HC Deb 22 February 1977 vol 926 cc1212-4
14. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement about the strengthening of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

In accordance with the announcement made in the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 17th December last year, action is being taken to increase the number of full-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment by 200 men.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Have these five conrate platoons, of 200 men in all, been formed and are they not insufficient for the UDR to have an effective daytime presence? As for the part-time element, what has been done to keep up and add to the numbers, which show signs of having fallen off in the previous year?

Mr. Brown

We are creating full-time platoons to provide UDR with a daytime operational capability, and that is a step in the right direction. Forty-seven new recruits have been enrolled so far this year for full-time service, in addition to 25 part-timers who have transferred to full-time duties.

Mr. Powell

Is the Minister aware that the 200 additional full-time men must be regarded as a first instalment of what is necessary? Will the Ministry of Defence make sure that when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland replies to the debate tomorrow he will be able to indicate specific ways in which the recruitment of UDR men—which was generally disappointing in 1976—will be improved in 1977?

Mr. Brown

I accept what the right hon. Member says about the 200 being a first instalment. The Secretary of State made that clear in his statement. I cannot anticipate what the Secretary of State will say tomorrow, but I shall apprise him of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister accept that no matter how much we go on strengthening the UDR, the Northern Ireland solution must be a political one and that, although we can talk indefinitely about strengthening the security forces, in time we must grapple with the politics of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Brown

I certainly do not disagree that the only solution for Northern Ireland is a political one. But as long as we have the problem with us we must take every step to ensure that the security forces are strengthened at every turn.