HC Deb 02 July 1976 vol 914 cc879-923

3.15 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th May, be approved. On 14th June I gave to the House an account of the current security situation in Northern Ireland. As I made clear to the House, the most important security need is to make a direct contribution to reducing the level of violence in the Province. This is the touchstone by which the ordinary citizen will judge the policy as a whole.

In the debate on 14th June I gave the Government's view on security. I explained that, in my view, we were facing a long haul. I said that violence was currently high. We have seen in recent months an upsurge both of bomb attacks on commercial property and of murderous assaults on the security forces, particularly the police. This year six members of the Regular Army, seven members of the UDR and 15 members of the RUC have been killed; and 148 civilians have died as a result of the security situation, compared with 196 last year. This is a serious situation, as grave as the Province has faced since the troubles started.

We are nevertheless dealing with a changing situation. As I told the House on 14th June, there is at present less organised street violence than formerly, though it has not been entirely eliminated; and the number of shooting incidents has remained at the lower level established during 1975. I can assure the House that, in these circumstances, the security forces are not pulling their punches or operating under any form of political restraint. On the contrary, the level of activity of the security forces has, in fact, become more intense to meet the terrorist threat. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will say something later about charges and convictions. As another example of security force activity, over 12 tons of explosive material has been recovered or neutralised this year, compared with just under 10 tons in the whole of 1975.

I also made clear on 14th June that we were awaiting the final proposals of the Ministerial Committee on Law and Order, of which I am the Chairman, into the nature of the foreseeable threat; on the forces and measures that are required to deal with it and to achieve the rule of law; and on the way in which successful action will depend upon interdependence and co-operation between the Army, the police and other locally recruited forces. At the same time, I made clear that the studies my advisers have carried out for the Ministerial Committee have already begun to inform practical action and that movement and change have begun.

I should like to save time and, therefore, I shall briefly recall the three points I made a fortnight ago, because they are the basis of the further changes I want to announce today. The Chief Constable is setting up three regional crime squads. He is establishing units at headquarters and in support of the regional crime squads to collate resources and intelligence to secure convictions, and he is extending and strengthening specialised units dealing with forensic and similar technical work. That is already being done.

I must emphasise that the Ministerial Committee has been concerned with longterm issues. It has taken a cool, hard look at what the long-term situation demands. The committee's work has not been designed to produce a detailed blueprint. It has been concerned with a framework for the future—a framework, moreover, that allows action to be adapted to immediate and changing circumstances. The Ministerial Committee has now completed its work. I would have liked to publish its results, but by their nature it woud not be in the public interest to disclose the details. I shall, however, describe in broad terms its findings.

First, the committee assessed the threat of violence. It is not always appreciated how many different kinds there are. I shall list the principal ones for the House because they are the basis on which one must work to analyse the means of dealing with the situation. They are as follows: horrifying assassinations of leading figures; senseless sectarian violence, attacks on individuals, expulsion of enclaves of the other community, demonstrations and provocative marches; attacks on the Army and RUC; explosive and incendiary attacks on commercial, economic and prestige targets; armed robbery and other crimes for personal gain; vandalism; violence in prisons; civil disobedience; and resistance to the administration of normal provisions of the law. When one adds up the number of people in the wider security forces which are needed for every eventuality, one finds that it is staggering.

Moreover, irrespective of terrorist crime there will be a major problem over the next few years with serious crime, such as protection rackets and a high level of crime committed by juveniles, much of which has arisen as an offshoot of terrorism. There is, too, an erosion of values and standards which manifests itself in the repudiation of debts and the evasion of payments for services. These illegalities are often justified by reference to some ideal or political aim which their commission is alleged to support. May I add that when I was looking at these matters this week, totting up the large sums of money which ought to be coming into Exchequer funds to help pay for so much of what is going on, again I found the result staggering.

The committee recognised that there was no instant solution and no way of ridding the Province of violence overnight. The Army provides, and will continue to provide, the basic security buttress, and I have made clear that cooperation between the security forces is already good and will continue to develop in the new circumstances. The only way forward is the way in which law and order has always been established in this country—by the police working to the law and securing its effective administra- tion. Every other way of introducing law and order will always alienate one or other section or group of the community, who will come to feel that they have been unfairly dealt with. Alienation will grow and lawlessness will increase.

At the heart of the committee's conclusions is, therefore, the idea of securing police acceptance and effectiveness. By securing police effectiveness is meant the integration and acceptance of the police in the community to enable them to administer law and order effectively. It does not mean a return to the past. This is a particularly difficult and challenging task because of the legacy of Irish history. There is a traditional sensitivity and antipathy to the police. This stems from the history of the island over the last seven centuries, and particularly from the enactments of the eighteenth century. We have to recognise that the police are not acceptable in all areas of Northern Ireland today. The police will consequently have to overcome the legacy of the past as well as of the experience of the last seven years.

To increase the effectiveness of the police, the committee's main conclusions for the measures and forces required are as follows. For the RUC, the first requirement recognised is an increase in the size of the force; and second, the continuing introduction of further specialist investigation teams as appropriate, for example, murder squads and fraud squads. In some cases, recruitment for and training in new skills will be needed; in others, the present specialist capacity will be expanded to meet requirements.

Next, improved arrangements are needed for collecting and collating criminal intelligence, focusing on presenting information quickly and accurately in the form relevant to the specific police activity. In that connection, about which, I confess, I know little but to which I have been putting my mind recently, I stress the importance of having the procedures to use the information which is collected. That is vital.

The next item is flexible use of resources to concentrate on serious crime and preventive policing. These resources will be expanded to serve in each RUC division. They will as a whole also constitute a mobile force for deployment outside their divisions.

Next, special effort will be needed to make the RUC more representative. The percentage of Catholics has declined in recent years, but there has been an improvement over the last six months, which may, or may not be related to the ending of detention. But this will depend to some extent upon political factors and the opinion leaders in the minority community speaking up more frequently for the RUC. I am here using the words of the report. The next requirement is expanded training arrangements. Where appropriate, use would be made of universities.

Next, greater use should be made of the RUC Reserve to reduce the regular police and the Army where appropriate. There obviously can be greater use of the RUC Reserve to take over tasks which do not require the depth of training required for the RUC itself.

The final item relating to the RUC is further development of the scheme for local police centres, which I approved in September 1974, whereby local centres to provide a police presence, to provide advice and guidance, and for immediate access to police resources are provided in areas where a full-time police station is not justifiable. These centres also aim to encourage the minority community to help by supporting the police in their own areas.

To implement these measures for the RUC will, of course, require an increase in the number of its personnel. At the moment, the strength of the RUC is working up to the establishment laid down in September 1974. The regular RUC now totals 5,050 of an establishment of 6,500. The full-time reserve has reached over 700 out of a total of 1,400. We shall take energetic steps to recruit up to these establishment figures—that is the first task—and we shall raise the establishment to meet the developing requirements implicit in this programme. But first let us get up to establishment.

The committee also paid considerable attention to public relations and drew attention to the need to emphasise and demonstrate the effectiveness and impartiality of the security forces, to increase further and improve the link between the RUC and local authorities, community organisations and so on by increasing the number of liaison committees and community relations teams, and to promote understanding of the role of the Police Authority.

It was also concluded that the RUC programme of community relations development should be vigorously pursued, but this is not a matter for the police alone. There are many authorities, both public and private, which have a vital contribution in the development and improvement of the community. There is an interdependence between these activities and improvements in law and order. It is wrong to think of community relations work simply as a buttress for law and order. If it is done for that motive alone, it will surely fail. But by increasing people's interest, concern and involvement in the peaceful and lawful development of their communities a most significant contribution is made to the achievement of the rule of law. This is one of the wider dimensions of security of which we must never lose sight.

The committee also considered the strength and rôle of the Army and the UDR. The committee recognised that the manner and strength in which the Army would need to be deployed would, as always, have to depend on the security situation at any particular time and the progress made in restoring the rule of law.

It concluded that there should be increased use of the UDR in such duties as relieving regular units of tasks such as the manning of permanent vehicle checkpoints. There are at the moment a number of full-time UDR soldiers in each battalion who provide the necessary services to enable the part-time members to operate efficiently. Whilst the overall strength of the UDR is below current establishment, the full-time members are now practically up to their establishment of 1,600. The committee is agreed on the need for an increase in the establishment of the permanent cadre. The details and arrangements for this increase are now being worked out. The permanent cadre would take part in the full range of UDR duties but, as I explained on 14th June, there will be no change in the rôle and basic character of the UDR.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Can the Secretary of State give any indication, however general, of the sort of scale of increase in the cadre which he has in mind? I appreciate that the details are not yet settled, but can he help to that extent?

Mr. Rees

I considered that but I felt that it would not be fair to the House. We had the report two nights ago and I knew in general what was coming, but we need to discuss this with the Ministry of Defence. Rather than give a figure now, I should like to get the correct figure and I shall do that as soon as I can.

These are the main conclusions of the committee. I repeat they are guidelines for the future. I must make it clear, however, that the proposals are all interrelated. They are dependent on each other. No doubt there will be some—there always are—who will distort them by pretending to confuse the part with the whole and who will coin slogans such as "Army withdrawal". The truth is, however, that the committee's conclusions, taken as a whole, show how efficient forces can be built up for the long term while ensuring that in the short and medium term an adequate number of soldiers remain in the Province to ensure that the security situation does not get out of hand. The conclusions are long-term and are not intended to be applied rigidly. They do not affect the number of soldiers, which will depend on the security situation.

I emphasise again that the Army will stay in Northern Ireland as long as it is required. Its rôle at present is a vital one; the way in which it carries it out deserves the highest tribute. Similar praise should be given to the valuable work of the UDR and police.

The way forward is through the rule of law administered by the police. The community, however, has a vital rôle. Policing can be effective only with support from the community, and in Northern Ireland this means both parts of the community. I am in no doubt that since the ending of detention that support has increased considerably. But if the fight against terrorism is to continue to improve, the security forces need even more co-operation against the terrorist, whatever his sectarian label.

At this point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to congratulate you on behalf of the House. I understand that today you have been to the Palace and are now the right hon. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I offer congratulations on behalf of us all.

Perhaps at this point I might briefly comment on the Police Authority. The terms of office of members of the Police Authority expired on 28th June and new appointments have been made. I have already announced the appointment of Mr. Myles Humphreys and Mr. Eiver Canavan as the new chairman and vice-chairman. In addition, and in accordance with Schedule 1 to the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970, I have appointed 17 further members of whom five are elected representatives from district councils and eight are representative of the other interests specified in the Act.

As the Government said in the White Paper of January 1976, we see a continuing rôle for an independent Police Authority with significant powers. Consistent with that view, I intend that the Police Authority should exercise to the full its responsibilities to the police and to the community, and I propose to hold regular meetings with the new authority both to seek its views on the needs and wishes of the community in regard to policing and to provide a forum for discussion on policing matters generally.

Northern Ireland responsibility straddles a great deal. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has a great deal of responsibility for the police and spends a great deal of his time with them, with the Police Authority and with the other parts of the panoply of police organisation in Northern Ireland.

As I have explained to the House on previous occasions, I am constantly reviewing the law relating to offences in the light of the changing security situation to discover whether any changes in the law should be made in order to assist the security forces in their task of bringing terrorists before the courts. This is a matter with which the Attorney-General is much concerned and on which there have been discussions with the Chief Constable and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I would emphasise that in looking at offences once must always have in mind the possibility of evidence being obtained on the basis of which a prosecution can proceed. Without evidence, there can be no prosecution.

The Gardiner Committee undertook a comprehensive review of the subject in 1974 and most of its recommendations were implemented by the 1975 Act. In the light of experience and study since then, we have some further small, but I think useful changes in mind. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be able to intervene and talk about them later in the debate. I shall be seeking an early opportunity for such legislation as will be necessary to introduce them.

I have today outlined the long-term security plans of the Government. They are an attempt to avoid repeating past history. As a consequence, there is no question of setting up a Para-military police force, of policemen replacing soldiers overnight or of the premature forcing of the police into difficult areas. There will be no precipitate Army withdrawal. What we have is a flexible plan for achieving the rule of law by effective police work, developing over time, enhanced by increased co-operation with the Irish Republic, and always backed when necessary by the Army. But in setting the guidelines for the future we must not forget the present. That is why we seek the renewal of the present range of emergency provisions.

The Act of 1973 contains the powers essential for the security forces in the present emergency, special provisions for trials, including the procedure for a single judge without a jury to try scheduled offences, and the powers of proscription. The Act of 1975 clarifies and extends certain powers of the security forces and provides for a system of detention, placing the sole responsibility for making detention orders with the Secretary of State.

The Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1974 enables me to give a direction in the case of a young person remanded or committed for trial for his custody in a prison or such other place as may be specified, where I am satisfied that this is necessary in order to prevent the young person's escape, or to secure his safety or that of other persons. In the present circumstances, the provisions of the 1974 Act are still necessary.

Because of the continuing emergency, I seek the renewal of these emergency powers. As I have said, the killings are continuing. In some ways the situation is as bad as the situation in 1972. It would be irresponsible of me to give up the existing emergency provisions. All of them might have to be used if the circumstances call for them, detention included.

There have been occasions in the last seven years when the men of violence have misjudged the mood of the majority in the Province, the mood of this House and the mood of successive Governments. Perhaps we have sometimes misjudged theirs. With all humility, I do not think we misjudge it today. We see them still as far away as they have ever been from their declared objectives. We see them faced with increased war weariness and disillusion with their bestial methods by the overwhelming majority of thinking people in both communities in Northern Ireland.

The achievement of a peaceful society through the progressive development of the rule of law is the most realistic way forward in Northern Ireland. It is the only policy that neither puts back the clock to the past nor leaves the present policy set in a static mould.

The speed with which a peaceful society can be attained depends upon resources and the support of the people. The Government will provide the necessary resources, but the will and action needed for their successful employment depends upon the people of the Province. With their wholehearted support and co-operation, it will be possible for the agencies of government to restore a peaceful society through the rule of law.

I therefore commend the Order for the support of the House.

3.37 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

I join with the Secretary of State in congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the distinction that was conferred upon you this morning. It will cause a great deal of pleasure to all hon. Members.

We agree with this Order and with the renewal of the necessary emergency powers, especially when the Secretary of State tells the House that in some ways the situation is as bad as it was in 1972. We must look to methods by which this situation can be reduced and brought to a peaceful conclusion. The debate enables me to make some comments on behalf of the official Opposition on the Government's handling of the emergency to which this Order applies. We shall need to examine the long-term security plans of the Government at some leisure and we should like time to consider that aspect. The Secretary of State's remarks about the police were extremely important and I shall be referring to them later in my short speech. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman's comments on the UDR are extremely important, and parts of them are welcomed.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the debate on security held on 14th June. I shall not go over that ground in detail, except to quote one or two remarks made by the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman said: The overall pattern has changed. There is less of a planned campaign, less civil rights violence with mass confrontations on the streets. … This is something that the security forces have to take into account."—[Official Report, 14th June 1976; Vol. 913, c. 44.] The Secretary of State said that we were faced with a long haul. I am not clear about the strategy for dealing with this new situation. Does this matter appear in the recommendations of the committee mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman? Will it still be a containing operation, or will the security forces go over to a more offensive rôle?

The Secretary of State said that the level of activity of the armed forces had increased. I do not think that any clear strategy has yet emerged. If we knew that it would be likely to succeed, we should know whether to give it our support. That is our position, and in due course we should like to know more about the strategy.

We were also told by the Secretary of State that since the ending of detention there had been increased co-operation from the communities. I am prepared to accept that statement if the right hon. Gentleman can produce evidence that this has led to reduced violence. Has it led to an increased number of convictions? The figures for 1975–76 are not easy to follow, and I do not know whether they support the right hon. Gentleman's argument. They appear to be much the same as before. It appears that in general the level of violence so far in 1976 has been greater. We dealt with security at some length on 14th June, so I do not intend to go back over that ground. Since the Attorney- General is present, I should like instead to deal with some of the legal aspects.

Through my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), we have proposed the offence of committing an act of terrorism. My hon. and learned Friend is unable to be here today. But it is our view that there should be such a change in the law. As my hon. and learned Friend said in our debate on 25th March this year: It should be an offence that is common to the whole of the United Kingdom. Thus, it would help those fighting terrorism over here as well as in Belfast. Without such an offence, the law is not strong enough, in our view. Not only are there those who stand behind the gunmen, sometimes openly walking about the streets unmolested by the security forces but, to quote my hon. and learned Friend again, if a bomb factory is discovered … and no connection with an actual explosion can be satisfactorily proved … the only prosecution that can succeed is one under the Explosive Substances Act. The maximum in that case is 14 years … in the present climate of terrorism that maximum is quite inadequate."—[Official Report, 25th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 705.] Far heavier penalties should result in consequence of any reform of the law.

I note from what the right hon. Gentleman said, that the committee assessed the different forms of violence that constituted terrorism, and we shall continue to advocate this change in the law, making terrorism, by its different component parts such as bombing, shooting, kidnapping, incitement and possessing explosives, a single offence. As the Secretary of State pointed out, it would not deal with some offshoots, like protection rackets. It could not cover that. But it would deal essentially in one indictment with a single offence.

Mention of incitement recalls certain speeches made by members of Provisional Sinn Fein in recent times, and I do not need to refer again to the question of talks. But I wish to refer to the question of incitement, which could be included in the offence proposed.

The other matter to which I wish to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention is that of the protection of witnesses. He will be aware that there was a recent debate about this in the other place on the Second Reading of a Bill introduced by Lord Brookeborough. Witness protection is a long-standing problem in Northern Ireland, and this was an attempt to deal with it. The Bill was withdrawn, but there was an interesting debate.

Ever since 1972, when Lord Diplock considered the question of intimidation, and, in fact, even before that, people have been trying to find a solution to the problem of witnesses. The Gardiner Report referred to 482 known cases of intimidation between 1st January 1972 and 31st August 1974 in which civilian witnesses to murder were too afraid to give evidence in court. Lord Gardiner commented that the prevalence of murder and knee-capping made this only too easy to understand.

As we know, by Christmas 1975 the right hon. Gentleman had ended detention, and I do not advocate a return of it, although we had a number of criticisms to make at the time. The right hon. Gentleman did that for two reasons. He said that there was a ceasefire, calling for a response, and that there were more convictions in the courts.

This is really the nub of the question central to the Government's problem. In 1976 there have been a higher number of killings than in any year since 1972 at the present rate, as my noble Friend Lord Belstead pointed out in the debate in the other place. It was central to the Government's position on ending detention that more information was becoming available which would lead to more charges. That is why the question of witness protection is extremely important, and why there must be some solution found to it. Having removed detention, can the Government find an alternative means of convicting the organisers of terrorism within the present judicial system?

Lord Donaldson claimed that the improvement in the conviction rate for murder and attempted murder was continuing, and he said that we were getting better information than was the case under the old system. But what is being done to ensure that witnesses are found to bring about convictions? As Lord Donaldson said, the problem of witnesses is at least half the problem of Northern Ireland. Those words ring true.

We were interested in what the Secretary of State said on the question of police effectiveness, and his view that it was not a matter of returning to the past, but that the police would have to overcome many problems. We were interested to hear that the committee had proposed an increase in the size of the police force and in training the police in new skills. We on the Opposition side have been interested in this matter recently and have advocated the appropriate use of universities and the RUC Reserve. We shall need time to consider what is to be done. We hope to have an opportunity very shortly of discussing that with the Chief Constable.

The committee said that use of the UDR in releasing regular units from various duties should be increased. That would be very welcome. We are also glad to hear that the number of full-time members is to be increased. We should like to have more details about that.

It has been difficult to discover what the Government consider to be the appropriate role of the Army in Northern Ireland, but we have had some enlightenment today through the report of the committee. That will create a better impression. We were pleased to hear of increased activity by the security forces at a time when many people are extremely anxious about the future. It is vitally important that all parties in the House should be entirely consistent on the need to maintain the security forces in Northern Ireland, and that they should remain in strength while they are required and until the question about the police to which the Secretary of State is committed is resolved.

The respective rôles of the Army and the police are at all times extremely difficult, when in some areas soldiers must act as policemen. However, there can be little doubt that the Army will have to stay in Northern Ireland for some time to come. I join the Secretary of State in his praise for the courage and patience of the Army, the police and the UDR in the present difficult circumstances.

3.48 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

On behalf of my colleagues, I join in the congratulations which have been offered to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by other hon. Members.

The Secretary of State, in introducing the Order, rightly spoke of the gravity of the situation in Northern Ireland. The intense gravity of the situation has not perhaps been fully grasped by people on this side of the water. I should like to illustrate the depth of that gravity.

In my area, a young man having served a nine-year stint, was discharged from the Royal Air Force. Two hours after his return home he had a visit from the RUC, who said that he had better leave Belfast and return to the mainland. That graphically illustrates that many people in Northern Ireland are under serious threat. The other day a business man had to be escorted to Aldergrove and put on a flight to London, and had to go into hiding in this city.

It is vitally important that steps should be taken as soon as possible to show that the powers-that-be are making headway against a deterioration in the security situation. Until that is done, the confidence of the people will continue to be undermined, and when the confidence of the people is undermined then, with a sense of frustration and of disillusionment that the security forces can no longer protect them, a situation of a more serious nature could arrive.

An hon. Member opposite said earlier that in this country the moderate people were so revolted by attacks of terrorism that the terrorists saw that there was no fertile ground in this part of the United Kingdom for terrorism to flourish. I suggest that terrorism has not flourished on this side of the water because the forces of the Crown have been most successful in dealing with the situation, and have been able to do so with full power, full vigour and full strength. Immediately there was an upsurge of IRA terrorism in the cities of Great Britain, this House swung into action and legislation was brought forward very quickly to deal with it.

It is easy in a debate like this to make points, and it is not my intention so to do, but the Secretary of State himself raised the all-important point that until the security forces have an intelligence index and are able to go into a neighbourhood with that intelligence available to them, they will never be able to deal with the problem.

This House had better know that the intelligence that was at the disposal of the RUC was completely destroyed when the RUC itself was completely demoralised as a result of the troubles. For instance, this included the lines of communication that the police, over the years, had established into the Northern Ireland underworld. I have talked to senior police officers. We know how the police operate. We know that when a dastardly deed is done they have their contacts, they know who are missing, and they are able to piece the jigsaw together and act effectively. But that position in the RUC was destroyed.

It is rather amusing that even the IRA has recently called for the RUC. In South Armagh there was a case where a nest of evil men was pinned down by the security forces, with great skill—those responsible should be praised in this House. Because a case may come before the courts, I must be careful not to say too much. Suffice to say that the security forces pinned down these men and took action against them. When the men saw that they were in danger of paying for their misdeeds and resistance, they actually telephoned the RUC and asked its members to come and bring them out.

The RUC has been severely criticised and condemned in Northern Ireland, but I think it can rightly be said that it is very hard for anyone to doubt its complete impartiality when IRA terrorists are prepared to appeal to it to bring them out of such a situation. The time has come for every elected Member in Northern Ireland—and we have been told that elected Members are decreasing, even although some people still feel that their mandate stands—to seek every opportunity to encourage their communities to support the efforts of the RUC.

I want to deal with a very important issue—the detention of young people, which is a particularly important part of the whole detention system. I ask the Secretary of State what machinery he has for reviewing the sentences of young people, because certain young people are detained during the pleasure of the Secretary of State. Those of us who have constituents with children or young people detained during the pleasure of the Secretary of State are anxious know more about the system.

When a person is of a particular age group, certain procedures are gone through in regard to appeals, petitions and the removing of part of the sentence. But with young people it would be the general view of the House that they should be rehabilitated as soon as possible, and that there should be some way in which they should know how this particular detention is going to work, and what its length may be.

I ask the Secretary of State what progress is being made in providing cellular accommodation in prisons. Compound imprisonment has led to serious implications for the running of prisons, and order within prisons.

There is one particular case that I mentioned a year ago, which I raise again now. It is the case of Frank Newell, which has been widely discussed in Northern Ireland. This man is doing an eight-year sentence. On appeal, his sentence was doubled, but he maintains that he is innocent. The UVF issued a statement saying that they were responsible for the deed for which Newell was sentenced, and it could be that there was a case of mistaken identity. I do not know whether the Secretary of State is in a position to make any comment on the case, but it seems from the evidence presented that there has been a miscarriage of justice. I know that a number of representations have been made to the Secretary of State about this matter.

On the previous occasion when we discussed the standing of the police in the community we discussed also the matter of bail when members of the RUC are charged with scheduled offences. I have looked up Hansard on this matter, and I understand that representations have been made to the Secretary of State by the police representative body. Is the Secretary of State in a position to comment on this today? If we are to establish the primacy of the police, the members of the RUC should be given the same protection as is afforded to the members of the British Army. I am well aware that there are difficulties on this matter, which is keenly felt in Northern Ireland and which when we are renewing these provisions, should be considered and commented upon.

I welcome some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made as a result of his working party. There is a need for an increase in the RUC and the RUC Reserve. I am sure that the Minister is well aware that Northern Ireland Members have made representations from time to time about applicants who have been turned down by the RUC Reserve. There seem to have been quite a number of these. We would be glad of an explanation on this point. I have in mind the case of a young man whose brother is a full-time member of the RUC. He was urged by his brother to become a member of the reserve. He passed his test, and his medical test but he was rejected. He lives under the same roof as his brother, and as far as I know there is nothing against him. He has no previous convictions. There are a lot of these cases, however, and we have made representations about them especially to the Chief Constable.

In view of the establishment figure for the RUC, the reserve and the UDR, I would have thought that they needed to recruit as many people as applied. I know that there are rules to be followed, and criteria to be met. It is, however, a disillusionment for a Member of Parliament who advises his constituents to join these bodies to find that their applications have been turned down. One young man was a corporal in the Green Howards. He finished his time and was discharged, but he was turned down by the UDR. He had a good discharge from the Army. These events disturb us when we are trying to encourage people to join up.

I am glad that the Secretary of State is to have regular meetings with the police authority. A great shadow fell over Northern Ireland the other day, when a former member of the authority was gunned down. I think that these regular meetings will be most helpful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) referred in the earlier debate to the supply of weapons to the RUC. I have been approached about this situation in my area. Some police stations appear to have inadequate weaponry to deal with the sophisticated arms that are available to the IRA in their area. I do not want to pinpoint the area I am thinking of, because it might not be good for the policemen concerned. I have made representations to the Secretary of State and I hope that he can tell us what progress has been made on the supply of weapons to the RUC.

In some parts of Belfast, I have seen policemen carrying bolt-action rifles while travelling in Land Rovers. These weapons are obsolete compared with those used by the terrorists, and the length of the barrel of a bolt action rifle can make it very difficult to manoeuvre in certain circumstances. It is problems such as this that are causing considerable concern to our policemen who risk their lives for the community.

I have made representations to the police authority, which tells me that it has made representations to the Secretary of State. Some say that it is a matter for the police authority and others claim that the Chief Constable is responsible. I am not interested in who is responsible. I want modern weapons made available to the police, and the regular meetings which the Secretary of State is to have with the police authority may help.

Obviously, representations will be made to the Police Authority by the policemen concerned. As I said earlier, I do not want to pinpoint the police stations to which I have referred, but I shall be glad to give the information to the Secretary of State.

I do not know whether the right hon Gentleman intends to have a recruitment campaign for the Crown forces, but I was interested in his remark that there may be a relationship between the end of detention and increasing enrolment by members of the minority community in the RUC. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to enlarge on that interesting comment. If the end of detention had that result, we should all be very happy.

The threats that have been made to business men are one of the most serious aspects of the current situation in Northern Ireland, because it is almost impossible for the forces of law and order to give protection to these key people in industry. Industry has already taken a terrible hammering in Northern Ireland, and one dreads to think of the repercussions of the slaying of more industrialists.

There have been salutory speeches by a number of hon. Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), about the economic situation and the House should be aware of how serious the situation could become if the campaign against business men continues. It is all very well saying what people should or should not do, but if the Government cannot give adequate protection to citizens, they are entitled to give themselves what protection they can. That is what it amounts to in Northern Ireland at present.

I understnd that the Attorney-General will be speaking in this debate. Perhaps he will tell us that some new crimes will be made liable to the procedures of the law. Whatever is done in this realm is important, but many may feel that some of these things are coming a bit late in the day. One always hopes that whatever steps are taken will help in this vital matter.

The all-important feature of the thinking in Northern Ireland is not, strange to relate, whether we should have some machinery for devolved government but how to live and to carry out ordinary duties. The people in Northern Ireland are interested in going to and from their places of work and taking their children to school and bringing them home. Those are the all-impelling motives that lie behind the thinking of the people. Uppermost in the minds of decent people in both communities is the taking of measures to keep alive. I trust that measures will be taken that will help the people to have some confidence restored.

It would be wrong to pretend that the confidence of the people is in the forces of the Crown being able to protect them. They are facing the fact that there are situations that make it totally impossible for those forces to give them protection. Most people are coming to terms with the appalling fact that they must seek to help themselves. I trust that the House will be able to help them as they seek to help themselves.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

This is the first time that I have spoken in a Northern Ireland debate. I do so with the greatest of hesitation, but I think the House will agree that it would be a sorry day if the debate were totally dominated by Northern Ireland Members.

I address my remarks first to some of the long-term implications. It has been said that no clear strategy appears to be emerging. Maybe I am in a more optimistic mood, but I see a strategy emerging that seems to make great sense in an immensely complicated situation. Those of us who supported from the beginning the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland understood that with the passage of time a number of fundamental questions would be raised about the future rôle of the Army as a peacekeeper and the rôle of the RUC.

One of the paradoxes of the whole situation is that the Army went in to assist the police seven years ago as they were unable to contain the situation, and seven years later we are talking about the rôle of the police and the recrudescence of confidence within the RUC. I think the House will agree that a great deal has happened in the past seven years. I believe that the policy being pursued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in what is called the primacy of the police is absolutely right. However, that does not in any way imply that those of us who supported the use of the Army are now saying that the end is in sight—far from it. It would seem to be a long time before we shall see the withdrawal of the British Army. Indeed, that is something that my right hon. Friend has emphasised. Nevertheless, the policy of trying to get the RUC accepted as the community police force is the crux of the matter.

Although progress has been made, it seems to have been rather slow. I very much welcome what my right hon. Friend had to say about the police perfoming more police-like duties and moving away from what appeared to many observers to be the rôle of a para-military force. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend refer to the building up of the regional crime squad. I look forward to the time when the police in Northern Ireland are dressed like the "Bobbies" in this country, but that is a small point.

My right hon. Friend is right to stress the potential use of the RUC Reserve in a specialised way—he referred to the protection of police stations. It is unfortunate that most police stations in Northern Ireland have to be protected by the Army. It would be far better if the special reserve of the RUC could be used for this purpose.

That raises the question of the future of the Ulster Defence Regiment. This is a controversial matter, but again it is the right policy to pursue. By building up the cadre of the UDR we may gradually help to restore confidence in Northern Ireland in the rôle of the UDR. No one would deny that there are still great difficulties in that respect.

For a long time to come the Army will carry the weight of peacekeeping. That raises profound questions because the British Army, in spite of its long colonial experience, has not primarily been built up for this kind of rôle. What effect does it have on the Army? This is not a defence debate, so I shall not pursue that beyond saying that it imposes an immense strain on the British Army, and we do not know what social effect the performance of a whole range of ordinary police duties has on the soldiers. In a democratic society, that throws up profound implications for us all. When I recently made a short visit to Northern Ireland, mainly to see the troops, I formed the firm impression that, in spite of the difficulties with which they were faced, they were getting increasing co-operation from the community and working closely with the RUC.

The question came up—not in a strikingly strident way—about co-operation in respect of the border, where there are still some delicate difficulties involved with the SAS. I shall not press my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on that matter apart from saying that it raises the question of co-operation on the border. I understand that arrangements between the Garda and the RUC are very close and that co-operation is good. Nevertheless, on the odd occasion the best intentions in Dublin, as elsewhere, are not always realised on the spot and there are sometimes difficulties on the border. However, I know that my right hon. Friend is dealing closely with that matter.

Speaking from an English constituency point of view, it seems to me that the Army has a continuing rôle to play in Northern Ireland but that, nevertheless, the policy of the primacy of the police is the right approach, so that normal conditions, perhaps in the not-too distant future, can return to Northern Ireland. In spite of all the bad news that comes in almost daily from the Province, at most we are talking about a few hundred terrorists, and in the end I am sure that with good political will on both sides we shall triumph over the gunmen.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I want to take up the question of security, because we are looking back over a six-months period and recognise that the security situation has changed in two ways. We no longer believe that the ceasefire, if it ever existed, has any relevance. We also recognise that the concept of incident centres cannot be further pursued.

Having recognised those changes, we are also faced with a security situation which is materially different from that of 1972 in that, as the Secretary of State has said, the violence is of a different kind, more personalised, more skilfully devised, with the intention of giving the impression that the Province is basically ungovernable and not susceptible to law and order.

Indeed, one could describe terrorism in the Province in the same way as war has been described: that it is politics pursued in a different way from the normal approach. That terrorism has a political objective remains clear to us all. I listened to the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) with great interest. He spoke about the primacy of the police. We would all like to believe that Northern Ireland could revert to the peaceful Province that I knew when I was there in 1955. We have to recognise, however, that in the seven years of this violence we have seen terrorism, murder and mayhem, bombings and shootings on a scale which in the United Kingdom one would never have believed possible 10 years ago. We have, alongside that, the political confusion which has stemmed from and has been created by the violence. In that situation, the police cannot be expected within the foreseeable future to become the security force of the community.

Having said that, I want to concentrate my remarks on two factors which are interconnected. However, before doing so I should like to welcome the statement by the Secretary of State because it seemed to suggest that the Government's thinking about security matters is very far-reaching, looking to new frontiers, and I am sure that we all welcome it. But we are faced with the question of acceptability and, interrelated with it, the rôle of the police and the Army together.

In the debate on security I asked the Secretary of State whether acceptability had a historic context. What I would have wished to ask him had I chosen my words more carefully was whether people could not put their trust in the police as their protectors and guardians simply because the police are not there to protect and guard them in certain housing estates, areas of cities and so on, or whether it is an historic refusal to recognise the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and that therefore one has to change attitudes which are embedded in Irish tradition.

I mention this point because the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) talked about the way that security in this country had stamped out the IRA bombings and violence. He implied that it was the excellence of the police force here which was largely responsible for that success. I suggest that, although the police are excellent, it was the fact that the community overall were against the terrorists that allowed the police to be so successful. It is the fact that the community overall in Northern Ireland cannot give the police that support which allows the sort of violence that the hon. Gentleman talked about to continue from one month to the next. If I am right, may I ask how that acceptability is to be gained unless the police can make their presence felt in areas which hitherto appear for months or years or even decades to have known little or nothing of regular policing?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman take into consideration the fact that even in areas where the community totally support the police these terrible and atrocious murders are taking place? One cannot draw an absolute parallel. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but even in areas where the police have absolute support these terrible atrocities continue.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I take what the hon. Gentleman says, and I confess to feeling somewhat rash in daring to talk about problems of security in Northern Ireland since they are so different from anything we know on this side of the Irish Channel. But I make the point because, until the community can place its trust in the police and look to the police for protection, people will not be willing to give the acceptability which we know to be vital. Moreover, while intimidation can continue as it does, there will be a lack of desire to help the police as much as possible.

On the other hand, the police themselves must not be too timorous about going into areas where hitherto they have not gone. I say that because on a visit to Londonderry I was impressed by something which one of the soldiers told me about the Creggan and Bogside and the Rosemount police station. He told me that the police station was manned by one RUC policeman, but said, "The chap spends most of his life looking at the television". That will not be a police presence to create acceptability. Sooner or later, somebody will have to do something about sending not that man but somebody else out into the community.

That leads one to the question, prickly and dangerous though it may be, of how one can bring the community to give its acceptance to the police. The answer surely must be by taking from the community itself a measure of support, perhaps in terms of drawing from particular communities particular persons into the RUC Reserve, which could thereby provide more of a local police presence.

Having said that, I come to the question of co-ordination between the Army and the police. Last week, I was privileged to hear Inspector Milligan of the Police Federation discussing the rôle of the police in Northern Ireland. One of the points he made, which has worried me, was that in his view there was a serious lack of co-ordination between the Army and the police. We believe that the Army is in Northern Ireland in aid of the civil power, which implies that the civil power has the primacy. Indeed, if we use the expression "the primacy of the police", we are saying that the police should be No. 1, and those with other security rôles should act in assistance of the police.

However, it appears from what the inspector said and what others have told me that the police do not have that pri- macy and that the Army acts very much on its own. There is a measure of communication and co-operation, but the police do not necessarily know what the Army is doing and the Army does not necessarily know what the police are doing.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I know Inspector Milligan well, but he is not an authority on the operational control of the RUC and the link with the Army, although that does not mean that he should not say what he wants to say; that is another matter. I should tell the hon. Gentleman that in the hard areas where the Army is present with a battalion of soldiers there are very few policemen, and where they are escorted in to do a task the Army takes the lead. It must be so. There is no other way. In other areas that is not the case.

Moreover, there are other elements in co-operation which would not be generally seen by the policeman doing his daily work, such as the intelligence side, daily talks between those in charge, and so on. I ask the hon. Gentleman to recognise that in the hard areas it is the Army which takes the lead, and that will be so for some time.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but he appears to imply that in what one might call the soft areas the police have primacy and the Army acts in what the police may say is the right rôle.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Exactly, yes.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful for that clarification.

I come now to two other points. On a previous occasion I asked by Question what the rôle of the Territorial Army was in Northern Ireland. I was amazed, as I always am, by the answer that the Territorial Army plays no rôle whatever in the security situation. I should have thought that those who join the Territorial Army join with the intention of playing a part in security operations somewhere, and, since their own Province is so desperately in need of every man it can find, there must be a strong case for involving the Territorial Army in the security forces of the province.

Finally, on the subject of young offenders, can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether the Purdysburn centre is completed or nearing completion, or, if not, how long it will be before it is?

4.30 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) will forgive me if I leave his questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to whom I am sure they were addressed. In March, during the last debate on Northern Ireland in which I intervened, the principal question at issue within my responsibility was whether the running down of the system of detention had resulted in gaps in the law which could be filled only by the creation of new offences. I said that we were considering the possibility of new offences where gaps were shown to exist, but I emphasised that we were not satisfied that there were such gaps in the law. I warned that we should not delude ourselves into the belief that changes in the law alone could destroy terrorism.

There are two ways in which gaps in the law can become apparent. One is by deduction from criminal statistics, which show that offences are committed and that convictions are not obtained. The other is by observation of particular situations which discloses that conduct which should be punishable cannot be fitted into the existing framework of offences.

That violence in Northern Ireland remains at an unacceptable level cannot be doubted, but the statistics that are available do not indicate a need for panic measures. They do not show that the courts are unable to deal with those who are caught and charged with offences of terrorism. The conviction rates are high. In the first six months of 1976, 562 people appeared for trial on indictment charged with scheduled offences. Of those, 477 were convicted. The figures include 46 people who had been charged with scheduled murder. Of those, 36 were convicted of murder and five of lesser offences. That represents a 78 per cent. conviction rate for persons charged with and convicted of murder, and an 84 per cent. conviction rate in respect of offences other than murder.

The figures show that year by year, since the operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, the percentage conviction rate of persons charged with scheduled murder has increased. The most recent figures available are for those charged in 1975 and tried last year or so far this year. They show a conviction rate for some offences of 85 per cent. That could be due to any one of a number of causes, but at least it is clear that it reflects the effectiveness of the prosecution process as a whole.

It is only too easy to be misled by figures. We know that there are cases that cannot be pursued because witnesses refuse to give evidence. We know that the ringleaders who plot and plan but carefully avoid becoming incriminated themselves are too often able to evade the consequences of crimes for which the actual perpetrators are caught and punished. Some people who assist in crimes escape conviction because they are able to satisfy the courts that they have no knowledge of the intended crime, although they know that some crime was intended. I give as an example the man who drives a motor car to the scene of an explosion, which is carried out by men in a car that follows. When arrested the driver of the lead car will say that he knew something was going on, because he was told to drive to a particular place. But he will add that he knew nothing about the reason for going there. In such a case the circumstantial evidence may be strong enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the man knew the intended crime. But if it is not so strong, he may escape penalty, even though the court is satisfied that he was well aware that he was assisting in some kind of terrorist activity. The question then is what, if anything, can be done—not, as I have said, by panic measures but either by better use of the existing law or by minor changes in the law—to catch those who at present evade prosecution or conviction.

On that I should like to comment first on the offence of conspiracy. I do so because it is sometimes said that in Northern Ireland the charge of conspiracy is less acceptable to courts than it is in England and Wales. Because that is sometimes said, I have, since the last debate, thoroughly examined the question whether there is any substance in that idea. I am quite satisfied that there is none.

I want to make it abundantly clear that where a conspiracy charge is a proper charge, there is no bar to its use in Northern Ireland courts and no reluctance to use it. I say that particularly because of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said about the future rôle and method of the police. The offence of conspiracy is often misunderstood and its use at all is attacked because sometimes it has been used improperly.

It is entirely proper, for example, to use the law of conspiracy in order to deal with an agreement to commit a crime or to achieve the objective of the conspirators by criminal methods. That is true in particular when the intended crime is not in fact committed—where, for example, the police are able to make arrests so as to prevent the murderous attack that was the object of the conspiracy. If there is clear evidence of the intended crime, conspiracy to commit it may be the only proper offence—and it is certainly a proper one. If there has been any doubt about that, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, that doubt should now be dispelled. If the evidence is sufficient, charges will be brought against all the conspirators.

Again, that is very relevant to the question I was asked by the hon. Member for Abington (Mr. Neave) about a general offence of terrorism, because I think that he would agree, as certainly would the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), that what I have said covers a very large part of that field. Where a substantive offence has been committed—a shooting, or an explosion, for example—and there is evidence against those who participated, the proper charge to bring would be the substantive offence. In that case, those who aid, abet or plan the offcence should, if there is evidence against them, be charged as principals, together with the actual perpetrators, so that in those circumstances, conspiracy charges should be unnecessary—just as any new offence of terrorism would be unnecessary. However, there may be cases in which those who plan in the background, out of sight and, as they hope, out of danger, cannot be charged as principals, but the evidence may be sufficient to secure their conviction as conspirators, and where it is there will be no hesitation whatever about bringing such charges.

However, in all those cases—in saying this I am only underlining the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—prosecutions cannot be brought without evidence. That is why I particularly welcome everything that my right hon. Friend said about the police, because it is through the obtaining of evidence, and obtaining evidence in areas in which we may not have been able to do so before, that we shall get our convictions.

The offence of conspiracy is not a substitute for evidence. It requires evidence. In my experience in dealing with one of the main questions that I have to decide in the course of my ministerial responsibilities—that is, whether the case is one for the Diplock procedures—I have been struck by the success with which in very many cases evidence has been produced. I do not say, unfortunately, that it has been produced with great success against the people who keep in the background, but against those who perpetrate there has been considerable success—not always at once but certainly often as time goes on, and when it has been produced the conviction rate, as I have shown, is high.

Those who commit these foul offences must be brought to realise, as police efficiency grows, that the police will and do pursue the criminals relentlessly and that the passage of time will not make those criminals more secure. Therefore, the changes in police procedure to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred should make their influence felt in reaching out at those who may consider themselves safe. Those changes will succeed not through any change in the law but by securing evidence against those who previously thought themselves to be safe from the securing of that evidence.

It is far better, if possible, to obtain evidence to support charges in the existing law than to alter the existing law simply to enable charges to be brought on evidence that is less than satisfactory. This is true, whether one is thinking of the actual perpetrators of these crimes, of those who play some peripheral part in the offences, or of those who plan and organise in the background—the spiders in the web, who are often the most dangerous men of all, and against whom in the past it has often been impossible to bring sufficient evidence before the courts. Greater success in obtaining evidence to support charges based on the existing law to enable that law to he rigorously enforced as it will be is far more important than creating a new law to cover the gaps—particularly if the new law erodes the fundamental safeguards for the innocent which are part of our democratic heritage.

Nevertheless, as promised, we have scrutinised the law to see what gaps exist which could be closed by changes in the law. Frankly, I must tell the House that they are limited. We have given the most searching scrutiny to all the ideas put forward, whether in debates in this House or from outside the House. That scrutiny has shown again and again that the weakness is lack of evidence rather lack of offences.

That is why we must tighten up—and indeed, are tightening up—the methods of obtaining evidence and of ensuring that it can be brought before the courts without danger to witnesses. This point has already been made in this debate. The question of danger to witnesses has often been raised, and rightly so. Because of that fact, I made a study of the way in which the courts in Northern Ireland operate to deal with that problem. If a person who is a witness to an offence believes that he is in danger and for that reason is unwilling to place himself as a witness, he will not make a statement if he has not the courage to risk what otherwise might happen to him. Whatever safeguards are provided in the courts, we cannot provide safeguards for people who are not prepared even to make a statement to the police.

None the less, a study of the way in which the courts in Northern Ireland exercise powers to protect witnesses who fear vengeance makes it clear that the protection has operated for more widely in Northern Ireland than has been necessary or customary in the courts of Great Britain. I do not want to go in detail into the ways in which this is done, because I understand that in small communities whatever we may do may not be effective. None the less, I have heard of methods that have been adopted in the courts of Northern Ireland for this purpose which, frankly, greatly surprise me, having my experience of the courts in this country, and I am satisfied that the law cannot go further in that direction without a real danger of destroying the credibility of the courts and the credibility of the judicial system. That is certainly a situation that neither we here nor the judges in Northern Ireland will accept.

There is no room for complacency here, but there is no complacency. In my view, we have rightly avoided methods of proof that would be seen simply as reproducing detention under another name and asking the courts to exercise an executive function as an arm of Government rather than their true judicial function.

I want now to refer briefly to other changes in the law that we have in mind. I mentioned earlier the gap in the law that exists in cases where a serious offence is committed and a person participates in it—for example, by driving the lead car—and the court is not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he knew the precise or even the general nature of the intended offence but is satisfied that he knew that some unlawful purpose was intended. In those circumstances, the only possible result of a trial as the law stands must be an acquittal.

It is a gap not only in Northern Ireland law but, indeed, in the law on this side of the Irish Channel. There are not many such cases, but they exist, and, although I am bound to say that a court either here or there would probably view with scepticism such a defence, it is true, none the less, that a person who simply does what he is told and asks no questions may escape conviction as a result—and there are such people.

There are two possible ways of dealing with cases of that kind, which I have to say are peripheral. One is to legislate so that, in the circumstance given, a presumption would arise by statute that the defendant knew the true purpose of the enterprise. An analogy to such a presumption is that which arises under Section 7 of the 1973 Act, when a weapon or explosive is found on premises where more than one person is present. In that case, the court may accept the facts proved as sufficient evidence of possession and, if relevant, knowledge. At the end of the evidence, however, the burden of proof returns to the prosecution. A similar presumption could arise if legislation to that effect were passed in this situation.

Another possibility would be to confine any new offence to the activities of a proscribed organisation. Section 19 of the 1973 Act contains offences of this character. The 1975 Act added the offence of soliciting or inviting any person to carry out orders, directions or requests on behalf of a proscribed organisation, but, perhaps oddly, it did not make it an offence for a person to carry out those orders, directions or requests. Furthermore, Section 19(7) uses, admittedly in a different context, the expression takes part in any activities of the organisation. Where it is proved that the substantive offence—the use of explosives or firearms—was an activity of a proscribed organisation, there seems to be room for an offence of carrying out orders, directions or requests made on behalf of the proscribed organisation or of taking part in such an activity.

Those two possibilities are not necessarily alternatives. I am afraid that I cannot announce today that they will be added to the law, but I can and do undertake that we shall study them further to see whether the draftsman can give effect to the suggestions that I have put before the House, in the light, of course, of any debate that there may be upon them.

I come now to the next three changes that the Government are taking steps to make in the law. The first is to apply to Northern Ireland the provisions of the Criminal Damage Act 1971, which does not at present extend to Northern Ireland. I know that for some time there has been controversy about whether it should so extend.

The 1971 Act simplifies the law of criminal damage and reduces to manageable proportions the number of possible offences. That was one of the points made by the hon. Member for Abingdon when he was advocating a law of terrorism. The pre-1971 law, which applies with a 1969 modification, is complex and does not adequately cover all the gaps. A particular gap that is left open is that of the hoax bombers and other similar people, who have made so many threats of violence. They can be dealt with only for the common law offence of creating a public nuisance, yet plainly in a situation of violence they can seriously disrupt the activity of the security forces. The 1971 Act creates an offence with a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. That change—introducing the Criminal Damage Act into the law—will be effected by Order in Council.

Secondly, in Northern Ireland the Judges' Rules relating to the admissibility of statements by people accused before the courts differ from the rules for England and Wales. This is not a matter of such great moment as it might seem to be in the context of terrorist offences, because that problem is dealt with by Section 6 of the 1973 Act. However, it has been agreed and decided to assimilate the Northern Ireland rules to those for England and Wales, and the necessary steps to that end will be taken.

I come to another aspect of the changes in the law mentioned by the hon. Member for Abingdon in advocating the terrorism offence. The Government accept that the time has come for an increase in some of the penalties prescribed by various statutes—first, the Firearms Act 1969, secondly, the 1973 Act, and possibly other legislation. Section 17 of the Firearms Act Provides a penalty of five years' imprisonment for carrying a firearm in a public place. We think that that is quite inadequate, and we propose to double it to a maximum of 10 years.

One of the main reasons why we think that that should be done is that if a person is found to be carrying in a public place a firearm of modern type, perhaps of Libyan origin, ready for immediate action and perhaps showing signs of having been used, it is plain that the court would wish, if it could, to pass a greater sentence than the present maximum allows. The same is true of the offence under Section 19A, of possessing firearms or ammunition in suspicious circumstances, which we think should similarly increase from five to 10 years on conviction on indictment. There are other instances in the 1969 Act where increases in the penalties may be appropriate and which we shall consider.

All that can be effected by Order in Council. In terms of the 1973 Act we consider that there is a case, particularly in the context of what I said earlier about possible new offences, and particularly since the end of detention, for increasing from five years the maximum penalty for membership of a proscribed organisation and other activities under Section 19. That, however, will require legislation. Other possible increases in penalties are under investigation, and where we think some to be appropriate, the Government will give effect to them.

The dilemma of the Northern Ireland situation is all too clear. There are few who would disagree that detention became counter-productive. It gave to the common criminal, the murderer and the gunman the wholly false glamour of the prisoner of war. The "special category" status added to that illusion. But inevitably the ending of detention throws a heavier burden on the ordinary judicial processes. These processes can be made more effective rather by better police methods, greater police recruitment, and by filling in as far as possible the few gaps in the law than by making any really fundamental change in the law.

If those remedies do not succeed, I agree that we shall have to think hard and painfully about the steps that need to be taken. What we cannot do is to turn the courts and the judicial system into an executive machine for locking up suspects. Methods of that kind we have recently seen and deplored in other countries, under different systems. They are not and cannot be part of ours.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I shall not seek to intervene again, Mr. Speaker, but perhaps before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down he would kindly tell me and the House what is the result of his study of the memorandum on preventive justice, which the Miinster of State has given to his office. No one would wish to turn the courts into the instrument of the Executive, but the Attorney-General will remember that in 1974 some suspects—not all Republicans—were released from Long Kesh and Armagh gaol on sureties of a total sum of £10,000. Could not the power of magistrates' courts to bind over to keep the peace and to be of good behaviour be more extensively used, particularly against incitement?

The Attorney-General

That point, which the hon. Gentleman has been good enough to mention to me, does not fall within my jurisdiction—although I agree that I have been talking about matters that also do not fall entirely within it. It is a matter either for the courts or, if the law has to be improved in order to enable what the hon. Gentleman suggests to take place, for the House of Commons. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer he seeks now, but he has drawn it to my attention for the first time and I shall make it my business to consider it and give him an answer by letter as soon as I can.

4.59 p.m.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

I want to address my initial remarks to the effectiveness of the RUC, with particular reference to its weaponry. Most of us in the House accept that this is a period of transition for the police in Northern Ireland in terms of defining their rôle in the present situation. This is the case not because the police themselves have accepted the vilification and propaganda spewed out by the SDLP in Northern Ireland but because they are prepared to rethink and define their rôle in the present situation because they want to function as any other police force in this part of the United Kingdom functions.

The police are realistic enough to appreciate that if they are to be afforded this opportunity—indeed privilege—there must be an effective anti-terrorist force, which of necessity must be a local force. Therefore, many members of the RUC now join up not because they want to become militarists in the full sense of that word but because they are realistic enough to believe that someone must encounter the gunmen, particularly if there is any reduction at all in the number of Army personnel in Northern Ireland.

The RUC also appreciates that if the primacy of the police is to be a meaningful concept at all, it must involve the ability of the RUC to encounter, to intercept and to destroy the IRA wherever and whenever possible. We are not talking in unrealistic terms; we are talking in terms of the police force being present in areas which they know best—in parts of the Province with which they are familiar. Therefore, these men and this force must be equipped to meet the immediate problem for which perhaps no other expression of law and order is equipped to meet in terms of intimacy with the situation. This point has already been touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

It is increasingly our lot to receive indications direct from the RUC that it has not the weaponry it requires to carry out its functions, particularly in rural areas of the Province. We welcome the indications given by the Secretary of State that an ongoing strategy is evolving in relation to the RUC, and we genuinely received this information with a degree of joy. We know that at the end of the day the IRA must be beaten by the more successful collection of information and the more successful application of investigation.

We realise that the bodies outlined by the Secretary of State will help very much in that respect. Nevertheless, we have to talk in terms of blunt realities, of men and women being killed and of property being destroyed at the most alarming rate. The RUC finds itself, whether it likes it or not, and whether this House likes it or not, in the forefront of the war against the IRA.

I turn now to the deployment of the UDR. In December 1975 the Secretary of State said that there were 14,000 members of Her Majesty's Forces in Northern Ireland. It would be interesting to know precisely how many members of the security forces—how many soldiers—are actively involved in the streets and lanes of Northern Ireland for the sole purpose of eradicating the IRA.

Those whose function it is to service the Army inform us that there is substantial proof that there are not nearly as many members of the security forces present in Northern Ireland as there were heretofore. They are quite prepared to submit this proof, not in a condemnatory spirit but in one of society concern. Some of the proof offered to me has been considerable and convincing. If the Army is being gradually reduced—perhaps for the best of motives—other forces must take its place.

We have touched on this transitional period for the RUC, and to a certain extent there may be some ambiguity about its role in the present situation. But there can be no ambiguity about the role of the Ulster Defence Regiment. There is no reluctance on the part of the regiment to accept its rôle as a spearhead against IRA terrorism. The UDR appears, however, to have two difficulties. First, it must try to cope with the situation while being under strength. Secondly, it is encouraged to adopt a more full-time role to facilitate in some way the planned withdrawal of the Army. Yet there seems to be a reluctance on the part of Parliament to afford it every opportunity to increase the full-time strength to the kind of numbers required.

We hear with interest that the full-time strength of the UDR is about 16,000 men. We believe, and those who are responsible for increasing these numbers should believe, that another 1,000 full-time members are required urgently in Northern Ireland. I return, however, to the first difficulty. It is incredible to receive letters from constituents protesting at being rejected after having offered their services.

I refer to the particularly important case of a man who served in the RAF and became an NCO. He also served in the Territorial Army and attained the rank of sergeant. He also holds an important position in one of the public services in Northern Ireland. Every member of his family has served in the Armed Forces, and two of them, including his son, are in the UDR. He was told that an interview had been fixed and that he should attend on a certain date. He was then told that he would not be required on that date, and he was rejected.

Thousands of pounds are spent on advertising the importance of the role of the UDR, and thousands of men are led to believe that when they volunteer for this service they will be thrown into combat with the IRA in a planned strategic manner, even though their role is one of defence of the Province. For these people to have their applications thrown back in their faces without adequate explanation undermines not only their confidence in the State but our position as upholders of law and order and of the status quo in defence.

The second problem is that of the full-time companies within the battalions. The strategy of the enemy is to kill and destroy not in the evenings when it is easy to put extra forces on the street. These devils strike in the morning when men are going to work and during normal commercial hours during the day. They bring down one business after the other when part-time members of the UDR are in their normal places of work. It is desperately urgent that we should have enough full-time members, particularly in places which are susceptible to attacks by these IRA demons. We should need men with knowledge of the local geography because this is essential effectively to combat the IRA. There must also be a command structure which facilitates the immediate countering and interception of the IRA.

I want to give the Secretary of State an opportunity to clarify a point on which there has been much confusion. We were told before the wholesale release of internees that there had to be a genuine cessation of violence. There was then great euphoria at the right hon. Gentlemen's announcement that 1,200 people had been convicted in the courts. Whether intended or not, that statement created the impression that the vast majority of those people were members of the IRA, and this is manifestly not the case.

It is not our brief to argue the case of those who have been convicted, what-ever their political or religious opinions. Everyone who breaks the law should be convicted. However, we have not been able to convince the people of Northern Ireland that a death blow is being struck at the heart of the IRA by the normal processes of law and through convictions in the courts. I hope the Secretary of State will make clear that only a relatively small number of those 1,200 people are members of the IRA and that its most dangerous and destructive members are still at large. We wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his efforts to bring those people to court. It is incumbent upon him to prove, through arrests and convictions, that the IRA can be defeated by the normal processes of the law.

We must give the security forces more assistance. Identity cards with photographs, and perhaps fingerprints, would be much more reliable and less open to exploitation than driving licences or bank cards in establishing identity. It should be compulsory to carry such cards, and provision should be made for the security forces to satisfy themselves—however long it takes—of the identity of a person without a card.

Such a system would have side benefits. It would help to remove the nonsense to which Northern Ireland people are subjected at airports when they try to enter Great Britain. We have to fill out a card which anyone could complete in any old way. It is a useless and futile system. Identity cards could be submitted when entering or leaving the mainland. This would be far more effective and would be conducive to a much more pleasant relationship between travellers and the police.

Identity cards could also be used to establish identity when a person collected benefits. Money has been misappropriated in Northern Ireland. I understand that under the existing law it is not necessary to prove one's identity when collecting benefits of less than £15. That is wrong. The Province lost £133,000 last year through misappropriated benefits, and that sum has been reduced by only one-third this year. Identity cards could play an important part in the reduction of that misappropriation.

Young offenders in prisons are causing great anxiety to those who are concerned for their future well-being and rehabilitation. It was a moving experience for me to listen to someone who could be described as a mature and hardened criminal. He poured out concern for some of the young people who shared a cell with him or who were close to him. He said "There is no redemption for me, but there is for some of the young people if you can get them out of this den".

I address that argument to the Secretary of State. What is the state of accommodation for young terrorist offenders? They may be dangerous, they may have dreadful potential, but what provision is made for their accommodation? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us at an early stage, bearing in mind the number of young offenders who are now in the Crumlin Road prison.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment as a Privy Councillor. I do so with great sincerity.

Debates on security in Northern Ireland are normally inconclusive, but I was hoping to be able to say—I should have done so if I had been called earlier—that this one seemed to be rather more constructive than others, especially when taking into account the contribution of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) was called before me. The tone and tenor of his contribution will not lead to helpful attitudes being adopted in this debate or in Northern Ireland.

Anyone with no knowledge of Northern Ireland would be inclined to believe, not knowing the facts, that there is only one band of terrorists in Northern Ireland, namely, the Irish Republican Army. Four or five times throughout his speech the hon. Gentleman referred to the terrorists of the Irish Republican Army.

Mr. Bradford

Seven times.

Mr. Fitt

He then defeated his own argument. Shortly before he sat down he sought to condemn my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for some of the statements he has made in the past. He said that one of the reasons my right hon. Friend put forward to justify the ending of internment was his statement that 1,200 people had been convicted before the courts for terrorist offences. He then said that only a small number were IRA men. If that is true, the majority of the 1,200 who were convicted of terrorist offences must have been Loyalist extremists. That is the full impact of the hon. Gentleman's argument. He condemns my right hon. Friend for saying that 1,200 people were convicted of terrorist offences and that therefore he could end internment, but he says that only a small number were IRA men.

Mr. Bradford

The Secretary of State stated that he could release internees, the vast majority of whom were IRA men, only if there were a genuine cessation of all violence. He changed his terms of reference and used the numbers convicted in the courts. The reason that there are not more IRA men before the courts is that the police cannot serve notices and charges in hard-line IRA areas.

Mr. Fitt

That does not in any way detract from my analysis of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If only a small number of the 1,200 were IRA terrorists, the logic is that the majority must have been Loyalist extremists. It is not fair, helpful or constructive for the hon. Gentleman to try to place all the blame on one band of terrorists for all the terrorism, murders, and assassinations. There are quite a number of terrorists in Northern Ireland, many of whom have been brought before the courts.

Every weekend there are three, four, five or six assassinations. On some weekends the majority are Catholics, on some weekends the majority are Protestants, and sometimes the figures are equal. Every weekend half a dozen people lose their lives. I am firmly of the belief that those who are responsible for these murders have deliberately designed their campaign to ensure that no political progress shall be made at the inter-party talks between the official Unionist Party and the SDLP. It is readily understood that progress at those talks will ultimately lead to the defeat of the terrorists.

I am no expert in security matters, but certain things should be said to my right hon. Friend to make him aware of events that may lead to a fall-off in support for the security forces. On many occasions hon. Members who do not support my political philosophy have criticised the role of certain members of the security forces. I know that it does not make for popularity to say anything in the House about the rôle of the British Army, the RUC or the security forces. Every country supports its army wholeheartedly. But anyone who is realistic realises that the Army is not composed of angels. Armies can make and have made mistakes. If mistakes have been made, they should be freely admitted. If people get the idea that cover-ups are being employed for the Army or the police there will be a fall-off in support for the security forces.

Recently in Northern Ireland a vicious and brutal campaign was waged against members of the RUC and many innocent members lost their lives, including a young woman. The whole community stood back in revulsion against these crimes. When a policeman lost his life in brutal circumstances during an incident at the Royal Victoria Hospital people in the surrounding area, which is largely nationalist, were aghast. The RUC brought in people to be interrogated about the murder, including members of the Republican Clubs. I am no defender of the Republican Clubs and I disagree with many aspects of their philosophy, but three members were brought in and, if we are to believe what they said—I would not throw their evidence completely away—they were subjected to rigorous and unlawful intimidation by members of the RUC.

I am not a Provisional IRA propagandist, nor am I a propagandist of any description, but that interrogation gives me cause for concern that there are still members of the RUC who use brutal mehods. Members of the Provisional IRA have no hesitation in shooting policemen, soldiers, civilians and innocent people, but it is accepted now, although it might not have been accepted in the past, that members of the Republican Clubs are engaged in political agitation and are not involved in a murder campaign. If I thought they were, I would not be saying anything in defence of those three men who were interrogated at the Springfield Road police station.

These allegations having been made, I think it is the bounden duty of the Secretary of State to inquire into them and to ascertain whether they are true. If the Secretary of State can convince me that those allegations are untrue and were made for propaganda reasons, I shall have no hesitation in standing up in this House or anywhere in Northern Ireland and telling those people that they are liars and that I am not prepared to be associated with their propaganda. At the moment, however, I am not convinced that the allegations are untrue.

I have noticed in the past few weeks, particularly in the local Press in Northern Ireland, many statements emanating from the Provisional Sinn Fein making allegations against the Army. I am not quite sure how truthful they are. I am inclined to have doubts about many of them. I am inclined to think that many are related to a propaganda campaign against the British Army. But there have been one or two instances when I have felt that there has been intimidation and harassment of innocent people.

In this situation I think it is the duty of the Minister to isolate the cases in which there has been active harassment and intimidation by the Army, so that we shall know that the majority of allegations are merely propaganda efforts by the Provisional IRA. But it is not good enough for people to say "We support every action carried out by the RUC, by the UDR and the British Army", because there are people in those three forces who can be guilty of misconduct.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South would say that every member of the UDR is an angel and he would support the UDR 100 per cent. But that is not right. Many members of the UDR have been brought before the courts and been charged with terrorist offences, and some of them have even been charged with the heinous crime of murder. The fact that such people have been charged with such crimes in the courts does not instil confidence in the majority of the population of Northern Ireland.

I have misgivings about some members of the UDR. Contrary to the attitude expressed today, I believe that is right for the people in control of the Ulster Defence Regiment to make the most searching inquiries into the background and character of every applicant for membership of the UDR. If there is any suspicion that people with criminal records or political leanings are being freely invited into the regiment, and that those political leanings would tend to make them act in a way in which they should not act as members of an impartial regiment of the British Army, they should be prohibited from joining.

I am not advising my right hon. Friend on security. I am not an expert. I am happy to accept that the majority of the security forces in Northern Ireland are doing a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances. I am, however, saying that there are things they should not do, and it is those things which they should not do which lead to a falling-off in support for the security forces in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South would seem to want the House to believe that it is only in so-called Republican areas that the police are not accepted and the primacy of the police is not ensured. I believe that the phrase "the primacy of the police" is unfortunate. We know what it means. It means that we want to create a society in which it will be unnecessary to have the British Army and in which we have a normally acceptable police force. But the way in which this Civil Service term was pumped out in statement after statement gave the terrorists in Northern Ireland the impression that the RUC would be armed with all sorts of sophisticated weapons, would go into all the Catholic areas in Northern Ireland and would shoot everybody who did not agree with them. The fact that that phrase was coined had something to do with the killing of innocent policemen.

It being half-past Five o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th May, be approved.