HC Deb 28 October 1976 vol 918 cc685-8
7. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the security situation in the Province.

13. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the security situation.

Mr. Mason

Attacks by the Provisional IRA upon the security forces have led to the deaths during the past three months of three policemen and five soldiers. Twenty-four persons have been killed by sectarian gangsters from both communities. So far this year, 1,037 persons have been charged with terrorist crimes, including 88 charged with murder and 89 with attempted murder. A growing number are being caught red-handed.

The greater efficiency of the security forces and the people's revulsion from violence are closing the net on terrorists. They know they cannot win. The police and the Army perform their difficult and onerous duties with skill, bravery, tact and compassion that could not be equalled by forces anywhere else in the world. I know that they have the full-hearted support of the House.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Cow

I join the Secretary of State in his tribute to the security forces, but will he acknowledge that serious damage was done to the morale of the security forces by the policy of his predecessor in engaging in conversations with the political representatives of terror? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he on his part will give an undertaking that there will be no further discussions between him or his officials and the political representatives of the IRA?

Mr. Mason

There have been no talks for some months and there are none pending. I shall not use the words "never again" as they have been the proverbial graveyard of many politicians. Therefore, I should prefer not to use those words.

Mr. Gould

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the law on Government compensation for criminal injuries in Northern Ireland is urgently in need of review and that the 1968 Act has been shown by the case of my constituent, Mrs. Ann Maddocks, to be totally inappropriate for the purpose of effectively compensating the widows of soldiers killed in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mason

The provisions concerning injury to persons are now under review. I hope that my hon. Friend and the rest of the House will try to separate these matters of compensation. Although the weekly amounts in many cases may seem relatively small for a soldier's widow. we must bear in mind that they stretch over a period and that with their full benefits, including pension, they can be quite large sums. Secondly, cases at home are not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Thirdly, false analogies are being made in the Press about the 14 who were found to have been ill treated by Her Majesty's Government and who merited compensation by Her Majesty's Government. They are now 'being paid off, but we must remember that they are in a separate category.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the calamitous remarks made by Mr. Jimmy Carter in the heat of the American presidential campaign are likely to encourage the men of violence and to lead to increased bloodshed in Northern Ireland? Does he agree that the men of violence are likely to be encouraged by the appointment of a leader of the "Keep The British Troops Out" movement to head the official Labour Party Study Group on Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mason

I think that it would be very dangerous for anyone, irrespective of who he or she is, to make comments that might give aid or succour to the Provisional IRA. Secondly the person concerned is a candidate in an election. He is not the President of the United States. The present Administration has always recognised the special problem of Northern Ireland. It has recognised that it is a domestic matter for this country.

Mr. Craig

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the supporters of the IRA were permitted last Saturday to hold an march, and during that march to attack a lawful procession held by the peace movement?

Mr. Mason

It is difficult to stop people from amassing in places like Belfast, North or West. They can easily, by word of mouth, get 200 or 300 people who in turn can fetch others from outside Belfast and thereby soon get a quite large gathering. I do not think that any permit was required. Consequently, it was a spontaneous act against the genuine and sincere peace women of Northern Ireland.

Miss Maynard

Does my right hon. Friend think that the policy now being pursued by the Government is succeeding in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mason

Yes, I do. If I understand my hon. Friend's policy right, it would be disastrous if we attempted to operate it.

Mr. Neave

I should like to wish the right hon. Gentleman well on his difficult appointment. I am sure we all feel that we should offer him our congratulations.

What steps is the Secretary of State taking to put a stop to the activities of the top terrorists in Northern Ireland who are still walking around scot-free as members of illegal organisations, acting as godfathers to young people and hiring them to commit murder? Is he aware that we are disappointed that he did not give any undertaking to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) regarding talks with the Provisional Sinn Fein, which was a most dangerous policy and encouraged terrorism during the past 18 months?

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there is no need for me to repeat what I said. It is on record and there it stands. I am obliged to him for what he said initially.

I am looking into the godfather law. I hope that we shall be able to find some means whereby we can use the law to put these senior criminals behind bars. However, it is not very easy to frame the law to do it.