HC Deb 13 April 1978 vol 947 cc1646-9
4. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he expects to achieve his long-term strategy of developing the capability of the police to a point at which they can discharge their duties without military assistance.

Mr. Mason

The continuing build-up in the strength and effectiveness of the RUC represents steady progress towards our long-term aim, as does its growing acceptability in the community and its success in bringing terrorists to justice. But the nature of the threat still calls for military support for the RUC in some areas, and it is too early to forecast when it will no longer be needed.

Mr. Jenkins

What my right hon. Friend has said is encouraging, both in answer to this Question and in answer to previous Questions, but does he agree that the presence of the military, while containing the situation, also helps to congeal it to some extent? Will he therefore agree that, the solution ultimately being a political one, the gradual phasing out of military support and the gradual strengthening of the Royal Ulster Constabulary would provide a basis on which perhaps further steps could be made towards reaching a political solution to the problem?

Mr. Mason

Yes, I recognise the point which my hon. Friend makes, but we shall have the security forces in Northern Ireland in the strength that we deem to be necessary as long as the threat remains.

The position concerning the Royal Ulster Constabulary is most encouraging. During 1977, 679 recruits were accepted in the RUC. This was the highest annual figure ever. As a result, the force strength rose during the year by 439 officers. Everything possible is being done to maintain this favourable trend. The gradual introduction of the police to the fore, backed by considerable recruitment, is taking place, and the security forces are there in the main to back up and help the RUC.

Mr. Powell

Will the Secretary of State confirm, in the light of the terms of the Question, that in the view of Her Majesty's Government there is a permanent role for the Ulster Defence Regiment in maintaining the security of that part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Mason

Yes, I would affirm that. Recruitment for the UDR is also going well. We have 5,800 members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. We have now 2,100 who are full-time. Therefore, the full-time recruitment is going well. The regiment is part of the British Army, under the command of the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, and is playing a good role as far as we are concerned.

9. Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the current establishment figure for the Royal Ulster Constabulary; and what has been the level of recruitment in each of the last four years.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James A. Dunn)

The present strength of the regular RUC is 5,789, against an authorised establishment of 6,500. The numbers of recruits joining the force have increased in each of the last four years: 356 joined in 1976, 505 in 1975, 581 in 1976, and 679 in 1977. In the first three months of this year, 149 recruits have joined the regular force.

Mr. Freud

The House will welcome those figures. In view of the high cost of compensation paid by the British Government, will the Minister now seek to step up recruitment even further so that the very efficient RUC can work to near enough its establishment figure?

Mr. Dunn

I wish I could assure the hon. Gentleman that it was possible to step up recruitment. A maximum effort is now being put in. I believe that that is shown by the figures I have announced today. If it were humanly possible to get more recruits, I would welcome it.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the Minister share the concern which has so often been expressed in this House with regard to the small percentage of Roman Catholics serving in the RUC? Does he agree that more might be done by certain political parties and Church bodies in order to improve the situation, particularly as intimidation decreases?

Mr. Dunn

I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that I would welcome more people from the minority community joining the RUC. However, there is difficulty in identifying such statistics, because on the application forms that are submitted no religious affiliation is stated; that is not on the application form. Indeed, if it were on the form, the first objections would come from the Opposition side of the House.

Mr. Fitt

Surely my hon. Friend does not really expect us to believe that people in Northern Ireland do not know the religious quotas in the RUC. Does he agree that it is not a question of numbers? We could have 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 members of the RUC, but if there is not an overall acceptance by the majority of people—from both the majority and minority communities—numbers do not matter. It is the duty of the Government to try to bring about a political situation in which the police service in Northern Ireland will be accepted in every district.

Mr. Dunn

I hope my hon. Friend will appreciate that every effort is being made to bring about a political solution. I would differ with him with regard to the knowledge of those who are in the force. It is fair to assume that by education certain people would follow a particular faith, but that is not absolute at the end of the day, as my hon. Friend well knows.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the Minister tell the House whether the establishment of the RUC is sufficient to enable that force to cover the whole of Ulster, which is part of the United Kingdom? If it is not, what increase would he like to see? Are there many areas where the RUC cannot patrol? Will he identify those areas and get this matter rectified as soon as possible?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman might unknowingly be doing a disservice to the RUC. There are no areas where its force and presence are not known. There is an establishment of 6,500, which has not yet been reached, even with an energetic and vigorous recruitment campaign. The hon. Gentleman's question would be better asked when we reach establishment.