HC Deb 21 October 1975 vol 898 cc227-9
11. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement about the operations in support of the civil powers in Northern Ireland.

12. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the operation of the security forces in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Army operations continue throughout Northern Ireland to assist the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the task of combating violence and terrorism. Recent upsurges in violence, particularly in South Armagh, have been met with prompt and firm action on the part of the security forces. An additional infantry battalion is in the Province as a temporary reinforcement and a range of extra selective security measures have been adopted in the areas affected. We are watching the situation very closely and we shall continue to match our operations on the ground to the level of violence in any area.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

First, I welcome what has been said about South Armagh. Would the Under-Secretary venture to say that Her Majesty's Forces have now regained the terrorist-occupied territories in South Armagh for the United Kingdom? Secondly, in view of the complaints, now widespread on both sides of the sea, that the forces fight with one hand tied, will Her Majesty's Government do more to explain to the public the political and military considerations governing their policy?

Mr. Brown

I indicated in my original answer that we had taken the necessary steps—not to regain control, because there was never any question of loss of control. It was an increase of violence in a certain area which caused us to increase our cover in the area.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Has the Under-Secretary seen the article in the Army magazine Visor which suggests that the Army is concerned about the cease-fire which seems to be honoured only by our own security forces? As 40 soldiers have been killed in South Armagh, is it not time that our security operations in the Province as a whole were reviewed?

Mr. Brown

The whole House will be concerned about the breaches of the ceasefire. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for a number of incidents which were clear breaches of the ceasefire. Two of the most tragic incidents were, first, the explosion near Forkhill on 17th July which killed four soldiers and injured another, and, secondly, an explosion under an Army personnel carrier near Crossmaglen on 9th October which killed one soldier and injured four other soldiers and a Royal Ulster Constabulary constable.

Perhaps I may be allowed to take this opportunity of expressing sympathy with the relatives of the brave men killed and injured at the explosion near Crossmaglen on 9th October.

Mr. Powell

Are the operations of the defence forces affected by communications received from the incident centres and if so, in what respect?

Mr. Brown

Any information received from the centres is given consideration but would not determine security forces' operations in their entirety, if that is what the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting.

Mr. Thorne

Is the Minister confident that we now have the activities of the UDA under control?

Mr. Brown

It would be a bold Minister who would state from this Box that we had under control every organisation in the Province at any one time.

Mr. Younger

Would not the Minister agree that our security forces are still carrying out their immensely difficult task in Northern Ireland with creditable skill and patience and can he assure us that when the forces see a wanted person in their area, they give every possible assistance to the RUC in apprehending him and getting him arrested?

Mr. Brown

I am grateful for the hon. Member's initial comments. I have said before, but it is worth repetition, that there is no other Army in the world that could have carried out the unenviable task of the British Army in Northern Ireland with the same good will. It does not matter from which area law breakers may come and whatever their religion—the forces will give all possible support to the RUC to get these people into court to pay the price for some of the heinous offences now being committed in the Province.