HC Deb 23 February 1977 vol 926 cc1491-548

7.2 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I beg to move. That this House takes note of the unabated continuance of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland and calls for a further increase in the strength and effectiveness of the Ulster security forces. With this motion the House leaves the realm of light-hearted fantasy in which it has been enjoying itself for the last three hours or so, and, I am afraid, enters into the area of hard, unpalatable and cruel facts. It is to enable the House and the Government to confront some of these that we have used our opportunity to move this motion tonight.

As to the truth of the first statement in the motion, there is little need of argument. I shall simply mention the fact that civilian casualties in 1976 were much higher than in any previous year with the single exception of 1972, and that even if we feed into that total some adjustment for what are classified as sectarian killings, the picture is not improved. I shall only mention one other figure because it leads us straight into the subject matter of the debate. That is that the deaths of RUC members and RUC reservists were at the highest level of any year and were nearly 50 per cent. higher than in the worst previous year. The House can read more of these details in the quarterly return supplied on 27th January in a Written Answer by the Secretary of State.

There is a further background which is not merely statistical and to which I want firmly to attract the attention of the Secretary of State. That is the profound conviction, which is held throughout the Province, that the Government are doing less than they could, seriously to tackle terrorism and to destroy the IRA. It is most impressive that, to whom ever one talks in Northern Ireland, be they civilian or be they in the security forces, people of a balanced judgment, rational sane people, will seriously tell one that they are convinced that the security forces are being deliberately held back by the orders of the Government from doing what is in their power to do and would be their duty to do, to put an end to terrorism and to defeat the IRA.

I have stated this fact brutally not because I share that conviction. To me it is inconceivable that the Government are doing other than their utmost to end terrorism. But the right hon. Gentleman must accept as a fact this unfavourable background of opinion against which the Government and the security forces are operating. My colleagues and I plead with the Secretary of State to do everything in his power both to analyse the reasons for this miasma—for such it is—and to do everything that he can to dispel and destroy it. The favourable impression—if I may say so—which in his early months he has created, has as yet done nothing to break this extraordinary diffracting medium, through which so many people in Northern Ireland, including the security forces, view their predicament.

I shall risk one suggestion. It is that the Government policy of making arrests, of picking up wanted persons, only when they are reasonably sure of being able to secure a conviction for a serious offence has not been understood either by the security forces who have to carry out that policy or by the public who are witnesses to it.

This, at any rate, must be one of the explanations for the persistent statement, which everyone finds made in Northern Ireland, that the police or the Army know perfectly well that such and such a person is guilty of such and such a terrorist act and yet he walks free as air in the open daylight. I do not for a moment believe that this happens by reason of a decision on the part of the Government that terrorists shall go at large, nor as a result of any slackness or any lack of willpower on their part. That I do not believe. But what is proved is that the policy—sound in itself, for the converse would be disastrous—has simply not been understood, and has simply not been put over either to the public or to the security forces. I do not pretend that that explanation is the sole one, but I am sure that it is one of them. The Secretary of State has the task of combating and reversing this climate of opinion in which he is at present operating.

I turn from a psychological factor on one side to a psychological factor on the other. It is not our purpose in this debate—at any rate on the United Ulster Unionist Bench—to concentrate otherwise than on the physical elements in the situation. This is not to say that the physical elements are efficacious or even decisive by themselves; but in one debate, it is useful to concentrate upon one aspect of the subject at a time. Nevertheless, one should analyse the state of mind of one's opponent, because it is by destroying the will of one's opponent that wars are won.

The striking characteristic of the state of mind of the IRA, which is the enemy not only of Her Majesty's Government but also of the Government of the Irish Republic as well as of all decent inhabitants of the whole island of Ireland and indeed of the British Isles, is that it lives in an unreal world, in which it is always just about to topple, by means of terrorist acts, the intentions, policies and pledges of the Government of the United Kingdom. This came out clearly in some of the things exposed in the Balcombe Street trial. It is immensely dangerous that this misconception should exist, that only one more push is needed and the whole "get the troops out" brigade will soon be in a majority in Great Britain, the nerve and will of Her Majesty's Government will be broken, and the British people, sick and tired of all this, will be glad enough to pull out of Northern Ireland.

We in this House know perfectly well how fantastiscaly remote such an appreciation is from the reality; and we know that, whatever our personal opinions or aspirations with regard to the future of Northern Ireland may be. But the terrifying fact is that, after so much effort on the part of Government and security forces, the message has not got across to the IRA that it will not win in that way and that there is no possibility of its winning in that way. This means that every stance of the Government—everything which they do, every word which they speak—must be measured in the light of that misconception; for unless and until that misconception is destroyed, the IRA and those who react criminally to the IRA will continue to destroy innocent lives for literally no purpose.

I turn to the physical factors, upon which I shall concentrate for the remainder of what I have to say. I wish to refer to three aspects of the security forces—first, manpower, secondly, armament and, thirdly, rôle and mutual co-operation.

The RUC concluded 1976 with an increase in strength which was gratifying. It brought the regular force up to 5,253 or 350 more than it had been 12 months ago at the beginning of the year. This was to some extent offset—I shall be grateful if the Secretary of State will comment upon this, because there may be some misunderstanding—by an appreciable diminution in the part-time RUC Reserve, so that the figures, when expressed as a crude total, appear to be less favourable than they ought to be. I am sure that the Secretary of State will give us the reassurance that we require, that satisfactory—as it went—though the record of 1976 was, he will not be satisfied unless he beats it in 1977.

We need as soon as possible to get up to the provisional target—it has been made clear that it is only provisional—of 6,000, which, incidentally, will be twice the level at which the regular RUC stood in 1969, in circumstances for which Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom were not responsible. The size of the RUC is of obvious relevance; but it may not be fully appreciated that the total force available has a direct relationship to the effectiveness with which any part of it operates in a particular situation. We are not merely chasing establishments when we say that, if we were to pick out perhaps one single factor to which we need to give the highest priority, it would be the earliest achievement of that 6,000 target for the regular RUC and to go on from there afterwards.

There is an additional reason, which I have already mentioned, why this achievement is particularly important. It is that in these months the RUC is being deliberately placed under maximum stress by the IRA. The RUC is the prime target of the attacks of the IRA in this phase. It is all the more important that it should not only be seen to enjoy the support and confidence of the Government and all concerned but that it should have the assurance of our intention to build up its strength at least to that provisional figure, from which I believe we shall have to move on further.

Before I come to the recruitment of the Ulster Defence Regiment, I want to refer to another psychological factor which again the right hon. Gentleman must recognise, difficult though it may be for him to cope with I refer to the widespread conviction that persons entirely suitable in every respect for recruitment into the security forces are being refused upon trivial grounds or upon the ground of prejudice, or upon some other ground evincing reluctance or unsureness on the part of the Government.

Once again, I say to the Secretary of State that I simply do not believe this. But, equally, I have to contend with the fact that I am confronted, as all of my hon. Friends are in their constituencies, not merely with the general assertion "Oh well, it is no use our volunteering for these Reserves and the UDR because we know perfectly well that the only result would be that our application would be mulled over for months and then thrown out" but also with alleged cases in which persons who are totally fit, willing, loyal, of blemishless character, have been refused enlistment.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot rest upon his assurance, which I believe he can truthfully give, that this is a misapprehension. This misapprehension is a fact which militates against recruitment. My hon. Friends know that this is so. As before, I will make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that he has to go further than he has hitherto gone in taking the individual Members of Parliament concerned into his confidence as far as possible when individual cases are brought before him.

I fully realise the difficulties of my suggestion and I fully understand that many grounds on which would-be recruits are declined ought not to be known, not least for the sake of the persons concerned. But we in this House are, or should be, the public relations officers of the right hon. Gentleman in this respect. If we are to help him in destroying the adverse factors which militate against recruitment, he must put us in a position in which we, at any rate, are able, with conviction, to repudiate the allegations with which we meet. We can only repudiate them specifically, since our first line of defence is to ask for specific evidence. But when we are given the evidence and we are not in a position personally to say that we repudiate it, we cannot do much to help. So there is another unwelcomed load which I place upon the plate of the Secretary of State; but he knows that I do so because to discuss recruitment without mentioning this would be totally unrealistic.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for missing his opening remarks but I was very interested in what he has just said. Before he leaves that point, could he tell the House whether he or any of his hon. Friends have submitted these allegations to the authorities and, if so, what has been the reaction? Would he also consider the advisability of creating some sort of appeal machinery to which allegations of this sort could be submitted for possible independent investigation?

Mr. Powell

I shall gladly answer the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that other hon. Members will forgive me if my answer adds a minute or two to my speech. In answer to his first question, the Secretary of State can confirm that my hon. Friends and I regularly put forward cases which appear to us to be inexplicable. So far the reply has been the assurance that the matter has been properly considered, that the discretion of the chief constable or whoever it may be has been properly exercised, and that the Secretary of State is satisfied that this is so. I am willing to accept the word of the Secretary of State. That is what we do in this House. But the result of that formula is that my hon. Friends and I are in no position—I do not say to disclose any particulars—we are in no position to rebut, or to attempt to break down the prevalent misconception.

On the other half of the hon. Gentleman's question, while I and my hon. Friends support the new code of appeal and discipline applying to the police, and would support any system which went as far as possible to guarantee fairness to members of the forces, I must say that I do not see how, in the recruitment of the Armed Forces, it would be possible or desirable for persons who thought themselves aggrieved by not being recruited to be able to appeal against the decision. That would involve, amongst other things, the inconceivable result that recruits could be forced upon Services which actually did not want to have them. So my first reaction to the hon. Gentleman's second suggestion, which I realise was made in good part, has to be a negative one.

I return to the UDR, where the situation in 1976 was more disappointing. Although it was only a matter of 2½ per cent., we have to face the fact that we had a relapse in the number of persons in service in the UDR. There is also disappointment, which I will not conceal, at the rate of implementation of the Government's decision to increase the full-time element of the UDR. We were glad to hear the reply of the Under-Secretary of State for the Army at Question time yesterday confirming that the figure of 200 was only a first instalment.

Neverthless we do not believe that this recruitment is at present being pressed ahead with the maximum energy. There may be reasons and there may be difficulties, and I shall mention one or two of them before I sit down, but we ought clearly to have the initial aim for the UDR of 8,000 men, of which no less than 2,000 or a quarter—that is the equivalent of one company in a battalion—would be on a full-time basis. With less than that, or with a different composition from that, I do not believe that the UDR can perform its rôle.

I turn now to armament. The inadequacies of the present armament of the RUC are, I believe, admitted. A certain number of new weapons and new vehicles have been issued to the RUC; but it is our experience that in areas where these weapons and vehicles are most essential—I speak here for several of my hon. Friends—they have either not yet been issued at all or are not issued on a scale which makes it possible for the RUC to be able to operate in the way that it ought to be able to operate without the immediate backing of the Army.

There is no question hereof expecting or asking the RUC to perform the Army's rôle—the two rôles are distinct—but equally it is impossible, with the improving arms of the IRA, to expect the RUC, however courageous it is, to be effective unless it is backed by weapons under its control which are at least the equal of what can be brought against them—and used against them with the advantage of surprise and position —by the enemy whom they have to confront.

The Secretary of State is separated from these questions technically by at least two administrative layers, namely the chief constable and the Police Authority; but I am sure he will not disavow his fundamental responsibility in this matter by a simple reference —which we have had too often in the past—to the fact that these matters fall within the responsibility of the Police Authority. After all, it would be quite wrong, even if it were possible, for us to quote police opinions at the Secretary of State. Our alternative therefore is to appeal to him to accept his responsibility, for it is his, for the type of armament and the scale of armament of the RUC.

Turning to the UDR, I must say that the reply given yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State for the Army caused very considerable surprise to my hon. Friends and myself. His reply, to the effect that the armament of the UDR was on the same scale as well as of the same quality as that of the Regular Army, is very difficult to reconcile with what we actually know from our own constituencies, where we know as a matter of fact that the scale of transport, wireless sets and other equipment is in no battalion adequate to maintain the whole of that battalion in operation at one time.

If we are being told that the British Army is in such a position that no infantry battalion has the scale of proper infantry weapons to allow it to operate effectively, we must be content to suppose that the UDR is on the same scale; but this is an absurd position in which to place the UDR.

We are magnifying our difficulties by attempting to recruit for forces in which these facts are known and notorious and cannot be concealed by those who serve in them. Again, we understand that a survey last year showed that only 25 per cent. of the wireless sets used by the UDR were in working order. So we ask the Secretary of State to address himself directly, hand in hand with the primarily responsible Secretary of State for Defence, whom we are grateful to see attending this debate, to the task of bringing the infantry battalion equipment of the UDR as soon as possible to the full Regular Army scale. I guarantee that that will have more effect than anything else upon the achievement of the task of recruitment which the Government have set themselves.

I have dealt with armament; but what of rôle and co-operation? The best-armed and equipped security forces will still lack morale and conviction if they are unclear about their rôle or if they find constant ambiguity in the relationship between their rôle and that of the other forces with which they are operating on what should be the same front. I am not denying that there has been some progress in this respect over the last two or three years. A recent parliamentary reply showed that the boundaries between the Army and the RUC have been brought into co-ordination to a very respectable level; but mere coincidence of boundaries is not sufficient to secure the co-operation which is necessary. The evidence that reaches my hon. Friends and myself is that the Army and the RUC, and the RUC and the UDR, are more out of touch with one another than is tolerable in present circumstances.

Once again I will not make that criticism without adding a practical suggestion. I believe that the best way to establish the requisite co-operation is by training together. I am informed—perhaps I am informed wrongly—that there is no training together between the UDR and RUC. Certainly what common training studies there are, are inadequate. Again, what training in common is there, what common exercises are carried out, between the police and the Army? I do not want specific answers; but if this matter is being attended to, the Secretary of State will be able to give an answer which ought to remove doubt. However, the fact is—nobody who goes around in Northern Ireland can be ignorant of it, and we sometimes have very personal experiences which prove it to us—that even in the most dangerous areas in Northern Ireland one security force is often operating without knowing or understanding either the purposes or the intentions of the other security force in the area. That applies to all three—the RUC, the Army and the UDR.

We say, therefore, that the other requirement for recruitment and morale is that co-operation shall be raised to a much higher level, so that all the security forces have the same morale, because they see themselves as doing the same job together. As part of that we must succeed at last in defining the true rôle of the UDR in a way that has not been done yet. There has been too much uncertainty about this matter—too much to suggest that the UDR is a kind of stopgap for the Regular Army. I understand, for example, that in a number of cases the UDR has been used for taking over static duties from which regular troops have been withdrawn.

We believe that the rôle of the UDR, as part of the Army, is to be a fully-equipped, fully-trained frontier force and that that is what it exists for. It is a full-time and a part-time force, but it is also a regular force of the Army, with that specific task. That must be so clearly understood that it informs the attitude and morale of the whole UDR and is accepted by the other security forces which are operating in conjunction with it.

I am sorry that I have taken up half an hour of the three hours which is all that is available. However, I am sure that the Secretary of State and the House understand that it was necessary, if they are to benefit, and if, thereby, Northern Ireland is to benefit from this debate, for the whole field to be as far as possible comprehensively displayed, at any rate upon the physical side.

7.35 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)

I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and to his party that we should be debating this subject tonight. It is right that the House should spend a little more time on the question of security in Northern Ireland.

I do not agree with all that the right hon. Gentleman said, but I agree that terrorist violence still constitutes one of the worst problems that we have to face in Northern Ireland. I do not seek to conceal that state of affairs, nor do I want to give at any time the impression that Her Majesty's Government—and particularly myself—are complacent about the matter. In the Government book there is no such thing as an acceptable level of violence. There is no question, either, of purposely holding back the forces. Of course, in some areas of Northern Ireland where now, increasingly, the British Army is becoming the buttress of the RUC, it may be being missed. It may be that it is not so noticeable and does not have the same high profile as it had before Where the RUC is coming to the fore this impression may be gained.

As for arrests by the security forces, I can assure the House that there is no restraint whatever. I would have thought that the security forces must feel that they have to be sure. If they make a mistake—and this particularly applies to the British Army—they know that that mistake will be exploited to the full and that the propaganda backlash could do them a great deal of harm.

It may be argued tonight that we are not making as much headway as we would like in tackling terrorist violence. I think that would be wrong and misleading. We have to look at all the statistics and we have to be clear about the different types of violence, whether they take the form of attacks on the security forces sectarian killings, or attacks on commercial property. If we look at the full range of figures it is clear that the downward trend apparent since 1972, continued generally in 1976, and the sectarian assassinations, which were not greatly, if at all, affected by the so-called cease-fire in 1975, the overall level for 1976 was less than that of the previous year.

There are some other hopeful signs. The quantity of explosives estimated to have been used by the terrorists during 1976 was only a fraction of the pre-cease-fire level. We believe that the increasingly stringent control of explosive substances both here and in the Irish Republic is paying off, and I can assure the House that this is a field to which the Government continue to devote great attention.

I should also record the steadily increasing effectiveness of the police. During 1976 1,276 persons were charged with terrorist-type offences, and there were more in the last quarter than in any of the three preceding ones. These charges included 241 for murder or attempted murder. But even more important are convictions. In 1976, 934 persons were convicted, on indictment, of scheduled offences.

Despite some brutal and well-publicised attacks, many of the favourable trends that I have described have continued into the new year. Good arrests, for instance, continue to be made. The Chief Constable tells me that among those charged during January were 10 whom he considers to have been organisers of Provisional IRA violence. As hon. Members will probably be aware, two men have now been charged with the despicable murder of Geoff Agate, in Londonderry, and the opening weeks of the new year have seen the charging of loyalist paramilitary gangs who were operating in Ballymena, Bangor and County Armagh, respectively. That is the sort of positive progress that is being made.

The Government are convinced that the policy that they are pursuing is the right one and the one most likely in the long term to bring a final end to violence. But we must not delude ourselves that there is some other magic recipe, as yet untried. There is no guarantee that some other sweeping measures would achieve the desired end, either by their impact on the terrorist or their effect on the ordinary citizen.

A democracy functions by the will of the people and through the rule of law. It cannot behave like a totalitarian State, nor is it right that it should. Its security forces exist to defend the rights of its citizens and not to limit them. I am convinced that the message is getting through to the men of violence, and as I have emphasised time and time again that they have set their feet on a road that goes nowhere. There will be no negotiations with them, and there will be no amnesty; only steady, unrelenting pressure.

This pressure comes from the men and women on the ground doing the job, supported by the right organisation and equipment. In this respect it is the RUC who must shoulder the main responsibility for bringing the terrorists to trial.

During 1976 there were about 2,900 applications to join the RUC, and 581 recruits were accepted. This is the highest recruitment figure for any year in the history of the force, and it follows the 1975 total of 505, which was itself a record figure. But despite the real and apparent pressures on the RUC, the wastage for other than normal retirements or resignations for personal and very specific reasons is not a significant factor in Northern Ireland.

In terms of a percentage of total strength the overall wastage rate has remained broadly constant at around 4 per cent. over the past few years. This record compares favourably with other forces in the United Kingdom. It is an encouraging indication of the morale of the force and its continuing will to serve the whole community. The strength of the force at the end of January was 5,320, and although there is still some way to go before we attain the establishment of 6,500 officers the prospects are good.

I did look at the figures to which the right hon. Member for Down, South referred—the 2,000 applications. He complained that despite this we took on only the number to which I have referred. There are divisions in Northern Ireland that are up to establishment, and in those areas people are turned away. In these cases there is a feeling of dissatisfaction. There is also a rigid screening process, and as we approach the level of establishment naturally we go for more experience or a better type of person.

It has been suggested that greater use should be made of reserve constables. I know that the Chief Constable is considering whether the existing strength of the force, including the part-time and full-time reserve, might be more effectively organised to meet demands on their resources. But we should remember that the reality of police work is that the prevention of crime is as important as detection. The very presence of a reserve constable is a deterrent to the criminal, and the officer is thus making a valuable and effective contribution to the maintenance of law and order. If at the same time a regular officer can be released for other duties—and there will always be tasks which can only be carried out by the regular force—the contribution made by the reserve constable is even more worthwhile.

Recruitment to both arms of the reserve is continuing satisfactorily, and the total strength is now 4,678—the full-time reserve strength is 889, and the part-time strength 3,789. The right hon. Member for Down, South is quite correct. There is a slight diminution in the part-time reserve figure, but the overall full-time and part-time reserve figures show an increase in strength and capability.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to explain more fully why such large numbers of people were turned away from the RUC out of the 2,900 applicants? Is there any one factor which acts most as the sieving process to keep them out?

Mr. Mason

I do not think that I can highlight one factor. Some divisions are up to establishment, and a lot of people are turned away from them. This is one of the recurring problems.

Also, there is a very tough screening process. I would like to see a better blend in the RUC. I would like to see Church and political leaders urging strongly that more members of the minority community should join the RUC, and encouraging more applicants in areas of under-establishment.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

The Secretary of State is talking about divisions being up to establishment. I understood that there was no fixed establishment of the RUC. Surely when he is talking about divisions being up to establishment, he is talking about reservists within divisions.

Mr. Mason

There are areas in Northern Ireland where the full-time RUC has been fully catered for. It is true about the RUC part-time reserve. I am content, however, that the Chief Constable and his officers are doing their utmost to get the right type of person, wherever they can, within the right divisions and at the same time maintain an establishment of 6,500.

Mr. Powell

Will the Secretary of State consider with his advisers how some of these general factors could be brought to public notice more than they have been hitherto? This might be part of the answer to the problem that I posed to him.

Mr. Mason

I took note of what the right hon. Member for Down, South said in his opening remarks. I shall see whether I can move in that direction, subject to consultations with the Chief Constable.

In present circumstances the police cannot be left to face unaided the murderous activities of terrorist organisations. Military support is still needed to achieve our long-term aim to restore in the Province a situation in which the police are solely responsible for the maintenance of law and order as they are in the rest of the United Kingdom. Until that time the RUC and the Army will continue to function in partnership. We should remember that intelligence gathered by the Army has been of great value in bringing terrorists before the courts.

We continue to have about 14,000 men of the Regular Army stationed in Northern Ireland. These numbers will be reduced only when the Government are quite convinced that this can be done without risk to the lives and property of the people.

The General Officer Commanding keeps the deployment of troops in Northern Ireland under constant review. The aim is always to have men available—whether it be the SAS or any other unit —where they are needed most to complement police operations. In a number of areas, first-line support for the police is now provided by the Ulster Defence Regiment. This enables Regular forces to be concentrated in the most vulnerable areas.

The Ulster Defence Regiment is being strengthened in line with its increasing operational rôle and particularly to provide a 24-hour cover in its particular areas of responsibility. The House will know that the Government are recruiting as a first step an additional 200 full-time members. This recruitment has now begun, and we shall do everything in our power to reach the target as quickly as possible. I hope that further recruitment beyond that figure can be attained.

The right hon. Member for Down, South mentioned particularly the UDR and the recruiting campaign for the part-time UDR. A higher proportion of young men are joining the regiment. In the last 14 months nine of the 11 battalions have been called out for full-time service in the Province, and the reserve of the regiment is operational at weekends.

I assure the House that all arms of the security forces co-operate closely with each other. But the training that is appropriate for military forces is not necessarily equally appropriate for the police.

As for equipment, new radio sets will be supplied, I hope, in satisfactory numbers later this year.

Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)

In what areas is the UDR providing a backup force for the RUC?

Mr. Mason

I could not say offhand in which areas the UDR is operating, and I do not think that it would be right, for security reasons, to spell it out in detail. However, I have spent some time with the UDR and I know that men and women of the regiment, at great sacrifice of their time and with undoubted personal risk, are helping to make Northern Ireland a safer place to live in. All elements of the security forces are defending the Province against crime and bloodshed. They deserve the warmest support, not only from this House, but from all parties in the Province, who have a clear responsibility to give them their wholehearted and unambiguous backing.

Many of those who criticise the security forces appear to have little concept of the problems that they face or the dangers that confront them. Their work calls for steadfastness, loyalty and courage, and unyielding application to harsh problems. These are qualities which the forces in Northern Ireland show in fullest measure. I am proud of every arm of the security forces and I am confident of their continuing success.

But tributes are not enough. Earlier, I spoke of the success of the security forces and explained that it is the purpose of the present policies to crush both the morale and the resources of the terrorist. I have also made it clear that in spite of these successes the Government are far from complacent. The deaths and assassinations continue, and words are not enough to describe either the pointlessness of these appalling acts or the depth of sorrow and despair felt by families—indeed, whole communities.

No less wasteful is the continuing spectacle of young men and women coming before the courts to receive sentences that will put them behind bars for many years —perhaps for the best years of their lives. To them and others who may embark on terrorist activities I can only say that if convicted they will pay the full penalty of the law. To those who entice them into these activities with a specious promise of early liberation and a hero's welcome back into society I would say, "The sooner you stop telling these lies the better it will be for your young people and their families." The sentences of the courts will not be set aside for political considerations; there will be no amnesty; and there will be no question of special treatment for those who claim with unsurpassed arrogance that they have a divine right to maim and to kill their fellow countrymen. Special category status has not been recognised since 1st March 1976. I emphasise once again that there is no going back on that.

Finally, a word about the future. It would be easy, and it may be tempting, to think that because the Government's policy takes effect over a period it is wrong or deficient. Some people urge that the Army should withdraw. I believe that that is the recipe for civil war. Others demand more troops, but sheer numbers are not the most important criterion: rather, we should make available in men and resources whatever is required as necessary. Others talk of harder measures. There is nothing the terrorist would like to see more than for the Government to introduce arbitrary arrests, punishment without trial, punishment for political beliefs and affiliations, and blanket reductions in civil rights. The resentment that these measures would arouse would make the security problem far worse than it is today and prolong it further into the future.

The great strength of the present policy is that it rests on the law—on punishment for criminal acts proved beyond reasonable doubt in open court. Other measures may be needed at times, but in the long run this is the only way that law and order has ever been successfully achieved in a democracy. It is the way that it will be achieved in Northern Ireland. We are determined to see the security problem through to the end, and I tell the people of Northern Ireland that they will not be abandoned.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

The House is greatly indebted to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and his colleagues for this debate. I do not wish to take up too much of their time.

In a cogent speech, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) had much to say with which I entirely agreed—as did the Secretary of State, who showed considerable resolution in what he said about his aim of bringing organised terrorism under control. That is what we should like to see also.

In passing, I would thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Department and the security forces for the efficient security arrangements which they made for the visit of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on Monday. I was glad to see that in a lunchtime talk in St. Anne's Cathedral the Secretary of State said that there would be no clever solutions or cynical sell-outs in Northern Ireland. That is the kind of language that we are glad to hear him use.

Although we would not accuse the right hon. Gentleman in any way of complacency, statistics are not enough. It is welcome that 10 organisers of terrorism have been arrested by the RUC—this is something that I have often mentioned in the House—but we have still a long way to go. I am inclined to question, as the right hon. Member for Down, South did, that the message has yet got through to the IRA. It is dangerous to think that it has got through already. I do not think that it has. We must keep up this relentless pressure to ensure that it does get through. The right hon. Gentleman should have the help of the media and use all psychological warfare for this purpose. I repeat what I have said before about that.

After all, Northern Ireland today is a sad contrast to 1968, when it had the lowest crime rate in the United Kingdom. We have a tremendous job to do here. I think that the Secretary of State realises that.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman also realises that he has to give the people of Northern Ireland hope that this year will see the beginning of the end of terrorism. I think that is what he meant in his speech. People need some hard evidence that the Government have the will to win. His determination to push the campaign through must be put beyond doubt.

Saying the right things, which the right hon. Gentleman continually does—and I agree with him—is not quite the same as doing the right things. He has not yet had the opportunity to carry this campaign through in getting control of terrorism. I agree that the rates of conviction are extremely high and I join in his congratulations in this regard to the RUC.

But people do not feel conviction, as the right hon. Member for Down, South said, about what is happening in Northern Ireland when Seamus Twomey can go and speak from somewhere in Northern Ireland—on French television, not British television—and make threats against the United Kingdom, saying that the bombing will continue and so forth. There is a glaring gap in security when that kind of thing can happen. We should be glad to hear, since he has made those threats and since he is a member of a proscribed organisation, that if he returns to Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State will take certain steps about him. What he has done is a defiance of the whole authority of the law.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I went to an RUC station in Belfast on Monday. We were very much impressed by the improvement in morale there, by the much better spirit and the feeling that they are getting on top of things. We saw many fine young men and girls who had recently been recruited to the RUC during this very successful year. I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South that there should be a higher target than 6,000. However, we welcome the fact that the RUC is receiving better equipment. The buying of the M1 carbines, for example, and the arming of some RUC vehicles will help them in their capacity to deal with terrorist violence. One cannot put the RUC into the front line without doing that. They must be given those weapons. I note that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State nods in agreement.

Turning to the specialist branches of the RUC, particularly the Fraud Squad, may we have some information on what progress has been made in halting the paramilitary movement into commercial exploitation and protection rackets? The Fraud Squad of the RUC is concerned with these matters. How many convictions have there been against those collecting protection money? Has there been any evidence of an increase in the willingness of those intimidated to complain to the security forces? Has there been any improvement in that direction?

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) asked the Under-Secrtary yesterday about the figures for the UDR. The figures were a little disappointing: only 47 new full-time recruits so far to the UDR. The right hon. Member for Down, South makes a strong point that it is disturbing to note that there has been a slow downward trend in the strength of the UDR from a peak of more than 9,000 to its present figure. We ought to repudiate the propaganda attacks which have been made on the regiment. It is a courageous body of men and women and they have been subjected to a tremendous number of attacks during the last few months. We should bear in mind that these people work, and fight only in their spare time. The question of full-time con-rates is extremely important. We would like to know when it is planned to carry out the increase to 1,000 which has been referred to.

I have one or two final points to make. I do not want to take up too much time because I know that many Northern Ireland Members are anxious to speak. Have the Government any information to tell us about the sources of IRA arms and funds? And is any progress being made in cutting off the sources? We were glad to note from a report in the Irish Times a few days ago that the Department of Justice in the United States was taking legal action against the Noraid Committee. We hope that that will have some effect. These are serious matters, as the Minister knows.

Is there any method of reducing the proceeds to terrorists funds from bank robberies in Northern Ireland? The proceeds are currently running at £500,000 a year. That is another main source of terrorist funds.

It seems to me that the Government really need—and I dare say that the Secretary of State is gradually working on this—a strategic plan to bring organised terrorism under control during 1977 and to destroy the hopes of success of the IRA. In this connection, the Irish Times reported on 18th February that the Provisionals were ready for a "ceasefire". I do not know what that means. Could we be quite sure about it? I think the Secretary of State made it clear, but it cannot be too often repeated, that we shall never be tricked again into a "cease-fire" such as the one at the end of 1974. But we shall pursue the terrorists until they are obliged to stop the bloodshed and get no "deal", as was described in the recent book by Mr. Joe Haines, which was very revealing and indiscreet.

We welcome the remarks of the Secretary of State and we hope that he will be successful in bringing terrorism under control.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The motion speaks of the: unabated continuance of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland". That is very true. I have taken part in every debate on Northern Ireland in the three years in which I have been an hon. Member and I intend to try to take part in many more. We are a very select small gathering in these debates we know one another, we talk together and I am sure that, like me, hon. Members receive letters and threats every time they speak.

In my opinion we are getting nowhere. The optimism which we continually show in the Chamber is unjustified and unwarranted. Before I came here the same hon. Members had been saying almost the same things for years and unless there is a change in policy we shall still be here 10 years from now, possibly the same people, saying much the same thing and getting nowhere, just as we are getting nowhere now.

I do not wish to be paternalistic, but when I think of the Northern Ireland Members who have lived in the situation my heart goes out to them because of the horrors they have to face each time they go home. My heart goes out to the people in Northern Ireland, to the children and to the vast Army which we have there. I think that my right hon. Friend said that there we had 14,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland. That is the equivalent of an army division during the war, which could be of the size of 14,000, 15,000 or 16,000 men. It is a vast array of force and it is doing an honourable job to the best of its ability where there is the unabated continuance of terrorist violence. We continually discuss this problem as though it were a security problem and not a political one. Hon. Gentlemen know that, to the point of boring them, I am constantly arguing that it is political and has to be discussed as such, and that it is as important as security. Security is vitally important as I am sure hon. Members on both sides will agree. It is a vital necessity, it is a partial solution, it is a palliative, but it is not the solution to the problem. It is time that we stopped discussing gaol and gaolings. If we were to put everybody in gaol, what would that prove, except that we had big gaols. We shall have to put more and more people in gaol and the melancholy lists of acts of terrorism, killings and gaolings will go on indefinitely.

If anyone here thinks that a situation will come about where one sides beats the other to its knees, he is dreaming. That is not the solution and it never will be. It was not the solution in Algeria, for instance. The solution is political.

Although I feel deeply about security, the motion is not helpful because it will not result in more and more troops going to Northern Ireland. If they did it could even deepen but not solve the terribly intractable problem which my right hon. Friend is facing as best he can, and it could bring about the hardening of attitudes. I am against a polarisation developing where we always talk about beating the other side, and the other side reciprocates by saying that it will not be beaten. We have heard, for instance, where soldiers on foot duty have searched a street for armaments, and as a result someone is arrested. It is often claimed by people who are arrested in such circumstances that an injustice has been done.

The continuing slaughter comes from both sides. I have spoken to many hon. Members, some within the last 24 hours, and I have heard the same thing. They speak as though only one side does the killing. The terrorists are on both sides. They reciprocate with violence against one another. We shall not solve it by looking at the problem that way. We must not be sectarian. We must try to cross the sectarian divide by building bridges. The cost in blood and treasure is immense. We never talk about that, but what is happening is colossal in terms of money and death and it is mounting at a phenomenal rate.

The situation will not suddenly change. Waiting for something to turn up is the politics of Mr. Micawber. The bloodshed will not suddenly dry up and blow away. It will be there and hon. Members will be asking for more and more security and more and more troops until we discuss this in its political context.

Mr. Powell

The hon. Gentleman's participation in these debates is welcomed by my hon. Friends and myself, but there seems to be one factor which he persistently omits. That is the fact that the political object of the IRA is one which is not acceptable not merely to Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom but to the Government of the Irish Republic, of which the IRA is as much the enemy as it is of anyone else. That is what it seems that the hon. Gentleman always overlooks.

Mr. Flannery

The right hon. Gentleman is very welcome to intervene at that level, but I must say that I had not overlooked that and I constantly mention where it all sprang from. Hon. Gentlemen know that I want the terrorism to stop. I agree with the Irish Government. I had conversations with some of them last year. One of my hon. Friends led a cross-party delegation to see them. We discussed these matters with the major parties in Southern Ireland, and they agreed with the right hon. Gentleman.

However, let us never forget where this was spawned from. The reality is that the lack of democracy in Northern Ireland, the failure to extend any democracy from the majority to the minority community, spawned the IRA. Until there is real democracy of the type that we have in this country, in which Catholics may vote Labour or Tory and do not vote merely as a separate community, and until there is no sectarian divide between the communities, we shall get nowhere. It is the lack of democracy that has spawned the men of terror. The only thing that will prevent these men from following their path of terror is, in addition to security, more and more democracy.

It will not dry up and blow away. It is time for a change. I shall conclude on this point because hon. Members who live among the men of terror have much to say.

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)

Over the years, my hon. Friends and I have heard the hon. Gentleman continually talking about more and more democracy and about political solutions. Will he talk in practical terms that we can understand? These generalities are all right, but we cannot take matters further by generalities.

Mr. Flannery

The hon. Gentleman is wise about what has happened in Northern Ireland. He knows more about it than I know. However, he knows the reality of what I have said about where all this sprang from. I want a change of mind. I want hon. Gentlemen to know that unless more democracy is extended, the present situation will continue indefinitely.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Flannery

I shall finish my speech shortly, when hon. Gentlemen will have an opportunity to speak.

Having said that security is a real and continuing problem but that, alongside security, more and more democracy is necessary, I want to disagree with my right hon. Friend. He knows my viewpoint, but I shall repeat it. I believe that unless we engage in a new political initiative, we shall be here in 10 years' time and that the killing will still be going on. We must address ourselves to that matter. I have no solution, but I believe that the various sides must be called to-together around a table to say what they want to say. A famous figure from the Conservative Benches once said "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war".

These discussions must take place between the varying sides without there being engendered a belief that by talking one is somehow weakening. The situation will not suddenly change. It is no good waiting for it to change. I suggest to my right hon. Friend and to Opposition Members, who are motivated by the highest principles, that it is time for a change and time for all the various sides to sit together and to say what they want to say to one another, because a beginning must be made soon.

8.14 p.m.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

I had not intended to respond to the speech that we have just heard. However, I must put it to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) —although I would not welcome an intervention from him—that it would be interesting to note who Kevin O'Higgins had to put to the wall at the very beginning of the democratic State that we now know as the Republic of Ireland. There was no grouse then about a lack of democracy. The IRA was recognised for what it was—and is. Action had to be taken then in a way that was anything but kid-gloved.

I come to the substance of the debate. Before touching briefly upon four points, I pay tribute to the three branches of the security forces in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) may well have done this before I arrived in the Chamber. If so, I apologise to him. I associate myself with words of gratitude expressed to the three branches of the security forces. I refer particularly to members of the bomb disposal squads, particularly those who work in the Belfast area. As a Belfast Member, on behalf of my friends and constituents, I pay tribute to the men who daily risk their lives to save industry and lives in the Province. We also associate ourselves with remarks made by the Secretary of State about the UDR and the RUC.

Having said that, I come to the first point that I Want to ventilate. That concerns the rôle of the RUC. We heard from the Chief Constable some months ago that the RUC would be assuming a rôle of primacy in the Province. I understand that a directive is at present with commanders of the RUC spelling out this new policy in clear detail. I should very much like the Secretary of State to tell us, in clear unambiguous terms, what the primacy of the police involves. It seems that there is the risk of a slight contradiction, at least, because whatever else the primacy of the police means, it means that they must be in the main thrust of our anti-terrorist measures.

We would, of course, like the RUC to be a civil force, as that terms is understood in this part of the United Kingdom. However, the facts of life in Northern Ireland are inescapable. The RUC must be involved in anti-terrorist measures in the Province. Therefore, does the primacy of the police mean that the police, having been rearmed and having been given the kind of up-to-date equipment that they require, will be in the forefront of the anti-terrorist policies?

I come now to a point that I hope the Secretary of State will take on board. A few moments ago we were discussing the psychological boosts that the security forces required. One of the greatest boosts that the Secretary of State could give to the RUC at present would be to say that Lord Hunt was absolutely wrong in 1969. Indeed, I think that Lord Hunt now admits that he was wrong in 1969. If, however, that was to come from the Government tonight, it would be a great psychological boost to the RUC. The Government should state that this House was wrong in disarming the RUC in 1969 and wrong in trying to impose a mere civil rôle then.

If the Government say that, they must give a very clear directive to the security forces. They must say to them "While you have a civil policing rôle, somehow you must be directly involved, and when you offer yourselves for service in this constabulary, you should understand that you will be the major part of our antiterrorist thrust."

I agree that morale is, perhaps, slightly higher now than it was some months ago. However, there is still a grave concern and a degree of confusion, and this must be removed if the RUC is to play the kind of rôle that we know it can play. I make no apology for saying that this might mean resurrecting a special force. I hope that that is what the Government mean.

When we had a special force, particularly in the outer regions of the Province, those men were singularly suited to interpret the actions of those who they knew were involved in terrorist activities and were able to circumvent them in a way which saved the Province from the horrendous suffering to which we are now exposed. If we want to keep a dual rôle, if we are to say that the RUC must still assume a civil rôle, as I hope, we must also be logically consistent and say that there must be part of this force whose sole task it is to counter terrrorism and destroy terrorists.

Much play is made of the word "information". It is argued that we are now receiving more information about terrorism than ever before from areas which were hitherto opposed to the RUC. That may be true, and if it is we are grateful. But information is not enough. There must be co-operation. Seriously, and without nit-picking, I ask the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) whether he would not induce his party overtly to support the RUC, and I ask the peace leaders to come out unequivocally in support of the RUC. If they declare themselves to be pacifists, so be it. I disagree with them fundamentally, but if they care for Northern Ireland, if they recognise the real problem there, let them, too, come out with reluctant politicians in support of the RUC.

I move on quickly to the rôle of the Ulster Defence Regiment. This matter was fully covered by my right hon. Friend, so I shall not detain the House on it, except to say that whilst I unhesitatingly accept the Secretary of State's statement, and whilst I have no doubt about his integrity, the UDR itself believes that there are political restraints on its operations in the Province. Therefore, I suggest that the Government have a great public relations exercise to do within that force if they are to remove the suspicions—indeed, they are more than suspicions—that there may well be actual members of the force who are assuming a political rôle without the knowledge or consent of the Northern Ireland Office and are keeping the UDR out of so-called sensitive areas. We need to have every committed man in Northern Ireland going into the areas where terrorists are known to operate, where they are known to plan their bestial policies. Therefore, I earnestly plead with the Minister to do everything possible to remove the suspicions or, if they exist, to remove the restraints.

My third point concerns communication in times of crisis. Again, I refer to the urban situation, to the Belfast situation. There are times when terrorists strike at a bus station or a railway station and no attempt is made to make the public aware that such a target has received the IRA's attention. I do not know whether hon. Members representing constituencies on this side of the Irish Sea are aware of the confusion that even a bomb hoax causes in the centre of the city. It would surely not be beyond the bounds of possibility for the Northern Ireland Office to second civil servants to establish a temporary centre so that people who have to get from their businesses to the outlying reaches of the Province may at least have somewhere to discover where and when to catch a bus. I have seen people having to mill around for a whole day, not knowing where to go or what to do because of a simple bomb hoax. I hope that the Minister will address his mind to the possibility of establishing better communication in times of crisis.

My final point is about the apparent double standards in the application of the law in Northern Ireland. I have a copy of the Belfast Telegraph in which there is a report headed 12 men are fined under an 1851 Act". The report was about 12 men in the Dunmurry area in my constituency who, in trying to draw attention to the plight of their colleagues in the Maze Prison, obstructed traffic for a short time. I do not condone that action, but nor can I condone the fact that the men were brought before the court when every week on the Falls Road there is the same kind of action and no one is charged. I live at the very top of the Falls Road in the Andersonstown area, and I assert my right to travel down the road to the centre of the town. On numerous occasions there have been all kinds of demonstrations without charges being brought.

The police are finding it very difficult to keep the confidence and support of people in the law-abiding areas, particularly when this kind of thing is well known. Double standards in the application of the law will have to cease forthwith, or the Minister will make the RUC's job and our job impossible. Neither we nor the RUC have any wish to find ourselves in that kind of situation.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

I intervene to reply to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), for whom I have the greatest respect. Those of us who have followed his speeches in the House on the subject of Northern Ireland know the depth of the sincerity of his feeling. It was my good fortune to be a member of the party to which the hon. Gentleman referred which went to Dublin last year. But when the hon. Gentleman calls on the Government to embark upon a new policy of talking, of negotiating, of sitting round the table—which, I repeat, he does from the highest motives and with the deepest sincerity—he is unwittingly and contrary to his own deeply held convictions and purposes giving precisely that comfort to the enemy which I know he would be the last person ever to want to give.

There is, sadly, in my view and that of my hon. Friends, no alternative to fighting this way—for war it is—until it is carried through to victory. This terrorism, this war, in Northern Ireland, is not a war of the choosing of the United Kingdom Government.

The war is being waged by terrorists who have a political objective. The objective, at least, could be regarded as perfectly legitimate and honourable. There are people in Ulster whose purpose is to sever Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and to incorporate it in the Republic. There are even people who would like to set up an independent Northern Ireland. That, at least, is a purpose that we can understand. Anybody who wishes to achieve that purpose is entitled to stand freely at elections and to advocate either union with the Republic or independence for Northern Ireland. What is in no sense permissible is that, having failed to achieve that objective through the ballot box, people should then resort to the bullet and the bomb.

I agreed with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) when he said that what was crucial to the victory over terrorism was a conviction by the terrorists themselves that they will never achieve through violence that which they have failed to achieve through the ballot box. I fear the words of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough who said "Let's talk, let's sit round the table and see whether we can reconcile the point of view of those who wish to incorporate Northern Ireland into the Republic or to create an independent Ireland". I do not want to use a provocative word, but perhaps what is wanted is a Marxist State. There is an unbridgeable gulf between those who have that objective and those who, like me, are Unionists and who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Flannery

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I thank him for his kindly words about what I feel. But he is overstepping the mark in saying that the struggle in Northern Ireland broke out on the basis of people wanting to unite with the Republic. That would be a simplistic way of judging the commencement of the struggle. It is far more subtle, profound, deep, and difficult to grapple with than that simplistic point.

Mr. Gow

The hon. Member for Hillsborough and I are not in agreement about this as, indeed, we are not in agreement on other matters. But in so far as it is possible to detect a political objective in those who are engaged in cruel and callous violence on a massive scale in Northern Ireland, that objective is a wish to incorporate Northern Ireland into the Republic. One is going back into history in talking about that.

It is the activities, however sincere, of the hon. Member for Hillsborough and of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), who says that we must withdraw the troops from Northern Ireland, and the hon. Gentleman's call for an end to the Government's policies and for new discussions with the men of violence sitting round the table—a policy specifically repudiated by the Secretary of State in his speech today—that give encouragement to the terrorists in Northern Ireland.

That is why I was glad to hear the Secretary of State tell the House in the clearest terms that the Government will continue with their battle and struggle against terrorism, and that they will continue to make it clear to the terrorists that there will be no negotiations with them and no possibility of political talks until violence has been repudiated as a means of obtaining political objectives.

I welcome the debate. The Secretary of State and hon. Members who are supporting the motion are doing the House and the country a service. I hope that the message will go forth from the House that although there are those on the Labour side of the House—but not, I think, on this side—who believe that the withdrawal of troops or the opening of negotiations would be helpful, the overwhelming view of the majority of the House is that the Government are to be supported in that vigorous policy against terrorism to which the Secretary of State referred.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)

I should like to associate my remarks with those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) in paying tribute to the security forces in Northern Ireland and the tremendous work that they are carrying out under difficult circumstances. I recalled, while listening to the debate, that when an 18-year-old soldier was shot in the Old Park Road five weeks ago, his companions carried on doing their duty in the most polite and courteous manner, almost as though nothing had happened. That is the sort of action that should be noted by the House and for which much credit should be given to the security forces, who are carrying out a difficult task in Northern Ireland.

I was impressed by the speech of the Secretary of State and his assurance that there would be no withdrawal of troops until the battle against terrorism has been won. That was a message of hope for the people of Northern Ireland, because as recently as 17th December the Secretary of State said that the GOC intended to slim down his forces by 500 men.

That statement caused great fear throughout Northern Ireland. Murders are still taking place daily and people are being forced out of business day after day. There is an average of two murders every week in my constituency and it is understandable that there should be concern when we hear statements such as that by the GOC.

There are 600 soldiers responsible for a very large area, with 15 interlacing areas, in my constituency, which stretches from the Glencairn estate to the Shore Road and to the Bawnmore estate. There are 90,000 people in this area, with only 600 soldiers backing up the police, the limited UDR presence, and a few reserve policemen. That is not enough to combat terrorism and to bring to court the people involved in sectarian violence. I hope that the Secretary of State will take on board the need to increase the number of soldiers in North Belfast. The 600 men have to eat and sleep, and that number includes many working in intelligence, running operations rooms, working in the cookhouse, and so on. Hon. Members can guess how few soldiers are active on the ground in support of the police scattered over a wide area and in hostile parts of my constituency.

Other events add to the fear of people in Northern Ireland that there will be a withdrawal of troops. Last night the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) drew my attention to an article in the Belfast Telegraph, in which a member of his party is reported as saying that he had received an assurance from two highly-placed officials in the Northern Ireland Office that there would be a withdrawal of troops. Even British subjects—people who call themselves loyalists—are advocating the withdrawal of troops.

The Secretary of State cannot emphasise too much or give assurances too often that there will be no withdrawal of the British Army from Northern Ireland. A senior police officer told me that I could be assured that there would not be a soldier left on the streets of Northern Ireland by the end of 1977.

Some of my constituents and others with whom I have had contact tell me that one need only look around to see that the British Government are cutting down on defence, including the labour force, and are selling off properties belonging to the Northern Ireland Office in South Belfast and the North Down area. I have even been informed that the Army tour of duty, now four months in length, is being cut to three months. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer these questions.

One can understand the fears of the people of Northern Ireland when they listen to the politicians and when they see certain things happening, and also hear, from other sources, that there is to be an Army withdrawal. It is up to those of us who represent them in this House to impress upon the Government that they must give a categorical assurance that there will be no withdrawal, that the Army will stay in Northern Ireland until the terrorists and others who are embarked on a course of destruction are defeated, normality is restored, and the rule of law is handed over to the RUC, which is equipped to carry out the job.

We were told by the Secretary of State on 17th December that there was to be an increase of 200 full-time members of the UDR. That increase has not yet been implemented. I am informed by a close source that the pay structure has not yet been decided. I ask the Minister to tell us when it will be decided and when these 200 extra full-time members of the UDR will take up their jobs. But recruiting 200 extra full-time members of the UDR is merely to touch the tip of the iceberg. I have advocated—I make no apology for it—that 200 is not sufficient. We need a full-time company in each battalion to go to the support of the RUC in its policing job.

I want to touch briefly on the proper deployment of the UDR. There has been an improvement in the situation but there is still a feeling of frustration and of anger amongst its members that they are not being allowed to carry out the job for which they were recruited. On 4th February, I asked about the number of applicants to join the regiment in 1976. I understand that £63,000 was spent on Press and television advertising for recruitment to the regiment. Those advertisements were impressive, but I believe that if men of the UDR were involved in the duties advertised we would get many more recruits. Out of 3,092 applicants last year, about half were received into the UDR.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke about recruitment and those who have been received into the regiment, and I shall not take up time repeating what he said, but we should ask why, after so much expenditure has been involved, only half that number has been accepted into the UDR.

In my own constituency there are limited areas in which the UDR can patrol. In the past we have encouraged, and tonight I would appeal to, members of the minority to join the UDR and play their full part as members of Her Majesty's forces in protecting Northern Ireland against the terrorists who are out to destroy it.

In 1940 43,000 people in Northern Ireland—a large number—were involved in security. In 1977, if we include members of the UDR, the RUC and the RUC Reserve, the grand total is only 16,000. With the scale of IRA and other terrorist activity in Northern Ireland that number is insufficient to combat, pursue and bring the terrorists to justice in the way that I am sure the Government would like to see it done and the way in which my right hon. and hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Belfast, West have advocated. The terrorists should be brought to justice and dealt with in the courts, in the proper way.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Concannon)

The hon. Gentleman should add the 14,000 British troops to his total of 16,000.

Mr. Carson

I accept what the Minister says, and I appreciate his intervention, but I was referring to the number of people from Northern Ireland who were involved in security, and I was trying to relate that to the number involved in 1940.

As some of my hon. Friends are keen to take part in this debate I shall be brief. Although my hon. Friend thet Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) has not tugged my coat he has looked at his watch.

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but in some areas of Northern Ireland the RUC Reserve is at full strength. I have said before in this House that the RUC Reserve is a grand force, but it has been deployed in the wrong way. We have an example in Bangor. I have been told by an authority that in Bangor there is very little for the reserve to do. It is a very peaceful area and there is not the sectarian violence which I and some of my hon. Friends experience in our constituencies.

I should like the Minister to consider whether the Chief Constable should be given the power to take reserve policemen from the Bangor area and put them into North Queen's Street police station or Tennant Street police station and assist the RUC and the reserve police, who are very much under strength in those troubled areas.

I understand that the reserve police can choose exactly on which night they want to do their duty. It is essential that the Chief Constable should have the power to delegate reserve members of the police force and to call upon the services of the RUC Reserve at the weekend, when there is often violence on a large scale.

I have had approaches from members of the RUC who have applied to join the special patrol groups. They have appeared before a board and have been accepted. Yet, after six months, they have not been taken into the SPGs. I understand that these people cannot be taken into the special patrol groups immediately because divisional commanders in certain areas cannot afford to lose such men.

I suggest that this is where the reserve police can play a great rôle. Full-time reserve men could easily take the places of policemen who are well trained and experienced, and who would be very welcome within the SPGs.

A great deal of publicity was given to the police receiving the Ml carbine. At the weekend pictures appeared in the Press showing that the IRA could produce a better weapon than the M1 carbine. I believe that an order went out from the Army authorities to get those effective weapons which are now in the hands of the IRA. That was to counteract the statement made by the Chief Constable that the police would be receiving the M1 carbine.

Now, many weeks after that Press announcement, the police still have not received the M1 carbine, or, indeed, the reinforced arming kits which have been ordered for the Land Rovers. I understand that they are now trying to get an arming kit for Land Rovers with a different type of roof. If a bullet went through the roof of a Land Rover it would pierce that type of equipment and mean certain death to those inside.

I understand that the police strongly reject the type of equipment that is being forced on the RUC. I do not know whose fault it is. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us. Is it the fault of the Chief Constable or the Police Authority? I have been in close contact with the Police Authority recently. I do not think that the Police Authority has been as effective or efficient as it should be. Perhaps the Chairman of the Police Authority is involved in too many committees and does not have ample time to give to the almost full-time job of looking after the welfare and interests of the RUC, which is carrying out an extremely difficult job.

I think that it has now come home to us in this House that we must support the security forces in Northern Ireland. I have touched briefly on many vital points essential to the police, the reserve police, the UDR, and the well-being and future of Northern Ireland. I think that we all agree that there is no way out until terrorism in Northern Ireland is crushed. We are determined—I hope that the Government and the House are equally determined—to see the job through in the not-too-distant future.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson), but I am in fullhearted support of some of the sentiments that he has expressed, especially his remarks about the lack of protection that seems to be afforded to his constituency. We must bear in mind that it is a vast area, geographically. We must also bear in mind the strength of the security forces that can be seen on the streets. I live in the North Belfast area, and it is a fact that quite a number of the most atrocious murders have taken place there, as it hinges on West Belfast. No steps seem to have been taken to prevent such murders. I find myself in agreement with the concern that the hon. Gentleman expressed.

As one would expect, the motion has been brought about by those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. I am in fullhearted agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), when he says that their approach is the wrong one. The demand contained in the motion is for an increase in police strength, an in-increase in the strength of the Army, an increase in the strength of the security forces, better recruitment, and better arms. Such demands are not the answer to the problem of Northern Ireland.

I have repeatedly stated, in conjunction with my hon. Friends, that political decisions must be taken before we can expect peace to come about in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough said that there must be more democracy in Northern Ireland and that if we have an increased democratic concept we shall have less need for battalions of soldiers. That is quite right.

I give one example, of which the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) will be well aware. The Government, with the full support of Her Majesty's Opposition, thought it was right last year to put on the statute bok the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act. The Act was designed to do away with discrimination on religious grounds in the seeking of employment in Northern Ireland. One would think that no one could take any objection to such an Act, yet it was bitterly opposed and contested by those who represent the Unionist view in Northern Ireland.

Many local authorities—they are not under the control of the party of the hon. Member for Abingdon—have torn up the Act—a measure that had the full support of the Government and Opposition. They have torn it up and have said that they will not implement it. Such actions are not designed to bring about confidence within the minority community in Northern Ireland.

I know that it is expected of hon. Members in this place to say that they give their wholehearted approval to every action of the security forces. It is expected that we shall support everything that they do. That is the implication of our approval. However, it must be admitted that the Army in Northern Ireland has made mistakes. It is as well to face the fact that the Army is not infallible. It has made mistakes, and its mistakes should be brought to the notice of the House. For example, some time ago a regiment that is known as the Black Watch came into my constituency. Given the history of Scotland and the history of the regiment, it was not the best type of regiment to enter a minority area.

A number of soldiers were continually arresting and harassing innocent people on the streets. They planted fake evidence, so that the people concerned would have to serve sentences of imprisonment. However, those soldiers made one fatal mistake. They arrested one young lad and in the course of harassing him and beating him, they planted bullets on him. They brought that lad to the police station and said "We have arrested this terrorist, and he had bullets on him".

Mr. Powell

What is the point of all this?

Mr. Fitt

The House will hear in a moment. What they did not know was that young man was the nephew of a prominent member of the RUC and that the lad could in no way have been a terrorist. As a result of dealing with that case, the then Chief Constable of the RUC, James Flanagan, began to have doubts about the truthfulness of reports that came to him from that regiment. He ordered an investigation by the RUC, and the constabulary followed the regiment when it left Belfast to go to Germany and elsewhere. As a result of those inquiries, a fortnight ago five members of the Black Watch were brought before the court in Northern Ireland and were found guilty of planting evidence on innocent civilians and of causing them to serve terms of imprisonment. Those soldiers were convicted and sentenced for carrying out crimes in Northern Ireland.

Where are those men to serve their sentences? I was told in a recent parliamentary answer that they are to serve them in Scotland. I have never been a supporter of the IRA's demand that those who have committed offences in England should be transferred to Ireland. I have never once lent my support to that objective. But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If members of the British armed forces in Northern Ireland are sentenced by courts in Northern Ireland, they should serve their time there.

Two of the five soldiers involved in that matter were also involved in the controversial killing of one of my constituents, a man named Leo Norney. Many eye-witnesses to that tragedy said that that young lad was not carrying weapons and was not a terrorist. Two of the Black Watch soldiers subsequently convicted by the courts of planting fake evidence were the men responsible for that killing. I believe that enough doubts have been raised over the case of those members of the Black Watch to cause the Secretary of State for Defence or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to reopen the whole case of the killing of Leo Norney.

Another matter is causing great annoyance in Northern Ireland—

Mr. Powell

Since the hon. Gentleman is now leaving that point, will he make clear whether he would fail to support the Metropolitan Police because members of that force had been rightly convicted of a crime? Why should he withhold his support from the RUC because members of the RUC have been similarly convicted, or from the Army because members of the Army have been similarly convicted?

Mr. Fitt

I have not said that I would withhold any support from the security forces in Northern Ireland. I am saying that where members of the security forces are found to have exceeded their duties and have caused people to be placed in prison, those matters should be made known to the House.

Let me refer to the murders referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, North. Some of the most heinous murders that have taken place since the present troubles began have occurred in the North Belfast area. Victims have been found in brutal circumstances with their throats cut. Those murders cannot be too hotly condemned. Yet on the occasion of one recent murder—and every weekend I have to go to the funerals of constituents who have been murdered—the RUC put out a statement advising people not to use a part of central Belfast, North Street, up to the Antrim Road and Cliftonville Road, at night for fear of assassination.

That is a condemnation of the RUC. Members of the RUC should be seen in greater numbers in the inner Belfast area. It obviously has enough men to do that. I am not an expert on security, but I suggest that armed RUC men and women should patrol that area at night to protect innocent people. There is a possibility that the assassination squads will try to get armed policemen and women, but only by taking extreme measures such as that can we hope to get our hands on the murderous gang that has been operating for so long.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Belfast, North said about the Army. There are many rumours emanating from the loyalists and from the military organisations and others. Rumours are circulating that the British Army is about to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland. I urge the Minister to tell us once and for all whether there is any truth in that rumour.

I ask my hon. Friend to be careful about his answer to my next point. Some of the incident centres that were in operation officially up to a year ago are still operating. Some telephone bills and rents are being paid by the Government to keep the centres in existence. I am think of one in particular in North Belfast. If my information is correct, the Minister should be candid with the House and tell us why the Northern Ireland Office is still keeping these so-called incident centres open.

Mr. Carson

Is the hon. Member aware that in January 1975 the then Secretary of State gave permission for the licensing of Army-style 9 mm pistols to be used in incident centres?

Mr. Fitt

A great deal of concern was expressed in the House about that at the time. I was the first to mention it, and it was referred to by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. That could not have helped to solve the security situation in Northern Ireland.

I turn now to the search procedures that the Army carries out on civilians. I know how difficult it is for an army to try to stop the carrying of arms by civilians, particularly females. The law is that a soldier may ask a female to open her coat on the ground that she might be carrying an Armalite rifle or a similar weapon. However, it can be very embarrassing for a young girl to be surrounded by a number of soldiers and to be asked to open her coat. That has happened on many occasions, and remarks are sometimes passed by soldiers. They are not all angels. When a patrol is engaged in searching females it should be accompanied by a female member of the security forces.

9.9 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) made the bold statement that only those countries with the fullest democracy have no fighting in their midst. On that basis the only country that is democratic is Russia and perhaps others that are totalitarian and dictatorially suppress the population. Northern Ireland is not such a country. The hon. Member for Belfast, West believes that democracy in Northern Ireland should accord a special, privileged position to the SDLP. That cannot be done, and even if it were done the IRA violence would not end.

It is not because of any statement by the hon. Member that I feel sad about this debate. Who would believe, from the attendance in this Chamber, from the placid even complacent atmosphere —something I deeply resent—that Northern Ireland is in its eighth year of agony? Who would believe, from the tenor of some of the speeches, that there are some areas in Northern Ireland which, as we talk, as darkness has fallen, themselves fall under the dominion of the Provisional IRA? These are areas where old people are afraid to move out of their homes, where young people are intimidated into acts of terrorism, where life is brought to a halt and people's lives constantly endangered.

Whenever a foul terrorist act occurs in England there is a hue and cry in this House and throughout the country. This does not happen when the same thing occurs in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that this debate on security will have any meaningful effect. It may have some effect on people in Northern Ireland who may feel that this debate is achieving something. But it is like giving an aspirin to a person dying of cancer. We hear hard and tough speeches, as if the Government were being rocked on their feet. The only way they will be rocked is if they are harassed, and harassed until they do something for the hard-pressed people of Northern Ireland. The Government can be harassed only in the Division Lobby— [Interruption.] I hear the cackle of hens behind me, roused by a fox. The truth is that, except on devolution, those hon. Members will not harass the Government.

Consider the motion that has been tabled. This motion reads: That this House takes note of the unabated continuance of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland". "Takes note"! This motion should condemn the Government for allowing the people to suffer. This is not a proper motion to table, because it is deceiving the people of Northern Ireland who believe that the fight for the Province is being conducted on the Floor of the House. It is not being conducted here. The rough speeches are made in Northern Ireland. The people are stirred up there. But the fervour should be in this Chamber because this is where the people's representatives are. The only way to act is through the Division Lobby.

I presume, because of the wording of the motion, that there is a pact between the movers and the Government to the effect that there will be no Division. If the motion had been worded in such a way as to attack the Government they would have had to respond and refuse to accept the motion. The Government can accept this motion. It is a sad situation, because the only constitutional way that the people of Northern Ireland have of expressing their anger is through their elected representatives voting in the Division Lobby.

The Government should have been indicted for failing fully to protect the citizens of our part of the United Kingdom. The motion should have demanded, not meekly call for, the measures that we require to end the campaign of terror which has crucified Ulster for eight years. The Secretary of State has published placards in Northern Ireland and advertisements in the newspapers and on television saying". Seven years is long enough. That is apparently not so. We are now in our eighth year. Shall we still have advertisements in the ninth year? Shall we still have them in the 14th year? I believe that we may have. I go along with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) who said that we may well be debating this subject in 10 years' time. This is because the violence goes on steadily and nothing effective is done about it.

I propose, as I have said often enough before, that the battle should be brought to the Floor of the House. That is what we are here for. It must be done now because the people of Northern Ireland have had enough. With 1,700 dead and 17,000 permanently injured we have had enough of violence in Northern Ireland, from whatever group it comes. Whether Protestants or Roman Catholics, the people of Northern Ireland are subjects of the Queen and citizens of the United Kingdom and they are entitled to protection, no matter in which part of Northern Ireland they may live.

How many more are to be injured or butchered by the Provisional IRA before the Government force their authority properly on the Province? How many more years will elapse? Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies. The bloody and savage destruction waged by the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland is a complete vindication of the Ulster Unionist position which is that we can never surrender one iota to their campaign and conspiracy. Until the Provisional IRA is completely eliminated from Ulster, no law-abiding citizen can travel the country in safety and no one can feel secure in his own home or at his place of work.

There is a number of measures that the Secretary of State should take, but I have only about one minute left in which to put them. First, the notion was bruited abroad years ago, when General Freeland and the Army were brought into Northern Ireland, that the Army was there to assist the civil authority. In my judgment the Chief Constable, under the Secretary of State, should be made responsible for the direction of security, and the Army should be there to assist the Chief Constable at his request. That is what I demand—the Ulsterisation of the security of the Province.

Secondly, I demand that more Army personnel should be brought to Northern Ireland. At one stage we had 20,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland, but now the number has been reduced to about 14,000, although the violence is unabated. It is argued that having a large number of soldiers will not necessarily bring the violence to an end, but if there were 20,000 or 25,000 soldiers in the Province, how much easier would it be to stop cars, carrying travelling gunmen, explosives, rifles and ammunition? How much easier would it be to protect people along the border as well as in Belfast? It would have a psychological impact on the Provisional IRA, which would realise that the Government at last mean business.

Also, since we hear so much from politicians, I seriously suggest that the law should be changed to allow Northern Ireland Members of Parliament to join the UDR or the Police Reserve, because we so often hear them castigating people in Northern Ireland for not coming forward. Let them join, because they would be as much use—or even more use—parading up and down the afflicted parts of the Province as sitting in the House exchanging compliments with Ministers.

The point is always made that the soldiers are needed for NATO, but Northern Ireland is on the flank of NATO and we need the soldiers there to protect that part of Western Europe. I fear that these words will not be listened to by the Government, who are glad to have this debate as a platform for putting forward statistics of successes in capturing criminals and explosives. But, apart from that, it will have no other effect on the people of Northern Ireland, and I would not wish anyone to believe that it will have any other effect. The only statistics that the people of Ulster will accept from the Government are the statistics showing the number of dead and injured in Northern Ireland. When that number goes down dramatically they will realise that something has been done at long last to protect them as citizens of the United Kingdom.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

There are many things that could be said in a debate such as this, but unfortunately we must restrict ourselves to the more important aspects of the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Reference has already been made to the photographs of the IRA showing off a heavy machine gun, which photographs were published in the newspapers about a week ago. I believe that that was a purely propaganda exercise, for unless the IRA intends to expand its warfare in Northern Ireland it has no need of such a weapon. The Armalite rifle and the other weapons that it already possesses provide sufficient fire power for the task that the IRA has set itself.

One thing that is clear throughout all the horror of Northern Ireland over the past few years is that efforts to buy off terror and terrorists cannot and will never pay. The clearest proof of this appears in the endless obituary columns in the newspapers of Northern Ireland. That which cannot be bought off must be beaten off.

I view with the gravest suspicion the demands in some Ulster newspapers and some Irish newspapers, from people like Mr. McAteer and Mr. McBride, that the IRA should be put down at the conference table. I believe that the IRA can be beaten off only by depriving it of any hope of victory. There should be no talks with it and no recognition, under any circumstances. The incident centres that have been referred to should be closed down immediately. The Minister who is to reply to the debate must tell us why they are still operating and what they are costing the country.

We must demonstrate the will to win in Northern Ireland, up to now, in this House and in the Province, we have been far too concerned about the public image of the Army and of the security forces there. We have been taken to the Strasbourg Court by the Dublin Government, who face a nelection this year. A large patr of that action was possibly electioneering. It seems that that same Government forget about the activities of their own heavy squad in their own police force. I ask the Government here to bear in mind that while we have been nice to the IRA it has been anything but nice to us. While the Government have shown decency towards the IRA in Northern Ireland our people have been getting buried every day of the week.

There are no nice wars, and, particularly, there are no nice guerrilla wars. People get hurt in wars. They get hurt in losing them, they get hurt in a holding operation, and they get hurt in winning them. The terrorists can be stopped only by being killed, and until the day comes when we kill the hard core of terrorists in Northern Ireland our problems will remain.

The terrorists do not need a lot of guns or explosives; they simply need propaganda, and they naturally get it because, unfortunately, underdogs are always popular in the world's Press. Especially, they need a certain amount of support on the ground. That support will always be forthcoming when the terrorist seems to be winning. He will seem to be winning until the Government show that they will win.

We cannot buy people's hearts; we can only convince people that a majority has the right to peace and decency, and the right to rule. We cannot convince those who are naturally opposed to us that the will is there unless they see actual proof of that will. That will must be accepted through the ballot box. If by our actions, we show that we really mean to win in Northern Ireland, victory is certain. If we do not show that will, no victory can be achieved.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

In your unavoidable absence, Mr. Speaker, it became clear that some hon. Members were under a misunderstanding about the nature of this debate. They seemed to have failed to notice that it was a debate on security on a motion about security and they expressed regret that we were not discussing political solutions. I hasten to remind them that my right hon. and hon. Friends on this Bench have taken an entirely different view. We have made absolutely sure that hon. Members have unlimited opportunities for discussions on political solutions beginning, with your permission Mr. Speaker, tomorrow afternoon.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will regret that their bedfellow of last night, the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), has deserted them and that he entirely disagrees with the line he took last night in supporting the Government. I have no doubt that there is relevance to Northern Ireland in the debates that will engage our attention in the weeks to come. If hon. Members have any doubts about that they should read our reasoned amendment tabled on Second Reading and the humble contribution that I made on Second Reading. They will find constructive suggestions there about the future of Northern Ireland, but I drew the line at the inclusion of the gunmen representing the IRA, or any other gunmen representing anyone else.

Last June pleas were made for the establishment of a full-time operational detachment of the Ulster Defence Regiment in each battalion. It has been decided that the UDR should play a more important rôle in supporting the RUC and it makes sense to press ahead with the formulation of full-time units. They would provide the most efficient and economical method of providing a 24hour UDR presence. Such round-the-clock availability would make possible much closer co-operation with the RUC.

It might be argued that it is possible to call up whole battalions for full-time service at any time of special need. But the difficulty is apparent to those of us with some experience of the situation. The problem arises when we have an influx of troops and reinforcements in great numbers superimposed on an organisation that is not geared to and not capable of providing logistic support. There would be difficulties presented in this case if such call-ups were prolonged because we would be overloading the administrative transport and communications structures which are not designed to cope with a full complement of battalions of the UDR at any one time.

It is doubtful, too, if the practice of fairly frequent call-ups to full-time duty could be sustained without causing very real hardship to members of the UDR. In many cases in the past some have suffered severe financial loss and it would be unreasonable to add to their burden.

Last July the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland promised that the UDR would be strengthened but he did not go into any details and we did not press him at the time. There appears to have been some disappointment about the falling off in numbers from the peak period of early 1972 when the numbers reached 9,100. There now appears to have been a drop of almost 1,500. It looks as if even the present level is being maintained only through recruitment of women.

There are two or three outstanding reasons for these disappointing figures. The first is the delay in processing applications. We are still not satisfied, although we have drawn attention to this matter many times, that they are being dealt with as speedily as possible.

I have been told by the Ministry of Defence that a considerable number of applications have been withdrawn. I do not believe that these people have changed their minds after signing the application form. I think that they simply become fed up with the long waiting period between offering their services and receiving notification of acceptance. They are also frequently discouraged by inexplicable rejections of many of their friends. It is particularly difficult to understand why someone is refused who has served with distinction with one of the fighting Services and could be regarded as excellent UDR material.

Another cause of the poor recruitment is the lack of convincing evidence that the UDR is being used effectively for the purpose for which it was designed. Potential recruits totally fail to understand, for example, why, when a joint military-UDR patrol arrives at the boundary of a certain area, it is required to shed its UDR content, which is then transported to a pick-up point to be reunited with its military colleagues. I find that difficult to justify, and the general public totally fail to understand it.

I recognise the work of many senior officers in the UDR, but there is a weakness in the fact that there are few officers at the top who have served at battalion level in the UDR or have ever taken part in operations of the regiment. More urgency is needed in the provision of operational equipment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to the problem of obsolete wireless sets, the unsatisfactory level of maintenance and the difficulty of acquiring spares. The Secretary of State tonight repeated his promise that new and more sophisticated equipment will become available, but we should like some assurance that his full weight and that of his Ministers will be placed behind UDR procurement officers to ensure that there is no avoidable delay.

It is generally felt also that too little has been done to improve co-ordination between the UDR and the RUC in preparing for the reduced internal security role of the Regular Army. Despite what the Secretary of State said about difficulties in training schemes involving two separate forces, I would ask him to see whether it might not be possible to encourage officers and NCOs of the UDR and the RUC to engage in limited exercises and training sessions. The time will certainly come when that kind of contact and experience of working together will prove not just valuable but absolutely essential.

I want to make another small suggestion. Surely there is a need for an RUC liaison officer to be placed perhaps not at battalion level, but certainly at the headquarters of the UDR. It would not be too much to ask that a senior serving or a retired RUC officer could be found a place on the RUC Advisory Council. These things may seem small, but I am sure that they will lead to an improvement in the atmosphere, in the relationship and in the co-operation between these two forces. It is not only desirable but will become strictly essential.

We welcome the announcement on 17th December approving the enrolment of 200 additional conrate soldiers for the UDR. But we must point out that this cannot be regarded as being anything like an adequate substitute for the 600 regular troops whose withdrawal from Northern Ireland was announced at the same time, when one takes into account that the full-time recruits to the UDR will presumably not be available for some time. I imagine that many of them are still getting through the tortuous screening process and following that they will have to be trained.

Furthermore, the withdrawal of the troops not merely reduces patrolling by the Army but it also, in many ways, weakens the capacity of the UDR to do its patrolling. The UDR find that it now unfortunately has to waste time doing guard duty on premises which were formerly occupied by the Army. Surely that is a great waste of resources and manpower.

A further withdrawal of regular troops should not be contemplated unless there has been a matching increase in the strength of the locally recruited forces, or there are real indications that there is likely to be a dramatic reduction in the level of terrorist activity.

We have all welcomed the forthright declaration by the new Chief Constable of the RUC to the effect that the overriding objective of the force would be the defeat of the Provisional IRA and that this would take priority over all other aspects of police work and would be allocated whatever personnel, equipment or weapons were required.

I am also pleased to note that there has been some improvement in the supply situation. I hope that that will continue and that there will be a further improvement. I shall suggest a small step which could accelerate that improvement. I understand that in Great Britain a chief constable is given a budget within which he has comparative freedom to work in the matter of contracts and supplies. In Northern Ireland, however, the Chief Constable has to seek the approval of the Police Authority before he can make such purchases. That procedure might be admirable in the purchase of boots, for example, but it is not appropriate and not ideal when it comes to negotiating for supply and, what is probably more important, the design of anti-terrorist weapons, when some makes may still be on the classified list. We ought to try to devise a less cumbersome method to enable the Chief Constable to obtain speedily whatever is essential to counter the rapidly changing terrorist tactics. That degree of flexibility is necessary. He must not have his hands tied. He must not have to appear before the Police Authority to justify expenditure on items which are urgently needed and which may, and very probably would, save lives.

I shall not ask for precise details of the number and strength of the special patrol groups of the RUC. I hope that in both respects they are adequate. However, if they are not adequate, or if, for example, they are not as well equipped as their opposite numbers in the Metropoltian Police in London, I hope that that deficiency will be remedied speedily. If they are under strength, I hope that there will be a removal of the apparent ban on the inclusion of mobilised reserve constables, because this would avoid the draining away of the regular police from many of the undermanned RUC stations.

There has been a great desire on the part of a vast number of citizens to play a legitimate part in the defence and security of their own localities, but one feels that still more opportunities could be provided by way of acceptance of applicants into the RUC Reserve. I make a very special plea, through the Minister and others who may be listening, to the Police Federation of Northern Ireland to modify its attitude towards the reservists. I accept that all of us are entitled to look after our own special interests, but I plead with the Police Federation to remember that many people have to make very real sacrifices of personal interests in the present state of emergency. I do not think that the Police Federation, on reflection—and particularly the men they represent—having considered the implications, would be inclined to resist this simple request.

My colleagues and I supported the decision taken by the present Secretary of State when he was Secretary of State for Defence, and by his right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister, to involve the Special Air Service in the ugly situation existing at that time in South Armagh. I have always felt that there is a place for a force of this nature in a terrorist situation, and I have no doubt that its presence, and the fear of its presence, made a very significant contribution to stablising the situation in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker)—not, as many of us have come to call him, the hon. Member for South Armagh. That was a tribute to the effectiveness of those of his constituents who lived in the firing line of the southern part of his constituency.

However, while I am reluctant to trespass on the territory of a colleague, I suggest to the Secretary of State that the SAS might perhaps be encouraged and permitted to widen its sphere of activity. Should the Secretary of State ask me to nominate an area for its attention, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will not mind if I say that the southern part of Londonderry, which is also within the jurisdiction of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), in constituency terms, would be a suitable area in which the stabilising force of the SAS would be very beneficial.

I come now to the question of deterrents. I recognise that all parties in the House are divided on the issue of capital punishment. Our party is no exception. While I have consistently voted in favour of capital punishment, others have equally consistently and sincerely opposed it. However, on whatever side we may find ourselves, I suggest that there is an obligation on all of us to ensure that punishment is made to bear at least some relationship to the crime. Terrorism is a crime. The terrorists themselves have to be convinced of that, and those engaged in the enforcement of the law must be clear in their minds that they are dealing with criminals of the very worst type. If it is felt that capital punishment is not defensible, the alternative must be a convincing substitute. It must be an alternative that is as irreversible as the death penalty itself.

We cannot repeat too often what the Secretary of State said tonight, that there will be no amnesty. The idea that one day a deal will be done and that all the thugs, gunmen and murderers will again be permitted to walk openly on our streets is a false notion which gives hope to terrorists and, perhaps even more important, to would-be terrorists. The expectation and belief that they may be permitted to win sustains and motivates those enemies of society. It is the duty and responsibility of the House, of all of us who take part in these debates, to deprive them of that which inspires them to continue.

I trust that in this debate we have made progress towards that end, and I invite the House to support the motion.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

In making the same invitation, I should be grateful if we could be informed what the motion means by: calls for a further increase in the strength and effectiveness of the Ulster security forces. Many of my hon. Friends and I would feel that our support for the motion was on the ground that we supported an increase in the strength and ability of the police force in Northern Ireland and a determination by the Government to arrive at a situation in which we had a police force acceptable to the whole community. We do not want to see merely the negative side that we have seen in the debate, which to my mind has lacked much in the spirit of reconciliation.

Although we want to deter terrorism and the men of violence, from whichever side they come, it would be helpful, in all the talk about political solutions, if we at least tried to understand the circumstances in which the violence continues. We would have welcomed a spirit of reconciliation, particularly from the Ulster Unionist Bench, where it was conspicuously lacking in the speech of the hon. Member for Down. North (Mr. Kilfedder). I suppose that this is a battlefield and the hon. Member must be the Rupert of debate, because he has disappeared.

The hon. Gentleman spoke contradictions, calling for an Ulsterisation of the security forces and then for an increase in the British Army presence. He got catcalls from his hon. Friends for being in the Government Lobby last night. I was happy to be there with him, but I have always been a Home-Ruler. I had thought that I might see some of his hon. Friends there, because I believe that the Ulster Unionists want devolved government for Northern Ireland and that that was what the Convention Report was all about. But it seems that what they want for Northern Ireland they do not want for Scotland and Wales. However, I shall not pursue that matter too far, because I might well be in the same Lobby as them later.

We relentlessly pursue the terrorists, but there must be an understanding by all the parties concerned that we must work for reconciliation. Something that has gone almost unnoticed in the House and country is the tremendous amount of money that the Government have just allocated to rehabilitate Belfast. In many ways that will do as much to reconcile people and improve the situation there as would the provision of extra guns or the introduction of more repressive measures. The more we think in terms of jobs, homes and security for people, the more we get away from the atmosphere in which terrorists on either side can flourish. That should be the aim all the time—not to give way to the terrorists but to ensure that in all our policies for Northern Ireland we seek to create a situation in which people will not be afraid of one another but will be prepared to work and talk together and, we hope, to share government together.

9.49 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)

I hope that the House will forgive me for having left myself only 10 minutes in which to wind up the debate, but I thought it as well to enable as many hon. Members as possible to take part. I was glad that they included two of my hon. Friends, because lately I have been feeling like the boy on the burning deck, with plenty to do but wanting a bit of support from some of my colleagues. The first thing that I must do is to scotch some of the rumours that are obviously high-flying in Northern Ireland.

I do not know how often we must say this, but the Secretary of State frequently asks me how often he must say it and I tell him "At least three times a week and every day, if possible", so I do not know how much more often we must say that the Army in Northern Ireland will stay at its present strength of about 14,000, that it will be strengthened as may be necessary at any time, and that it will continue until it has done its job. We shall go on saying that for as long as necessary. When I have meetings with various bodies in Northern Ireland and this point is brought up they are told to their faces that this is a rumour. But the Government often find later that the rumour has been used in a politically-motivated way.

I also want to scotch another rumour quickly, before it does untold damage. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) mentioned the incident centre in the New Lodge Road and he seemingly thought that public funds were being given to support it. The truth is that when this property became one of the Provisional Sinn Fein incident centres a telephone was needed. The Northern Ireland Office did not install the telephone. It was for the PSF to arrange that with the GPO. All subsequent financial transactions have taken place between the PSF, as a private subscriber, and the GPO in the normal way. No public money was given for that purpose. I hope that that scotches the rumour, but if it does not I shall have to say it again next week.

I also want to scotch the rumour that Northern Ireland tours of duty for the Army are to be reduced to three months. I do not know where these rumours come from. There is no truth in this and from long experience the Army has found that the four-month emergency tours are about right. There are no plans to change this, There are, of course, some units in Northern Ireland that are on 18-months' accompanied tours, but there have always been some units on such tours.

As to the pay structure for full-time members of the UDR, it is fair to say that improved terms and conditions of service for full-time UDR members are expected shortly.

I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) that we accept the motion in the sense that he read it. It includes the police, the police reserves and all the local forces within Northern Ireland, but it does not include the Army.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

Unfortunately, the Minister himself led us astray by drawing the attention of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) to the fact that the security forces included 14,000 soldiers, I remind the Minister that the last few words of the motion are "Ulster security forces". Therefore, the concept is fairly established that when we talk about security forces we mean the police and the Army. Therefore, it is implied in the motion that an increase in the Army can also take place.

Mr. Concannon

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) has followed the debate properly. The motion refers to local security forces. That is how I understand it, and from what was said by United Ulster Unionist leaders in the House, that is also the way that they understand it.

There has been some talk about the UDR and 200 full-time members. What has been forgotten is that there are already 1,600 full-time members of the UDR, and this figure of 200 is additional to that number. To those who have been referring to recruitment I can say that while there are no recent figures, I increasingly spend my Sunday mornings touring Army establishments in Northern Ireland. I recently found myself talking to the commander of the 6th UDR Battalion in Omagh. He told me that he was pleased with recruitment into his battalion. He also mentioned how much co-operation there had been in that area between his force and Army battalions that had served there. There is no particular problem in that area, and I find similar feelings on most of my Sunday morning tours.

In the debate there seemed to be some confusion about recruitment to the RUC. We should distinguish between the regular force and the reservists, both full-and part-time. Recruitment to the regular force is highly successful. Only a proportion of applicants is accepted by the Chief Constable, who has the responsibility, under statute, for the appointment of members of the force. The selection procedure includes consideration of age, height, health, character and education.

The qualifications are those that obtain in the rest of the United Kingdom. Surely no one would suggest that they should be relaxed, particularly in present circumstances in Northern Ireland. The strength of the part-time reserves has shown a slight drop in the last year, and it was to these forces that my right hon. Friend referred when he said that certain areas were up to strength. Part-time reservists serve in their home areas and are not mobile units like the regular forces. No purpose would be served by attracting more recruits than can be used productively.

There is good reason to believe that the flow of arms and funds across the Atlantic has diminshed in recent months, due, in no small part, to the United States authorities. They have arrested suspected gun runners with the help of evidence from Northern Ireland, and on 14th February a civil suit was filed by the Justice Department against Noraid to ensure that United States law in respect of the transmission of money overseas is complied with. There is no complacency about this issue on either side of the Atlantic. There is a great deal of cooperation between the authorities, but it would be wrong, in the interests of security, to go into details.

It has been suggested that the police have been denied the tools for the job. I cannot ignore the fact that the assessment of operations and the provision of appropriate arms and equipment are, by statute, matters for the Chief Constable and the Police Authority. The Chief Constable is advised, in relation to arms and other protective equipment, by a force working party that has been set up and on which the Police Federation is represented. There is an opportunity for police officers to make their views known.

I know that the police force has in hand arrangements to provide certain vehicles with improved protective features. A number of specially designed personnel carriers are being tested and new rifles have been acquired to replace other weapons. I am satisfied that adequate procedures exist for the provision of all necessary equipment.

The necessary resources are available, and the Chief Constable and the Police Authority have my full support.

There are other issues with which I should have liked to deal, including prison administration —the subject for which I am particularly responsible. I feel that I have been saying this daily for the past year, but the special category for prisoners ended on 1st March. Those in prison who are not accepting prison rules have, by their actions already lost 11 years in remission of sentences.

I hope that I have managed to convey to the House our thanks for the way in which the debate has been conducted and the basis on which the Government ate prepared to accept the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the unabated continuance of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland and calls for a further increase in the strength and effectiveness of the Ulster security forces.