HC Deb 25 March 1976 vol 908 cc675-715

Question again proposed.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

It seems appropriate that we should link the two subjects of security and the economic situation in Northern Ireland in this debate. From unemployment come some of those at least who enter into terrorist acts. I think I quote the correct figure when I say that unemployment in areas such as the Bog-side and the Creggan in Londonderry is running as high as 40 per cent. It is clear that young people in particular who have nothing else to do can find themselves drifting into acts of terrorism simply because they are at a loose end.

Having said that, I think that I should pay my tribute to the security forces, both the Army and the police, for the tremendous part they have played together in keeping violence to the limits they have achieved, and, in particular, for the successes that the Secretary of State announced this afternoon.

Having paid that tribute, however, and having recently been in the Province, perhaps I may put two points, on which one of the Ministers may find it possible to comment in his winding-up speech. The first concerns a remark of a senior officer. That was that the one thing that all of us in this House had a responsibility to do was to deny any political or military credibilty to the Provisional IRA. And he went on to point out that we may talk about IRA brigades and IRA battalions, but so often these brigades may conceivably number 100 men and their battalions no more than 14. In those terms, to discuss them as though they were regular military units which bore any comparison to our own forces was clearly out of the question.

Perhaps I should add that too often we have given a credibility in political terms to these terrorist organisations. Whereas one can sympathise with the Secretary of State in his desire to bring peace to the Province, such political negotiations, conversations or whatever may have taken place between the officials of his office and those groups have undermined in the eyes of the people in the Province confidence in the Secretary of State and his Ministers. I think that that lack of confidence should be borne in mind before anyone engages in such conversations in the future.

Perhaps I could also ask a question about Judges' Rules. I do not claim any legal knowledge. When I visited the Royal Ulster Constabulary Headquarters at Knock a senior policeman there said that in Northern Ireland the Judges' Rules that were used were those that were drawn up between 1916 and 1918, whereas in the rest of the United Kingdom rules were used that were drawn up in 1964. The point I make—I have no reason to suppose that this statement is not absolutely accurate—is that the Rules of the period 1916–18 give very much less latitude to the police in carrying out their difficult tasks of treating their detainees and in questions of interrogation, and so on. As the Attorney-General is present, perhaps he would care to comment on that point. It seems incredible that the police force in Northern Ireland is more limited than the police forces in the rest of the United Kingdom in the way in which it is able to question and generally to find out about the actions of those whom it is detaining.

I welcome the new strength of the RUC and its reserve. I was impressed by those whom we met and their determination to see this period of violence through to an end. However, I was equally concerned by the expression of another senior policeman, that there was a Mafia-type violence building up in the Province which had nothing to do with politics but which was born out of seven years of violence, sectarian murder and destruction.

I turn to the political situation. This is the first debate on Northern Ireland affairs that we have had since the end of the Convention, and, therefore, the Province and its future, for the foreseeable future, must be seen in terms of direct rule—or "positive direct rule", as the Secretary of State has said. The Convention's break-down may be seen as a failure of Ulstermen to find common political institutions to which they could all agree. What all of us at Westminster have to realise is that it is a set-back, and a major set-back, to the policy of power sharing which has held sway in this Chamber since 1973.

While we may choose to lay the blame upon those in Northern Ireland for not seeing eye to eye in political terms, as we might have wished, we in turn must consider carefully whether the policy for power sharing has all the merits that we have believed it has, and whether we should not give very careful consideration to trying to impose a political shape and structure upon a part of the United Kingdom which has shown, and shown demonstrably, that it is not keen on such novelties.

I say that because I believe that the Secretary of State is now right to resist the temptation to have another go. A botched-up effort at this stage would set back any hope of an effective political initiative at some time in the future by a very long way. Therefore, we should accept the challenge of positive direct rule and make it a time of creative government in Northern Ireland.

I come to the question of any future political initiative if one is to be envisaged. If at some stage in the future the Secretary of State, of the present Government or any future Government, decides that a new political initiative for the Province is required, I hope that he will test the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland in a way that is different from the Convention. The possibility of a referendum opens itself to us and, as we have seen in recent cases, it can be an extremely successful way of finding out what the people think. We shall have a chance as we consider the devolution of government to Scotland and Wales to look at a pattern of devolution. For the life of me, I cannot quite see why it should not be turned into the United Kingdom pattern.

Whatever may be the case, timing will be of crucial importance. If we cannot find an initiative, perhaps we should wait for the next General Election to find out what people in Northern Ireland feel about the political climate both in their Province and in the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland now embarks on a period of direct rule which may be considerably longer than that which existed when the Conservative Government were in office. That means, as the Secretary of State said on 5th March, that Northern Ireland is the responsibility of this House and of the Government."—[Official Report, 5th March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 1720.] I might say that it has always been so, but clearly there is a new emphasis on this point, and indeed, they are portentous words. However, if positive direct rule is to mean anything different from that which has gone before, it must be positive in a way that government when taken by this side of the Irish Sea from Northern Ireland has so far failed to be. It has to establish the British element in that government, which has been missing.

I welcome the Government's statement about a new economic strategy for the Province. I know that the Government are trying to create new jobs and to attract new investment, and that they want new firms in the Province. Somehow or other, however, they always resist any of the bridges that could be built between London and Belfast. They always have a reason to explain why Northern Ireland is different and that if they were to follow the precedents of the rest of the United Kingdom, something curious would happen.

There has been the question whether Northern Ireland should have a greater representation in this Chamber. We all know that mathematically the argument is absolute. There is no counter-argument. However, when I suggested this last Thursday, the Secretary of State told me that it was a South-East England view. He described Northern Ireland as a "split community." He suggested that if only I understood that, I would understand why it was impossible to have the extra Members of Parliament.

On 5th March the right hon. Gentleman went so far as to say that he wanted only people—no; I must not be unfair. He said that "we" only wanted people to be in this House who wanted to be in the United Kingdom.

That is the most fallacious thing the Secretary of State could have said. The fact that those who may be elected in certain parts of Northern Ireland do not wish to come to this Chamber is their right. We cannot deny the electorate of Northern Ireland the same representation as we give Scotland, Wales or England. If we do so, we are playing about with democracy to suit ourselves. If those who come from Northern Ireland choose to spend their time here speaking against the Union, that is also their right because in a democracy we must hear every point of view. It is a dangerous fallacy to hold out the argument that Northern Ireland is a split community and that we do not want people here who do not share our views. I hope that the Secretary of State will think again.

I come to a point which has been raised so often—namely, whether Short Brothers and Harland should be in the soon-to-be-created British Aerospace Corporation or whether Harland and Wolff should be in the soon-to-be-created British Shipbuilders Corporation. We hear arguments to the effect that they are somehow different—but how are they different? Harland and Wolff is completely nationalised at the moment. Its workers naturally wonder why they should be split off from the British Shipbuilding Corporation. What benefit will it bring them to be in that situation, and who can blame them if they feel that Ministers in this House, and indeed most hon. Members in the House of Commons, do not want Northern Ireland brought into the United Kingdom—in other words, that we want to keep them at arm's length? The workers at Short Brothers have the same nagging feeling.

Perhaps the Minister will try to allay the fear in the minds of some directors in Short Brothers, also a nationalised company, that if they are not in the British Aerospace Corporation, who is to decide what share of Government money they should receive on such matters as research and development? Are they to be pushed to one side while the British Aerospace Corporation has the undivided attention of the Secretary of State for Industry and the Government? If we believe in positive direct rule, let us try to put Ulster as nearly as possible on all fours with the rest of the country. Let us use this period of direct rule to build up the confidence of the people of Ulster.

When I went to Northern Ireland on a recent visit as a guest of Her Majesty's Government, I was entertained to an excellent dinner in Stormont Castle. Sitting round the table were a number of Ministers and civil servants. Not one of those civil servants was a Northern Irelander. I wondered why this should be. Is it doubted whether the Northern Ireland Civil Service can govern its own Province? In the Scottish and Welsh Offices they have respectively a Scottish Secretary of State and a Welsh Secretary of State. We also find that the civil servants in those offices owe something to the place they are expected to govern.

I hope that when we consider Northern Ireland's future in this new—and, we hope, exciting—period of government from Westminster, we shall also not turn our backs on the abilities and skill of Northern Irelanders, whether they be in industry or in the Northern Irish Civil Service.

5.55 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Mr. Samuel Silkin)

A number of questions have been asked that fall within my province. I shall try to deal with them as shortly as possible because I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in this discussion.

I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), in an intervention, to say something about the recent allegation by Mr. Taylor, who when representing a client before a resident magistrate suggested that the prosecuting authorities and the police were deliberately charging people with murder when the evidence came nowhere near to justifying that charge. Mr. Taylor went on to say: The complicity of the Director of Public Prosecutions in this fraud is unreservedly deplorable. I regard the words used by Mr. Taylor as unreservedly deplorable, irresponsible and totally lacking any foundation of fact.

The Belfast Telegraph, dealing with the charges, said: If Mr. Taylor has evidence to substantiate his charge and he has wide experience in the criminal field, he should produce it. He has introduced doubts in people's minds which cannot be allowed to fester. I agree with that comment and I should like to say a few words about the procedure leading to the eventual trial of a person charged with murder.

The initial charges are made by the police and they make those charges without consulting the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. In the case of scheduled offences, of which murder is one, they send a brief summary to the Director to enable him to recommend to me whether to certify for jury trial or against it. If necessary, I can ask for further information in making my decision. It is important to do so at an early stage because the special provisions for scheduled offences affect questions such as bail and other matters dealt with before the magistrates.

The accused person if on remand comes before the magistrates weekly until the committal date is fixed. At those remand hearings a member of the staff of the Director attends on behalf of the police—not in a prosecuting capacity, but solely to save the time of the police in dealing with matters that are largely formal. He knows sufficient about the case to deal with the question of bail and other matters that arise—but no more. It is not until the conclusion of the police investigation when they are ready to submit their file to the Director that he has a full knowledge of the circumstances of any particular case.

When the Director obtains the file he studies it and at that stage directs the charges on which he proposes to seek committal. It is at that stage for the first time that he considers the evidence, it is at that stage for the first time that any lawyer considers the evidence, and it is at that stage in Northern Ireland, as in Great Britain, that the view may be taken that the evidence does not support the original charges. It may support other less serious charges.

If the Director takes the view that the evidence does not support the charge of murder, but may support a less serious charge, he will direct that the less serious charge should be preferred, and the committal will take place on that basis. The Director is in charge of the committal proceedings and of the prosecution thereafter.

I want now to put some figures before the House. If any hon. Member wishes more detailed figures, I shall be glad to write to him. Since the 1973 Act was passed, 275 persons have been charged with scheduled murder. Of those, 42 had the charge of murder withdrawn before the committal stage. However, to calculate the percentage of withdrawals, those 42 must be compared with 188 cases which have gone to the DPP. So far 144 persons have been committed for trial and dealt with at the Belfast City Commission. Those not yet dealt with by way of trial, but whose cases have been considered by the Department, total 29 committed and 15 murder charges directed. Those 44 cases plus the 144 dealt with make up the total of 188. Of those 188 cases, 42 charges of murder—22 per cent. —were withdrawn before committal.

However, if Mr. Taylor had any such figures in mind, he did not apply his mind to the further charges which in many cases were directed against persons tried where it was thought that the evidence would not substantiate charges of murder. Those charges have invariably been of a serious character and have arisen out of the planning or execution of a murder or of providing aid for the principal parties prior to or following the commission of the crime. Those cases number 27. That left only 15 people who, after being charged with murder, had all charges against them withdrawn. That represents a figure of 8 per cent. as against the 22 per cent. mentioned earlier.

There were various reasons why that happened. Sometimes evidence of identification was not regarded as sufficiently strong to enable the cases to be proved. There have also been cases in which, unfortunately, witnesses have refused to give evidence and which in consequence could not be pursued on the basis of murder.

In addition, there have been nine cases where the accused were arrested in circumstances which gave rise to grave suspicion of complicity in the crime charged—the police were entitled to bring the charge— but in which, after lengthy police investigation and careful consideration by lawyers in the Department and sometimes by Crown counsel, the decision was taken to withdraw the charge.

The suggestion made by Mr. Taylor bears some similarity to a suggestion which was made when my predecessor and the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) were in office. My predecessor took the unusual step of issuing a printed rebuttal of some highly detailed allegations which were then made.

It is interesting that The Criminal Law Review, which gave considerable publicity to the original report, when the answer was produced, stated: At first sight these figures —figures produced by the Attorney-General— fortify the conclusions of the Cobden Trust. —which made the original allegation. But they take on an entirely different colour when the circumstances in which the charges were withdrawn are considered. In twenty out of the twenty-one cases in which the Section 41 charges were withdrawn, the defendant pleaded guilty to other offences (including three cases of murder and six cases of crime involving a maximum of life imprisonment). It is hard to avoid the contention in the Law Officers' Report that statistics on the withdrawal of charges are meaningless without reference to the full facts and circumstances of each case and that no conclusions can safely or properly be drawn from them. That applies equally to the totally deplorable allegations which are now made, particularly the allegation of fraud and that the Director, who does such admirable work in this difficult area, is a party to that fraud.

I turn now to another matter which has been mentioned in the debate.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that Mr. Taylor's allegation was reinforced by a prominent member of the SDLP—Mr. Duffy. Has he any comments to make on his further statement on these matters?

The Attorney-General

I have given the facts. It is not necessary for me to make any further comments. The facts are there for all to see. I have offered to provide the necessary figures by letter if they are required.

I was about to deal with two other matters which have been mentioned. Here the suggestion has been made that, so far from the prosecuting authorities taking too strong a view, they have taken too lax a view. That has been said of the cases of Mr. McGuinness and Mr. Agnew. There has been some criticism of the Both those cases were thoroughly discussed between myself and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. We were in entire agreement on the result.

In Mr. McGuinness's case, no admissions were made. There was no evidence to connect him with the matters of which complaint had been made, other than going back to the days of the Special Provisions Act in 1972, since when he has been sent to prison on more than one occasion for membership of a proscribed organisation in the Republic of Ireland. There was no recent evidence of membership of a proscribed organisation. Therefore, for that reason, and that reason alone, no charges were brought. I assure the House that, where we can bring evidence to support a charge of membership of a proscribed organisation, we shall have no hesitation in doing so.

Reference was made to the public speech made by Mr. Agnew and also, on the same platform, by Mrs. Drumm. It has been suggested that Mr. Agnew might have been tried for sedition, for an offence under the Public Order Act (Northern Ireland), or for encouragement to murder under Section 4 of the Offences Against the Person Act (Northern Ireland). The evidence consisted of the police transcript of what he said, his own statement to the police, and various conflicting newspaper reports which were not consistent one with another.

However, having examined this extremely closely together with the Director—because I, too, would not hesitate to support a charge in cases of this kind if evidence were available—it was entirely clear that what evidence we had of what this gentleman had said was wholly consistent, not with a threat or incitement or encouragement to murder, but with a warning as to what he suggested would be likely to happen in certain circumstances. We have had precisely that situation involving other people before.

The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) in particular has been referred to publicly in that context in relation to two speeches he made, and we came to the same conclusion at that time. It is not sufficient that a speech should be made which simply warned of what other people might be likely to do. There must be a direct encouragement to murder, a threat or something of that kind, and we had no doubt whatever that it could not be sustained in that case. If it could have been, Mr. Agnew undoubtedly would have been prosecuted.

Finally, may I deal with the question of possible new offences, raised by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), and protection for witnesses, and take in with that, if I may, the point made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), about Judges' Rules. The Gardiner Report, on page 25, spoke of the possibility of a new offence of being concerned in terrorism and it set out the kind of thing it had in mind. There was a considerable amount of doubt whether the terms of the offence which it was considering were such as to enable us to incorporate those terms within the law. At that stage, when the amending Act was produced, it was thought better to concentrate on simpler, clearer offences, as I said in winding-up that debate. That does not mean that we have stopped thinking about this, and considering the possibilities of new offences of a character which are concerned with terrorism. We are at this moment giving most careful consideration to such offences and if we find that we can put into clear words something which is a significant addition, which fills a gap in the existing law, then I have no doubt that we shall be ready to do so. But we have not yet reached a stage at which we can say that that is possible.

The hon. Member for Newbury mentioned the Judges' Rules. The position as he put it is quite correct. They are Judges' Rules and are not rules made by the Executive. There is a difference between Northern Ireland and this country. So far as scheduled offences are concerned, however, the matter is governed not by the Judges' Rules but by the express provisions in Section 6 of Emergency Provisions Act 1973. If the hon. Member will be good enough at his leisure to look at that, he will see that the provisions of that section are very stringent. Indeed, it is only because the judges in Northern Ireland, in dealing with that section and with these cases generally, exercise the type of jurisprudence which the common law recognises, that cases of grave injustice are avoided which, on a strict interpretation of the section, might well be possible. At any rate, they are not hamstrung in dealing with scheduled offences by the difference between their Judges' Rules and ours.

The hon. Member for Abingdon said the Opposition would support any strengthening of the law proposed by the Government. We are most grateful to him for that and I hope that if we find that there are gaps that need to be filled, we shall have his co-operation in filling them. But let us not delude ourselves into believing that changes in the law alone can destroy terrorism, for of course they cannot. They can help, but in the end there must be a fair balance in the law between constraint and freedom. To go too far in the erosion of traditional liberties and traditional safeguards can easily be counter-productive.

In the end we must conquer the hearts and minds of the vast majority who feel the bitter consequences of violence. That requires patience in a situation where to be patient is almost intolerable. None the less, again and again, as my right hon. Friend has said, we must seek positive and constructive solutions. That is the policy of the Government and I believe, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that the House and the nation support it.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in opening the debate, dealt with the security situation in Northern Ireland. This is certainly a subject which concerns every hon. Member for Northern Ireland and all in this House. The Attorney-General answered a query which I had raised by way of intervention in relation to statements made by a very prominent member of the legal profession —remarks substantiated by another solicitor, Mr. Paddy Duffy. It is statements such as these which give rise to concern among many people in Northern Ireland. I have no great knowledge of the legal profession and I can only depend upon statements made at the Dispatch Box by my right hon. Friend.

I agree with him that it was a very good thing to do away with detention and to use the due process of the law to bring people before the courts. But in that situation I, like many thousands of people in Northern Ireland, depend on the courts to see justice given to everyone in Northern Ireland. If a prominent member of the legal profession is not aware of what is happening, and if the procedure alluded to this evening by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General produces, inevitably, delays, then it is understandable that ordinary people, if they have some suspicions in their mind, should be concerned.

I believe that the Attorney-General should now take it upon himself to make whatever representations he can to the Incorporated Law Society in Northern Ireland to explain the position in relation to the numbers of people who have come before the courts originally charged with murder and have had those charges subsequently dropped, because these two statements, and particularly the originating statement from Mr. Taylor, have caused confusion and discontent and we cannot afford to have confusion or suspicion in Northern Ireland in respect of the law.

The Attorney-General should perhaps take this much further. We cannot let this issue die and the Attorney-General should make representations either to the Director of Public Prosecutions, or to the Incorporated Law Society that they should tell their own members exactly what the procedure is, so that they do not make statements or allegations which may subsequently prove unfounded.

In relation to the security situation, which we have discussed on so many occasions, the Minister of State will be aware that the big worry about security now is not that related to the military, police or security forces as such. The cause for concern now is the growing number of sectarian murders, particularly in the city of Belfast. These have been carried out in a most brutal and heinous way, completely uncivilised. Victims have been shot, they have had their throats cut and have been stabbed, and there have been anonymous telephone calls put through to newspapers stating that the next person to die would be decapitated. All this is causing concern, and even if it means that the security forces must lessen their efforts in other directions, they should apply all possible security to try to apprehend those guilty of such heinous murders.

There are periods of quiet in the operations of the security forces in Northern Ireland and then, for some unknown reason, I get complaints about an upsurge in harassment by the military. This dies down, only to happen again in two or three months. We are in the middle of such a period of complaints at the moment. Only last week, several people told me, in person and by telephone, of harassment throughout North and West Belfast. Many people who are not involved in terrorist activities have been put to inconvenience by this heightened harassment. There may be a reason for it—I do not know—but if there is not, it can be counter-productive by inflaming passions and opinions.

I suppose that this debate is mainly about economic questions. The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) was unfair in seeking to place all the blame for our economic and employment problems on the British Government. Last week. I had no hesitation in allying myself with other Northern Ireland Members and condemning the Government for the defence cuts in the Province, which will lead to 2,000 men losing their jobs. That was a direct Government responsibility for which they should be condemned.

But, in both sections of the community in Northern Ireland, we are largely the architects of our own misfortune. Who can expect outside investors to have confidence when they read about the endemic violence in Northern Ireland? The Secretary of State went to the United States and made many speeches to commercial organisations to try to attract investment. When the Executive was in being, up to May 1974, my colleague, John Hume, who was then Minister of Commerce, undertook an arduous tour of America, with the same object. Unfortunately, those efforts have not been successful.

When outside investment cannot be attacted, there is a responsibility on the Government to create commercial development by their own efforts, but only a fool would believe that the Government could increase their own commercial investment to such a level as to do away with unemployment. That is asking for far too much.

Anyone who read the article in the Financial Times yesterday will have had cause for suspicion. It showed that over the past two years 50 local firms in Northern Ireland have gone out of existence. As a result, £50 million a year in wages is no longer circulating in the Province, and £80 million a year will have to be paid out in unemployment and social security benefit. Those figures must give the Government cause for concern.

I am still not convinced that we have the close co-operation between the trade union movement and the Government which is necessary. It is strange that a Socialist Government may have fallen down in this way. Perhaps it is due to the inability of the trade union movement —I am not sure who is to blame—but representatives of the movement have expressed concern to me at the lack of cohesion between them and the Government.

Mr. Orme

Will my hon. Friend give some examples? The Northern Ireland Office meets representatives of the trade union movement in Northern Ireland more often than any of my ministerial colleagues meet the unions in Great Britain. They are consulted on the Economic Council and they are put on all the major bodies. Their representations, like those of the CBI, are treated at the highest level by the British Government.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend rightly asks for examples. I have here a submission by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It says that it wants the Economic Council to have more independence in reaching decisions and not to be hindered by Government intervention; that it could then express a more impartial or aggressive point of view. The document says: The role and functions of the Northern Ireland Economic Council should be extended to cover social and economic matters. The Council should be made independent of Government so that it may offer constructive criticism of official policies in these areas. The Council should be afforded the right of initiative, in order that it may examine and report on such problems as levels of poverty, consumer protection and regional inequalities. I can only take those words to mean what they say. They must express some dissatisfaction. I accept that there is a great deal of discussion with the trade union movement.

Mr. Orme

This is an important point. If the trade unions want an independent Economic Council, what is the point of the Government's being there at all? The council can meet as an independent body and make representations to the Government. What we want are the type of consultations that take place in Great Britain on the NEDC, among Government, industry and all sections of people concerned with the economy. It is not a body that passes resolutions. The Government must govern. Of course we listen to representations and we shall discuss these proposals with the unions, but it is only right to spell out some of the doubts that the Government have at this moment.

Mr. Fitt

I am glad that I have brought this matter to the Minister's attention. It seemed that there was some room for closer co-operation. I shall be having discussions with trade unionists throughout Northern Ireland and I hope that a better arrangement can be made. I agree with my hon. Friend in not wanting to create another talking shop in Northern Ireland. We have had far too many talking shops over there, and they have all been fruitless; they have meant absolutely nothing. But, so far as we can, we should involve the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in any social and economic decisions.

The Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU says in its submission that there are 30,000 people on the Housing Executive's waiting lists, while 12,000 construction workers are unemployed—workers who could be building houses. There seems to me to be great disparity in thinking. People need jobs and houses. The ICTU has put forward proposals that are interesting, particularly in view of allegations by some Opposition Members about dishonest contractors and inefficient members of the Housing Executive.

The ICTU says: The NI Housing Executive should set up a subsidiary company on its own to manufacture housing components such as … concrete blocks up to BS insulation standards, doors and door frames, windows, including glazing units, kitchen and built-in furniture. There are bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and woodworkers in the construction industry in Northern Ireland. If all those talents were combined under the agency of the Housing Executive, cutting out unscrupulous contractors who are in the business only for profit and who are not concerned whether their work is efficient, it would soak up unemployment and create new homes.

A question was asked earlier about the Government's policy in respect of the Northern Ireland transport undertaking. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction about the high cost and gross inefficiency of the transport system in Northern Ireland.

The situation in Northern Ireland is undoubtedly grave, and we all sincerely hope that it will get better in the months that lie ahead, but if the predictions in the Financial Times yesterday are to be believed there must be cause for real despondency. It says that Ulster industry is now working within the law of diminishing returns, and the concluding sentence reads: Northern Ireland, which was once an industrial power house, is now inceasingly a millstone. If we are to take those words as meaning what they say they can only create despondency in our constituencies. I hope that this forecast, printed in a responsible newspaper and by someone who should know what he is talking about, is inaccurate, because if it is accurate we now have a very bad situation in Northern Ireland.

I want to impress upon my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that there are people in Northern Ireland who know that he has a very difficult job and that he has had to overcome a great many obstacles over the past two years. Many people within and without the trade union movement have great admiration for him and for the courage and tenacity with which he has tackled these obstacles. I certainly would not want to associate myself with the attempt of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Armagh this afternoon, to make a scapegoat of the Minister of State or the Ministers in Northern Ireland.

We have great problems. I am not satisfied with the figure of 11 per cent. unemployed, which is the highest figure of any of the regions within the European Economic Community, but I do not believe that we can get the co-operation of the Government by continuously criticising Ministers who have tried to do a most difficult job in most difficult circumstances. This is not the time to be complacent. The next six months will be crucial; indeed, Northern Ireland's destiny may be decided within the next six months.

6.33 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

At the end of his speech opening this debate the Secretary of State referred to a public opinion poll which suggested that direct rule in Northern Ireland was perhaps less unpopular than might have been expected. I am surprised that the Secretary of State should refer to any public opinion polls at all in a debate that deals largely with security, because a recent poll on the question of security showed that in Northern Ireland at the beginning of 1974 more than two-thirds of the population had confidence in the way in which the security policy was being conducted, whilst now—at least, a matter of about two months ago—less than 20 per cent. have confidence in the way in which the security policy is being conducted.

This, of course, is no criticism of the soldiers and the policemen themselves. The defence White Paper that has recently been published pays tribute to the courage, steadfastness and strength of purpose of the security forces, and I am sure that that view is shared by almost all Members of this House and an overwhelmingly wide cross-section of people outside it.

Some of us who have gone fairly regularly to Northern Ireland, however, have noted a certain degree of pessimism among the security forces themselves in recent months.

It is easy to understand why this note of pessimism creeps into their conversation. In the past there has always been something to look forward to, in the way of political development or developments on the security side: a power-sharing executive; the calling of the Convention; the end of the no-go areas; the introduction of internment; the end of internment. There has always been some prospect of change which would bring improvement. But now the security forces are faced with the fact that they have literally to soldier on in much the same pattern for a long time to come.

Then there is the question of people getting tired. The defence White Paper refers to the fact that four major units in the Army have now completed six terms of emergency tours in the Province. But the strain on the police and the Ulster Defence Regiment is much greater than that. For month after month—indeed, year after year— members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have been doing more than 20 hours a week overtime. It is only natural that there should be a feeling of tiredness as year follows year and the terrorist toll continues.

There have been substantial successes in terms of arrests of people on charges of terrorism, and the Secretary of State is right to take pride and, indeed, pleasure, in that—if one can take pleasure in the number of people arrested for terrorist crimes and for murder.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House are apt to refer to all terrorists as being criminal psychopaths and madmen. Some of them no doubt are, but there is one other common characteristic which almost all those who have been arrested and brought before the courts recently have shared—and I have this on the authority of those, the judgment of many of whom I trust, who have talked to those people. The people who are being arrested and brought before the courts are almost invariably extremely stupid. They are some of the dimmest members of the community, on both sides.

One does not expect people of high intelligence to join either the Provisional IRA or the Ulster Volunteer Force, but the level of intelligence of those being arrested and imprisoned at the moment suggests that we are getting only the bomb carriers, the bomb throwers, and the lowest level of gunmen, and that the top level of terrorists are largely untouched. That is also causing substantial alarm and concern among the security forces.

I see from the defence White Paper that Regulations were made under the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act 1973 requiring the compulsory immobilisation of unattended vehicles in Northern Ireland. What we need is some compulsory immobilisation of the top men in the IRA. I know that Ministers are turning their minds to this problem. In his speech this afternoon the Secretary of State pointed out the difficulty of applying laws as they are now applied in Southern Ireland, where a man can be convicted merely on the word of a senior police officer that he is a terrorist. But we heard very little from the Attorney-General on how the Government's mind is turning in tackling the problem of dealing with the top terrorists—the men who sit and plan and plot the outrages that other less intelligent mortals carry out for them.

The Attorney-General

That is precisely the problem that we are seeking to solve. It is a gap that we are trying to fill. If we can find an acceptable way of doing it, we shall do it.

Mr. Goodhart

I am delighted to hear that, but I press upon the Attorney-General the urgent need to find a solution.

It has never been my case that the Government have not given proper resources to the police. The Secretary of State has shown an understanding of their problems and has tried to make resources available to them. Over the past 15 years the budget of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has grown from about £1½ million to £50 million. We cannot complain about that. But I do not believe that the Government show a similar understanding of the problems facing the Ulster Defence Regiment or of the scope for expansion of its work.

In the defence debate last year I had in my prepared notes a comment agreeing with the words of praise that would be uttered by the Secretary of State for Defence for the work of the UDR, but there were no words of praise in his speech. From the reference to the UDR in this year's defence White Paper one does not learn of the immense amount of work that it does and the long hours put in by its members in defence of the community.

I hope that in the next few months we shall see an expansion in the UDR's rôle. We know that some of those who have borne the highest responsibility for security in Northern Ireland believe that it would now be right to have a full-time company of the regiment in every battalion. It would not be expensive to implement that. Unemployment is a good recruiting sergeant, and it would not be difficult to find the men to man those units.

We on this side of the Irish Channel all too often forget how much of the internal security work is done by the people of Northern Ireland themselves. I hope that through an increase in the full-time strength of the UDR the ability of the people of Northern Ireland to defend themselves will be further enhanced.

6.43 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

The first priority for the people of Northern Ireland is security. The ordinary man in Northern Ireland is not at present very interested in the forms of government, or the arguments whether we should have this form or that form. But he is interested in his personal security and the security of his wife and family, and the right to live and work and enjoy the things that he should enjoy.

It is a good thing that the debate should have a sobering effect on Ministers and hon. Members who listen to it. I was very worried by the Secretary of State's criticism of those who like to see an Army presence in South Armagh. It is essential that the people see an Army presence. I am sure that my hon. Friend who represents that constituency would fully agree. I was in the area recently when the IRA carried out the brutal murder of a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment by hacking him to death with a knife. The people of the area said that for three days they had not seen one Army vehicle. It is a matter of the utmost necessity that the Army be seen in the outlying areas—almost no-go areas, or no-man's land.

At the border recently I found that the Customs station had been moved back two miles on the Clones road. I was told that no vehicle went beyond that Customs check. Does that mean that those two miles have been surrendered to the Irish Republican Army? The Secretary of State must take note of such matters. They are no criticism of the Army and its personnel. The people of Northern Ireland appreciate all that the Army has done. We are glad about the defusing of every bomb that would otherwise have caused havoc. We admire the men who put their lives at risk every day.

Mr. Orme

Mr. Baird does not.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Mr. Baird will have to speak for himself.

When the Army puts out statements that are later discovered not to be founded on fact there are bound to be comments. The Army made a statement that a certain tanker was under constant surveillance, but it was then driven to Bessbrook and blown up in the centre of the town. Naturally, the man whose shop was blown up had hard things to say about the Army's statement.

If the police are to take primacy in the battle against terrorism, they must be properly equipped. They must have the fire power to deal with terrorists and they must have the proper vehicles. One point baffles me. When I talk to the Secretary or State on deputations he tells me that this is a matter for the Chief Constable, but then I am told by representatives of the police trade union that they have made representations to the Secretary of State and he has agreed that certain vehicles should be ordered. Who is responsible for the ordering of vehicles for the RUC?

There is a serious situation in South Londonderry. Some parts are becoming as bad as South Armagh. The Secretary of State said that because the Ulster Defence Regiment is almost entirely a Protestant force it cannot move into certain areas. That means that members of the UDR are not permitted to enter certain parts that are controlled by the terrorists and are almost no-go areas. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us answers on these important matters.

The economy has been mentioned. In housing and house repairs something could be done to give men employment.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I am glad that the House, by one of its typical unspoken collective decisions, has decided to take a little more time for this debate, for we would not wish the Minister of State to be stinted in his reply.

It is an irony, but a pleasant and happy irony, that in one of the first weeks after the inception of what is rather quaintly called direct rule—meaning, roughly speaking, the form of government under which the rest of the United Kingdom lives—the House has devoted two half days in the Chamber and three mornings in Committee to the affairs of Northern Ireland. I hope the 1½ million citizens of the United Kingdom who live in Northern Ireland will not get the impression that two days in the House and three days in Committee will be devoted to them every week; but, it was a happy chance that this conjuncture occurred so early, for it shows the extensive opportunities which hon. Members representing Northern Ireland have to bring the affairs of the Province to the attention of the House and the Government.

As he has done previously, the Secretary of State gave us a number of important statistics showing the scale upon which security forces had scored successes and were continuing to do so. He expressed his disappointment, which we all share, that these statistics and their message somehow do not seem to get across. Somehow, the real involvement of Government and Parliament in the affairs of the people of Northern Ireland, the progress which is made and the successes in countering the IRA and other terrorist organisations, do not make the impression we would all wish.

I am sorry the Secretary of State is not present. One understands that there are exciting events taking place outside the Chamber in which he may, in some way be participating; but I am sure that a suggestion I wish to make will be conveyed to him and discussed with him. I have in any case given him some notice of the point I intend to make.

To some extent, we are still in an experimental period in the handling of Northern Ireland affairs in this House, and I believe the time has come when we can make an important advance. We need to bring to bear the instrumentality of a Select Committee, with its power to interrogate, hear witnesses, ask questions and follow a line of questioning, upon Northern Ireland in the coming months. For while we are grateful for the opportunities offered by the Northern Ireland Committee and make the utmost use of our openings on the Floor of the House, nothing can replace, for the purpose of reassuring the public and dealing with doubts and difficulties such as those rightly expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) earlier, the opportunity to pursue issues relentlessly by inquiry and interrogation.

Mr. Orme

The right hon. Gentleman has written to my right hon. Friend, who will consider his suggestion. However, I must make clear that the Government could not countenance security matters being discussed in such a Select Committee. That would be completely ruled out.

Mr. Powell

I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has slammed that door before he has really had a chance to consider the proposal. He does not need to tell me the importance, which came out earlier in the debate, of information, indication or hints which could be of use to the enemy not being divulged through the parliamentary process. That is understood very well indeed. However, there are many matters investigated by Select Committees in which national security is involved and sensitive matters are dealt with. The House and Select Committees find ways to get over that difficulty, and we might have to find ways of getting over it in a Select Committee dealing with Northern Ireland.

I do not envisage my suggestion resulting in any increased total burden on Ministers, who already carry a large burden, or on other hon. Members, but we do lack, and are felt by those we represent to lack, a means of pursuing matters which are opened up in debate but not brought to a conclusion fully satisfactory to those outside. I was by no means an admirer of the Select Committee process in its early days; but the House has found the procedure useful in many branches of administration, and I trust the Government will not just put aside my suggestion. We ought to look for new means whereby the responsibility of Government and Parliament to the people of Northern Ireland and the way it is being discharged can be made clear and manifest.

I do not wish to speak at length on the economy of Northern Ireland which has been dealt with in admirable speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) and Armagh (Mr. McCusker). The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh provoked objections in some quarters: but there is no hon. Member who, if his constituency had the same unemployment, with the anxieties attaching to it, as some constituencies in Northern Ireland, would not be expected to be on his feet making speeches like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh. It is no use pretending that this House provides a forum for the ventilation of grievances if we take it amiss when hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh make speeches like the one he contributed to the debate.

There is one matter only on the economic side which I wish to stress, and that is transport. The Secretary of State referred to the high level of Government involvement in the economy of Northern Ireland and said how much he was impressed by it. This is a subject on which political divisions can be very acute; but no one concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland imagines that this high level of Government involvement can be rapidly altered or dispensed with in the foreseeable future. But while there are areas in which there is no alternative to the involvement of Government and its authority, there are other areas in which the more spontaneous and selective the forms of development, the better and more stable is likely to be the employment which results.

However, responsibility for infrastructure—as the jargon has it—undeniably rests with the Government, and the economic problems of Northern Ireland have always been rooted in communications— not the internal communications, which, in many respects, are very good, but the communications with the rest of the United Kingdom.

This is not a new problem. Since we are talking about direct rule, it is significant that one of the consequences of parliamentary union in 1800 was a tremendous improvement and development of communications between the capital—and indeed, the whole of Great Britain—and the island of Ireland. We have to take that lesson to heart. Northern Ireland has great potential assets. It has the advantages of a small area, with easy access to ports. It has the advantage of a work force which is anxious to work and which has shown a high level of good industrial relations. But it can only realise these advantages if it can compete on tolerable terms of transportation with the rest of the Kingdom.

Transport is essentially time. Especially with the development of containerisation and other new forms of transport, it is time that counts. If a place in County Down or County Armagh is only a few hours distant from a market or a further stage of industrial processing in Great Britain, the initial processing may just as well be carried out in Northern Ireland as in the North or South-West of England.

I cannot overstress the crucial importance of maintaining and developing the air and sea routes. What has caused most dismay and damage to morale in Northern Ireland in these last years has been the sensation that inexorably these channels of communication were being restricted and dried up. I understand the impact which terrorism and the bomber have had on these forms of communication; but that does not alter the fact that facilitity of communication, speed of communication, regularity of communication, and variety of channels of transportation are the key to the development of the Northern Ireland economy. We might almost exaggerate and say to the Government "Give us that key, and you will be surprised how we can open up the resources that we have."

I turn from the economy to the subject on which I want mainly to concentrate, that of security. In Northern Ireland, security is in the hands of a trinity —the RUC and its reserves, the UDR and its reserves, and the Army. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) was dead right when he drew a contrast between ordinary military operations and what the armed forces commonly conceive as a war—whether or not in inverted commas—which is being waged in Northern Ireland against the IRA and other forms of terrorism. Too often, people who discuss operations in Northern Ireland seem to think that they are talking about a battle between armoured formations in the North German plain; and sometimes the Army itself finds it difficult to distinguish the realities of Northern Ireland from the different strategic and tactical backgrounds in which its members have been trained and brought up.

In the war in which all the security forces are engaged in Northern Ireland the crucial factor is information. No war can be fought without intelligence; but the war in Northern Ireland is 95 per cent. a matter of intelligence. Its ebb and flow, success and failure, and ultimate victory depend upon information. How right the Secretary of State was when he said that the IRA and the terrorists shrivel without public support and a safe haven, and that those are denied to them by a stable society. It is stability which is the sentence of death to the IRA and the terrorists. Putting it more precisely, it is the conviction in the minds of the people amongst whom they operate that things will continue to be as they are, that the IRA and the terrorists will not be on the winning side. It is stability in that sense which is the key to security. We may talk about all the other elements, but without that conviction, and without the flow of intelligence that follows from it, there is no prospect of success.

In this respect, there has been a dramatic change as a result of the policy announced three weeks ago, and reinforced by the right hon. Gentleman today, that for the foreseeable future there is an end to experimentation, to new initiatives and to constitution-mongering. The realisation that there will be no amnesty and the determination that in the foreseeable future Northern Ireland will be treated like any other part of the United Kingdom are the factors which bring that conviction and stability of outlook to the men and women of Northern Ireland and create an environment in which, in the long run, the IRA and terrorism cannot survive.

So, the flow of information will depend on public conviction that things will remain as they are, that there will be no let-up, no change, no pull-out, no surrender. But to whom will the information come? Who will receive this increased volume of information, the most deadly ammunition against the terrorists? I referred to the trinity—the police, the UDR, the Army. The Secretary of State could not be more right than when he used the phrase "The primacy of the police". It is the members of the police force, who belong to the people, are of the people and live amongst the people, who are the prime channel through which must come the information that will be deadly to the terrorists. So, the second great change that has to come about is precisely this reassertion of the primacy of the police.

We were glad to learn that the strength of the RUC has now passed the 5,000 mark and that there will be no limitation on its going to the 6,500 mark. That is excellent; but that strength will be fully utilised only if the police are thereby enabled to get back on to the ground throughout the Province. There was a disastrous period—long before 1970— when the RUC was pulled back from one town after another, from one police station after another—pulled back out of contact with the people, pulled back from those very contacts which should now be developing as the channels of an increasing flow of crucial information. Not only must we have more RUC deployed throughout the Province, much as it was in years gone by. The whole operation has to be seen less as a military operation than as a police operation, and increasingly the UDR and the Army must be part of a strategy which is a police strategy because it is based upon tapping those resources and using those tactics which are essentially police resources and police tactics.

I wonder whether the rôle of the UDR has yet been properly thought out? I will not say that the UDR came into being haphazard, but it did come into being as an aftermath of the dissolution of the old B Specials. That is a tale which is told and a phase which has ended. But I do not believe we have fully defined the rôle to which the UDR has to be adapted and in which it will be recognised and must be accepted. I would define the rôle as that of a local frontier force—a force peculiar and unique, because this is the unique land frontier of the United Kingdom. I do not think it should be seen as a mere auxiliary to the Regular Army, although I do agree with the suggestion that a regular element in the UDR, a full-time element, would be of great value in stabilising its new rôle. The UDR has to be seen as part of what, in shorthand, I called the police operation.

I turn now to the Army. It sometimes seems to me—and of course I say this without any criticism or disloyalty to my own arm of the Service—that the Army in Northern Ireland—and perhaps especially in County Armagh, in my own constituency and no doubt elsewhere— operates in a kind of vacuum, operates with notions which divide and separate it from the population amongst whom it is operating and upon whose outlook, in the last resort, success and failure must depend. That is why what my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said about the presence of the Army is so important. There is not yet sufficient understanding on the part of the Army of the mentality of the people and the environment in which they are operating. For that reason also I say that the Army, as well as the UDR, has to be fitted into a pattern which will be under the primacy of the police. The restoration of the primacy of the police, the reinforcement of that new pattern, the confidence that there is not going to be a change and that those who risk their lives by giving information are risking their lives for a cause which is going to prevail—these are the essentials of the security situation in Northern Ireland as we look ahead from the point we have reached.

I say once again to the right hon. Gentleman that what the Secretary of State wants to achieve will not be achieved unless we in the House—all of us—can find a more continuous and intensive way of exercising surveillance, asking questions and obtaining answers, and can thus be enabled to reassure those whom we represent and to whom our primary duty is owed. We have to devise ways in which that can be done better and better as the months go by.

7.13 p.m.

Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)

Not surprisingly, the question of security has dominated the debate. My contribution will be largely based on my experiences as a Law Officer in the last Administration and my frequent visits to Northern Ireland when in office. The Attorney-General has explained the ministerial responsibilities that the Law Officers have in Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The right hon. Gentleman explained the part played, sometimes by Law Officers alone and always in consultation with the DPP, on the question whether persons should be prosecuted. It is totally inconceivable that there should be any political influence upon the DPP in Northern Ireland; in any case, he would not put up with it.

The decision to prosecute is only the first step. The case for the Crown must be proved, and in most cases this involves witnesses. That is where the first difficulty arises. The Attorney-General dealt with the comment by the solicitor in Belfast, reported in a number of English newspaper as well as those in Northern Ireland. But the difficulties of which that solicitor spoke—which he turned round as an attack on the security forces and the Government in seeking to mislead the courts and which I disagree with—the difficulties of a person charged with murder when the charge is dropped—is not unique to Northern Ireland; it happens in Great Britain. It happened recently, when a number of people were charged with terrorism but the charge was dropped because the evidence, when it was analysed, could not be satisfactorily put before the court.

There is an added problem in Northern Ireland, where witnesses sometimes cannot be persuaded to go into the witness box, even when their evidence would lead to the conviction of those charged. That difficulty is not usually experienced in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is a major difficulty.

I hope that the Government will consider again the question of anonymity for some of those witnesses. In this country, when a court is satisfied that the disclosure of a name and address may lead to the witness being penalised in some way, anonymity is allowed. That happens in cases involving sexual matters, and where there might be a threat to a witness. Anonymity is not preserved so often in Northern Ireland.

I have recently discussed with the Attorney-General the two cases that he named. It seems to me that they were cases in which the evidence available did not justify proceedings being taken. How can the position be improved? I would like to see urgent consideration given to the offence of committing an act of terrorism. The Attorney-General has courteously explained why he cannot be in the Chamber.

We have spent long enough thinking about this matter. It has been raised on a number of occasions, not only by Lord Gardiner. My suggestion would seem to provide a quick and effective solution. It should be an offence that is common to the whole of the United Kingdom. It is desirable to have unanimity throughout the United Kingdom on criminal law. A separate law for Northern Ireland should be the exception rather than the rule. The offence of terrorism could be easily applied to the whole of the United Kingdom and would be of equal benefit to those concerned in dealing with terrorism here as it would be in Belfast, but there are complications in the absence of an offence of terrorism. For example, if a bomb factory is discovered—and it may not be more than a room, in which devices needed for making bombs are found, such as wiring, timing apparatus, detonators and explosives—and no connection with an actual explosion can be satisfactorily proved to enable it to be presented to a court, the only prosecution that can succeed is one under the Explosive Substances Act. The maximum in that case is 14 years. I am afraid that in the present climate of terrorism that maximum is quite inadequate.

In terrorism, we have also a multiplicity of different crimes—bombing, shooting, kidnapping, incitement to vielence, possessing explosives and many others—all of them concerned with terrorist activities. An indictment in those circumstances contains a number of different counts, relating to different Acts of Parliament, where, in one case, the burden of truth may shift from the prosecution to the defendant, making very difficult the task of the presiding judge in summing up to a jury in this country. If we had an offence of terrorism covering all those, the simplicity that would follow would make the task of all those concerned very much easier.

Proof of membership of the IRA is another problem that is becoming more and more difficult. I agree with the Secretary of State that the system in the Republic cannot be acceptable, not only because of the difference between a police force which is virtually totally accepted by all the citizens of the Republic— unlike what might be the position in the Province—but also because any witness can say to a court "I can assure you that this man is a member of the IRA" without being challenged about the sources of his information. That is a position which I should resent ever seeing over here.

If we were ever in a position in which a very strong dictatorship-type Government of either party were in power, it would also provide an excuse for them to develop that later on.

But something must be done. The evidence that is likely to prove membership of the IRA quite often will be the boasting of the man concerned. Once that is proved, it is for him to say "I was only boasting, and I did not mean it". But we come back to the same difficulty. He will usually boast before people who will not be prepared to go into the witness box.

Mr. Orme

I have no doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that in the Republic, when people were charged with this offence and they would not recognise the court, it was a simple matter to proceed. But, increasingly, people are challenging this in court, and it is very difficult to prove in a court of law.

Sir M. Havers

I agree. It is one of the difficulties. I am not sure what can be done.

Various alternatives have been discussed. There is no point in my mentioning them, but in the end they all suffer from the same difficulty, that the evidence put before the court cannot be challenged and examined, or even given by those who have to speak of their own knowledge and, therefore, can be cross-examined.

After the basic difficulties existing because of the problem of evidence, we have the position where, in my view, the rule of law can only be respected and be effective if it is not only accepted by society as a whole but also successfully supported by the security forces and ultimately the courts. This means that the detection rate must be high, that the conviction rate must be high, and that the sentences must be fair and just, not only to the accused but to society as a whole.

The security forces must feel that the Government are doing all that they can to help them in their task, including— this is why it is so important that the most urgent consideration be given to the creation of an offence of terrorism— ensuring them that everything is being done to make the necessary offences available to deal with terrorism.

Perhaps this debate has shown a number of ways in which the rule of law, which we all agree is vital, can be made more effective in Northern Ireland.

7.23 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)

This has been a wide-ranging debate. It has been not only about security and the economy but about direct rule as well—or perhaps I ought to say the continuation of the present phase of direct rule. In effect, direct rule has been with us since 1972. We had a period of the Executive in between, but direct rule almost since 1972——

Mr. Powell

Since 1800.

Mr. Orme

We will not argue about what the devolved government was before that. Some of us might say that that was a form of independence within the United Kingdom or part independence within the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, we are now in a new political situation, and we have to face that.

From an economic point of view, it is a very difficult time, and I shall comment on that in a moment. But first I want to refer to one matter which several hon. Members raised, and it concerned the army being seen in such areas as South Armagh, South Derry and so on. My right hon. Friend gave some figures about vehicle check points and about the work that the Army has done. Sometimes the Army is operating far more efficiently when it is not being seen than when it is being seen.

Some of the stupid statements, such as those made by Mr. Harry West and others, have not helped the Army. Our troops are extremely annoyed about this type of criticism. They make no complaint about criticisms made in this House, but they do when it comes from people in Northern Ireland who keep talking about loyalty and criticising the Army which is there to defend the Province and both its communities.

Constructive criticism such as that which we have had from the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), is another matter entirely. We have to discuss these matters, but no one person has the total answer or the native knowledge of people who understand the situation, which can be of immense value. I am sure that Irish Members in this House impart that information already to the British Army, to the RUC and to the UDR because they are in contact with commanders at local and regional level.

I come to the question which the hon. Member for Abingdon asked my right hon. Friend about talks. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that it will be his intention to explain to both sides what Government policy is. He stands by that. There will be no negotiation. He has made it clear that the security forces will respond to violence which exists. The IRA created its own ceasefire. That has had nothing to do with the increased rate of arrests and conviction of members of the Provisional IRA during the period that we are discussing. In fact, the successes in this regard are more outstanding today than they were only a few months ago.

Mr. Neave

What is the point of saying that the cease-fire still exists, in the circumstances?

Mr. Orme

We have no jurisdiction over this. It has never been our ceasefire. We do not see that any cease-fire, in a negotiated sense, exists. It has never been negotiated. The Provisional IRA said that it had a cease-fire, but we have seen what has happened recently and the actions that it has taken.

We are not defending a cease-fire. For us, the security forces are operating at the highest level. If some people say that they have a cease-fire and others say that they have not, that has no effect on Government policy. I hope that that makes the position quite clear.

The right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) will be aware that the Government are examining the proposal that he put forward, and I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General what he said tonight about it.

I come, then, to the issue of the economy and to the frontal attack made upon the Government by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). I understand that, quite rightly, he feels aggrieved about unemployment and that he is critical of certain decisions, not least the defence decision taken last week.

The impression was given to the House that Northern Ireland is running down hill, out of control. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having been in this job for over two years, perhaps it is almost time for me to look back over that period and to consider what has been attempted, against the background of a five-fold increase in the price of oil. This increase played a major part in transport costs. The right hon. Member for Down, South has referred to it. It has affected the costs of electricity and internal transport, and added to the peripheral problems.

It was said that during the early 1960s Northern Ireland was beginning to take a fresh look at the economic situation and beginning to come out of what had been a fairly consistently low level of activity. I can remember going to Northern Ireland 10 or 12 years ago. It reminded me of the area of Lancashire in which I was brought up in the 1930s. It looked depressed. It was depressed. The people were depressed. There was not just a lack of will at that time but a feeling that nothing could be done about it. But changes were made, and because of the changed situation, increasing investment came into Northern Ireland.

It has to be said to the hon. Member for Armagh that much of the Government intervention and activity has come in the last six or seven years, during the period of the crisis. The previous Administration created the Finance Corporation which, if I may say so, is a forerunner of the concept of the National Enterprise Board. The previous Administration did that because they realised that public investment would have to be made, as well as encouraging private investment. We then saw the creation of training facilities, and new industries came into Northern Ireland. Thirty-three American companies came in, and nine of them have increased their investment since 1969. Despite the violence, there was a feeling that Northern Ireland industry could survive and that the violence had in a sense not affected industry.

When I was in the United States I was reminded about the Ulster workers' strike. During the week I spent in the United States, 10 Protestant workers returning from a factory were lined up against a bus and brutally murdered. I was at that time speaking to a multinational company in Chicago. Hour by hour, news of the atrocity was plastered all over the United States, and they said to me, "Mr. Orme, are you saying that violence does not come into industry in Northern Ireland?" That is the kind of background against which we have to operate, and all of us who are opposed to violence, and want to see a stable society, have to try to overcome these problems.

Despite these difficulties, I put the case for investment. I quoted the productivity figures. Since 1969 productivity in Great Britain has risen by about 22 per cent. In Northern Ireland it has risen by nearly 27 per cent. There is no longer a cheap wage economy. The trade unions have played a part in that. Labour is no longer cheap. In certain industries it is dearer in Northern Ireland than in parts of Great Britain.

Many things have changed, and all this has been done against the background of a great dependence on agriculture. About 10 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland are involved in agriculture, as opposed to just under 3 per cent. in Great Britain. There used to be a great dependence on the traditional textile industry. Now man-made fibres have come in.

A few nights ago I was at a function where I talked to the chairman of one of the major companies in the United Kingdom, with a major interest in Northern Ireland. I told him that we are reexamining the whole question of how to attract industry. I asked him why he went to Northern Ireland. The reason is that the Government incentives are much better than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Proper account should be taken of that fact.

The shipbuilding industry—an old industry in the technological sense—is facing a world crisis. Under this Administration and the previous one, we have collectively put about £119 million into one shipyard. This is not an investment also covering Scotland, the North-East and Merseyside. This is the sum put into one shipyard, in an endeavour to save jobs.

I take note of what was said about Short Brothers and Harland. Certainly the Government are constrained to maintain a healthy firm. I take note also of the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, South concerning missiles, and so on, but this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence.

Despite this background, the economy improved, and unemployment went down, under this Government, to under 6 per cent. Then it was knocked for six, not by the indolence of the Government but by the world economic crisis, by the recession. Any investment which might then have come in, ceased. In fact, the reverse took place, and a number of firms, some multinational and some publicly owned—no differentiation can be made here—started to rationalise and to pull back.

This is one of the problems of being on the periphery, whether it is in Scotland, on Merseyside or in Northern Ireland. When companies begin to rationalise, they cut the overheads and costs involved in having long arms of communciation, trying to bring everything back into a central unit. That is the sort of difficulty we have had to face in relation to Rolls-Royce and Standard Telephones & Cables Ltd.

Against that sort of background we must consider how to proceed if we are not to lose a great deal of private investment in Northern Ireland. I do not go round like a Jonah. I try to sell Northern Ireland. I try to convince people that there is a future there. Most of the industrialists there will stay. There is a great argument—the Government are central to it—between private and public investment. The fact is that Northern Ireland cannot exist as a modern industrial part of the United Kingdom without substantial public investment. That is the key to it.

This is where the Northern Ireland Development Agency comes into the picture. The Order will come before the House next Thursday at about ten o'clock. We shall debate it then and I shall be able to announce some of the appointments that I have already made to that body. There will be Northern Ireland people on it, and that will give it the stature and importance that it deserves. It will have £50 million at its disposal. That is a substantial sum for an area the size of Northern Ireland. I look forward to that developing in the future——

Rev. Ian Paisley

Can the Minister give us any information about the attitude now to service industries—we have raised this with him before—rather than manufacturing industries?

Mr. Orme

The hon. Gentleman's intervention leads me nicely to my next point about the major study. The Government give industrial grants and assistance to manufacturing industry. They are not precluded from giving it to the service industries, but there are great difficulties in giving it to them. I can quote the classic example of a car showroom. A salesman, whom the hon. Gentleman knows, came to see me. He did not employ many people, and he took them on as and how he wanted. Unfortunately he went into liquidation, but someone else was able to pick up the business because he wanted to sell the cars. It was unlike the loss of a manufacturing concern. That sort of matter can be considered frankly and openly in the study.

What sort of questions should we be asking about the Northern Ireland economy? I believe that we should be asking ourselves whether we are organised in the right way in terms of the Department of Commerce and Manpower, and the Northern Ireland Development Agency. Are we going for the right industries and products? Should we alter the balance between manufacturing and service industries? Do we pay enough attention to small local industries? Can we do more to stimulate private investment, or should we go for more State industry? Are we carrying out the correct training? Are we using good marketing to make the most of what we have? Is industrial promotion concentrated in the right places abroad? These are the sort of questions which will be examined by the Government.

Perhaps I may make a slight correction to something I said on Monday night as reported at column 155 of the Official Report. I said that I would be chairing the inquiry. The inquiry will be chaired by Dr. Quigley, the head of the Manpower Department, with the assistance of senior officials in Northern Ireland and Westminster. The Committee will be answerable to me as the Minister, but I shall not be chairing it personally. Representations may be made to the Government to be passed on to the Committee.

An economist said to me the other week that one of the problems of Northern Ireland was that there were too many people. I told him that the problem was that we have too little industry of the right type, and that if we could only broaden the economic base we could make Northern Ireland viable.

Mr. Bradford

I was interested to hear what the Minister of State said about the NIDA, and we look forward to the debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify one point about the finance for Shorts? I may have misunderstood him, but he seemed to suggest that the future of that establishment was to some extent a matter for the Secretary of State for Defence. Is it not the case that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland advances the moneys which are required at the given time?

Mr. Orme

I was charged by one hon. Member with selling Northern Ireland short. We already have our difficulties in Northern Ireland, and if we are not careful we shall start talking the sound companies into trouble. There is no problem about the missile side. Hon. Members must not start talking in this way. With that attitude the best companies can be destroyed in a difficult economic climate. We must have confidence, certainly in the whole of the United Kingdom, and not least in Northern Ireland. Someone made a completely false statement last week about Shorts. When we checked we found that he had made the statement because, he said, "that will put the wind up the Government". But he was putting the wind up 5,000 people whose jobs could be put in jeopardy by a clever person who thought that he was playing politics with the Government when he was playing with Northern Ireland jobs.

I have been asked about economic withdrawal and sanctions. The public expenditure figures are an indication that we shall not have economic sanctions. The Government would not be putting more money into Northern Ireland than they are putting into the other parts of the United Kingdom if they were planning economic sanctions or withdrawal. We have to use our existing resources, and that is why they must be re-examined. We must secure stability in Northern Ireland. If we are to create the conditions in which political advancement is more certain we must move towards full employment, with people in decent homes and a decent environment free from violence. Employment is a crucial factor within that compilation.

I know how the people in Northern Ireland feel. They have expressed their views to me extremely forcibly. I have explained Government policy and I have told them that there is no easy way, no simple answer to the problem. The Government are concerned about it and proof of that concern is shown by our application in trying to find solutions.

The right hon. Member for Down, South asked about a Select Committee, and I fear that I may have given him perhaps a curt answer. The Secretary of State is concerned that a Committee which could call for people and papers might compromise the security forces. He will not have the Army or other security forces sent for and interrogated in this way. That cannot be allowed. Perhaps there is some way of overcoming this problem, and we shall look at it, but I can enter into no firm commitment on this point.

Mr. Powell

None of us expected the Minister to make a firm commitment tonight. We are obliged to him for indicating that the question is open. There are ways and means by which one can make sure, even with the most searching Select Committee procedure, that the interrogation does not expose what should not in the public interest be exposed. It was certainly not in the minds of my hon. Friend and myself that this Committee should be an instrument for embarrassing or hampering the security forces —rather the reverse, that it could be used to reinforce public support for them.

Mr. Orme

It was not the right hon. Gentleman's proposal or the thinking behind it that concerned the Government. We have had some experience in Northern Ireland of how people get hold of ideas and how, before we know where we are, the ideas spread and the wrong interpretations are put upon them. That sort of thing can be extremely damaging. Of course, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's clarification.

The debate has covered the central issues of security, the economy and the continuation of direct rule. These three factors are paramount in the advancement of Northern Ireland. I hope that we have been able to show tonight that the Government know the direction they are taking on security and employment. They have not got the simple answers, because there is none. I believe, however, after two years of daily involvement in this situation, that the climate can be created in Northern Ireland which will lead to far better things. Unfortunately many of my constituents do not believe that. We have to show them that they are wrong, because Northern Ireland is at stake in this situation.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.