HC Deb 13 April 1978 vol 947 cc1651-4
10. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on security in the Province.

12. Mr. Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what conclusions he has drawn from the course of terrorist and anti-terrorist activity since the La Mon House outrage; and if he will make a statement.

14. Mr. Dunlop

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

Mr. Mason

In the four weeks since I last addressed the House, one person, a soldier, has been killed.

Since 1st March, 119 people have been charged with serious terrorist offences, including eight with murder and 21 with attempted murder. Over 70 weapons have been recovered, including an M60 machine gun, and over 6,000 rounds of ammunition. A man wanted by the RUC for questioning in connection with a number of terrorist crimes in the South Derry area has also been captured.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

The House will be aware of the latest reported bombing of soldiers and police by terrorists who escaped across the border. Is the Secretary of State in constant touch with his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with regard to representations in Dublin to ensure that in future constitutional legalisms do not defeat justice?

Mr. Mason

I do not think that constitutional legalisms are defeating justice. As I indicated earlier, we have the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975, which is operative on both sides of the border. One of the problems is to be able to give sufficient information where the authorities across the border believe it to be insufficient evidence in order to operate under the Criminal Jurisdiction Act.

Mr. Powell

In view of the growing and welcome success of the RUC in obtaining arrests and convictions, will the Secretary of State ensure that all concerned are alerted to two dangers which arise in such circumstances? The first is a renewed campaign of denigration and false allegation against the RUC and the second is some new and different twist in the campaign of murder and intimidation to attempt, however vainly, to hold back the recruitment of the RUC and the discharge of its duties.

Mr. Mason

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to keep the House alert to those possibilities. Those of us who have responsibility for security in Northern Ireland discuss these matters weekly. There has been a propaganda campaign against the RUC. At this stage it has dissipated, but it could rise again. Since the La Mon restaurant incident, the backlash—revulsion, really—of the mass of the populace in Northern Ireland has certainly warned the Provisional IRA that the people will not contend with that any longer. Consequently, the RUC has got more co-operation. The people of the Province have managed to raise £150,000 for the relatives of the La Mon House victims. Indeed, the students of the universities have marched en bloc—4,000 of them—through the streets of Belfast against the Provisional IRA. I think that that message is getting across.

Mr. Dunlop

I reckon I was somewhat out of order, Mr. Speaker, the last time I got to my feet. I apologise. Without reiterating all that I said, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he thinks that a man who served six years in the British Army and came out with honours as a corporal is good enough for the UDR?

Mr. Mason

I would not be aware of every individual applicant to join the UDR. The House will recognise that it is not my specific responsibility. That would fall under the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. There is a tight screening process. That was called for by the people of the Province. I do not know why this person has not been successful in his application.

Mr. Fernyhough

Can my right hon. Friend give an indication of the source of the arms that have been discovered or captured by the security forces in Northern Ireland during the last three months?

Mr. Mason

No, I cannot give the source. Indeed, it would be difficult to give the trail. I do not think that it would be right or proper to start to reveal those details. It has already been publicised that weapons were on the way to Ireland from the Middle East and, indeed, were apprehended at Antwerp in Belgium. There are these connections, perhaps buying illegal arms, although not necessarily a relationship with any other terrorist organisation. That is one of the routes.

Mr. Carson

Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way of achieving greater security is to make greater use of the UDR? Will he increase its full-time complement?

Mr. Mason

The UDR is constantly being used. When the General Officer Commanding wishes it to carry out more patrols, operate more vehicle checkpoints and carry out other duties in the Province, he can call upon it quite freely. With regard to conrates or the professionals, recruitment is going on but we still have not reached our top establishment.

Mr. McNamara

I was lost in admiration of my right hon. Friend's reply to an earlier supplementary question about the UDR. I wonder whether he appreciated the significance of what he was saying about the permanence of the UDR. Surely it exists for a temporary emergency, and Her Majesty's Government should be thinking not in terms of its permanent existence but of creating a situation in which it is no longer necessary for it to exist.

Mr. Mason

It would be most helpful, of course, if we could say that there was no longer any use for HerMajesty's Forces in the United Kingdom as a whole. But, as regards the Ulster Defence Regiment, we are developing a professional element, and it is providing a useful back-up for the British Army in Northern Ireland. It must be recognised that, as the units of the British Army themselves reduce in number, the UDR will be able to carry out some of the duties which the British Army has been carrying out hitherto.

Mr. Wm. Ross

Although I appreciate that it is not possible for the Secretary of State to identify the source of all weapons which are captured, may I ask whether he is yet in a position to say whether the American authorities have been able to let the RUC know whether the M60 machine gun which was captured had been stolen or sold?

Mr. Mason

The RUC is following through its inquiries to try to establish the source of the M60 machine gun, but no evidence has yet come to light.