HC Deb 01 July 1976 vol 914 cc635-7
7. Mr. Townsend

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

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As I told the House on 14th June, although some of the violence, like sectarian crime, remains the same, the security situation is constantly changing; for example, there are now fewer street disturbances but more uncoordinated and individual crimes. Recently, terrorists have made a number of attacks which seem designed primarily to destroying places providing employment. The security forces are taking all appropriate measures to bring those responsible to court; so far this year 583 persons have been charged with terrorist crime, including 50 with murder.

Mr. Townsend

Will the right hon. Gentleman now give clear and precise directives to both police and military as to their long-term roles in Northern Ireland? Secondly, what are his plans to improve liaison between police and military, which in several areas is lamentably weak? Is it the plan of the Government to re-equip the RUC with any more armoured personnel carriers?

Mr. Rees

On the hon. Gentleman's last question, in certain places this is necessary and is being done. I think that "long-term directives" are the words that have been used. The long-term policy has been reassessed, and I have now received the report of the ministerial committee, of which I happen to be Chairman, which has been considering the long-term future. That must be flexible. In 1969 no one would have believed the extent of the violence that would be experienced some years later. I propose to say something tomorrow about liaison between the police force and the Army, but if the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of points at where it is weak at the moment, and if he will give me chapter and verse, I shall put the matter to the RUC, the Chief Constable and the General. All I can say is that they have not put it to me this week.

Mr. Dalyell

Can my right hon. Friend give a current assessment of the flow of money and arms from the United States and Canada?

Mr. Rees

Assessments are being made. Most of the money that comes from North America is in the provision of foreign exchange for the purchase of arms in different parts of the world. The rest of the money is raised by bank robberies North and South, and post office robberies. They are the major source of funds. However, the important funds still come, although to a lesser degree, I understand, from North America. The people who provide that money, who believe they are doing good, should see the results of the money that they have provided. They would then realise that they are being fooled when they are asked for the money.

Mr. Craig

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the recent attacks on the homes and lives of prominent business men represent a sinister development? Does intelligence indicate whether it is part of an overall plan?

Mr. Rees

I often find—and certainly on advice on these matters—that something happens for a while that has obviously been ordered by somebody, but it does not often carry on for a long period. It seems to wax and wane over a period of weeks. Those who provided a list of 250 business men in Northern Ireland, with their home addresses, were providing a death list. I understand that those concerned have apologised. If I were in the families of those who have been attacked, apologies would not be enough.

Mr. Fernyhough

My right hon. Friend said that some of the money for these purposes came from raids on post offices and factories. Will he give an idea of the total number of banks and post offices within the territory and, secondly, the manpower that would be involved in providing a 24-hour guard upon them?

Mr. Rees

I cannot give my right hon. Friend the numbers without notice. Obviously, if the Army or police were to be involved in guarding buildings on a roster basis, it would take up the services of a large number of people. The situation is difficult in that respect.

Mr. Goodhart

Is the Secretary of State yet able to announce any decision about expanding the number of full-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment?

Mr. Rees

I propose to say something on that topic in tomorrow's debate. Let me simply say that we attach importance to the expansion of the regular element of the UDR.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

What new confidence in the forces of law and order can be given to the terrorised, and particularly the law-abiding of nationalist tradition, when the Secretary of State continues to insist on parleys with the political commissars of the Provos?

Mr. Rees

I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about these matters, but his concern comes from afar.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

From afar?

Mr. Rees

It is not something that looms in Northern Ireland.

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