fit, the Secretary of State instituted some kind of control. This is none other than the standard form in which the House gives instructions as well as powers to the Ministers of the Crown.
I resume after that digression, Mr. Deputy Speaker, intended to make sure that there is no misunderstanding of the importance and intention of that provision. Section 8 says that the Secretary of State is to provide forthe examination of persons arriving in … Northern Ireland".Again I pause to say that by an order made by virtue of that section it was made perfectly clear that the arrival in Northern Ireland which is referred to includes arrival in Northern Ireland by land. Over and over again in Statutory Instrument 2038/74 provision is made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to cover entry into Northern Ireland by land from the Republic.
Again I resume. The Secretary of State is to provide forthe examination of persons arriving in … Northern Irelandby landwith a view to determining—I pass no judgment upon the general appearance of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh, but even if he had borne innocence upon every trait of his features, even if the vehicle and the man had screamed innocence, there would have been nobody, in most cases, to take note of it.(i) whether any such person appears to be a person concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".
Persons are to be examinedwith a view to determining—1925 I pause again. The exclusion orders which have been made by the Home Secretary are, in a number of cases at any rate, exclusion orders which apply to the United Kingdom as a whole. They forbid persons to return to the United Kingdom, from which they have been excluded by order of the Home Secretary in pursuance of the decisions of the House. The second of the objects of the control which the Secretary of State is to institute is to ascertain whether they are among the persons seeking to enter Northern Ireland by land.
- (i) whether any such person appears to be a person concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, or
- (ii) whether any such person is subject to an exclusion order".
The section continues:(iii) whether there are grounds for suspecting that any such person has committed an offence under section 3(8) of this Act"—that is, other offences connected with exclusion orders.
It will be clear that it was the intention of the House that there should be a real and thorough control for those purposes upon entry into the United Kingdom. I am not saying that in order to be real and thorough the control needs to be either 100 per cent. or even 24-hour. What I am saying is that the circumstances which exist on that frontier today, as described by my hon. Friend, and observed by myself on the other occasion to which he referred, in no way correspond—cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as corresponding—to the duty laid upon the Secretary of State and the Government by the House in the Act which was deemed necessary as recently as November of last year.
We have, then, an Act which says that there is to be that control, with those purposes, for the examination upon those criteria of persons entering Northern Ireland by land. I ask, to whom has the responsibility for carrying it out been assigned by the Secretary of State?
A few days ago I asked the Treasury how many Customs and Excise personnel were engaged in Northern Ireland in the control of points of entry by land, sea and air respectively. I was given the respective numbers, which were 232, 60 and seven. I also asked, in view of the duties and powers given to them under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, what increases were proposed in their numbers. In his reply, the Paymaster-General drew my attention to the fact that at present no such functions had been 1926 assigned to Custom sand Excise officers. He said:Customs and Excise officers carry out immigration functions only at a small number of Northern Irish seaports"—[Official Report, 13th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 22.]If that is so then, of the three types of servant of the Crown mentioned as potential examining officers in the relevant order, one is eliminated: there are no Customs officers serving that purpose. So we are left with the constabulary and, secondly, wtth the immigration service. I want to know whether the constabulary or the immigration service have been assigned to the duties of examining officers on that frontier. We should know how many have been so assigned. We should also know something about the manner in which their duties are carried out. We need to do so after the revelations of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh. The clear implication of his evidence is that in effect there is no control, and that if examining officers exist they are lucus a non lucendo, named from the opposite of what they actually do; they are certainly not officers who examine.
Perhaps it may be said that this is too nice an interpretation either of the intention of the Act or of the policy of the Government. It might be said—I do not think that it should be said—that the Government regard the provisions to which I have referred as merely existing in terrorem, as a deterrent, as something which is nice to have on the statute book, something which is handy to pull out in a particular case but which is not intended as far as may be practicable to be actually applied. I am glad to be assured that that is not so.
I quote again the words of the Secretary of State on 16th January that have already been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh. It is not my opinion of the right hon. Gentleman that he is careless in the use of language. On the contrary, I regard him from my experience as a man who when he says something carefully means it and intends to carry it out. He said:It would be idle to pretend that there are not difficulties, given the nature and the length of the border.…Of course there are difficulties. One would be foolish to deny or to minimise 1927 them, as foolish as one would be to suggest that the difficulties render negatory the intention of Parliament, the passage of the Act and the intention of the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman said:I intend to carry out this Act…That is the Act that I have just read to the House. We have the right hon. Gentleman's word that he intends to carry it out. He continued:I believe that it is necessary."—[Official Report, 16th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 654.]So do we who represent Northern Irish constituencies both on the frontier and elsewhere in the Province. We, too, believe that it is necessary.
We raise this debate not for the purpose of petty criticism. There might be a humorous aspect to one or two of the observations of my hon. Friend, but there is nothing to laugh at in the whole of this matter. It is serious indeed. We are confronted with the fact that the Act and the order made by the Secretary of State are, for all practical purposes, not being carried out.
We wish to use this debate as a means of encouraging the Government to institute an urgent investigation not only of the Customs position, to which I have drawn attention, but of the non-implementation of the intention of the Secretary of State. We ask the Government to do that. It is manifestly their duty to do so without being asked. What is more, we assure them that despite the difficulties that they will face in making the Act a practical reality, which it is not at present, they will in so doing enjoy the total support of all the United Ulster Unionist Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. I am pretty sure that, if they were here, other Members of other parties from both sides of the House who passed the Act would assure the Government of similar support.
There is an ultimate reason why, to use the adjective of the Secretary of State, this is necessary.
The loss of life, of property, the loss even of hope, which has devastated Northern Ireland for near upon six years now, has its root cause in an ambiguity, a doubt, an uncertainty which has permitted and encouraged the violence of a tiny minority, the violence of the enemy, to whom my hon. Friend referred. Every 1928 act of Government which removes that uncertainty, which renders it clear what the status of Northern Ireland is to be, is the most direct contribution towards the restoration of peace and the preservation of the lives, both of the security forces and of those whom it is their duty to protect.
The fact that, having passed an Act to control the border, this House insists upon it being reasonably seriously fulfilled is one of the principal ways in which that sureness of purpose can be asserted and ambiguity can be banished from the scene. My hon. Friend, on an impulse of the moment, discerning the expanse of green opposite, was tempted to imagine that he was once again on his native heath and peering across the border. I assure Ministers on the Treasury Bench that this is not how we on this bench regard them. We on this bench consider ourselves duty bound not merely to prompt but to assist the Government in carrying out the duty of Government in Northern Ireland. I hope that it is in that sense that any criticism we have offered tonight will be taken and will be acted upon.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Dr. John Gilbert)
It is more with trepidation than with diffidence that I attempt to reply to a debate that was opened so eloquently by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), supported by his right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I have to reply to the debate because it is primarily concerned with Customs matters. Before I reach the more serious aspects of the debate I must say to the hon. Member for Armagh that he is indeed a happy fellow if, every time he sees these benches, visions of the county of Armagh float before his eyes. I only wish that I was so fortunate at any time, day or night, to be so privileged.
§ Dr. Gilbert
We do have some farms in my constituency of Dudley, but I must not expand on that now. The hon. Member recognised, as did his right hon. Friend, that there are terrible difficulties on the border and it would be almost patronising for me to refer to them because I have not a tithe of the knowledge that he and his right hon. Friend 1929 have about them. I am sure that the hon. Member appreciates that this is a matter ranging wider than the Treasury. It ranges over the responsibilities of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has been listening to this debate with me.
I shall first attempt to deal with the specific questions put by the hon. Member about various border points that he inspected a short time ago. He talked of the border post at Middletown. I am advised, as he is doubtless already aware, that the post has been moved back to its present position from a site nearer the border where it had been repeatedly destroyed. On the day that he was there and spoke to the staff on duty it was not manned from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. but from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In that respect the information I am giving might be said to confirm his worst apprehensions. The post is not supposed to be open as long as he expected.
The post at Keady has not been re-sited during the emergency but has been in position for several years, and is manned from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I have to say to the hon. Member that we have inquired into his movements, or such as we can trace. The officer at Keady knows him well, and I gather, from the freedom with which he moves around, that many officers know him well. The officer at Keady did not see him, any more than he saw the officer. I cannot understand how it came about that they were looking in the wrong directions, but I am assumed that the officer on duty that day when he paid the visit knows him—
§ Mr. McCusker
I shall not quibble, but I stopped my car and walked in and had a talk with the officer. I did not identify myself.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am advised that the officer did not think he had seen the hon. Gentleman, so there is some confusion of identity somewhere.
I am advised that at Omeath, although the hon. Member was not aware of the Customs presence, the officers were on duty until 6 p.m. that day. The caravan and stop sign were burnt on 13th January, six days before his visit, and the stop sign has, unfortunately, not yet been replaced.
1930 At Killeen, the officer on duty apparently saw no reason to stop the hon. Member's car, because he is, as we have agreed, well known to many officers on that border. [Interruption.] I hope I am not implying anything improper about his movements, but that is what I am advised.
The posts at Cullaville and Tullydonnell are on roads which carry little commercial traffic. They are not at present manned, and are being covered by Customs patrols. It is not the case that there is no Customs control on the land boundary. We are maintaining our controls, which are primarily concerned with the movement of goods. This is done both by selective examination of traffic at patrol points and by the patrolling of roads.
Very largely, the rates of duty on most goods in the Republic do not vary much from those in the United Kingdom, but there is some risk of evasion, and duty has to be paid. Those Customs officers who are on the spot carry out their duties in conditions of considerable hazard. I repudiate any suggestion that they are lax in the exercise of their duties. They have an extremely difficult job—probably the most difficult job of any civilian in the United Kingdom—and they are probably the most significantly exposed officers in the United Kingdom, in the exercise of their duties.
The right hon. Member for Down, South spoke of the scandalous situation of the Customs service, and raised complaints about the service which he said was not available at Newry. He said that there were not sufficient staff and that there were inadequate premises, and quoted from a CBI report to that effect. As he will be aware, the Customs station at Newry was bombed and virtually totally destroyed in 1972, and four members of the staff were killed on that occasion. Since then, the staff have been working in makeshift accommodation, which does not make their job any easier.
In August last year Customs and Excise introduced a new system of processing documents at Newry specifically to facilitate the movement of lorry traffic through the control at that point and to attempt to reduce congestion there. The reports we have from our collector at Belfast all suggest that these procedures 1931 have been an improvement and have been welcomed. I was not aware of any recent complaints until the right hon. Gentleman spoke, but I will undertake to look into the matters he has raised.
Passing to the question of immigration control, which was raised primarily by the right hon. Member for Down, South, I shall always bow to him in knowledge of the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, but when he was discussing various categories of individuals who were eligible to be appointed as examining officers, he mentioned constables, immigration officers and officers of Customs and Excise who are listed under paragraph 2(a), (b) and (c) of Schedule 3 of the Act, but he did not include members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who, under paragraph 3 of the same schedule, can perform the functions.
Immigration matters on the border are primarily security matters, and the prime responsibility for them lies with the constabulary and Her Majesty's Armed Forces. The rôle of Customs in controlling immigration in Northern Ireland is in no way related to security matters and has for some time been operated solely with respect to immigration at the few airports and small seaports in Northern Ireland. That is the full extent of their involvement in immigration control, and that has been so for a considerable time.
§ Mr. Powell
Will the Financial Secretary, either now or later, please answer this question: to whom, apart from the Army, have the duty of the examining officers under the Act and the order now been assigned?
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am relying on the text of the Act in front of me. I have neither day-to-day experience nor departmental responsibility for this aspect. I am responsible only for Customs and Excise matters, which are not involved. To answer the question, I should have to be familiar with the responsibilities of another Department. As I read Schedule 3, other than members of the Armed Forces, the constabulary would be involved, but I hesitate to give the definitive answer because it is a matter which is outside my responsibility.
§ Mr. Powell
I well understand, and I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentle- 1932 man a second time. Those are the categories that can be examining officers. The practical question of my hon. Friend and myself is, to whom are these duties on that frontier actually assigned? Who, apart from the Army, is carrying them out? The hon. Gentleman and his colleague might arrange for that question to be answered specifically later. I appreciate that there is a difficulty here of different departmental responsibilities being involved.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for appreciating my difficulties tonight. I am sure that if he seeks the information by tabling the appropriate question, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will seek to give him the information he requires. I have sought to examine the question of immigration control, but I must emphasise that the Customs authorities have no function at all in security matters.
I must apologise to the hon. Member for Armagh for not answering his specific questions about the number of uniformed officials assigned to border positions and patrols in his country. I shall try to give him the information as soon as possible.
§ Mr. McCusker
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether a car leaving the Republic has to stop at the post? This is a critical matter even in the normal performance of customs officers' duties.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I understand—I speak subject to correction—that if it involves a free-travel area, these matters are enforced by spot checks. I shall take advice on the subject, but that is my understanding of the situation. I shall try to give the hon. Gentleman the information which he seeks as to how many uniformed officers are engaged in Customs work in Armagh. If he would like to approach the matter by means of a Question, exactly the same course is open to him as to his right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South.
I hope the answers I have given have satisfied the hon. Member for Armagh. I assure him and the right hon. Gentleman that we treat these matters just as seriously as they do. We are fully aware of all the implications of what has been said in this debate. It is our concern 1933 to see that controls in the Customs Service are exercised in a proper way and that, given the appalling conditions in which members of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have to work on the border, there is no avoidable loss to the Revenue and that people attempting to evade payment of proper duties are prevented from so doing.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman intend to have a proper departmental examination of the rôle of the Customs officers in implementing the 1974 Act?
§ Dr. Gilbert
I should like notice of that question. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to Schedule 3, I shall not say that that provision is a dead letter in respect of the Customs and Excise Service, but the whole thrust of the Act, so to speak, has been to the effect that Customs and Excise officers are in no way involved in the prevention of terrorism and security matters. I think it would be the wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House that that state of affairs should continue.