§ 4.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)
I beg to move,That the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (Amendment) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 1265), a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd August, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.With permission, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that our debate should cover also the next following two motions. They are:That the draft Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1977, which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved.That the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 1249), a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd August, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.I shall speak, in particular, to the motion which seeks to renew the emergency provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1974 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Act 1975 for a further period of six months from 25th January. As the House will remember, the first and third motions relate to two orders which we introduced in the summer under the urgency procedure designed to strengthen the criminal law. We shall be inviting the House to affirm those orders following this debate.
In the context of our security effort in Northern Ireland I avoid the terms "winning" or "losing". The roots of violence in the Province are much too widely spread and the reasons for its continuance are too varied to regard the security effort as a particular battle existing on its own. Social and economic factors have been too much a part of the violence of the past years to be disregarded, and I have therefore seen it as my duty to introduce many measures designed to improve the economic climate, to increase the standards of living in many parts of the Province, and at the same time to bring the maximum pressure on those who, by the use of violence, seek to hold the community in Northern Ireland in the grip of terror. In all of this I seek to talk of progress and since last 1679 I addressed the House on security matters at the end of June very considerable progress has been made.
In striving to improve the security situation we have rested upon one fundamental and essential base—that is, to act within the accepted rule of law. The law, and the actions of the security forces within the law, must in the final analysis command the respect and co-operation of the community at large, and I believe that the manner in which we have dealt with our security problems has been a major factor in the advances which have been made.
I am sure that I shall have the support of all hon. Members when I say how conscious we are of the debt we owe to the men and women of the Regular Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve. They have carried out their dangerous tasks with fortitude and courage. Forty of them have already given their lives this year.
Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the work of the security forces is clearly established by the facts. So far this year the number of shooting attacks has been over 40 per cent. lower than in the corresponding period last year, while the number of bombing attacks has dropped even more drastically, by nearly 60 per cent. During the period from 1st August the reduction is more marked. The number of shooting attacks has been over 60 per cent. fewer than in the same period last year, while the number of bombing attacks has dropped by 70 per cent. If one looks at the weight of explosives used in bomb attacks one sees that the contrast is very marked. Last year over 29,000 lbs. of explosives were used, while this year the total was less than 5,000 lbs.
Regrettably, both shooting and bombing have claimed civilian deaths and caused injuries. But here, too, there has been a considerable reduction. So far this year 67 civilians have lost their lives while in the same period last year there were no fewer than 238. The number of civilian injuries is running at about half of those for the same period in 1976. It is of the utmost importance that the pressure which is reflected by these statistics is relentlessly maintained.
As the terrorists, notably the Provisional IRA, are squeezed out of society 1680 by the pressure of security forces' activity and, equally importantly, by their increasing rejection by the community as a whole, the need to deny them any safe havens becomes more and more important. In our relationships with the Government of the Irish Republic we have continued the close and fruitful association we enjoyed with their predecessors. In security terms our common interest is to deal effectively with the criminals who threaten both our countries.
Because of the sustained pressure, the Provisional IRA increasingly relies on active service units operating from rural areas near the border. But although for this reason the closest surveillance and co-operation are essential in those border areas, cross-border terrorism is not just a matter of activities in a particular place.
Wherever violence takes place in the North or in the South, whether in Antrim or in Dublin, the chances are that it is connected in some way with the movement of men or supplies, or both, across the border. But, as recent events have shown, terrorists and criminals, North or South, are the enemy of us both. Both of us have a public duty to do everything possible to restrict their movements, to cut off their supplies, and to bring them before the courts. The mass of the violence today is the work of Provisionals, and they exploit the border to keep out of the hands of the security forces on both sides of it.
Additionally, we now have the extraterritorial legislation in effect on both sides of the border. Some of those charged in connection with the murder of Captain Nairac are being prosecuted under the provisions of this legislation. However, its provisions apply only to crimes committed on or after 1st June 1976. It will remain a more cumbersome way of producing the desired result and we can only regard it as second best.
Co-operation between the RUC and the Garda is developing in a number of specific operational areas, particularly during the past year, and joint action continues to hinder the movement of munitions and funds into the hands of para-militaries. But there will always be room for improvement until terrorism has been completely defeated. We shall continue to seek even closer co-operation 1681 between the forces on both sides of the border.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary, a highly efficient and professional police force, by its thorough, painstaking investigations, and its skilful use of forensic resources, has made severe inroads into the ranks of criminals.
The Chief Constable has made it quite clear to me that when the police have sufficient evidence to lay a charge, they do not hesitate to seek out the suspected person and to arrest him, to whatever camp he may belong. Murderers, bombers and gunmen who committed their crimes perhaps five years ago have found their complacency suddenly shattered as they have been arrested and faced with serious charges. The hand on their shoulder has proved that the arm of the law in Northern Ireland is now very long indeed.
Those who are believed to have planted bombs in busy bus stations or shops in 1972 are being charged. Those who are believed to have fired the guns which murdered policemen, soldiers or civilians in the gangster heyday of some years ago have found that the past has caught up with them. So far this year 265 people have been charged with murder or attempted murder compared with 188 in the whole of 1976. So far this year 316 people have been sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment or more on conviction for scheduled offences on indictment, compared with 214 in the whole of last year.
But the police cannot operate independently of the community which they serve, and it is encouraging that in recent times their successes have reflected the increasing help of that community. To build regard and respect is no easy task in a community which has been for so long so bitterly divided. But it is happening, and it is being helped by the parallel rejection of the gangsters, the intimidators and the bully-boys by the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.
A short time ago a young woman member of the Ulster Defence Regiment was shot on the County Armagh border. Ten days later two men and two youths were charged with the crime. At about the same time a bus driver in County Tyrone was killed. Five days later a 1682 man was charged with the crime. These are only two of many examples which could be quoted of quick arrests following serious crimes, and I have no doubt that public revulsion coupled with skilled investigative police work has had much to do with the achievement of such rapid results.
But it would be wrong to think that police work consists only of dealing with serious criminal activities. As I said earlier, the police must be a part of the community they serve, and the RUC serves its community in many ways. The neighbourhood bobby is not just a theory in Northern Ireland. Many children, and indeed, their parents, have reason to be grateful to the dedicated policemen and women who run youth clubs, Blue Lamp discos, and other activities within the community. Great efforts are made by the RUC in the work of helping to bring people together in areas where serious disintegration took place some years ago.
There are other aspects of the RUC's work. In parallel with their violence, terrorists have involved themselves in a whole range of protection rackets and of illegal or scarcely legal activities designed to strengthen their grip on local communities. Drinking clubs and so-called taxi services are cases in point, and as the RUC has grown in strength and experience, it has devoted greater resources to the investigation of such areas —and with some recent success. It is a field that requires patience, but results are already being shown.
I am very pleased to say that recruiting for the RUC this year has been a record. Overall the strength of the force now stands at 5,625—a net increase this year of 372. The increase for the whole of 1976 was 351, in itself a record, so that with a further intake to the RUC Training Centre planned before the end of the year, recruitment is already well ahead of last year's best ever figure.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how that corresponds to the planned establishment of the RUC?
§ Mr. Mason
We are well below the planned and recently announced establishment, which I decided upon in the intensification drive earlier this year, when we established that there ought to 1683 be 6,500 in the RUC. But recruitment is coming along very well. The strength of the full-time Reserve has also grown appreciably so far this year from 870 to 1,004.
In addition to the improvements in RUC organisation, of which the House was informed during an earlier debate, the needs of the RUC are being closely monitored and high priority given to the provision of necessary arms and equipment. The number of vehicles available to the police is growing steadily, and in particular more Land Rovers fitted with improved protection have been brought into service. Delivery has been taken of the M1 carbine, which is being distributed to members of the force as they are trained in its use. Even though recruitment is growing steadily, it is essential that the police continue to have support from the Regular Army where necessary.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the RUC, will he say whether the increased recruitment has been reflected in improved recruitment from the minority community in the past few months, particularly since the success of the RUC during the industrial troubles?
§ Mr. Mason
I am sorry to say that I cannot inform the House that there has been a notable increase within the RUC ranks from the minority community. It is true that during the Action Council strike the credibility of the RUC rose very considerably. We expected that there would be an increase in the ranks from the minority community. I hoped that political and Church leaders within the minority community would encourage that, and I still hope that they will.
As I was saying, although recruitment is growing steadily, it is essential that the police continue to have support from the Regular Army where necessary. That is a situation that will remain for the foreseeable future, but the partnership forged among all branches of the security forces over the past year or more has clearly proved its effectiveness and flexibility.
In a situation such as we have in Northern Ireland flexibility is of maxi- 1684 mum importance. I am very conscious of the necessity continually to review the rôle and tactics of the security forces as a whole. I have always taken the view that the strength of the regular forces deployed in Northern Ireland will be related to the level of violence.
I still hold to that view. The success of the RUC in dealing with crime, the change in the nature of the violence, the absence of large-scale confrontation on the streets, and the clear wish of the whole community to return to normality and stability are all factors that I take into account in assessing the level of forces required. Equally important are the new tactics which have been developed in the light of experience—the use of highly specialised troops, expert in covert surveillance, and the new level of capability in this field.
Against this background we have recently made a thorough study of the current level of forces in conjunction with the General Officer Commanding and the Chief Constable. We have concluded that over the course of the next year we shalle into account in assessing the level of forces required. Equally important are the new tactics which have been developed in the light of experience—the use of highly specialised troops, expert in covert surveillance, and the new level of capability13. Subject to the requirements of the firemen's dispute, this will take place by the end of the year. The provision for immediate reinforcement in case of operational or other needs will, of course, be maintained.
At the same time we are looking towards an increase in the size of the regular military garrison in the Province. A resident unit staying for a longer period reflects the supporting continuing rôle of the Army in peace-time conditions. Such a unit also provides greater continuity and thus greater understanding of local circumstances. It would naturally replace units on short tours and this would be a great advantage to the Army in its wider rôle.
I hope, therefore, that it will be possible in this context to introduce one additional resident unit in the course of next year, and the second as soon as possible thereafter, once accommodation can be provided.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
There was one point on which I was not quite clear. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a reduction from 14,000 to 13,000 in the total Regular Army in Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Powell
But that was, am I to understand, in the course of the current year, and not the current year plus 1978?
§ Mr. Mason
The intention is that, provided the troops are not required to be held because of the firemen's dispute, we shall be in a position to lower the force levels by one unit by the end of this year. In other words, the unit that is due to leave the Province by the end of the year will not be replaced. The reason that I have not mentioned numbers, to be quite honest, is that units vary in size from 350 to 600 or 700.
I should like to mention here the very effective rôle being fulfilled by the Ulster Defence Regiment, which, as the House is aware, is an integral part of the Army. Last summer an increase was authorised to bring the full-time professionals in the regiment to a total of 2,500. I am glad to say that this element already stands at around 2,000, with five full-time platoons fully operational, and recruitment is continuing.
This increase enables the UDR to make an increasing contribution in the Army's support of the RUC—for example, by taking over vehicle checkpoints by day as well as by night, thereby releasing the Regular Army for operations which exploit its full capability. Both the professional and the part-time UDR are doing a first-class job in the Province.
I must now refer to one development which does give cause for concern—the increasing use of incendiary devices. These are a typically nasty aspect of terrorist activity and are relatively easy to plant, difficult to detect and can cause damage to commercial premises as well as to life itself.
The general public and owners and occupiers of business premises have done much to assist in dealing with this particular threat. I have felt it right to support the business community by increasing financial assistance to it under the 1686 security staff grants scheme. The increase will be operative for a limited period of three months and will assist in the direct employment of fire-watchers outside normal business hours. For owners of small premises employing 10 or more people there will be a grant of up to £37.50 per person employed as a fire-watcher per week, while for larger premises the grant will go up to £45 per person per week. The scheme will be operative for retail shops, stores, hotels, cinemas and theatres, and there will be special provision for larger premises.
The House, will of course be aware that the Army in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, has had to take on a fire-fighting responsibility during the Fire Brigades Union's dispute. The Army has had the additional problem of being subject to cowardly attack when attempting to save life and property. Despite these hazards, the security forces have done a first-class job in dealing with nearly 200 fires in Northern Ireland during the past two weeks.
None of this should be allowed to obscure the fact that the trend of violence over the past year has been unquestionably downwards. Inevitably there will be occasional shows of strength but the general and accepted view in Northern Ireland is that this cannot be sustained. I believe that the situation will get better. The partnership among the different arms of the security forces has now created a highly efficient team that is operating with great effectiveness against terrorism and general crime.
I have referred to the Provisional IRA as being the principal enemy, but I want to make it quite clear that there are other enemies of society in Northern Ireland. The so-called Loyalist para-militaries have within their rank gangsters and murderers of the same calibre. The law bears as heavily and will continue to bear as heavily on them as it does on any other bunch of gangsters in the Province.
None of them now commands any significant support in the community, none of them any longer claims to be pursuing a cause, none of them has political backing, and none of them is prepared to risk his reputation at the ballot box. They are being cast aside by the people of 1687 Northern Ireland, and they will be pursued relentlessly by the forces of law and order.
There is one further point I wish to make and I wish to make it as emphatically as I can. There are those, some of them young people, who can be persuaded to embark upon acts of serious criminality in the specious belief that, if caught and sentenced, at some time there will be an amnesty. I should like to kill that recruiting theme here and now. If people believe that they can murder, burn and bomb the people of Northern Ireland, kill and maim members of the security forces, and then expect, if convicted and sentenced, that at some stage they will be patted on the head, told to go home, and we shall forget about it, they are very wrong indeed. There will be no amnesty in Northern Ireland. I hope what I have said has served to indicate to the House exactly how Her Majesty's Government see the present security situation in the Province.
Our policy remains one of determination to eradicate terrorism by the relentless pressure of dedicated and effective security forces, to prosecute terrorists for the criminals they are through the normal processes of the law, using all the resources of a modern professional police force, and to restore to the people of Northern Ireland, who have for so long borne the burden, the right to live without fear of the bomb or the bullet, and the right to be free of intimidation.
We are not complacent, but we are confident. Slowly, but unquestionably surely—and despite the inevitable bursts of terrorist activity—the policy as I have indicated is paying off. I know that the terrorists retain the capability to kill and maim, but the downward trend of their violence is clearly discernible.
I am resolved that I shall use all means within the law to maintain that trend. I share the growing belief of the people of Northern Ireland that there is now hope of an end to violence. For the terrorist there can be no hope. I commend these orders to the House.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The Opposition agree to these three orders, which are very important for the future of security in Northern Ireland. Those of us who have taken part in these debates 1688 on security in the past few years welcome the words of the Secretary of State that there is now hope at least of an end to violence. We also welcome his words to the effect that the trend of violence is downwards.
It was right for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he condemned and would pursue relentlessly gangsters and murderers from any quarter of the community, and it is very important that this is well understood in the Province as a whole. Together with some of my colleagues. I have just returned from a visit to the security forces in Northern Ireland, and I can confirm what the light hon. Gentleman said about these gangsters and murderers having been rejected by the people of Northern Ireland. We must keep it that way.
I am very glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues insist that there will be no amnesty in Northern Ireland. Everywhere one goes one hears of those who have spoken to men who still believe that in some way or other they will, to use the right hon. Gentleman's expression, be patted on the head and told to go home. We should l ill this recruiting theme, and the Opposition support the right hon. Gentleman fully in what he says. There will be no amnesty under a Conservative Government, either, and this should be understood.
Nor, I hope, will there be any cease-fire granted at Christmas or any other time to those who ask for it. I believe that, from whatever quarter it might come, this should also be widely understood.
To those of us who have visited the Army and the Royal Air Force in Northern Ireland it is a vivid inspiration to find how high is their morale and how splendid their example. Though they have been treated shabbily in terms of pay for a long time, their bearing remains extraordinary. Those in the United Kingdom who feel that they are hardly done by and that they are suffering in terms of pay or in any other way should be taken on a tour of Army bases in Northern Ireland. That would inspire them and show them how men can he loyal in the service of their country.
I visited Forkill, Crossmaglen, Bess Brook and Newry recently. As Ministers and hon. Members representing Northern 1689 Ireland constituencies will know, it is a pleasure to meet these fine soldiers. Although we are to have a debate on Army pay and conditions on a motion tomorrow, it ought to be stressed that the friendly military discipline that we see in Army bases in Northern Ireland requires exceptionally good professional soldiers, especially senior NCOs and officers.
As a former Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise the danger of their leaving the Army at present. There is a real crisis in the Army and in other parts of the Armed Forces about pay. I hope that, with all his experience and knowledge of them and of the men who serve in them the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence with his colleagues about this. We found many instances of some of the best people leaving the Army, and we were much distressed to hear about it.
We also met the new GOC, Northern Ireland, General Creasey, who has excellent experience in counter-terrorist work and who is clearly the man for Northern Ireland at present. We were very pleased with our talks with him.
The credit for the progress which has been made, especially during the last few months, must go to the Army, the UDR and the RUC. The men who serve in them are the people largely responsible, as well as the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, who have rejected violence.
I wish to comment on the RUC especially. The Secretary of State referred to the RUC men as "skilled professional policemen," and he said that they were dedicated men. I think that they should receive some special recognition after eight years of violence. Members of the Ulster Defence Regiment are eligible for the General Service Medal. Members of the RUC are not. At the moment, they do not have any special service medal for what they are doing unless they are awarded decorations for gallantry.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some thought to the possibility of a special police medal for the RUC and for the RUC Reserve, who are not eligible for the Long Service Medal. In view of the skilful use of their resources in the past few years, I think that there 1690 will be a great deal of pleasure in Northern Ireland and elsewhere if that can be done.
I recognise that there are others who have served the cause of freedom and liberation from violence in Northern Ireland and who might also be considered. But, after all, members of the RUC are engaged in actively fighting terrorism. I do not ask for a direct answer today. I do not expect an immediate answer. But perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say whether he will consider this possibility, because it will be widely welcomed.
Another reason for the successes which the Secretary of State was able to record and which the House very much welcomed is the change in security strategy in Northern Ireland. Here I want to say from this Box and from this side of the House that for some years we pressed the use of covert training, for example, the use of Special Air Service and Special Air Service type training, for selected soldiers and an increase in full-time members of the UDR.
We were very glad to hear what the Secretary of State said. I need hardly remind him that for two years these suggestions were politely ignored until the right hon. Gentleman took over in Northern Ireland. That is a fact of history. But we are delighted at the success of those measures for we fully supported them. It took some time for them to come through, but we are very glad that he is carrying them out.
As to the reduction in troop levels, we welcome the proposal to replace units on short tours by resident units. I think that this will be widely welcomed. But some of the places that one has visited recently —for instance, in South Armagh—do not permit of any reduction at all. We ought to be very careful in the announcements that are made about reduction in troop levels not to give a wrong or a premature impression that the emergency has come to an end. I quite understand what the Secretary of State said, but I hope that he will not encourage people to think that a reduction in numbers and operational units can proceed very fast. He said that the number would be reduced from 14 to 13 units by the end of this year. That would seem reasonable at the moment, but I hope that he will be 1691 careful about this, because there are still many areas which can be considered dangerous.
I feel that the policy of the primacy of the police—as we call it—putting the police in the front line, as it were, is working out very well. There are more and more signs of this every day. This is all the more reason why I feel that greater recognition should be given to the police and the work that they are doing.
I think the House will agree that we in Northern Ireland are not engaged in a struggle against a bona fide political movement. This is why I want to talk about the activities of some of the media in this connection. I believe that they have a very great bearing on the prolongation of terrorism in Northern Ireland. These terrorists have made hatred their symbol. They are not glorious republicans but bloody murderers. I have been very shocked, as I always am, by the photographs of wanted men when I have seen them in operations rooms and in police stations, and the fixed look of malevolence on their faces, and even more by the terrible expressions of the young girls who are responsible fror the explosions and the incendiary devices to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. We still have, none the less, to hunt down the godfathers of these young people, who pay them, and bring them before the courts.
Men such as Martin McGuinness are still around. I know that there is no charge against him, but I should very much like to know what he does on his weekly journeys from Derry to Belfast. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman knows what I am referring to. I do not ask him to comment. We know that these people are around, and it would be useful to hear from the Minister of State whether any further progress has been made in that difficult respect.
It is perfectly true that no military operation by itself will alter the existence of those hardened young monsters. Terrorist killing, in my personal view, should be redefined. As I think the House knows, I believe that it should be a capital offence. I do not speak for any other hon. Member at present. I shall develop my own views on a different occasion, but I should like to restate my personal opinion.
1692 This is not the occasion on which to discuss political progress in Northern Ireland except to say that the future stability of the Province is linked to what is being done at the moment in the way of talks on constitutional matters. Therefore, I urge the right hon. Gentleman—I think that he knows my feelings on this —to make a statement upon the aims and powers of any proposed elected body that he sets up some time in the New Year.
What does he mean by "local government", for example? Why did he say that an upper tier of local government was not required? What is meant by "real powers"? All those are matters that might come into the open. The Government must explain to the political parties as soon as possible. It is not easy for the political parties to persuade their own supporters until the Government give a lead on what their real intentions are.
The danger is that disillusionment about political matters could deliver the Northern Ireland people, or some of them, back into the hands of paramilitary forces one of these days if the political vacuum is to carry on. I feel very strongly about that.
§ Mr. Mason
This matter is not directly linked, but I might as well try to clear it up if I can. I have made it perfectly clear that I want the authority to have real powers. The talks that we are having with the political parties indicate that clearly. As far as I am concerned, this could include all the executive powers in what are constitutionally the transferred subjects. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that the arrangements have to be acceptable to both sides of the community if they are to work. Therefore, the talks are concerned with finding the acceptable method. But there is no doubt about the real powers that I want to see devolved.
§ Mr. Neave
I think that the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman has put forward, through his officials, would be more clearly acceptable if they were defined so that supporters of political parties could understand them as well. I hope that there will be some publicity for all this in the New Year. It may not be clear to people what is meant by 1693 "transferred powers". For example, it may be well known to those in political life in Northern Ireland but not to their supporters, and they will have to persuade their supporters about the need for these measures.
I shall not proceed further along those lines now, but I think that we should have the opportunity of discussing this subject in the New Year. I think it is very important.
The Government and the Security Forces have one further problem to which I have already made allusion. That is the attitude of television towards violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland. We have discussed this in the House more than once. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) questioned the Government last week about it. Certain television programmes have over the years, in my opinion, done much to exacerbate distress and fear in Northern Ireland. We ought to say this quote fearlessly. I refer in particular to the BBC programme in March and the Thames Television programme this autumn, both of which accused the RUC while investigations were pending. I fully support the very strong words that the Secretary of State used last Thursday about this matter. When I got to Northern Ireland on Monday, I found 100 per cent. support for what he had said from every quarter in which I spoke.
People in Northern Ireland are really disgusted by the conduct of these television organisations, because it is believed that they made these programmes with full knowledge of the danger to human life. They must have done that. Their record is a thoroughly undesirable one in Northern Ireland. Most sensible people believe that they will bear a share of the blame if terrorism, especially among young people, continues.
Both governing bodies were approached by the right hon. Gentleman and by myself. They shrugged off the responsibility, as Pilate did. Members of those governing bodies do not attend the funerals of policemen and soldiers murdered in Northern Ireland—or, if they do, they disregard the ever-present fear and grief of ordinary people.
It is time that television companies based in this country took account of 1694 what will be the effect of their programmes on the people of Northern Ireland. I could not even persuade them to accept the moral responsibility. They are concerned merely with the freedom to report.
Freedom to report in these matters must surely involve a moral responsibility for the safety of other human beings. I was disgusted by their self-satisfied attitude. It is worthy of massive condemnation by this House when broadcasting comes to be debated, possibly some time in the future. The Secretary of State can certainly count on my colleagues and me to support him in this matter. With friends like these, neither the Government nor the Opposition can be absolutely sure of the future in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State was quite right to say that there are still many hard men around—perhaps as many as 200 active gunmen. I do not know. There are certainly 30 or 40 of the godfathers still around.
I was pleased to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about relations with the Republic. I think that cross-border operations are important and will continue to be so. The talks that recently took place with the Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, were satisfactory from that point of view, and I hope that that co-operation will continue.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest has an opportunity to speak later, he will ask about the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Bill and the men who have been reported in the Press to be in hiding in the Republic. There have been reports that as many as 20 men who are wanted in this country for trial have been seen in Dublin. I do not know whether the story is true, but my hon. Friend will be raising that matter later. It is important that we should know whether the stories that have appeared in the Daily Mail and other newspapers are true.
In conclusion I wish to mention the Royal visit to Northern Ireland, which was a landmark in its history. It created conditions in which law and order and peace can be restored with the good will of the people. We agree with these orders and endorse the Secretary of State's account of them.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
We have always taken the view that the preservation of law and order in Northern Ireland should be mainly the responsibility of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, with the assistance of its Reserve and the co-operation of the Ulster Defence Regiment. That has been the policy not only of my party, but of those who from time to time have been associated with us. It is the policy on which we and others stood in the 1974 General Election. The majority of the electorate endorsed our objective of working towards a situation in which the Army would revert to its garrison rôle. Therefore, it is not open to any of us to disavow that pledge given and accepted as far back as 1974.
We note with interest the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the possible reductions in Army strengths, and particularly in wasteful short-stay units. We have made it clear that the time taken to disengage those units from other tasks which they may be performing, the transport of those units to Northern Ireland, the stay therein and the phasing back into their NATO rôle, delays by seven months their availability as an effective Army unit.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that he hoped to reduce certain operational units, but I join the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) in hoping that any reduction will not take place in areas of the Province where there is a continuing need for an Army presence. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with his earlier Ministry of Defence experience, will realise, as those of us who have had limited staff experience realise, that there is always an administrative tail which can be reduced with safety. I hope that the initial reductions will be of that order.
We are not complacent. Unfortunately, we must face the fact that a limited number of determined gangsters can still inflict damage and cause grievous loss of life. But as the effectiveness, to use the term in the Gracious Speech, of indigenous security forces increases in Northern Ireland, we believe that that will permit a reduction in the scale of the Army. We recognise that the effectiveness of the RUC will be made 1696 even greater if its efficiency is not impaired by cumbersome and exacting complaint procedures which absorb the attention and energy of senior officers from their primary task of eliminating gangsters and terrorists. Judging by our experience, we can expect the volume of complaints to increase as the effectiveness of the RUC increases.
I have on other occasions expressed anxiety about the procedures for selecting and procuring the most suitable weapons and equipment for the RUC. Can the Secretary of State assure us that if in all respects the discretionary purchasing powers of the Chief Constable of the RUC are at least equivalent to those available to chief officers in forces in Great Britain?
On previous occasions we have also urged that a climate of normality could be created by the removal of unnecessary defensive measures, some of which were quite unnecessary even when they were enforced, such as the blocking of entire sections of towns and villages throughout Ulster. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State in words and actions seemed to support the view that the policy should not be one simply of containing the situation and going to the defensive. It should be a policy of moving to the offensive and sorting out and rooting out terrorists. His policy and his directive have paid off. We feel that we should support him in the measures he can take to relieve unnecessary hardship caused to law-abiding citizens by these unnecessary restrictions.
In the interval since our last renewal debate there has been a steady improvement in the condition and appearance of many of our towns and villages. I hope that the Secretary of State will note our wish that this process should be continued. I also hope encouragement and perhaps assistance can be given to make possible a face lift—not just an application of cosmetics but a real attempt to restore our towns in Ulster to a much more businesslike atmosphere and condition.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I include Belfast because I see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson).
1697 I wish to deal with one issue the importance of which has been previously acknowledged by Members of both sides of the House but which has attracted little attention in recent months. I refer to the special category status which continues to be afforded to many of those convicted of terrorist offences by the courts in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State can be in no doubt about the degree of support given by the Ulster Unionist Party in the past. That support will be available in future in his determined efforts to defeat terrorism and lawlessness in all its forms and from whatever quarter. We have made our views clear on this matter and they are on record.
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that when his predecessor took the decision to discontinue special category status I assured him that we had never accepted the practice of classifying some convicted prisoners as special category, which entitled them to special treatment by reason of the supposedly political motives which prompted the offence. It was and remains our view that the practice has no basis either in common law or in statute law. Indeed, there was considerable doubt whether it had any basis in any of the emergency regulations. Perhaps the greatest danger of special category status lies in its tendency to glamorise the offenders and raise hopes of an early amnesty, thus reducing the deterrent effect of sentences.
I unreservedly welcome the repeated assurances that the Secretary of State has given that there will be no amnesty for murderers and those who have been convicted of terrorist offences in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. My hon. Friends and I are anxious to ensure that the Government's commitment to end such special category status should be sustained. We wish to be assured that as the security forces achieve increasing success, their efforts and the results of those efforts will be matched by the will and capacity of the authorities to adhere to the policy and practice of reducing the special category element in the prison population.
Many hon. Members—and we have just heard the hon. Member for Abingdon reiterate this point—find themselves 1698 fundamentally at variance with certain sections of the media, particularly when the media become the propaganda arm of the terrorists. A recent television programme, probably by sheer accident, served a useful purpose in highlighting the reality of life in Northern Ireland prisons.
Long Kesh as the Provos' Sandhurst is no laughing matter. There clearly exists in that prison a school—or schools—for terrorism. A large number of criminals as they congregate and move freely are put in a position of being able to make and enforce their own set of rules. Inevitably, decisions affecting a substantial number of prisoners have to be taken by the prison officers in consultation with leaders of para-military groups. Lectures are given on certain political or, perhaps, para-military political activity and even, on occasions, imitation weapons are available for the deverison a school—or schools—We cannot expect normal conditions to return to Northern Ireland as long as that situation obtains. Such a prison atmosphere is certainly not conducive to rehabilitation and, in the long term, it will make far more difficult the task of those organisations and bodies prepared to engage in the operation of moral rescue, the success of which is vital to the whole future stability and happiness of Ulster.
Although political status has been regarded by many as a form of approbation for those involved in para-military activities it is pertinent to remind the House that the arrangement was initiated purely for convenience and expediency. I doubt that it was ever the intention to imply any concession or suggestion that those who continue to enjoy the privilege of special status will continue to do so, and have done so, as a right. That being so, we should like to be assured that there will be, or that there already is, a tapering off in the number of those convicted of crimes committed prior to March 1976 and granted special status. I understand that there were some 348 such prisoners in the period between March 1976 and 6th November this year.
We should like to know what happens to a special category prisoner who is convicted of an offence committed during the period of his sentence. As a general 1699 principle he should then forfeit his special status. We should welcome an assurance that any so-called political prisoner wishing to withdraw from special category status can have his request granted without delay. That is particularly important for young prisoners who should be freed from all forms of intimidation and evil influence and who should be given a chance to rethink their decision in the light of the knowedge that they can have a much more useful life ahead of them if they so decide. But they will not be free to make such a decision if left under the thumb—or perhaps the heel—of many of those who have played a part in landing them in their present predicament.
The problems of crime and treatment of offenders affect many more than those directly involved. The contempt for authority demonstrated by law-breakers contaminates many in this larger group and it will continue to do so as long as offenders are encouraged to use political motive as an excuse for offences committed. Indeed, we all have a duty to demonstrate that the law must be respected, and no one has the right to pick and choose.
Once law-breaking is engaged in, there can be no dividing line; it can only be a matter of degree. Relatives, friends and society must combine to encourage prisoners generally to reject the negative outlook of which special category is a symbol, and all of us must seek to contribute to the rehabilitation of those in the community who have misguidedly drifted into the world of lawlessness and crime.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
The first emergency legislation that we passed referring to security in Northern Ireland went on the statute book in 1922. Now, 55 years later, we are still discussing emergency legislation and how it affects individuals in Northern Ireland.
It is indicative of a deep and profound disagreement over the state of Northern Ireland that we have to have emergency legislation such as this to keep the borders of that State in existence.
§ Mr. Fitt
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) can make his own speech 1700 and I shall listen with great attention it he has the temerity to do so. In legislation such as this, which can have such an effect on the individual, it is not good enough to come to the House every six months, to hold our hands up to high heavens and to say that we support the RUC, the UDR and the Army, without casting a critical eye on the other developments that can be brought about by the existence of the legislation.
While this legislation is in many ways effective and has perhaps led to a decrease in violence, it has other facets that have deeply offended those who believe in the liberty of the individual. We should not accept stories put round by branches of the security forces saying that anyone who criticises them is a supporter of the IRA or some other violent organisation. I have not, do not and will not say one word in defence of the Provisional IRA. I detest and despise its every action. However there are facets of this legislation that worry me deeply.
In my constituency I hold a surgery and advice centre. I was there the other day and encountered a problem that is happening now and will happen tomorrow and every day that I can foresee thereafter. I refer to the number of arrests made by both the Army and the RUC under this legislation. I was on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill and I expressed fears at that time that provisions such as Section 10, which allows a person to be arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist, could be abused in certain circumstances and could lead to harassment of individuals in Northern Ireland.
I should like the Secretary of State to tell the House the number of men and women taken to interrogation centres throughout Northern Ireland in the six months since we last debated the legislation. Can he tell us how long they were held? Was it a matter of hours, one or two days, or the full seven days for which they can be held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act? What has happened to them? I know of many young men who have lost their jobs or had to leave their jobs because they were kept in Castlereagh for 72 hours—the maximum period.
Their employers often did not hold the same political views as the workers and 1701 when they were told where the young men had been for the previous three days, even though nothing had been proven and no charges laid against them, the suspicion remained in the employer's mind that the employee had not been taken to an interrogation centre for no reason. When a man is taken to such a centre, that creates an aura of suspicion and I have known men to be sacked by their employers afterwards.
In some instances, men are not taken to the interrogation centres just once. Within weeks or months of their first interrogation they are taken back for another 72 hours and, within weeks of their release, taken back for a third time. This naturally causes employers to suspect that their employee has a connection—even though it is unproven—with a terrorist organisation, and this often leads to dismissal. I ask the Secretary of State to give the figures for the number of people taken to interrogation centres and the length of time that they have been held.
There is an attitude that implies that no word of criticism may be levelled against the security forces and that they are incapable of using brutal and ruthless methods in their interrogations. This is patently not so. There are certain members of the RUC, the UDR and the British Regular forces in Northern Ireland, albeit a small minority, who are capable of using brutal methods during interrogations, and it is dishonest for anyone to say that this is not possible.
If I were the commander-in-chief of the Provisional IRA, the first order that I would give to the people under me would be that if they were arrested by the security forces they should immediately allege that they had been ill-treated. But I could do that only if I knew that there had been some cases of brutality. I would exaggerate them and multiply them a million times over. These cases have happened, and even if there is only one case of brutality or ill-treatment in every 100 interrogations, that is far too many. Indeed, one in 1,000 or even one in 1 million is too many.
In no circumstances should there be ill-treatment of people who are being interrogated. Only recently we had the four Church leaders adding their voices 1702 to the concern that has been expressed over the allegations of ill-treatment. In an editorial this week, the Belfast Telegraph has raised the subject of the allegations.
It would be in the interests of the RUC and all the security forces and certainly in the interests of the whole population of Northern Ireland if, when allegations are made, an inquiry took place. If that happened and the allegations were proved to be false, it would engender nothing but good will for the security forces.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in his annual report the Chief Constable goes into the question of complaints and how they are investigated exhaustively? He shows that great trouble is taken by the RUC when complaints are made. They are looked at as impartially and in as minute detail as possible.
§ Mr. Fitt
I have had many discussions with the Chief Constable and his predecessor on this subject. I believe that there must be an independent element in inquiries into allegations against members of the RUC. People believe that if the force carries out investigations against its own members, there will inevitably be a certain bias in favour of them. It would be in the interests of all the security forces if there were an independent element in the inquiries.
§ Mr. Fitt
I fully accept that there has been progress in the complaints procedure, taking into account what has been happening, but serious allegations are being made day in and day out and there is some substance in them.
1703 I do not believe that every person interrogated by the RUC is beaten up. I have never believed that, but there have been occasions when doctors and other professional people, who have reputations at stake, have examined people after their release from interrogation and have said that, in their professional capacity, with all their experience and training as medical men, they are convinced that those people were ill treated. I do not believe that members of the medical profession would take such an attitude lightly. As the Belfast Telegraph said, if there is nothing to hide, why give the impression that there is something to hide? I want to see as much confidence as possible generated in the RUC.
I turn now to an event that may have come as a big surprise to the hon. Member for Armagh, who regards my colleague in Armagh, Mr. Seamus Malon, as an arch-Republican, etcetera, and has said so on many occasions. The Provisional IRA said that five young people who had been arrested in Armagh had been ill treated while in police custody. Seamus Mallon went to see the young people and their parents and was convinced that they had not been ill treated. He came outside and courageously and publicly said so. He charged the IRA godfathers over the border in the Republic with trying to use the young people. Any criticism that I make is made in the interests of all concerned.
Interrogations are permitted under this legislation and it also gives the security forces power to search homes. We hear that an Englishmen's home is his castle and there is no doubt that home is a very private and personal place for most people. They believe that they can shut their front doors and be cut off from the rest of the world. Families are built up within the four walls and any encroachment into their privacy must be taken seriously.
I know of homes in my constituency, and in North Belfast in the New Lodge Road area that I represented at local government level, that are searched four times and five times a month at three o'clock or four o'clock in the morning. The occupants are dragged out of bed and their homes are searched. It can be an intimidating experience.
1704 Only last Friday night the position of a family called Magee was brought to my attention. I am not quite sure of the address, but the family lives at the top of the New Lodge Road. I was not in Belfast at the time. I did not return home until the Saturday. However, the Magees went to my house. I live not very far away from them. They took my wife to see their house.
The house had recently been searched and was a shambles. It had been wrecked. It was no longer a place where anyone could live. The young woman was in a bad state of nerves. She was talking about taking an overdose of tablets. The Army had wrecked the house. My wife told me of this incident and from Westminster I contacted the major. I telephoned him again when I returned to Belfast. He said "Yes, I am afraid that we did wreck that house". He did not say that he did not do it. He said "I have made arrangements with the Housing Executive to have the people rehoused."
The house was a write-off. It was a small home at the top of the New Lodge Road. The young mother was expecting a baby. The family had been painting and wall-papering in preparation for Christmas. I asked the major why the Army had wrecked the house. He replied "We had a dog with us. The dog began to sniff. We knew that it was a positive reaction to his training and that there was some form of arms or explosives in the house. Once the dog reacted in that way, we had to go to town and wreck the house."
I appreciate that we are in a state of emergency, but it seems that when a dog happens to go berserk, those who are handling it also go berserk, wrecking homes and furniture. The Magees home is no longer in existence. They had to go into another house. That is the sort of thing that takes place under this legislation.
When we are asked to renew these measures it is right that we should cast a critical eye on the procedures that affect the liberty of the subject. I recognise that there has to be legislation to cope with terrorist activity, but it should be used in a limited way.
Individuals should not be taken repeatedly to interrogation centres. 1705 Homes should not be searched unless there is information that arms will be found in them. As for the Magees' home, the major said "We did not find anything. Because the dog was acting in such a way, it was imperative for us to break down walls, rip settees, wreck furniture and wreck the whole house." Surely no legislation should permit such activities.
I recognise the necessity for legislation to curb the activities of the terrorists. I shall do everything I can to contribute to the defeat of the men of violence. However, as a protest against the harassment and searching of houses that is taking place, I intend to vote against this measure.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has said that a home is an extremely private place. I agree with him. I recall that not so many months ago the hon. Gentleman's home was not a very private place. A group of terrorist supporters—some of them were his constituents—broke into his house. The hon. Gentleman would have suffered injury and possible death if the security forces had not arrived to protect him.
§ Mr. Fitt
I do not know what papers the hon. Gentleman has been reading, but the police did not arrive at my home. I had to get rid of the crowd myself. I had to send for an ambulance for my wife, who had an asthmatic attack. A coloured doctor came into the house. I asked him where he was from and he told me that he came from Jamaica. I said "My God, you are here before the RUC". The members of the RUC did not come to my house.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I recall that the security forces did arrive. Certainly my recollection is not so clear—
§ Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)
Is the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) aware that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) refused to have police protection on that night?
§ Mr. Goodhart
I was not present on the night in question, and no doubt the recollection of the hon. Member for Bel- 1706 fast, West is clearer than mine. However, I recall that he made a complaint, namely, that protection had not come sufficiently quickly.
I am sorry that some houses suffer from the excessive zeal of those who search them as a result of information that they have received. However, when we talk of civil liberties we must remember that the most important liberty for anyone in Northern Ireland, or the rest of the country, is one that ensures that his legs are not blown off, that his arms are not blown off and that he does not face the threat of death. That is the fundamental civil liberty that it is the Government's duty to protect.
I welcome the good news that the Secretary of State was able to give about the progress that has been made in tackling terrorism. I welcome the robust nature of his speech. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have been prepared to accept the advice that they have received from time to time from my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) on the conduct of security matters.
I also welcome the success that the Ulster Defence Regiment has had in recent months. It is perhaps inevitable that the media should pay more attention to the Regular forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary than to the work of the UDR, but since we last debated the continuation of these measures the work of the UDR has been exceptional.
Those who serve in the UDR have to work long hours. They have been called out on permanent duty for four weeks or five weeks. That has put some strain on the employers of members of the regiment. I regret that the situation for some rank-and-file members of the regiment seems to be getting harder rather than easier. For example, Courtauld gives a regiment man who has done a full night's duty some hours off in the morning. As I understand it, ICI does not do that. I regret that it does not follow the good practice that Courtauld has set.
I regret that the Government do not always set a good example. I understand that the electricity authority used to give some members of the regiment time off in the mornings when they had done a 1707 night's duty. It appears that it no longer does that. It is regrettable that the Government should not set a good example. At the same time I regret that the Government, by some curious interpretation of the unemployment rules, should be limiting the availability of certain UDR men when there is an industrial dispute.
Recently a fairly lengthy dispute at Courtauld led to a substantial number of members of the UDR being laid off. Under the unemployment regulations, any member of the regiment who did his normal duty, for which he was paid, had that payment removed from the benefit that he received. In fact he lost money by doing his regular duty. At a time when, through no fault of his own, he was more available to serve the community, he suffered considerable financial loss. Surely something can be done to put that matter right without too much difficulty.
I turn now to a somewhat more serious allegation that has twice been made to me by responsible memebers of the security forces regarding non-co-operation by elements of the Government. I have been told, both in Londonderry and outside Belfast, that the Housing Executive has refused to disclose to the security forces the names of those who have moved from addresses in the city centre to new housing estates. It seems ludicrous that all elements of the Government in Northern Ireland should not co-operate in trying to suppress terrorism by giving the information that the security forces require.
I hope that is not so. I hope that before the debate is concluded the Minister will give a categorical assurance that on no account will the Housing Executive withhold information from the security forces if and when it is asked for.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Has my hon. Friend also heard what I have heard, namely, that information about terrorism which comes into the possession of Her Majesty's customs—I am speaking of the border areas—is not made available to the security forces? I hope that is not true just as he hopes that the allegation that he has put to the House is not true. Perhaps the Minister will also reply to that point.
§ Mr. Powell
It is a fact that the Housing Executive gives information about the movements of its tenants to the electoral registration officer. Therefore, it is evidently information that the Housing Executive does not regard as extremely confidential.
§ Mr. Goodhart
There may be some people who do not wish to have their names on the electoral register.
I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State that there is to be some additional grant for fire-watchers at business premises, which are increasingly being threatened by fire. Some small businesses find it very difficult to maintain an adequate guard. However, that is not the position with all businesses. The right hon. Gentleman has offered a carrot. Should he not also consider using a stick as well, because compensation in some cases is given too quickly and, indeed, too generously?
I have heard of legitimate business men who, when the firemen, or now the Service fire-fighters, have struggled manfully to bring a blaze under control and reported "It looks as though we shall be able to save this building or that pile of wood. "have said" Please do not try too hard." That is because people welcome the compensation payment coming quickly.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)
Before the hon. Gentleman does too much damage, because these matters are very carefully noted in Northern Ireland, I remind him that the legislation that we put through earlier this year covers all the points that he is making. Compensation is considered very carefully and kept on a very tight rein.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am aware that the rules for compensation for personal injury are very tight. Indeed, I welcome the tightening up of those rules. However, I am not satisfied that the balance is yet right regarding compensation for property.
§ Mr. Concannon
Two compensation measures one related to personal in—juries and the other to property—were put through the House last year.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I agree that the balance is right regarding compensation for personal injuries. I question whether in practice the balance is right regarding compensation for property.
We all know that some people in Northern Ireland are making a great deal of money out of violence. I have referred to them before as the Goldfingers of terrorism. I have also asked that there should be an increase in the numbers in the Fraud Squad to look into the illegal aspects of business in Northern Ireland.
Again, one comes back to the question of the godfathers of terrorism. The hon. Member for Belfast, West talked about harassment. Is not a little more harassment of some of these godfathers called for? There are not many of them—perhaps 30 or 40—and we know who they are. Many members of the security forces are disgusted that such people can run free at the moment.
The main difficulty of operating within the rules is converting intelligence into evidence which will stand up in a court of law. Could not some of these 30 or 40 godfathers, who organise the violence and recruit young men and women to do their dirty work for them, be arrested on a charge of belonging to an illegal organisation and brought to court? The evidence might not be completely satisfactory, but such people would then have to deny to the court that they were members of an illegal organisation—the IRA. They would have to try and produce evidence to show that they were not members of such an organisation. Even if one could not prove that someone such as Martin Meehan was a member of an illegal organisation, because he would deny it on the defence stand, damage would be caused to the morale of the mebers of that organisation.
The Secretary of State talked of the debt that we owe to the security forces in Northern Ireland. He spoke of the fortitude with which they carry out their task. Tomorrow we shall have an opportunity of going into greater detail of the debt that we owe to all members of the Armed Forces. A substantial number of young soldiers in Northern Ireland are working up to 100 hours a week and receiving less in take-home pay than the Grunwick workers. That is a crying shame. When we talk of a debt of grati- 1710 tude, we should put our money where our words are.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I hesitate, as always, to speak in Ulster debates, because I view with trepidation the prospect of discussing the internal affairs of a foreign country. Ulster is a foreign country. I have been there and it is, in every sense, unmistakably a foreign country
It has been said and written that the history of Ireland is the past repeating itself over and over again. When I listened to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) praising the courage, loyalty and dedication to duty of our troops and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary I reflected that Englishmen have been standing up in places such as this for the last 700 years—since the twelfth century—and talking about our brave lads who are dying, sacrificing and being loyal over there in Ireland. It is, to say the least, boring, if only because there can be nothing new to say about our sending armed men into that country to do what armed men have always done in that country. It is repetitive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said that we had been passing Ulster measures such as the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act for the last 50 years. He could have said that we had been passing such measures for Ireland for many more years than that. It must have got home to someone somewhere in the official world that guns, emergency provisions, Draconian laws and the abridgement of people's liberties in Northern Ireland are not the answer to the Ireland problem, which is still with us today.
It does not help when the Secretary of State or his Shadow say "Things are getting better". We must look at the problem in the perspective of past centuries. No doubt people have always been saying that things are getting better in Ireland and that they are not as bad as they were. But things do not get better; they remain lousy. Yet Britain's answer is still to send our brave, loyal lads over there to kill someone in order to preserve law and order.
Some people forget that that law and order are law and order as defined by 1711 by the London Government. Therefore, the law and order being fought and died for by ordinary men are a law and order in British interests, conceived in British interests and not in the interests of the people who live in Ireland.
I am prepared to believe in the Secretary of State's protestations of sincerity when he says that he wishes to solve the problem. I am sure that he does, as has every person who has gone from here to Northern Ireland. However, the Secretary of State wishes to solve the problem in his terms. Britain has always wished to solve the problem in English terms. Bluntly, they are alien, because Ireland is a foreign country.
§ Mr. McCusker
Can the hon. Member clarify his definition of "foreign country"? Does he consider Scotland to be a foreign country as well?
§ Mr. Litterick
I have answered the hon. Member's question succinctly and without ambiguity. If he wishes to stage a debate on the philosophy of Scottish nationalism, let him take the appropriate measures. I can promise him a thrashing. My answer is "No".
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
It is not in order to discuss Scotland. We are concerned with the first three motions on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Litterick
The hon. Member for Abingdon made a curious error, if error it was. He referred to the "glorious republicans". He said that the people who are now active with the gun and the bomb are not the "glorious republicans" of history. This is a peculiar habit of thought which is common to Englishmen. By some myserious process and at some ill-defined point in time, those men of 50 to 100 years ago who fought against English power and who were then called bloody murderers and arsonists posthumously became the "glorious republicans".
It is interesting that the newspapers of 50 years ago described these "glorious republicans" in exactly the same terms that the hon. Member used to describe the bombers and gunmen of today. Maybe he should rethink his ideas. Who is 1712 principled and who is not? Who is glorious and who is not? At what point in time did the men of history become principled and glorious?
The same trend of thought happens in this House. It is said that there used to be principled Socialists on the Left. The Tories today quote from Nye Bevan who apparently is now right posthumously in everything but wrong when he was alive. It is a trick which the House should recognise.
Comments have been made about the behaviour of television companies which are alleged to be subverting the efforts of the State. The hon. Member for Abingdon said that they would not accept moral responsibility for their actions. I wonder what kind of evidence he has for that and what contact he has had with those who run our television organisations, which are widely admired. It was noticeable that his hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) cited the Press as his reason for saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West was glad to have the assistance of the police when he had his little local difficulties. It was not true, but the hon. Member was encouraged to believe this as a result of the media while his hon. Friend is concerned about the media being morally irresponsible.
§ Mr. Goodhart
The story was inThe Times, the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express.
§ Mr. Litterick
The hon. Member is treading on dangerous ground. What he really means is that the people who are responsible for making those television programmes about which he complains do not see reality as he sees it. They work within their constraints as they see them, within the terms of their responsibilities as they see them. In other contexts hon. Members, particularly those on the Front Benches, are for ever standing up and extolling the virtues of freedom of expression in the media. We are supposed to have more such freedom than anywhere else in the world. We cannot have our cake and eat it.
The hon. Member for Abingdon said in his later remarks that he would support any action the Home Secretary proposed to take to deal with this matter. 1713 That is going into dangerous waters. I do not know what he thought the Home Secretary had in mind, but I can imagine that it is nothing good, either for the media in Britain or the British people. Clearly, what the hon. Member has in mind is some form of State-imposed constraint on the media when there should be a freedom to examine reality. I can assure the hon. Member that what he suggests is unacceptable to the British people.
§ Mr. Litterick
I am glad that I have persuaded the hon. Member to shift his ground, if only a little.
One of the other peculiarities of this situation is that the attitude that some display towards the question of political dissent is remarkably similar to the attitude found in authoritarian countries. I have had heated conversations with people who are designated as the chairmen or presidents of Orange Lodges. It is difficult, rather like trying to have a conversation with a firing squad. But one or two ideas get through. These people regard any form of dissent from their views as treason. These are powerful people. This is one of the principal reasons why we have to discuss this legislation.
§ Mr. Litterick
Every grand master? Every one? These are the people to whom I am referring. Their attitude to Catholics is literally the same as that of the white South African to the Bantu. I am not talking about 10 years, 20 years or 50 years ago. I am talking about now. It is a hideous political fact of life, but it enables these people to treat dissent in the same way as the KGB—as a form of treason, irrespective of the source from which it comes and the reason for which it is articulated.
This attitude has resulted in the political intolerances of Ulster spreading to the mainland of the United Kingdom. We 1714 now have such things as the so-called Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has very much abridged the liberties of every British citizen on the mainland. Our constituents in mainland Britain are having to pay for the hideous intolerance and ferocity of the attitudes of the people to whom I have referred. We are all paying.
Once again the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has to ask for ridiculous, repressive legislation because, he says, he hopes that it will solve the problem. The facts of seven centuries argue against him more than anything that can be said here.
I ask the House to bear in mind this last thought. If Russian troops were patrolling the streets of Derry and Belfast, what would their attitudes be? There would be no difficulty in judging the morality of the situation then. The House would be unanimous. No one would accept the explanation of the KGB that its handling of prisoners was proper and wholly defensible. I ask the House to consider that. It may be that there are many people who reasonably take the same attitude towards British troops patrolling their streets and towards British para-military policemen imposing their form of justice upon people who regard such a presence as an alien force.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)
I will not attempt to follow up the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick). One had only to listen to his speech to realise how far he is removed from the situation. He has completely convinced those who know the facts that he does not know anything about Northern Ireland and what happens there.
I am deeply concerned about the security situation in Northern Ireland, but I feel that we must be encouraged by what the Secretary of State has said today about the progress that has been made. I join with my colleagues and other hon. Members—I am sorry that there are so few hon. Members present—in paying tribute to the Secretary of State for the progress he and his ministerial colleagues have made in the past few months in Northern Ireland. I do not refer only to the security situation. Much has been done to attract fresh industry.
1715 My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has given his thoughts on the existing security arrangements in town centres in his constituency. I wish to adopt some of his thoughts and apply them to the arrangements pertaining to Belfast city centre. I am in no way complacent, and nor are my Ulster Unionist colleagues, about the security situation in Northern Ireland. We would be the first to attack any suggestion aimed at lessening the security effort. I say that in case anyone should misunderstand the purpose of the proposal that I wish to make.
The present security arrangements in Belfast city centre present no deterrent to the IRA. I take the view that the atmosphere they generate causes the greatest harm to the morale of the law-abiding population. Let me give a few examples, as one closely connected with the area, an area which has, perhaps, the largest number of interface areas in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) can substantiate that.
There is among the people in the area a ground swell in which they are seeking to come together. Over the past few months they have come together to discuss housing and community programmes. This can be borne out by the Ministers who deal with Northern Ireland affairs. The people concerned—those who are saying to the Government "Enough is enough. For heaven's sake get off our back. Let us get together and bring some normality back and some peace."—are frustrated when they come to Belfast city centre and see the large iron barriers surrounding certain parts. I myself think that these barriers now serve no purpose. They are a waste of public money both in maintenance and in staffing, and they waste the time of members of the security forces who could be better employed elsewhere.
I hope that we have seen the end of the proxy bomb. The Secretary of State said today that one of the greatest enemies we have in Northern Ireland is the incendiary device. Despite almost 300 searchers in the centre of Belfast, at the cost of a lot of public money, these incendiary devices are getting into city centre shops.
People who, in their own areas, enjoy a community life and are trying to come 1716 together, are frustrated when they reach the barriers and have to queue for 10 or 15 minutes in order to go into certain parts of the city. Sometimes the searching is not a very good job. In the past few weeks I have made some observations of searchers in Belfast, and I must be critical and say that they are not as effective as they should be. After being searched, people proceed to large stores like Marks and Spencer's or Boots, and again have to queue for 10 or 15 minutes in order to be searched before they go in.
The concern of Ministers and of elected representatives is to keep alive at least part of the centre of Belfast, and I should like to see the barriers removed completely, at least for the Christmas period, and a drastic reduction in the number of searches. About one-third of those presently involved in searches at the barriers should be moving about the centre doing spot checks on people. They may need a little training in how to carry out spot checks, but I believe that, moving around the centre of Belfast carrying out spot checks, they could, with the security barriers completely removed, be far more effective than the present system.
The people have made known in the past that they are frustrated and tired. They long to shop in the centre of Belfast, but the situation there forbids their doing so. In their own areas they enjoy a certain amount of freedom, but in the centre of Belfast they find themselves restricted in their freedom. I ask the Secretary of State to look closely at the question of the security barriers, for I am sure that he will see that they are serving no purpose and should be removed, and that a number of searchers should be deployed as I have suggested.
The right hon. Gentleman has given his backing to suggestions we have made, because he has generously granted assistance to shopkeepers who employ 10 or more people by way of grant to finance fire-watching. Thus, fire-watching is being financed by public money. Fire watchers are quite capable of dealing with incendiary devices, and are more effective than having searchers doing a half-hearted job at the security barriers.
I am not altogether satisfied that the grant should be made only to large stores and people employing 10 or more 1717 persons. We have many small shopkeepers who employ fewer than 10 people. They are on the outskirts of the security area. They have been paying the same rates as people in the centre of Belfast; they have been paying the same overheads and the same wages. Yet there has been no provision for the small shopkeepers, who have carried on through the difficult years of terrorism, of burnings, bombings and shootings. No concession has been made to them to help with fire-watching. I ask the Secretary of State to look at this matter again, to see what provision can be made for the small shopkeepers who are determined, in spite of the bombs of the IRA terrorists, to carry on business and to try to make Belfast and their businesses as viable as possible.
I give a depressing example of what happens at the security barriers. One day I spent half an hour on observation in Donegall Place. On both sides of the barrier there is an exit for those leaving the security area. The people leaving the security area are supposed to go through iron gates to be searched inside the compound. Three weeks ago, I saw two women and a boy aged about 16 openly walk in through what is supposed to be an exit only, and which has on the outside "No Entry", into Donegall Place and into the centre of Belfast. That way through is supposed to be the exit for those leaving the area, yet these three people were unnoticed by the searchers or troops on duty as they reversed the process.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State expressed his confidence in and paid tribute to the RUC, the UDR, the police reserves and the Army for the magnificent job that they are doing in extreme difficulties. At Question Time recently the right hon. Gentleman said that he was satisfied that the Army and the police have now sufficient weapons and vehicles to deal with terrorist organisations. Like other hon. Members, I had a lot of telephone calls from policemen or their wives, and all said that they did not yet have sufficient vehicles or weapons to combat the terrorists, although they had been promised them many months ago.
Just four nights ago, moving around a rather violent area of Belfast, I was appalled to see a transit van with about 1718 10 policemen on board. What sort of vehicle is that supposed to be for fighting terrorist organisations which have been attacking the police, killing, wounding and maiming them as they move around trying to save people from death or injury? Vehciles like transit vans are not suitable for transporting policemen around such areas. The Secretary of State should step up the supply of suitable vehicles and weapons to these men who, day after day, month after month and year after year are working to combat the terrorism in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to the subject of prisons. When does the Minister hope to be in a position to put prisoners into Meghaberry Prison? When will it be ready? There is a great need for prisons that will take remand prisoners. I believe that we could convert for this purpose.
Sometimes I feel sorry for some of the young men who have been caught up by the violence that has existed in Northern Ireland for the past nine years. I have visited the prisoners and their homes and have talked to young men who have left prison. There is certainly a need to provide better facilities for them. These men may be in prison for five to 10 years, but we have to accept that one day they will leave prison and take their place back in society. It is up to us to provide facilities to give them proper training so that they can come back into society, seek employment and take their place in society once again.
The Crumlin Road Prison is overcrowded with remand prisoners. I have been told that the centre block in the Maze Prison is also overcrowded. Many men in these blocks are denied recreation facilities because there is insufficient room, and some prisoners in Crumlin Road Prison have been locked up for 23 hours a day, with only one hour's exercise a day, because of fears for their lives. I appeal to the Minister to look closely at this and give us some information on what progress is being made.
§ Mr. Fitt
Has the hon. Gentleman heard of a very disquieting rumour circulating in Northern Ireland that loyalist para-military prisoners in Long Kesh, led by Gusty Spence, are actually taking courses in the Irish language? Does not he consider that this is far more dangerous than the facilities provided for them in Long Kesh?
§ Mr. Carson
I am not as well acquainted with that rumour as the hon. Gentleman, but I have read about it in the Press. I cannot elaborate any further on it.
I am concerned about the young men and teenagers who the Secretary of State said had been caught up in the wicked violence in Northern Ireland, who have never been in trouble before and have been brought up in good homes. I believe that if those young boys are treated properly when they leave prison there is hope for them. We have to provide better facilities and try to give them a better future and set an example if we are to fit them back into society.
I appeal to the Minister to look closely at prison conditions and state when Meghaberry Prison will be ready for occupation, and when he hopes to lift the burden at present placed on prison officers in the Crumlin Road and Maze Prisons.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) will forgive me if I do not take up the detailed matters which he raised. Obviously, he speaks with great knowledge of his part of the world. I wish to direct my attention more particularly to what the Secretary of State told us and to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave).
Before I come to that, however, I wish to refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). He, at least, has had the decency to stay here through the debate so far. He puts contentious points, but he is good enough to remain and listen to the response, which is always the sign of a good democrat. I felt that the hon. Gentleman was not his usual careful self when he spoke of people being unable to put a complaint about the police to an impartial body or tribunal. As I understand it—I think that this was made at least partly clear from the Government Front Bench—Northern Ireland today has an unparalleled service, certainly in Europe, for the impartial hearing of complaints against the police. This is a new situation, quite unparalleled, and I believe it to be good.
Next, I did not think that the hon. Member for Belfast, West was in his usual good form when he spoke of the 1720 difficulties encountered by people who are taken in for short periods, perhaps 72 hours, for questioning. I quite appreciate that it is disconcerting for people to be taken off a job, and there may be the risk of unemployment if it happens repeatedly. But the hon. Gentleman should remember, as a good democrat, that an employer who has had an employee taken off his bench or other important work on three or four occasions in a short time will think "Will he be here tomorrow? When will he come back?" If the employee is doing a critical job, it is not necessarily the stigma attached to being apprehended for questioning which causes difficulty. It is the fact that he is not a reliable attender at work. That is a sad affair, and there is this other aspect of the matter to be borne in mind.
I congratulate the Secretary of State in the splendid improvement in security shown by the figures which he gave the House today. It was said, I think, by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that this year in Northern Ireland has been marked in a most significant way by the visit of Her Majesty the Queen. That visit went off in a splendid fashion, but it should not be forgotten that its great success was made possible by the improvement in the security situation.
It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon—I think that this is how he put it—that some sort of recognition or award should be given to the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, that they should be considered, perhaps, for a General Service Medal. I wholeheartedly support that, and I believe that the entire House will do so too. The RUC has done a most tedious job in a very quiet and effective manner over many years, and I believe that such an award would be a great encouragement.
In this connection, I remind the Minister of State that there is on the Order Paper Early-Day Motion No. 26 referring to Captain Nairac. That motion has been signed by almost 200 Members of all three major parties, expressing the hope that he should be properly recognised, though posthumously, for the valiant man he was.
The Secretary of State spoke of his plans to reduce the standing number of troops in Northern Ireland from, I believe, 1721 14,000 by 1,000 at the end of the year. I was sorry, however, that he made only passing reference to the living accommodation of those troops. I know that this matter has been raised in the House several times in the past, and it has been the subject of discussion and questioning during defence debates. I hope that the Secretary of State will recognize—I am sure that he does, though he failed to make this absolutely clear today—that Service men in Northern Ireland today are probably in the most difficult non-combat situation in the world. Doing a difficult and dangerous job as they are, they should have accommodation not just up to normal or up to average but, where possible, above average.
Although there is to be, we hope, a steady rundown of the military presence in the Province, as far as one can see the need will remain for a substantial presence there for some time, and it is essential that the Service men who maintain that presence be properly accommodated in conditions which are better than average. The risks and hazards which they undergo warrant no less than that.
The Secretary of State referred also to the welcome improvement in the safety of the security forces. He told us how the number of deaths among civilians, among Service personnel and among the security forces generally was down on the previous year's figure. He went on to refer to the assistance which he proposes to give to firms and others for the employment of fire-watchers. The hon. Member for Belfast, North has just referred to that. I was not quite clear from the right hon. Gentleman's reference to shops and offices how far that assistance would go, and I hope that warehouse premises also will qualify, since at this time, as always, they need particular attention and scrutiny by fire-watchers.
There was one matter which I was sorry not to hear the right hon. Gentleman mention, and I put an inquiry about it now. What has happened to the joint Republic of Ireland-British endeavour to get some common ground regarding a pattern of identification for detonators? The Minister of State will recall that this subject was discussed in the last Session, and a Bill was introduced which did not 1722 make much progress. I believe that a Bill was introduced in the other place also.
There has been and is definite evidence showing that some form of standardisation in the production and content of detonators in Britain and the Republic of Ireland would help the security forces on both sides of the border in detecting the origin of explosive material. I shall be grateful if the Minister of State will tell us how matters stand and give an assurance that that endeavour has not been forgotten.
We all agree—certainly we on this side agree—with my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon when he says that there must be no long-term or short-term amnesty for political prisoners, and there must be no Christmas amnesty either, at this time. These people are criminals. They are in prison. From my limited experience, I know that what keeps the fuel of terrorism burning is the belief among ignorant people that, if the pressure is kept up long enough, sooner or later some relation or friend in detention will be released when a general amnesty comes along. That can never happen. They must always remain as criminals and must serve their sentences in the normal way. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State spell that out as he did today.
I turn next to the question of cross-border co-operation. I was glad to hear from the Secretary of State that the progress which had been made in this respect with the previous Irish Government has apparently continued apace, despite the change of Government in the summer. It is essential that cross-border co-operation in the apprehension of terrorists and the prevention of terrorism be encouraged and undertaken on a continuing basis.
Next, I ask the Minister of State to tell us what has happened about the convention on the suppression of terrorism which Her Majesty's Government signed in January this year at Strasbourg. By their signature, the Government gave an implicit undertaking that the principles and purposes of that convention would be included in our domestic legislation at the earliest possible date. However, there was nothing in this year's Gracious Speech about it.
1723 The Prime Minister mentioned many other measures that might come along that were not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but no legislation to enact the convention on the suppression of terrorism was foreshadowed. Many of us on this side of the House believe that that convention would help in the battle against terrorism. We signed it in January of this year at Strasbourg without reservation. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, when he was Secretary of State for Defence, welcomed it in the House and said what a useful convention it was.
What has been done about that convention? Why cannot we get it on to the statute book so that some of the innumerable benefits in the convention, which has been signed by all the countries in Europe except the Republic of Ireland and, I think, one other, can be gained? It would be advantageous for extradition proceedings and other matters relating to terrorist offences.
I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will say what has happened. I hope he will tell us that this important convention has not been forgotten and that it is one of the things that he personally will seek to put on the statute book in this Session of Parliament.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
It is a melancholy fact that once again in 1977 we are having to discuss the emergency provisions. I am always conscious of the fact that most of the hon. Members who speak in these debates have to live in Northern Ireland and go through all that they do. Although many of the things that I say are in opposition to them, I am dreadfully aware of that and, therefore, I should like them to know it.
The security situation is better. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. Everybody agrees about it, whatever his political stance. I was in Northern Ireland about a fortnight ago with a small party of Labour Members, and we had discussions with every political grouping.I want to say one or two things about those discussions, having underlined the fact of the good security situation compared with what it has been. I want the burden of what I have to say to make it clear that we should not be lulled into a 1724 false sense of security. The only thing that will make the situation really better in the long term in Northern Ireland is a political solution, and that must inevitably mean a democratic solution to the problems that we face.
I am bound to say, based on the discussions that we had—and I am giving a purely personal opinion of them—that I do not see that on the agenda anywhere at all. I must also say that if we were to think that because the security situation is better the political situation is equally better, we should be living in dreamland. It is just not true, and that point must be made.
As I said, we met all the various groupings, and in the process of meeting them there was a clear line of demarcation between the gentlemen who represented the Unionist side and the other groupings, in particular the SDLP and the Alliance Party. I think that they were all trying to think through to a solution, but I coud not detect any movement politically at all in the official Unionist or the Democratic Unionist Party. It seemed to me that they were wishing that the situation—the security situation as well—would somehow solve itself without their making any political movement towards the minority community. I say that as one who does not live in the Province and, therefore, sees the situation only from a distance, but who is making an honourable effort to try to help.
I felt that there was an intransigence among the official Unionists, and more particularly among the Democratic Unionists, of a kind that means that regulations such as these will be discussed year after year if something does not move, if something does not give, because the real weapon against terrorism is democracy. Terrorism will have disappear without democracy, and I believe that there is not democracy in Northern Ireland. I believe that it is the easiest thing in the world to say "In any election we shall win and we shall be the majority, and, therefore, that is democracy."
An election is only part of democracy. Democracy means the attitude of the majority to the minority and that of the minority to the majority. It means a 1725 living together, and integration and an understanding of the position that each occupies. [Interruption.] I sincerely hope that it is happening. I am merely saying that on my brief visit I could not detect it in certain areas.
Let me give an example of what I mean. I am almost telling a tale out of school, but it indicates a frame of mind. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) back in his seat, because he has not been in this place for quite a long time. I want to underline a frame of mind which, in my opinion, is alien to what most of us want and will have us here a year hence as sure as anything unless it changes.
On the wall of the room in which we had our discussions, there was a disgraceful montage of a newspaper cutting showing the Pope kissing the foot of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. I am not a Catholic. I am a politician trying to do a job of work. I am on neither side of the sectarian divide. But if that intransigent frame of mind, which also described the Common Market, to which I am opposed, as a Papist plot using the Treaty of Rome as somehow meaning that that is where it all emanated, does not change in the face of the terrible happenings that have gone on, it will blow up in our faces all over again.
If a political solution is not forthcoming which would betoken a change of mind from the intransigence, the terrorists will be empowered again to start the melancholy list of killings which results in gaolings, and round and round it all goes. Therefore, if there is one message that I am trying to bring to this small debate—we are the same people debating, and I have an understanding of what it means to hon. Gentlemen opposite and to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) who live there—it is that if we do not ensure that the hand of democracy is extended from the majority community in a much greater form than it is at present, we shall go on for ever discussing these security regulations.
§ Mr. McCusker
We have listened to the hon. Gentleman on other occasions. He has been fair in what he has said. I accept that in the political scene there has been no movement in Northern 1726 Ireland. Is he suggesting, however, that because of that the British Government at Westminster cannot guarantee equality of opportunity and democracy to all the citizens of Northern Ireland, and that if we cannot come to an agreeable solution on Northern Ireland perhaps we have to accept that this place holds the ling and does provide equality of opportunity?
§ Mr. Flannery
No. I understand the hon. Gentleman's points, and they are pungent. My right hon. and hon. Friends on my Front Bench know my point of view. It differs slightly from theirs, but I know that they are grappling with the situation as best they can. I have had long talks with them. No matter what we do here, in the last analysis democracy in Northern Ireland rests with hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches and with the representatives of the minority community. They will have to decide on the democratic measures. We shall do our best to be helpful, but in the last analysis frames of mind must change, in particular in the majority community.
I want peace in Northern Ireland. I think that there can be peace there. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Secretary of State on everything, and he knows that, but he has won great respect in the Province. Everybody seemed to think that, although there were differences of opinion. I believe that a solution to the problem rests with hon. Gentlemen opposite in particular, and I do not detect any movement, in general terms, in the frame of mind of the official Unionist and Democratic Unionist Parties.
I should like to hear in any debate we have here of where there is a real unbending towards the minority, otherwise once again we shall be lulled into a sense of false security by the easing of the security situation and it could all go wrong. Heaven forbid, but that is what could happen.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and in particular his comment about the political impasse in Northern Ireland. On the other hand, he was a little less than fair to his own Government in not referring to the Speaker's Conference which is now 1727 examining the question of Northern Ireland representation here at Westminster, which must mean that more representatives from the minority community will come to the House of Commons. By the same token, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention the remarks recently made by the Secretary of State about a devolved Administration.
§ Mr. Flannery
The hon. Gentleman is quite right, but I sought strictly to confine my remarks. If my remarks are interpreted in the way that the hon. Gentleman is interpreting them—I think mistakenly—it is true that it could then be said that I was being unfair, but I tried not to be unfair. I am aware of the various events that are taking place.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that, because I agree with him about the deep prejudices and divisions that apply in the Province.
I want to start the main part of my speech by congratulating the Secretary of State, and, indeed, all the Northern Ireland Ministers, on the remarkable catalogue of success that we have heard this afternoon. All of us must take great heart from the obvious successes which have been won against the men of violence. We read of the continuing number of arrests. We hear of the court cases. We know that following those court cases have come the convictions, which are so long overdue but so richly deserved on those who have brought death and destruction to the Province, which has surely suffered more than any other part of the United Kingdom in the past 50 years.
Having said that, however, I must strike one sour note. I am sure that the Minister of State saw the front cover of the Sun this morning and will have read the blazing headline:£100 fines for the tired out troops. Fury of 18 hours a day lads.It continues:Work weary British troops are being fined staggering sums of money in Ulster for turning up late on parade.The report states that no less than £108,000 is owed by troops in Northern Ireland in unpaid fines. It uses the description of one young soldier who says:They work us like cart horses and we live in billets fit for pigs.In its editorial comment, the Sun says: 1728Too many men are working too many hours and getting too little sleep for too many weeks at a time.I do not know whether that story is as accurate as it would appear to be. I am worried when I hear the Secretary of State say that the number of troops in Northern Ireland is to be reduced by one unit, at a time when such a story appears in a national newspaper. If it be true that men are overworked how can we justifiably reduce the numbers? If it he not true that they are overworked, clearly the Sun story does not stand up. I should be grateful if the Minister of State would find time to say something, about this matter because it is causing concern, particularly at a time when the pay of our soldiers in Northern Ireland is also a matter of concern.
I want now to take up one other matter in the Secretary of State's Speech about the deployment of our Forces. He talked about the possibility of a second unit being kept on garrison duties in the Province. I ask the Government to consider again the possibility of that second unit being a Northern Irish regiment. This is an old and long-standing issue. As one who served in a Northern Irish regiment, I am aware that some Northern Irish regiments at least would like occasionally to do a tour of duty in the country from which they recruit.
Although I appreciate that this has been a sensitive problem at the height of the troubles, as we now have a semi-professional Ulster Defence Regiment I wonder whether we could not consider that a professional UDR man with his family in Northern Ireland is little different from a Royal Irish Ranger with his family in Northern Ireland. I throw the thought out to the Minister of State. If he chooses to say something about it, I shall be grateful.
Unlike some of those who have spoken today, not only do I take heart from what the Government say but I even wonder whether we shall be having our six-monthly ritual of debating the emergency provisions. I wonder whether there is not now a hope that peace will break out in Northern Ireland and that the terrorist scourge will be reduced to such small proportions that we shall be thinking not only about the present but with optimism about the future. Whether that happens 1729 will continue to depend upon the effectiveness of our security forces, but the attrition being suffered by the terrorists, the fact that they so often now seem to have to depend upon very young men and women to do their dirty work and the fact that their money supply from North America is drying up are surely signs that their organisation is in deep trouble—as we would wish it to be—and is not able to sustain the level of violence that only a few years ago seemed to be so natural to it.
Of course, complacency would be dangerous. It would be terribly dangerous to drop our guard, to imagine that the problem is now diminished to such an extent that risks can be taken. That is the danger of congratulating the Government too much. People may say "At long last the Government are on top of the troubles."
Just the same, that optimism, that hope, is in my breast tonight and I feel that I must lend a little flesh to my thoughts by saying that the success of the security forces will depend upon the Government's ability to seize the initiative. I see that initiative in a number of lights. I see it in terms of political institutions, and in this regard I follow the hon. Member for Hillsborough.
I have already referred to the Speaker's Conference. I was surprised to hear the Leader of the House say in evidence to that Conference that the new representation now under discussion was overdue by 50 years. I agree. I also noted what the Secretary of State said about administrative devolution. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) described it as "waffle" when he was in Belfast yesterday, and I am a little inclined to agree with him, particularly after having read Sir Patrick Macrory's letter in The Times on Monday, in which Sir Patrick made it clear that anybody who imagined that his proposals added up to the sort of administrative devolution that the Secretary of State talked about would miss the point. If, as Sir Patrick said, Stormont had not existed, he would have been talking about a top layer of local government.
If we are talking about democracy and fair representation for Northern Ireland, we cannot monkey about with the struc- 1730 ture of government there simply because it fits somebody's preconceived idea. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and it deserves to have the same structure, the right representation of its peoples and the right local government.
I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise that if he does not give Northern Ireland that sort of structure he will be open to the accusation of not wanting democratic institutions on the United Kingdom style in the Province. The question of whether we can make something of the new-found possibility will also depend upon the industrial base of the Province and whether we can expand the industries there and bring in new factories.
I want to pay my tribute to the Minister of State. I know how hard he has worked to bring new work to Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland to whom I have spoken have nothing but praise for him.
Much will also depend upon education and whether some of the children in the Province can attend integrated schools. It is strange that we should find that such a difficult concept. It will also depend on whether the special category status prisoners go on training as if they were waiting for the day when as prisoners of war they are released to join their terrorist organisations. It will depend on the young offenders and whether they are treated properly—whether we recognise that they can be saved from a life of prejudice and hate. Perhaps the Minister of State, in his reply, will say whether the Hyde Bankwood Young Offenders Centre is ready and operational. I gather from his nod that he is saying that it is.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
In that case, I turn now to the media and, above all, to whether the community in Northern Ireland can see itself as a unity, and whether it will accept that the police are its police and not just the majority's police who have nothing to do with the minority. All this will depend on the public relations aspects of building up a new confidence that everyone will be treated fairly and impartially 1731 —that the police are on nobody's side and on everybody's side. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has expressed his concern about this. That concern will be eliminated, I suggest, when it is clear beyond peradventure that the suggestion that the police are somehow biased cannot be sustained.
I believe that the Royal Ulster Constabulary has done a marvellous job in fulfilling the role of the primacy of the police. The Chief Constable's annual report refers to redeployment and to re-equipment. But I was worried by the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) that the police may not have had all the equipment that we have been told they have received. The annual report also refers to the antiterrorist squads and to the fresh approach by the police to the problem of terrorism. It seemed to me that the Chief Constable summed up the new approach when he wrote that:Crimes of terrorism can most effectively be dealt with by highly professional and sophisticated police methods.That does not simply mean men on patrol. It must mean the interrogation of those whom the police suspect of being involved in acts of terrorism.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West told us about the house that was pulled to pieces because one of the sniffer dogs had apparently misled the Army. But suppose that arms had been found in that house. Would not that search have been justified? In the light of the new figures showing the success of the operations against the terrorists, can we honestly turn our back on any possibility that may help to reduce the amount of armaments in the country and the danger that exists to the population of the Province?
§ Mr. Fitt
I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that a dog is not a human being and that we do not even know what makes dogs sniff or smell things out or how accurate they can be in these operations. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that some precaution should be taken in case a dog is mistaken? In the case in question, the Army went berserk and put a whole house out of use, with the consequence that the poor woman who had lived in it had to move to another part of 1732 Belfast. I cannot see any justification for the Army being so ruthless and brutal in the wrecking of that home.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I do not know the precise conditions or circumstances in which the search was ordered. Therefore, I shall not pursue the point further but will let it take me on to another quotation from the Chief Constable's annual report, in which he speaks about the problem of complaints. He states:Police conduct and the system of investigating complaints should be capable of withstanding close scrutiny.I think that this is the point about which the hon. Member for Belfast, West was so concerned. To some extent it turns itself into an argument about whether the media have the right, if they believe that a matter is of public concern, to broadcast programmes on television or to write articles in newspapers. Of course, it is perfectly fair and reasonable for the police to feel, as my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon has pointed out, that such programmes give credence to accusations made against them which are unfounded and unjustified.
It is also perfectly fair to say that such programmes tend to lend support to the accusations made by those who are seeking to make capital out of their allegations, and that in turn will sour the relationship of the community—particularly the minority community—with the police. I was also involved in correspondence with Sir Michael Swann concerning the interviews to which reference has been made. The media will naturally claim that they were reporting what they believed to be matters of public concern and that it is their duty to report them, whether it is in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland or England.
I do not think that the media can get out on the simple argument that Northern Ireland is the same as any other part of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon brought this point out very forcefully. It is a sensitive situation. People are killed in Northern Ireland in ways in which they are not killed in the rest of the United Kingdom. The destruction in Northern Ireland has only to be seen in order to be recognised for what it is. Yet, having said that, I believe that we have to be 1733 extremely careful before imposing limitations on the media in carrying out the job which they believe is their responsibility.
I recognise that there is a grey area between what the media may reasonably feel is their responsibility and what the security forces may consider to be areas which are so dangerous, if badly handled, as to lead to the loss of life. It was the present Home Secretary who, when Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said during the Second Reading of the Emergency Provisions (Northern Ireland) Bill in 1973 thatDemocracy must defend itself, but it must do so through the rule of law."—[Official Report, 17th April 1973; Vol. 855, c. 300.]I should like to add to that quotation the words "and in the public gaze". This is really what we are talking about. Any attempt to muzzle that criticism, which should be heard will in the end be more harmful to the security forces and to the police than if it is allowed to be heard.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
But that does not exempt the media from a greater responsibility when dealing with the affairs of sensitive areas.
I ask the Minister of State to say what thought the Government have given to setting up a round-table conference with the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the British Broadcasting Corporation and the newspapers. What thought have the Government given to setting up a voluntary code of practice which would at least lay down guidelines which the media should follow before they put out their programmes, and which would give the particular authority—be it the police, the Army, the Prison Service or the Department itself—the opportunity to put forward all the arguments which should be in the minds of those creating the programmes but which may not be there.
Despite the way the media may write to my hon. Friend, the Member for Abingdon, I think that they are more concerned than they may care to admit about this matter. With that in mind, I conclude by quoting from an admirable article written by Miss Angela Lambert, who is herself a television reporter, 1734 entitled "Truth and the Camera", in which she makes some very important statements. She says:Time and again I have marvelled at the way in which many people evidently believe that the television camera's….presence is proof of the importance, the urgency, the newsworthiness of what's going on....This problem is most acute on occasions like marches or demonstrations where the 'ordinary' spectators along the streets can only be a fraction of those who will be reached through the medium of television. A march from, say, Hyde Park Corner to Downing Street that is witnessed by ten thousand people has attracted a respectable amount of kerbside attention: yet the same march, shown that evening on television news, will most likely be seen by nearer ten million. So inevitably, once the marchers become aware of the camera's position, their banners and slogans will be directed towards it and the huge audience it offers, and the....scattering of passers-by will be ignored. The police know this too; and it sometimes seemed to me that they tensed themselves ready for trouble when the camera team arrived; for any scuffles, any provocative behaviour, any shouting of insults were more likely to occur in front of the camera.Miss Lambert ends her article with these two observations:Those of us who are professionally associated with television are probably aware of these metamorphoses of reality that I've described, and we make allowances for them; but the vast majority of viewers are not. Perhaps this is another instance of the ways in which people need to be educated into a greater understanding of the uses and consequences of media technology…Perhaps in time viewers will become sophisticated enough to realise that the very fact that a television camera was there to record the news will mean that it has probably been heightened, or distorted, or maybe glamorised, or maybe exaggerated but always in some mysterious way rendered more unreal.I think that her words should be in front of Sir Michael Swann, Lady Plowden and the Controller of Broadcasting in Northern Ireland. I believe that they have not given due weight to the credibility that television enjoys, and I think, therefore, that they have to think again about their policy. That is why I put forward my proposal for a code of practice. If the Minister of State would care to make any comment on it, I should welcome it.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
When I first came to this House and there was a debate on Northern Ireland, the Benches were packed. Stormont was still in existence. Everyone opposed to 1735 Ulster at that time made Stormont the objective of his attack, and many venomous, false and evil statements were made about the Parliament of Northern Ireland. In those days the bulwark of defence for the people of Northern Ireland against the IRA was the Ulster Special Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and these two security forces came in for the same type of criticism as that which we have heard in this House today.
The security forces in Northern Ireland, no matter who controls them, no matter how they operate and no matter under what laws they operate, will always come in for attack, will always be criticised and will always be the butt of Republican attack, because they are looked upon as the representatives for the upholding of the Union. That is the truth, and the sooner that this House realises it, the better it will be for all concerned.
Earlier today, we heard the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) say that Englishmen had to go and die in Ulster in order to defend Ulster. But Ulster people never invited the British Army to fight this battle. This House decided that it would abolish the Parliament that it had given to Northern Ireland, that it would disarm the Royal Ulster Constabulary, that it would destroy the Ulster Special Constabulary and that it would make itself responsible for the defence and security of Northern Ireland.
In taking that decision this House took the responsibility of looking after the people of Northern Ireland, and it ill becomes any hon. Member to tell us today that Englishmen are dying in the defence of Ulster. The Stormont Parliament was done away with, the RUC was disarmed and the Ulster Special Constabulary was disbanded and this House took the responsibility. This House said that it would defend the people of Northern Ireland, look after their security, and give them what they wanted.
I was in the House when Stormont was prorogued, which was the beginning of its final destruction. There was euphoria in the House. I remember speaking to the then Prime Minister. His attitude was "Well, it is all over now. Stormont has gone. The situation will rectify itself, and the Republicans who are opposed to Stormont no longer have Stormont to attack." I said "What you have 1736 seen is a Sunday school picnic. Now you will see the real result of the folly of that decision." This House has seen the real result of the folly of that decision. Even the Home Secretary admitted the other day that perhaps the decision was taken with too much haste. Other hon. Members who at the time were carried away with the euphoria now admit that perhaps this House did not act rightly.
But the situation is as it is today because of that decision, and this House cannot piously wash its hands of the situation.
§ Mr. Litterick
Is the hon. Gentleman trying to suggest that the events of the last few years in Ireland are unique in Irish history and, if so, in what way?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am trying to suggest that for 50 years there was comparative peace in Northern Ireland. I am stating as a fact that there were fewer people killed in the past 50 years than there have been in the past three years, even in the past year, or perhaps even in the past five months. I am trying to say that this House needs to realise that for those 50 years, which we are told were 50 years of misrule, there were not the killings, the bombings and the destruction that we have had even in the past year.
One Republican spokesman said that the "B" Specials were angels compared with the devils of the British Army. So when we hear that from a Republican, we can realise exactly what the situation is. These are facts, and they have to be faced.
I was in the House when these emergency provisions were introduced, and I was opposed to certain of them. I am not for courts without juries. That was a wrong decision, and legal bodies in Northern Ireland made certain strictures on courts without juries. There were other emergency provisions in respect of which I voiced my objections and my fears.
But it would be wrong for this House to assume that the incident referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is an isolated one and that it has anything to do with religion. The person concerned is a Roman Catholic and was living in a Roman Catholic district. The house was searched and, 1737 in the course of that search, it was destroyed. I do not doubt that. I could take the hon. Gentleman to Protestant homes in Protestant districts where the Army has done the very same thing. There is no doubt about this. It is a fact. But when there is a terrorist situation in any country, the rights of the individual in the community have to be surrendered to a degree in order that his real rights may be defended and eventually maintained. We must keep that principle before us.
We have to surrender certain rights in Northern Ireland for the greater welfare of the whole community, so that the rights of the individual may be defended. What right has the man who is taken out and knee-capped? He has no right whatsoever. What right has the person who is stopped on the road and told "There is a bomb going in your car and you will drive it to the police station. If you do not, you and your wife and family will be murdered."? What right has he? We all have to surrender rights.
I want to make it clear that no hon. Member who brings an accusation against a particular member of the security forces is reckoned to be criticising the security forces as a whole. Every Member has a responsibility to his constituents for the various happenings concerning the security forces. But every Member is expected to defend the security forces as a whole, and to back them and support them, in public and private.
That support has not been forthcoming from the party represented by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, as he very well knows. I know that he has his reasons. He thinks that they are good reasons, but to the rest of the community they are not good reasons. There is no doubt that in a terrorist situation the rights of individuals have to be surrendered for the greater defence of the whole.
It is all right for Amnesty to tell us that in Belfast there are things happening in Castlereagh police station. But there are things happening all over Northern Ireland, and the rights of individuals are being sacrificed daily by the Irish Republican Army and other terrorist organisations, which are carrying out a 1738 campaign of murder, robbery and arson right across the Province. The victims have rights. It is time that we heard a voice raised in this House for the rights of victims of violence.
There has been euphoria in the House about the improvement of the situation. I want to pay tribute to every success of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RUC Reserve, the UDR and the security forces of the British Army. No one wants to see a continuance of violence. We want to see it ended. But it would be wrong for the House to think that we are near the end of the road or are coming to the end of the road. The media in this country do not give very much publicity to what is happening in Northern Ireland at present. There are burnings and there are still killings and, unfortunately, because of the firemen's strike, the IRA is attempting to have a field-day with incendiary devices.
I ask the Secretary of State whether he can give us any figures for the amount of damage done by incendiary devices compared with the amount of damage done by high explosives. If a can of spirit or petrol is near an incendiary device, sometimes that device can do more damage than a mere explosion. Many businesses are certainly being put out of existence today because of these incendiary devices.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) mentioned the barricades in the city centre. I would not agree with him that they should be instantly removed, but I ask whether they are really effective. Perhaps we may have some figures today from which it can be said "Yes, at the barricades in Belfast so many people were stopped and so many incendiary devices were found. Therefore, we have prevented from being burned places that could have been burned."
What the hon. Gentleman has said I can confirm, because I have stood at those barricades and have seen people going through them with very little scrutiny at all. I am sure that these devices can be concealed about the person in a very secretive mariner. I should like to know whether the amount of money—it must be a vast amount—spent on these barricades is paying off in the detection of these incendiary devices.
§ Mr. Carson
Would the hon. Member agree that what he has already said proves my case that there is no detection, and when no cases of detection by the searchers are brought before the court it is time that the barricades were brought down?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I do not have that information. That is the information that I want the Minister to give us. I want him to tell us whether these devices have been detected. Are bombers being found and arrested at these barricades? Until we have these figures, we cannot tell whether the barricades are effective.
I come to the matter of the reduction of Army strength in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said that this was always the policy of those associated with him and others. I should like to make it clear that the Portrush document to which he referred, which became the basis of the UUUC manifesto, dealt with the Ulsterisation of the battle. With the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the UDR, the document proposed a third force, a force that could be used in para-military operations against the terrorists and in closer co-operation with the RUC than perhaps the UDR could manage, because the UDR is part of the British Army.
Evidence has been presented to the House today by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) that Army men are stretched to the limit in Belfast. Some of these lads are working hours that are so tremendously long that their physical stamina is stretched to the utmost, so that they cannot report in time for duty and fines are imposed upon them for that. One sergeant said that he was fined £100, according to a Press report. If that is so, that surely is proof that we need more Army personnel and not fewer.
It is all right for the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) to dissent, but senior officers of the RUC have told me that they are not in a fit position to do the job that they are called upon to do in their fight against terrorism and that they need the Army present because it is only the Army that can help them to get certain people out of the districts into which they are not permitted to go.
§ Mr. McCusker
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he thinks that there should be more Army personnel in Northern Ireland, or would he not accept that there are vast tracts of Northern Ireland where the number of Army personnel could be reduced and that perhaps these personnel could be concentrated in other areas where they are necessary?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
All I can say is that the senior officers of the RUC to whom I have talked tell me that they are under establishment strength. They have not enough men to do the jobs that they are called on to do. The complaints system has taken vast numbers of officers out of the ranks of the RUC to follow up frivolous complaints.
I was in the office of a senior police officer the other day investigating a complaint. We all receive complaints. Every constituency Member in Northern Ireland knows that one has to bring complaints. People complain about the RUC and one has to follow up those complaints. Whether or not one agrees that they are proper complaints, one has to investigate them and give one's constituent the answer. I was shown files reaching to the roof containing complaints by RUC officers who had to follow up those complaints. RUC officers are under strength.
However, it is a fact that the UDR is not permitted to operate in certain districts, as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) knows. If there are areas where Army presence is not needed, those troops should be put into places where they are needed. If we are beating the IRA, let us not withdraw troops, but let us bring in more to finish the job. This is not the time to withdraw those troops. Let us strengthen the RUC to carry out its job.
Let me turn to the subject of weaponry. If the RUC is to carry out its job effectively, it needs weapons. However, the constabulary has been at a disadvantage because the terrorists have had the benefit of better weapons than the policemen have had in their possession. There is an area in my constituency where it is impossible for police officers to deal with the situation because the IRA have Armalite rifles as they travel the roads in that area. The RUC have not the weaponry to deal with the situation.
1741 I appreciate that there has been some improvement in terms of weapons issued, but I wish to ask how many M1 carbines are in the possession of the RUC. Has every police station at least one weapon? Are there police stations with no weapons at all? Is it a fact that in some areas which are reckoned to be dangerous there are only two such weapons? If the RUC is to undertake its task, I emphasise that it must be given the weapons.
What is the situation with vehicles? My information is that in these areas if it is felt that vehicles are not needed, they are not provided. The RUC has gone out on duty in transit vans and ordinary cars with no protective screening. This is a fact and the hon. Member for Belfast, North will confirm that. If the RUC is to be the spearhead against terrorism, it must have not only weaponry but vehicles and other equipment. Until that is provided, I believe that it will be wrong for the Army to be in any way reduced.
There is another important matter to which I must draw attention. We all know that the Army has extremely good intelligence, and one cannot fight a war against terrorism without such a service. However, the intelligence of the RUC was destroyed, and with it the RUC morale was broken and it was disarmed. I have spoken to senior RUC officers and they have told me that their intelligence network was taken from them. I understand that the RUC's intelligence is now being rebuilt and is improving every day, but its intelligence is not as good as that possessed by the Army.
When one visits Aldergrove one is stopped and the number of one's car is fed into a computer. I know that the system operates, because on one occasion I was stopped because my registration number did not tally up with the figure already in the computer. Eventually I was told, "I am sorry, but you have a new car and it is not in the computer." However, that service is not available to the RUC or the UDR. It is important that the intelligence of both services is built up. One can be effective and lead the struggle only if one has proper intelligence.
Let me deal with the subject of liberty. Can the UDR operate in every district 1742 in which it wants to operate? The answer is in the negative because there are areas in which the regiment cannot operate. High-ranking officers in the RUC have said that there are areas that they cannot visit in order to make a house search or to lift a person who is required for questioning.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
There is a point of fact that I should make clear. I have stood at a checkpoint manned by the UDR and vehicle numbers have been fed into the computer. It is not the case that the UDR is not given the benefit of the computer, and that also, I understand, applies to the RUC.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
My information is that those organisations do not have this service. They might possess the service in certain areas, but not in all. If they have the service in all areas, that is a very recent practice.
§ Mr. Concannon
Perhaps I may act as the referee between the two hon. Members. I must inform the House that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) is correct.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Other Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office have made drastic mistakes, and that would not convince anybody.
Let me deal with liberty. If the UDR as part of the British Army is not permitted to go into various parts of Northern Ireland, it is not possible for the UDR to back up the work of the RUC. We all know that the Parachute Regiment is coming back to Northern Ireland, but it has been said that it will not go to the city of Londonderry. I suppose that regiment will not be able to go into other parts of Northern Ireland, including South Armagh.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Surely there should be no part of Northern Ireland barred to the regiment. I repeat, the UDR and the RUC cannot go into certain areas. There will have to be liberty so that the security forces can work in all the areas of Northern Ireland.
1743 The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has already said that there will be no let-up on those who kill, bomb and maim and who will be brought to justice. One of the most dastardly acts in Northern Ireland was the burning of the Kesh Prison. However, nobody has yet been charged with that crime. It caused £2½ million worth of damage. People could have been identified, but that did not happen. Surely there is something drastically wrong with a situation if such men can go scot-free when they have inflicted such damage on one of Her Majesty's prisons in Northern Ireland.
I wish to draw attention to the provision of personal weapons for members of the UDR. That regiment has lost many of its colleagues and comrades killed by terrorist organisations. Various representations have been made to me by members of the UDR, and I am told that personal weapons are available to members of the regiment provided that their commanding officer gives consent. Yet in recent years consent has been withheld and many members of the regiment feel that they are at grave risk. They believe that they should be given personal weapons.
I should like the Secretary of State to re-examine the situation. A man who has served in the security forces and who puts himself at risk should be given the protection that is due to him. There are men who have served in the UDR and who have not re-enlisted when their term is up. I know one such officer in the regiment who has served his term but who have not re-enlisted when their term That man has been refused permission to have a personal weapon although he is well known as a target for the assassins.
These matters need to be taken in hand. I have indicated the importance of the matter to the Northern Ireland Office and no doubt, in due course, it will reach the desk of the Secretary of State. However, this is not just one case. Many such cases have come to my attention.
I see that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is back in the Chamber and I now want to refer to what he said. I was not at the meeting that he attended with the Democratic Unionists in Belfast, but the hon. 1744 Member obviously went into the general secretary's room. The general secretary of my party has a custom of cutting out cartoons that appear in the Press and pasting them on the walls. Evidently there was a cartoon there about the Pope and myself—together with a lot of other cartoons—and the hon. Gentleman took great exception to that. That particular cartoon appeared in a newspaper that has no sympathy for me or my religious and political feelings, but to use that in the House as an argument about the strength of feeling that resists what the hon. Gentleman calls democracy in Northern Ireland is extremely childish.
The hon. Member for Hillsborough also referred to an article in the Press about the campaign against the Common Market. The hon. Member does not like the Common Market and neither do I, so we are both of one mind on that and have at least one thing in common. The reference in the advertisement was to the Secretary of State for Education, who said that the Common Market would strengthen the Roman Catholic Church. That was taken directly from one of her speeches about moral theology. That was the point of the advertisement that appeared on the wall.
§ Mr. Flannery
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that I was childish to refer to what he called a cartoon. It was not a cartoon. It was a photo montage, and when I spoke about the Common Market being called a Papist plot, that had nothing to do with any newspaper or cartoon. It was a contribution made by the Reverend William Beattie and that was the attitude that pervaded the discussion. It was borne out by those words. This had nothing to do with cartoons at all.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
As far as I remember, the hon. Member for Hillsborough called the attention of the meeting to what the advertisement said. If the hon. Gentleman wants to deny that he can, but anyone can visit that office and see the cartoons. If the hon. Gentleman wants to come to Northern Ireland to nitpick about cartoons on office walls and then use that as a basis for arguing about the intransigence of the Democratic Unionist. Party or anybody else, he is entitled to do so and can continue. I do not mind.
1745 However, the hon. Member for Hillsborough also said that there was no democracy in Northern Ireland. It is his Government who are running Northern Ireland, not us. We are only Back Benchers with little influence. It is the hon. Gentleman's Government who have established that there should be no democracy in Northern Ireland, and that is an indictment of the Labour Party and the Treasury Bench. It is not an indictment of Ulstermen. The sooner we have democracy the better. We have been telling the Government how to achieve it but they will not listen.
We have been told that we are entitled to democracy in local government, but that has nothing to do with a devolved administration. In Northern Ireland we had our local government system completely rehashed and our urban, rural district, borough and city councils were destroyed. They were all taken away under the Macrory Report and we were given district councils with nominated boards as the second tier of local government. The majority of the nominees on these boards, which look after education, health and social services, and so on, are appointed by the Minister responsible. The elected representatives come from the district councils, but they are a minority on every one of the boards. That is so-called democracy.
I am not talking about whether those elected members are SDLP, Alliance, or whatever else. All elected members are in a minority. I agree with the hon. Member for Hillsborough that there is no democracy in the system and that it should be done away with. The boards should have a majority of elected representatives.
Who are the nominees? They are defeated candidates who could not make it to the district councils in an election. In Castlereagh there was an Alliance member who could not make the grade but the Minister said, "That is all right. You will be nominated and put on the board." Speaking for my party I can say that there is not a Democratic Unionist member on any one of these boards save those who have been elected. That is not the matter under debate, but it has been referred to and it merited comment.
We must deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland. Whether we like it or not, 1746 terrorism is there and will continue unless it is dealt with. However, there is also a political problem and the best thing that the Secretary of State could do to help would be to spell out the situation to us.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about a transfer of powers and I should be interested to learn about that. Was he referring to the powers that were given under the old Assembly? What will they be? We should know. The people of Northern Ireland now deserve to have a majority of elected representatives on the boards because that is a local government matter and has nothing to do with administrative devolution. I understand that the Secretary of State has said that he will not consider this. I regret that because it would take away a lot of the "aggro" in regard to democracy in Northern Ireland.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Alastair Goodlad (Northwich)
As a representative of an English constituency who visited Northern Ireland only a few months ago, I share the feelings expressed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) in that I do not wish to tread on ground that is so much more familiar to others. However, I want briefly to echo the tributes that have been paid to the achievements of the Secretary of State and his colleagues. I pay tribute especially to members of the security forces who have worked in such uniquely difficult conditions for extremely low pay. Everyone agrees that their achievement over the last year has indeed been magnificent.
I hope that it is a high priority of the Government, in spite of the welcome improvement in recruitment to the RUC, to improve the pay and conditions of the security forces. The Government's present pay policy is an extremely blunt instrument and it must be made to give way to a more sensitive and flexible mechanism in ordaining these matters.
I was also encouraged to hear the latest reiteration of the determination of the Government and of the Opposition never to grant an amnesty to those who have been convicted. There could be no justification for leniency for the perpetrators of many of the cruelties that have taken place in Northern Ireland. I am quite 1747 sure that part of the success of the security forces in the past year in reducing the number of incidents has been due to the growing realisation that, in spite of the activities of the rumour-mongers, this commitment is completely unshakable and totally shared by all hon. Members.
I agree with the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) that attempts should be made to define in legislative form the offence of terrorism. Hitherto, I have always taken the view that the restoration of capital punishment would not assist the cause of law and order in this country. I thought that it might make it more difficult to get witnesses to come forward and to obtain unanimous verdicts from juries and thereby to lose convictions. However, in the serious circumstances with which terrorism presents us, there is an unarguable case for giving Parliament an opportunity to rehearse the arguments in a different context, and I hope the Government will take note of this.
I was particularly interested in the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) of a possible code of practice for the media. Most hon. Members at various times in our careers have become almost paranoid about the activities of the media. The instances which have been mentioned in the debate are very serious, as is the refusal of those in the media who have been involved to admit the extent of their responsibility and power.
When people in the media, whether motivated by careerism, frivolous negligence or a misguided desire for sensationalism, are let loose in Northern Ireland, the results can literally be fatal. If they can live with their own consciences, they must accept that they also have to live with the contempt of many hon. Members.
I very much sympathise with what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said about over-zealousness which may come about on the part of the security forces, though in the instance that he mentioned one does not know all the facts. However, I do not agree that these matters constitute a reason for voting against the orders, even as a symbolic gesture. They constitute reasons for continuing to encourage the improvement in the magnificent efforts of the security 1748 forces, working within the rule of law, to gain the confidence of the community.
I also reject entirely the view of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick), who left the Chamber some time ago, that Ulster is a foreign country. He might think it is, but I suspect that he is in a minority of one. It is scarcely necessary to reiterate from these Benches that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its problems are the problems of all of us and we are equally committed to their solution wherever our constituencies may be.
The relative sparsity in the Chamber of hon. Members from this side of the Irish Sea should not be taken as a lack of concern for Northern Ireland—quite the reverse. It should be interpreted as indicating our approval of the orders as desirable and necessary for the restoration of law and order and the end of the political vacuum in the Province.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
There is no doubt of our support of these orders. I am only sorry that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) wishes to divide the House. I must say to him that that is hardly likely to improve the standing of his party and its claim to take part in the future running of the Province.
The hon. Gentleman may have the support of, among others, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick), to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodland) gave a clear rejoinder. The hon. Member for Selly Oak, in speaking of Northern Ireland as though it were part of a foreign country, ignored the wishes of the great majority—by no means all of whom are Protestants—expressed at repeated polls, to keep the British link. It seems that he would wish to refuse to that majority the right to self-determination which was claimed by, and conceded to, Southern Ireland.
More important to most people than the right of self-determination is the right to stay alive—which is why we must accept the necessity, however regretfully, of these emergency powers, as did the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. 1749 Ian Paisley) despite his reservations on the Diplock courts.
The hon. Member for Selly Oak invited us to think of British soldiers in Northern Ireland as though they were Soviet soldiers. If there were Soviet troops and tanks engaged in counter-insurgency, they would not act with the restrain, forbearance and, may I say, chivalry of British troops. If there were one single-shot sniper in a block of flats, the flats would be razed to the ground—as in Budapest. That is the difference.
The troops of the United Kingdom remain in the United Kingdom. It has been said on many sides that we are grateful for their sacrifice and success, while agreeing with the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) that complacency is always dangerous. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) pointed out that we may learn in tomorrow's debate how much the gratitude of the Government is worth in real terms. I hope that what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich will also be conveyed to the Secretary of State for Defence.
I offer a particular tribute to the RUC, who are solving murders committed the other day and also murders committed years ago. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham in hoping that the Fraud Squad will be built up for the reasons that he gave. Some gangsters in pre-war United States were brought to book not for multiple murders but for defrauding the Revenue.
The Secretary of State spoke of the extra-territorial legislation. We agree with him that this is a second best to extradition, and people in this country who are unfamiliar with the peculiarities and niceties of Irish constitutional law wonder how it can be that Irish courts can refuse to hand over persons who claim political justification for atrocious crimes. After all, Republican terrorism is directed againt all constituted government in the island of Ireland, so the two sovereign Governments have a common enemy.
Of course, we warmly welcome the good co-operation which exists between the Garda Siochána and the RUC. We note that the murderer of Captain Nairac, to whose heroism reference has been 1750 made, was arrested in the Republic and has received a life sentence there. Of course, we consider the criminal jurisdiction legislation to be less satisfactory than extradition, but we should not be slothful in making use of it, however imperfect it may be. Surely we owe it to the other sovereign Power concerned in the conflict with Irish terrorism not to delay applications under this legislation.
It may be that reports that there are in the Republic 20 alleged terrorists, known to the Dublin authorities and the police on this side of the sea, for whom no application has been made, are not true. All I know is that there has been no denial of the reports which have been printed and repeated in the Press. I tabled a Question to the Secretary of State and received a Written Answer on 1st December which did not tell me very much. Perhaps that was intended, but I should be grateful for any more information that the Minister of State can give.
We were glad to hear the Secretary of State's reaffirmation that there would be no amnesty for terrorists. That was endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) on behalf of the official Opposition and by the leader of the official Unionists, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux).
It was, therefore, a little disturbing to read in the Sunday Express and the Belfast Sunday News—though this may be completely untrue—that a man who was held for several months on an arms charge and on a charge of belonging to a proscribed organisation, the Provisional IRA, was brought to court and told that the case against him had been dropped. According to the Press reports, the Provisional IRA claimed—and I do not say that what they claim is always true—that Her Majesty's Ambassador in Washington had intervened under pressure from two United States senators. My first reaction was to say "A likely story". I know that Ministers have no responsibility for what appears in the Press, but a simple statement of the facts in this case would be wholesome.
The Secretary of State rightly eschewed the phrase "winning and losing". However, we must be careful not to fall back in the propaganda battle, which is half the war. My hon. Friend the Member 1751 for Abingdon was quite right to devote a good deal of his speech to that aspect of the struggle.
On both sides of the House, we have been at one in deploring a series of programmes on both the BBC and independent television. I do not know whether this was so, but it seemed that they could have been planned to discredit the security forces at the very moment when they were scoring steady successes. It seemed as if they might have been calculated to destroy the growing confidence in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and other sections of the security forces among all parts of the population.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West might have prepared a somewhat different speech if he had known, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), that there is now an independent element in the investigation of allegations against the police. The hon. Gentleman set up an Aunt Sally when he said chat those who make honest criticism of wrong-doing by members of the security forces are automatically dubbed accomplices of the terrorists—witness the cear statement of the Chief Constable. who said that where there are excesses they must be unished, because they are not only wrong in themselves but do harm to the credit of the force. Trial by television of those who cannot reply because a proper investigation is being carried out, which makes an allegation sub judice, is unfair and is quite another matter.
It was wrong for the suggestion to be made that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon was calling for censorship. We must recall that the murder of Mr. Irvine occurred shortly after his television interview in a programme about the Maze Prison. It was a programme not so much of the IRA as of a Republican paramilitary inspiration. May we not at least call for compassion—it is a word that they rather like—among media men and a sense of moral responsibility among the broadcasting authorities? We listened with great interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) had to say about a possible code of practice.
It appears that the treatment given to the RUC in Great Britain has been extended to the Ulster Defence Regiment. It is alleged that the RTE programme 1752 has smeared the regiment in its connections with the UDA. In the making of the programme the RTE received co-operation from the UDR. I do not ask for a statement today, but we should be glad to hear the result of the viewing of the videotape recording by Brigadier McCord and others and whether any representations are contemplated through the Dublin Embassy or otherwise.
The House has often expressed its admiration of the men and women who give up their sleep and leisure, and sometimes their lives, in serving with the UDR. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham spoke of the strain of years. He expressed the hope that all employers would give time off to UDR men and women. I hope that they will heed his would give time off to UDR men and accept what my hon. Friend and I have said before: that it is not right that men and women should be worse off financially because they serve in the UDR. It is a regiment that will surely become more important as other units of the Armed Forces return to garrison size and duties.
Does the Secretary of State think that a UDR full-time strength of 2,500 men will suffice? I think that at present there is a strength of about 2,000. Is 2,500 enough for its full-time strength in future? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the time may be approaching for him to inform the House of the Government's long-term strategy for the various Crown forces in what may be a period of lawlessness and violence, albeit less intense and more spasmodic than in the long, wearisome and bloody years that are behind us?
In any event it will be necessary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury indicated, to buttress our hopes with vigilance and to make progress towards a constitutional settlement. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) called with feeling for what he described as a democratic solution. When he said that, I heard "Hear, hear" from the Unionist Bench. Indeed, the Union for which we stand draws its sanction from the democratic will of Ulster people.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)
I think that 1753 I have probably attended more of these debates in an official capacity than anyone else in the House. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in asking the House to renew the emergency legislation, was, I think, one of the most encouraging that we have ever had.
It is obvious that many of the questions that have been put to me are not for my Department but basically for the Ministry of Defence. I am sure that the Ministry will take them up. I give the assurance that I shall pass them on. Some of the questions relate to security. I do not think that it would be right and proper to give such answers from the Dispatch Box, given the situation in Northern Ireland. I shall take it upon myself to ensure that written answers are given to the questions that I do not answer from the Despatch Box. I shall give answers now wherever possible if security is not endangered.
One of the problems that has been mentioned in most speeches is that of the media. None of us in the Northern Ireland Office believes in censorship of the Press or of television. However, I wish that they would take a bit more responsibility and care in their actions. Mistakes in the Press, or bad television, might result in only a drop in circulation or viewing figures in the rest of the United Kingdom, but mistakes in Northern Ireland cost lives.
I have been working in Northern Ireland for four years. I worked closely with Mr. Irvine. On the day that he was shot I was cruising about three streets away from where the incident took place. I heard about it over the radio. I worked closely with him and became friendly with him, as did many other hon. Members in Northern Ireland. Without wishing to put any blame on anybody in the media, I think that they should pause and consider before they put on some programmes. They should do so before going into depth.
I am strictly against censorship as a whole, but my plea to the media regarding such programmes is to show more responsibility and care. Such programmes do a terrific amount of damage to the security forces in Northern Ireland and to their families in the rest of the United 1754 Kingdom. They certainly do not help the situation in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
Although many people will have sympathy with the views expressed by the Minister I am sure that he would not wish to give the impression that in his view, or in the view of the Northern Ireland Office, the overwhelming majority of journalists who, on a day-to-day basis, cover events in Northern Ireland are irresponsible or are not aware of the seriousness of their work. I feel sure that my hon Friend would wish to pay tribute to their responsibility and objective standards.
At the same time, does he acknowledge that all members of the National Union of Journalists are subject to a very stiff code of practice, and that if it is felt that any journalist has acted in an unprofessional way, there is a clear course of redress under that code of conduct?
§ Mr. Concannon
I do not dissent from what my hon. Friend said on that subject. The vast majority of what I call seasoned campaigners in Northern Ireland report in and put the situation into some kind of perspective. However, a small minority fall short of those standards, and we see this in the Northern Ireland context. We are trying to deal with the subject in considerable depth. That is all I am saying. I do not think that anyone is talking of using censorship or anything else.
I thank the House for the general reception that it has given to the renewal of this emergency legislation. It is not easy to ask for the renewal of such legislation. It smacks against one's principles all the time. As I said at the end of the last emergency powers debate, I abhor having to ask for the renewal of this legislation, but the situation in Northern Ireland makes it absolutely necessary. I think that most hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken part in the debate have said exactly that. How my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) can possibly reach the conclusion that he has, I do not know. I shall deal with the points that he made towards the end of my speech.
The possibility of a medal for the RUC and the RUC Reserve has been considered 1755 before. One of the difficulties is that a gallantry award is likely to lead to repercussions from other groups—I do not need to mention those other groups—who would no doubt regard themselves as having rendered equally gallant service. A general service medal is essentially military by tradition and would be inappropriate for a civilian service. However, having said that and ascertained the feeling of the House, we shall certainly take note of the suggestion. All I am pointing out is that there would be certain repercussions from other groups in Northern Ireland who have, in effect, been in the front line for a long time.
I turn now to troop reductions and deployment. Such matters have always been undertaken in the light of consultation between the GOC and the Chief Constable.
The RUC has already shown its capability and willingness to assume a primary rÔle. The support and protection of the community is fundamentally a task for the police. The excellent cooperation between the police and the Army will ensure that progress is maintained in that direction.
I turn to the deployment of the UDR and its 2,000 members. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) asked whether 2,500 would be enough. The security force level is always under continuous review, as also is the police establishment. We are not up to establishment in the police, because we increased the establishment and are now working towards it. We have not reached an establishment of 2,500 for the UDR yet because it was increased to that figure only six months ago and we are working towards it. The position will remain under constant review.
I know of no limitation on the redeployment of the UDR, except that it is not to be used in riot conditions.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to personal weapons. Members of the UDR may apply for personal weapons. The granting of such applications depends to some extent on the views of commanding officers.
§ Mr. Carson
Does the Minister agree that there are certain areas in Belfast where the UDR is not acceptable?
§ Mr. Concannon
I accept that, but there are no no-go areas for the Army. The deployment of the UDR is a matter for the Army commanding officer. The only limitation is that it is not used in riot conditions. I have no doubt that if it is believed that it should not be used in certain areas, this will be considered and acted upon by the commanding officer.
Hon. Members have mentioned city area centres. The RUC is monitoring security threats throughout the Province and recommending changes in places where it seems safe to relax security precautions. This is a gradual process and it must be done with great care. It would be wrong to make a hasty decision to dismantle security operations in such areas.
The Belfast city centre secure area is still considered necessary. It is important not to lower the morale of decent citizens. The area is now regarded as being safe and an increasing number of shoppers are going there, despite having to suffer the inconvenience of being searched at the gate and in some of the shops. Hon. Members may complain about the search, but it does have a deterrent effect. Basically, that is what it is for.
§ Mr. Carson
Does the Minister agree that on many occasions over the past 12 months the IRA has penetrated the gates of the segment and has had to pass the security forces? Can he give figures for the detection of incendiary devices or bombs within the gates?
§ Mr. Concannon
The Secretary of State has already expressed his concern about incendiary devices. They are small and can be concealed. As techniques become better, the devices become smaller and it is more difficult to detect them. If everyone going into the precinct were searched, it might as well be closed down. One has to balance the situation. The searching has a deterrent effect.
The hon. Members for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) and Antrim, North referred to the police vehicle fleet. The fleet is growing steadily. There have been difficulties, but everything is being done to maintain an adequate flow of new and replacement vehicles. At the end of 1975 there were 783 vehicles and now there are 1,064.
1757 For security reasons I am not prepared to answer the question about arms for the police, nor am I prepared to give details of the various weapons that are in use. Hon. Members will be pleased to know that MI carbines have been issued and are in use.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I can quite understand the reason for not giving details. Can the Minister assure us that every police station has been given these weapons?
§ Mr. Concannon
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is a matter for the Chief Constable of the RUC. Anything he brings to our attention receives sympathetic consideration. I assume that if he were not satisfied, he would come to us.
Some hon. Members have suggested that certain agencies, such as the Housing Executive and Her Majesty's Customs, are not willing to pass on valuable information to the security forces. I have no evidence of this. The staff of such bodies are often working under difficult conditions. They are loyal servants who support all the activities of the security forces. I will ensure that what has been said is passed on to the relevant authorities.
Another issue which has received attention has been the campaign against alleged police brutality. Neither the Chief Constable nor my right hon. Friend would condone any ill-treatment of persons in custody. My right hon. Friend is satisfied that the Judges' Rules and the internal RUC orders for dealing with persons in custody who are being questioned are understood and that everyone in the RUC is aware that any treatment not in accord with these procedures would result in disciplinary and/or criminal proceedings being instituted against him. My right hon. Friend is satisfied that the procedures laid down for investigating complaints against the police are adequate. They go beyond those prescribed for England and Wales.
I am also satisfied that all complaints are properly investigated by the complaints and disciplinary branch of the RUC. The reports of the branch on every complaint of ill-treatment are sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for 1758 a direction whether any charge shall be laid.
The Amnesty mission, which has been mentioned, will consist of three persons—a Dutch chairman, a Danish medical adviser, and a member of the Amnesty international secretariat. The mission expects to be in Northern Ireland for about 10 days. It advises me that it will see complainants and medical, legal or other persons who may wish to give evidence to it.
The Chief Constable of the RUC and my right hon. Friend have agreed to afford the mission all the co-operation that we can in the interests of all those involved. It would not be in accord with the principles of natural justice to go into the details of individual cases which have been or may be the subject of investigations through the statutory procedures. We shall ensure that the mission is fully briefed on the background to the present situation, the procedures and safeguards laid down for interviewing suspects, and the procedures for investigating complaints against the police. This is part of a concerted campaign against the police because of the success that they are having. I would not condone any ill-treatment of persons in custody, but until such treatment is proven, I shall back the RUC.
I turn now to the law, where our approach has been one of steady refinement wherever we judge it helpful. In the summer we introduced two orders under the urgency procedure designed to strengthen the criminal law. We shall be inviting the House to affirm these orders following this debate. The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 created new offences relating to hoax bombing and death threats by telephone. The maximum penalty for the hoax bombing offence is five years' imprisonment on indictment and that for telephone death threats 10 years. In addition, the order provides for the penalty for the statutory offence of conspiracy to murder to be increased from 10 years to life imprisonment and that for offences under Section 3(1) of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 from 20 years' imprisonment to life.
Simultaneously, we introduced the related Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (Amendment) Order 1977, which provides that the new 1759 offences that I have described should be scheduled offences. Provision has, however, been made for the Attorney-General to certify that they shall not be treated as scheduled in one particular case. The order also closed a small loophole in the law and ensures that the concealment of a scheduled offence shall itself always be a scheduled offence.
It is self-evident that these changes were required to be made as soon as possible, and this view was strongly urged to the House. I regret that it was not possible to arrange a debate in the ordinary way before the Summer Recess, and we therefore resorted to the urgency procedure. The Government felt fortified in doing so since the new offences and the increased penalties mirrored changes in England and Wales under the Criminal Law Act, which Parliament had fully considered.
None of these changes is dramatic, but they represent genuine improvements in our legal armoury against terrorism, and are a sign of our concern to keep the law under constant review. We shall not hesitate to seek further powers where-ever these will be helpful.
I welcome the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) to our debates. He spoke of offences of terrorism. I have found that it is not offences that we are short of in Northern Ireland but evidence. We have a complete legal armoury of offences in Northern Ireland, and these are being refined all the time.
§ Mr. Concannon
I am coming to that, but first I want to thank the hon. Member for Epping Forest for what he said. He will admit, however, that the case he brought is a matter for the public prosecutor and not for Ministers.
I turn now to the Council of Europe Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. As the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said, the Government have already signed the convention without reservation and they fully intend to ratify it when parliamentary time permits. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has it under 1760 review. The effectiveness of the convention will rest upon how widely it is accepted. We hope that all members of the Council of Europe will sign it.
I want to say something about the Prison Service and the special category status. I deal first with the achievements of the service and how it has managed to cope with a rapid and dramatic increase in the prison population. In 1969 the whole prison population in Northern Ireland was 721; today the figure is over 3,000. To house all these extra prisoners the functions of existing prisons have been revised, new institutions have been built, and others are planned.
A new cellular prison with eight cell-blocks of 100 places each has been constructed at the Maze. A closed borstal has been completed at Millisle. Next year, a young offenders centre will be opened at Hydebank, on the outskirts of Belfast. Tenders are now being invited for a 450-place permanent male prison at Maghaberry. This, together with a 56-place women's prison on the same site, should open in 1982. The situation is being kept under review, and additional cells blocks will be provided as necessary.
These developments have made it necessary to maintain staff recruitment on an unprecedented scale. In January 1969, governor, discipline, clerical and trades grades numbered 292: the current figure is 2,263. This is an increase in excess of 600 per cent. in an eight-year period.
The decision to phase out special category status in 1976 was generally welcomed, and this has led to a considerable improvement in the control and supervision of inmates. It has brought with it fresh challenges, including the need for more cellular accommodation and a requirement to provide meaningful work in the form of prison industries for newly-convicted prisoners who are now housed in cells and subjected to normal prison rules. Special category prisoners are being phased out. In February 1976 there were 1,500 special category prisoners in custody: the number is now fewer than 800 and will continue to fall.
Originally it took 30 compounds to house all special category prisoners. Today they are accommodated in 13 compounds. Further contraction will soon be possible. There are now more criminals housed in the new cell blocks 1761 at the Maze than in the compounds. The compounds are subject to frequent searches by permanent search teams of prison officers. Such searches are carried out without warning and are part of the overall plan for exercising control over that part of the prison. The fact is that the degree of freedom given to prisoners within the compounds is restricted.
The recent Thames Television programme focused on a wholly untypical incident in 1976. Since then increased staff have become available and permanent search teams of prison officers descend on compounds without warning to conduct searches on their own terms, thereby helping to eliminate stocks of mock weapons and prison uniforms, which figured prominently in that programme.
Every Member who has visited the Maze Prison knows that changes are coming over the prison.
I have been asked questions about special category status. For offences committed after 1st March 1976 a prisoner will go straight into the cell compound. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) asked me about the catch-over offences. About 350 of those offences took place in the catch-up period just after March 1976. Anyone caught now for offences committed before March 1976 has also usually committed offences after March 1976, and, no matter what that later offence is, he will go straight into the cell, not into the compound. The effect of this is that in November no one was put into special category. In October only two people were put into special category and in the last eight months I understand that only about 20 people have gone into special category.
I have also been asked whether any prisoner can come out of special category. A prisoner can do so quite easily. All that he needs to do is to ask. This is sometimes done. He will then be moved into the prison cell accommodation as soon as we can put him there.
When I took over this role of ending special category I would have been quite happy to work towards the situation that we have now. We have done this without any street disorders and riots, and the people of Northern Ireland know that only about 200 people can be mustered 1762 to support a demonstration against this policy. The general public of Northern Ireland is with us as one on this
I am happy to see the number of special category prisoners going down as quickly as possible. We now have about 800 and the number is going down every week. This is proof of the Government's intentions. I wish to reiterate that anyone who thinks that there will be an amnesty in this respect should heed the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today. I hope that his words will be echoed not only by my fellow Ministers but by the whole House.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West was talking about the emergency situation in Northern Ireland. It is an emergency situation, and his speech acknowledged this. He must take cognisance of the situation in Northern Ireland. He must know that the present situation cannot be compared with the situation six months ago, and there is just no comparison with the situation that existed four or five years ago. I do not like to ask for the renewal of the emergency procedures, but now is not the time even to think of ending the emergency regulations—not at a time when we can go forward with what the House was told in what I regard as the best opening speech we have had on the security situation in Northern Ireland. Now is not the time to end the emergency regulations when we can go forward in knowledge of the facts which we now have.
I ask my hon. Friend to take into account some of the other statistics. I recognise that there are exceptions, but there are far fewer than there were in the past. In an emergency situation such as this, when we are fighting terrorism, individual freedom has to give up something. I believe that the general population of Northern Ireland understands this.
My hon. Friend must acknowledge the figures for deaths, maimings and the rest now in Northern Ireland. The people live a better life today. All I can say to my hon. Friend is that he should not put himself in an invidious situation at this time, accepting the need for the emergency regulations and then going on to some point of principle or other—I must say that it escaped me—and saying that he would vote against them.
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept the need for emergency provisions, and I shall be prepared not to divide the House if the Minister will give me an undertaking that he will talk to the Army and get the Army to ease off in the number of arrests taking place, the number of detentions of the same person week after week, and the number of searches. The searches should take place only when there is a reasonable suspicion. But a dog barking or going beserk should not be a reason for the Army to wreck a humble home in my constituency. If my hon. Friend will give an undertaking that he will look into the charges which I have made today, I shall be prepared not to divide the House.
§ Mr. Concannon
I have already seen the report of the incident to which my hon. Friend refers. All I ask him to do is to balance the situation in Northern Ireland as it was six months ago and six years ago with what it is today and not to put himself into the invidious position of voting against the order tonight. If he does vote against it he will be voting against everything that has happened in the past year or 18 months, during which time right hon. and hon. Members have made speeches full of praise for the actions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Let my hon. Friend view in proper balance also the quality of life now in Northern Ireland.
I give my hon. Friend this promise. I shall bring his speech to the attention of 1764 the GOC. But I do not give him any guarantees about any of the other things which are taking place, because I cannot give him any such guarantee. If there are people—we have information to this effect—whose actions call for investigation, we should expect the Army and the RUC to go and collect information. As I say, I have already seen the report of the case to which my hon. Friend referred and in certain respects it has already been dealt with.
I wish now to draw the debate to a close. I hope that the House will unanimously accept the need for these provisions, although I very much wish that I were not here having to ask the House to do so.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (Amendment) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 1265), a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd August, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.
That the draft Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1977, which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved.—[Mr. Mason.]
That the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 1249), a copy of which was laid before this House on 3d August, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.—[Mr. Mason.]