HC Deb 13 July 1978 vol 953 cc1715-7
7. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to improve the community's participation in the policing and administration of the Province.

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

We are anxious to give locally elected representatives extensive responsibilities for the administration of the Province. That is the purpose of the five-point plan. In the meantime, we shall continue to involve the people of Northern Ireland as far as possible through the various arrangements for consultation that have been developed and extended over the past few years. As regards policing, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seeks to ensure that the membership of the Police Authority is, so far as practicable, representative of the whole community.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Does not the Minister agree that one of the weakest parts of the Government's policy in Northern Ireland has been the creation of any cross-community co-operation? Have the Government any initiatives in this direction? Has there been any increased recruiting from the minority community into the security forces, the police and the UDR?

Mr. Dunn

On the last question, I really could not give clear indications, although there are some suggestions that there are increased numbers of recruits from the minority community. However, as the hon. Gentleman will know, no records are kept on the basis of the first application, so it is hard to give the answer that he seeks.

On the other broad front, every endeavour is made through consultative processes, and, indeed, by local committees, to encourage people to participate and to create relationships with the security forces in the areas in which they live, work and enjoy life.

Mr. Goodhart

What hope does the Minister have of persuading members of the SDLP to participate more fully in the work of local security committees?

Mr. Dunn

The same as I would have of persuading the Conservative Party not to keep on asking the same question, to which they know the answer.

Mr. Fitt

Does my hon. Friend agree that it will be difficult to persuade the SDLP or any other responsible party in Northern Ireland to participate in policing Northern Ireland through the agency of the Police Authority when two very distinguished persons have resigned from that body on the ground that they were kept in the dark and that the Minister ran it in the way he wanted to run it and did not want their views?

Mr. Dunn

I can understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, but he is not quite informing the House of the facts. Those two people have given notice that they intend to withdraw. These matters are now being considered. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt what answers will come from the consultations and considerations. But it is also true that it is very difficult for those in my hon. Friend's circumstances to persuade people of his own political party to join in endeavours towards security when there is so much reluctance, and there are difficulties which have to be overcome. But we are trying as hard as we possibly can to dissipate that fear and anxiety. We hope that we have my hon. Friend's help in this matter.