§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)
I beg to move,That the draft Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 22nd May, be approved.
§ Mr. Speaker
Is it suggested that we consider at the same time the second motion in the right hon. Gentleman's name—That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 22nd May, be approved.
§ Mr. Mason
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I was about to suggest that in my preamble.
The arrangements for direct rule under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 have been renewed for one year at a time for each of the past three years. The Government want to return as much responsibility as they can to representatives of the community in Northern Ireland as soon as possible. But this has not yet proved feasible, and I therefore seek the approval of the House today to an order which will extend the statutory basis for direct rule for a further year from 16th July.
The security situation continues to improve, but we cannot yet dispense with the emergency legislation. For this reason, I shall at the end of this debate be seeking the renewal of the emergency 1704 provisions under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. I suggest that it would therefore be for the convenience of the House if the substance of the two motions were discussed in one debate.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does that mean that the debate may continue for one and a half hours after 4 o'clock on both motions?
§ Mr. Speaker
Yes, but it means that there will be a wider and more reasonable debate if we proceed in that way.
§ Mr. Mason
I wish, first, to make clear where the Government stand on the fundamental question of the constitutional status of the Province. It will be for the people of Northern Ireland themselves to decide whether or not they wish to continue to be part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Unless and until the citizens of Northern Ireland themselves elect for something different, it remains part of the United Kingdom. Secondly, no solution can be imposed without the acquiescence of both communities in the Province.
We must concentrate on how to return responsibility for a range of Government services to an elected authority in Northern Ireland. This can be done only under arrangements which would be acceptable to both sides of the community. I do not believe that any political or constitutional advance can be made without the broad consent of both sides.
We shall continue, as we have done, to do all in our power to combat the activities of terrorists. Until such time as we can devolve power to some form of local administration, we shall continue direct rule in as sensitive a manner as possible. This has been the consistent basis of our policy, and it is the only defensible course to follow in the immediate future.
As we are to debate the two motions together, I suggest that it would suit the convenience of the House if I were to 1705 review briefly the Government's policies in Northern Ireland under four heads: the security situation, economic matters, the political and constitutional position, and social affairs.
I take, first, security. As I have said before, when we take stock of Northern Ireland affairs, we must look for signs of steady progress rather than immediate dramatic results. The past six months have had both good signs and bad. The La Mon House bombing disaster in mid-February was an appalling act of inhumanity. The admission of the cold-blooded killing of a wounded policeman in captivity only two weeks ago was no less horrible.
There are, apparently, no depths to which the Provisional IRA will not sink. Those who continue to bless them with the title of freedom fighters should not forget that. Nor should they forget that the men of violence have been condemned utterly by leaders of all sections of the community, particularly strongly by political and Church leaders of the minority. The suggestion that I or my officials should parley with their representatives is abhorrent to me.
There have been periods of relative tranquillity this year, partly the result of the vigilance of the security forces in anticipating and preventing violence. A number of town and village centres, such as Cookstown, Bangor and even Londonderry, which have hitherto been enclosed by barriers, have been opened up to traffic. The people of Northern Ireland have shown both courage and good sense in refusing to be provoked by the shocking deeds of the terrorists. I pay tribute to their calmness, and thank all those who have spoken out for it.
Six months is a short-term view, and in assessing progress we are entitled to paint on a much broader canvas. Let me look back a couple of years and recall the level of terrorism two years ago. In the first six months of 1976, 175 people died; in the first six months of 1977 the figure was 79. So far this year, in spite of the La Mon House incident and the deaths of only a week ago, 49 people have been killed. Every death is a death too many, and every one demeans us all. But the improving trend is clear. In the first six months of 1976 1706 there were 890 shootings. So far this year the figure has fallen to 417.
Gradually normality is returning to the Province—as witness the improvement in the number of tourists now beginning to come to Northern Ireland once again. Last year there were 47,000 more tourists than in 1976.
Normality has not arrived yet, nor am I making extravagant claims. But the Government are firm in their resolve, and they are supported in this resolve by the steadfast attitude of both the security forces and the people of the Province. Those who break the law will be dealt with as the criminals they are, and will be put where they belong—behind bars. Special category status is being phased out, despite the sordid and revolting protests of some of the prisoners. There will be no amnesty for convicted criminals. Those guilty of murder, bombing, and assault, will pay the price demanded by law. Only so can the country return to peaceful conditions.
We believe in the rule of law. I was therefore happy, as part of our response to the recent report of Amnesty International, to accept a recommendation made by the Chief Constable. The Government have set up an independent committee of inquiry to consider the present police procedures and practice relating to the interrogation of persons suspected of scheduled offences and to consider the operation of the present machinery for dealing with complaints against the police. I have undertaken that the report of the inquiry will be published, and I hope that this will allay any anxieties that the House may have on this matter.
§ Mr. Mason
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
As for the allegations of maltreatment in individual cases, I can only repeat what I have said before. There is provision for such allegations to be investigated by the police and for their report to be considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions, who—as Amnesty International recognised—is an independent officer of the Crown charged with deciding whether criminal proceedings should be brought.
For allegations of disciplinary offences, there is the Police Complaints Board, also 1707 independent, which sees the papers relating to all cases of complaint. Therefore, let those who have brought anonymous allegations against unnamed police officers take their evidence in confidence to the DPP, rather than publicising slurs against a police force which is coping with all the strains and stresses of the fight against terrorism. I have asked Amnesty International to co-operate in this endeavour.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Has he had any response from Amnesty International to his appeal to it to come forward, to come out from behind the cloak of anonymity and give the names of the people concerned in the report?
§ Mr. Mason
No Sir. I am sorry to say that I have not yet had such a response. Amnesty International has replied to me, because of the comments I made in the House during Question Time, splitting hairs on the accuracy of what I said. But I must repeat that if Amnesty International has medical evidence from the complainants—the witnesses—I hope that with their co-operation it will go to the independent Director of Public Prosecutions, so that he can examine those complaints and furnish the information flowing from them to the inquiry.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
One quite understands my right hon. Friend's desire that people should go to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and so on, but does he not make a distinction between sufficient evidence of a complaint to bring a charge in court—a prosecution—and sufficient evidence of a complaint not to bring a charge in court, not to bring a prosecution, but to give reasonable cause to believe that the events occurred?
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I do not want to take up any time during my right hon. Friend's speech because I shall have something to say later, but is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday afternoon a case was thrown out of court 1708 in Northern Ireland by a judge who said that he was not prepared to convict, on the ground that the person involved had been maltreated and that he did not accept the excuses put forward by the police, who said that the person had not been maltreated. When my right hon. Friend talks about unnamed police officers, will he tell me and everyone else in Northern Ireland how one obtains the names of the people engaged in this business?
§ Mr. Mason
If the evidence can be forthcoming from Amnesty International and its witnesses to the DPP, we may find the names. My hon. Friend only proves to me that if, in the opinion of the judge of the court, a person's confession before the court has been obtained under duress, the judge can discharge that person. That form of court still allows that to happen, and I believe that to be something in favour of the procedures of the law in Northern Ireland.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary is making good progress in equipping itself, in men, materials and morale, so that it can increasingly take the lead in maintaining law and order throughout the Province. In many areas this is the case already. The police are doing their job, on their own, with the Regular Army or the Ulster Defence Regiment in the background to be called upon if required.
Recruitment added 143 to the regular force in the first five months of this year. It now stands at 5,835. Its weaponry has been further improved. Nearly 2,000 policemen have now been trained in the use of the M1 carbine. The programme of providing the RUC with steel-protected Land Rovers is going steadily forward. For security reasons, I cannot say publicly how many are now in operation or on order, but I can say that the Police Authority hopes to see the delivery programme completed by the end of this year. An important computer-based command and control system will shortly be installed in the Belfast area, which together with a Province-wide teleprinter system, will greatly improve communications and so increase the efficiency of the force in its use of resources.
The UDR is also steadily building its strength. It is getting close to its target of 2,500 professional full-time men, and 1709 there are now 14 operational platoons fully recruited and at work. This has made it possible to allocate further territorial areas of responsibility to the UDR, which in these areas becomes the first line of military support for the police.
Meanwhile, the Regular Army still has a vital role to play in supporting the rule of law, and I pay tribute to the dedication with which these soldiers—like the other branches of the security forces—have continued over long hours to offer protection to the innocent and join in tracking down the terrorist.
As I forecast last December, this autumn we are introducing another resident infantry battalion to the Province, replacing one of the units which do a four months' tour of duty. It will be based at Aldergrove. It will stay for 18 months, and the soldiers will be accompanied by their families. I have stressed the advantages of resident battalions before. They gain greater familiarity with local conditions and the neighbourhood, and represent a step towards normality. Although we are still some way from that in security terms, we are moving steadily towards it and will not be diverted.
I turn now to the Government's industrial and employment policies in Northern Ireland. I cannot but stress the very serious nature of the economic problems facing the Province. The unemployment rate in Northern Ireland is nearly twice that in the United Kingdom as a whole. In some parts of the Province, male unemployment is almost 30 per cent. The "troubles" have increased the difficulties of overcoming grave structural economic problems and geographical disadvantages.
All the people of Northern Ireland should now be pulling together with the Government in the common effort to overcome these difficulties. That is one reason why I attach great importance to the Economic Council. This is a forum where representatives of both sides of industry and independent experts can meet; a place where they can analyse economic problems together and consider how management and unions can tackle their common task in partnership with the Government. The trade unions in particular have done sterling work in holding 1710 industry and production together during the troubled years.
For our part, the Government have intensified their effort to attract new investment to the Province from overseas—particularly from the United States of America and Europe—and to encourage the expansion of existing investments. In support of this, we have a range of industrial incentives designed, in scale and character, to meet Northern Ireland's special needs. Our aim is to make the Province truly competitive in the search for mobile international investment. I have myself visited the United States, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has been there several times, as part of a vigorous promotional effort.
There have been some encouraging responses. Last year, American-owned companies increased their stake in Northern Ireland by £55 million. Du Pont announced a major modernisation and re-equipment programme at May-down, outside Londonderry. Goodyear has announced a major new research and development investment, centred at its Craigavon plant. AVX will be opening a plant at Coleraine, which will provide 600 new jobs. General Motors has just announced plans to invest £l5 million in a factory at Dundonald, manufacturing seat belts—another 600 jobs.
These developments, especially those which represent brand-new investment for Northern Ireland, are a most encouraging sign. They show that hard-headed business men believe in the future of the Province and the opportunities that it can offer. To this list, we can add the recent news that the German firm of Machinenfabrik—MAN—has decided to establish a joint undertaking with Harland and Wolff to build medium-speed diesel engines—a decision which will safeguard 400 jobs in the company's engine works.
These are, of course, most welcome developments. But let us not be deluded. Even this limited scale of success has not come easily—every investment has had to be fought for and won—and it would be wrong to disguise the fact that much still remains to be done to tackle the appalling level of unemployment in Northern Ireland. Convincing the world of the opportunities available in the Province is often an uphill task. Northern Ireland needs all the advantages it can offer to 1711 investors, not least its fine industrial relations record. This is an asset that the Province cannot afford to lose.
I claim that the Government have made a massive commitment to alleviating the worst effects of the present recession. Under the industrial training and job creation programmes, we currently provide places for almost 6,500 people. The youth opportunities programme will provide an additional 2,000 opportunities in training and work preparation for young people who would otherwise be unemployed. Through the grant aid training scheme we contribute to training a further 6,000 people, while employment and recruitment subsidies, including temporary employment subsidy, helped to provide or retain some 31,000 jobs.
We have also moved swiftly in the case of the Northern Ireland meat industry, protecting not only 3,000 jobs but also the whole future of the industry itself, which was threatened as a result of changes in green pound rates. We have helped milk producers when their returns threatened to fall far below those in Great Britain.
I can assure the House that the Government will continue their vigorous efforts in industry, commerce and agriculture as part of their policy of giving the people of the Province the opportunity to help themselves. But I underline "help themselves", for it is the people of Northern Ireland who can do most to create the orderly and peaceful environment which is essential if their grave economic difficulties are to be overcome.
I turn now to political and constitutional matters. There has been no shift in the Government's fundamental approach to the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. Any change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom can be made only with the consent of the majority of the people who live there. That is the position of all the major parties at Westminster. It is the position of the SDLP. The future of Northern Ireland is a matter for decision by the people of Northern Ireland. The Government cannot and will not seek to impose constitutional change. Such a course would be morally indefensible, and if any appreciable body of political opinion were opposed to it it would be foredoomed to failure.
1712 People in Northern Ireland have differing long-term aspirations, but they will not be coerced by violence into changing their views. We want to create conditions in which the people of Northern Ireland, free from coercion, can decide matters for themselves. We want to see a locally elected administration with substantial powers. I have already said that I am prepared to talk to the parties on the basis of the criteria set out in the five-point plan that I published last November.
Those five points are: (a) there should be a single Assembly, elected by proportional representation; (b) that Assembly should exercise real responsibility over a wide range of functions and have a consultative role in legislation; (c) the arrangements should be temporary and envisage progress to full legislative devolution; (d) although temporary, they must be durable which means that minority interests must be safeguarded and that Northern Ireland political parties must be prepared to make them work; (e) they must make good administrative sense.
Such principles are surely unexceptionable, and I have yet to hear of any one opposed to them. The main parties in Northern Ireland have already had some exposition of how they might work out in practice. But I emphasise that I am not committed to any particular cut-and-dried arrangements. I would be happy to discuss proposals significantly different from those which have so far been suggested, but they must be capable of securing a wide degree of acceptance in both parts of the community.
My plan, which was prepared after earlier discussion with the parties and in the light of their views, provides the broad principles within which there is, I believe, the best prospect of finding an acceptable system. Such acceptance will be achieved only if the new arrangements provide an opportunity for political representatives of the majority and the minority communities to participate on a fair basis in a partnership administration.
That principle has consistently governed our policies, and I have yet to hear of any major party in this House which departs from it. It will need to be observed not only in the kind of arrangements I have put to the parties 1713 but in any scheme to create a new level of local government. Any arrangements devised must, to be successful, be acceptable to both the majority and the minority in Northern Ireland, and to the House of Commons. A system without proper safeguards for minority interests is unlikely to win this all-round support.
Because I need the co-operation of the main political parties, it is not in my gift to command success in making progress. I am dependent on the willingness of others. I have taken the initiative. I have sat down with the politicians. I have put forward proposals. I believe that those proposals deserve more serious consideration by the party leaders than they have so far received.
In the meantime, I want to ensure that as much use as possible is made of the experience and expertise of the members of the 26 locally-elected district councils. Thirty per cent. of the members of the health and personal social service boards are already nominated by district councils; and 40 per cent. of the education and libraries boards are similarly nominated. The district councils are widely consulted on a range of matters which, under direct rule, are the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. These consultative arrangements have proved valuable, and I would aim to extend and develop them as far as that is possible.
The House will have noted that additional minor powers are given to district councils in some of the draft Orders in Council published recently. The draft rent order gives district councils the power to issue certificates of fitness or unfitness and to enforce the carrying out of necessary repairs. These are minor, but important, matters. I was pleased to note that the extra powers given to district councils in the rent order were welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) as well as by Opposition Members.
As direct rule continues, it will be necessary to look carefully at the legislation which is coming forward, to see what responsibilities of this kind should properly be given to district councils. As part of this process, I shall look to see whether the right principles are being properly applied in the allocation of functions and responsibilities between, on the one hand, district councils and, on the 1714 other, the regional government which is now being administered by Her Majesty's Government. In doing this, we shall have regard to the recommendations of the Macrory Report and the subsequent experience of their working. The House will be able, as legislation is brought forward, to judge, before the next renewal debate, whether we are striking the right balance.
But it is not only continuing violence, economic problems and political divisions that are affecting the quality of life in Northern Ireland. The Province faces massive social problems, and over the past four years we have been getting to grips with these. The things we have done cover far too wide an area for me to review them adequately in this speech, but I should like to run quickly over some of the ground.
On the environmental front, there is the Belfast Transportation Plan. This was published in 1969. Among other projects, £5 million was spent on improvements to the Belfast Central rail line and station. In 1976, we published further proposals, and after a full public inquiry I announced, in April 1978, a massive programme of improvements to the roads, railways and public services within Belfast, costing £100 million over the next nine years.
Belfast, in common with many other cities in the United Kingdom, is suffering from urban decay and massive social and unemployment problems. Following the publication of an interdepartmental report in 1976, the Government have made extra resources available, including £130 million over the next five years for the provision and improvement of housing. On urban renewal, a planning team has been set up, under the chairmanship of my noble Friend the Minister of State, which includes representatives from Government, local government and the statutory boards. This team now coordinates the programme to improve employment prospects, health and social services, and educational and recreational facilities. It works in close consultation with voluntary bodies and local community representatives.
On Northern Ireland's social problems, progress is being made. In the past year, 34 shebeens, or illegal drinking clubs, have been closed down. We have recently initiated the "Outset" survey of all the 1715 physically handicapped in Northern Ireland. We are about to publish our proposals for improving services for the mentally handicapped, and a major review is in progress on law and practice on the care and treatment of children and young persons, based on the Black Committee.
In all these fields, we have to take the greatest pains to ensure the fullest possible consultation with local feeling. We have done this on the sensitive and difficult question of divorce. The House will recall that the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order, which was recently approved, was introduced after the widest possible consultation—carried out by my hon. Friend who is responsible for divorce law reform—and was prompted by the considered advice of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The Commission is an important organ within the Province for expressing views on social issues which raise questions of human rights. Its work, along with that of the Ombudsman, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Fair Employment Agency, means that the position of the minority in Northern Ireland is both scrutinised and safeguarded.
We are not seeking to standardise Northern Ireland or to eliminate its regional and cultural characteristics. What we are seeking to do is to preserve what is best in the Province and to improve what is not. This has always been the touchstone of our social policies in Northern Ireland under direct rule.
The Government are engaged in the direct rule of Northern Ireland only because, so far, the parties have not been prepared to agree on a basis on which power can be handed back to the people of Northern Ireland. Of course, we could do so tomorrow if we had no care or concern for the minority community. But care and concern are in fact the continuing hallmarks of all we try to do in the Province.
As far as we can do so, we are determined to act with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, whether in making social reforms or in bringing about constitutional advances. We have no wish to impose change which the people of Northern Ireland do not want. We must remain at all times sensitive to the views and feelings of local people.
1716 This means that we must keep open the Government's contacts with the Northern Ireland people, including, of course, the leaders of the political parties there.
To this end I have tried, ever since I became Secretary of State, to achieve the most wide-ranging contacts I can with all kinds of people in Northern Ireland. The same is true of the four hard-working junior Ministers, who are now familiar figures around the Province. My colleagues in this House have had to adjust to a triangular pattern of travel involving Belfast, London and their constituency, whether it is Mansfield, Birmingham or Liverpool. I should like to offer them my personal thanks for all that they are doing. I understand exactly what it means, and I am sure that their constituents share my appreciation.
I hold, and will continue to hold, periodic meetings with local political leaders to exchange views on security policy and on economic problems, as well as to discuss possible constitutional advances. As long as direct rule has to continue for want of an acceptable alternative, it will be conducted with care and concern for the views and interests of both of the traditions which make up the life of Northern Ireland. In this way I hope to create in the minds and hearts of the people the kind of trust and understanding which alone can make possible constitutional advances of a widely acceptable kind. At the same time, we shall continue unabated the fight against the men of violence, whose methods and tactics have been so completely rejected by the people of Northern Ireland.
§ 11.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I am sure that the House would like to thank the Secretary of State for his account of the situation in Northern Ireland. We shall certainly support these orders, which are necessary to combat the continuing emergency in the Province and to provide for an extension of direct rule.
It is quite apparent that the terrorist organisations in the Province still have the manpower and the armament to continue this bloody and useless conflict. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that those who talk about parleying with terrorists at the present time must be out of their minds. I am very glad to 1717 hear that that is not in the Secretary of State's mind in any way at all.
We are rather concerned about the question of direct rule in various ways, although we shall not be opposing the extension order. It still seems to be clear from the Secretary of State's remarks that he has not an agreed policy for the constitution of the Province at the present time. When, for example, he says that he wants to return responsibility to elected representatives, we should like to examine further what he means. We have been considering this. When he says that more power should be returned to district councils, surely this points the way ahead to a local government solution at the present time, at any rate as a beginning.
The Secretary of State dealt with the economy. I should like to consider further and comment on what he said when we debate the Appropriation Order next week.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the position in Northern Ireland is extremely serious, although I welcome investment in new enterprises, such as that of General Motors. We Conservatives recognise that the Government will have to continue providing substantial assistance to Northern Ireland's industry for some time to come. It has been pointed out by our spokesmen that, like other regions with special problems, Northern Ireland needs special measures if these problems are to be solved. However, I should like a further opportunity to discuss that matter, perhaps next week when we discuss the Appropriation Order.
I should like to begin by thanking the Secretary of State and his staff for arranging the visit of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition 10 days ago, and enabling her to visit the security forces. The right hon. Gentleman also invited many representatives of the community to meet her, and she paid a number of visits, including one to a factory and another to the Rathmore Grammar School, as well as meeting a huge number of people in Belfast. She also visited the father of a young married woman victim of the La Mon House massacre. This was very moving for her. But, of course, we were made to realise that the people thought to be responsible for this massacre are now in the Republic. This brought 1718 up the question of extradition, which I shall deal with later.
My right hon. Friend was deeply impressed by the determination of the security forces to see things through, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, their morale is not helped by the ever-present feeling of injustice about their pay. I do not believe that this will be solved until a Government come to power with the intention of putting it right and of obtaining the comparability that is necessary to recruit the best people into the Armed Forces.
However, as the Secretary of State said, there are bright spots. There is the opening up of controlled areas, the continued success of covert operations—I hope that more and more men will be trained in such operations—the increasing skills of the UDR and the training and recruiting of the RUC. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition visited the RUC training school at Enniskillen and was much impressed by it. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the arming of the RUC. Most of us were in a hopeful mood six months ago, but it is now certain that this struggle will be prolonged. It may be unpleasant to say so, but the terrorists have told us, through the Republican News and other sources, that the latest phase of their campaign is directed at what they call "communications targets and other Government buildings". Their challenge to the authority of Government in Northern Ireland could not be more explicit.
The Secretary of State has pointed out that 49 people have died this year as a result of terrorist activity. While that certainly marks an improvement on the first half of last year, it still remains disappointing. After all, the statistic of the death toll is what matters most, and until that shows a consistently lower trend, our grounds for optimism must be restrained. What we Conservatives would not support is any modification in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. In particular, we feel it essential for the security forces to retain the power under this Act to hold suspects for up to three days without preferring charges. This provision, coupled with the powers available under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, secures 1719 a vital period for information to be obtained and put together by those involved in intelligence work. We certainly would not support any modification on that score.
Significantly, the terrorists themselves, as the right hon Gentleman knows, have paid tribute to this system. When Seamus Twomey was tried, and the document which had fallen into the hands of the Dublin police was read, it was found to contain statements confirming that the short detention orders which were being applied were breaking the spirit of his accomplices. This is very important. In his own words, this questioning was "contributing to our defeat". Here then, from this source, is a firm endorsement of the emergency legislation which this House is debating today.
It is worth nothing that the Twomey document attributes the erosion of the very fibre of terrorism to firm and unrelenting interrogation, and not to maltreatment. Twomey made no allegation of maltreatment. Mr hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who will be winding up the debate, will be referring to the Amnesty International report. But I should like to say that we would support the Secretary of State in his suggestion that those who make these allegations through anonymous people should refer them to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I hope that Amnesty International will do that. We have all received copies of the letter to which the Secretary of State referred, and that is how I propose to reply. That is our position with regard to the Amnesty International report.
When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was in Northern Ireland, I discussed with the security forces one or two measures which we felt should be supported, and which I have mentioned before. One is a step which could have been taken earlier in the year, and is one which I suggested during the debate on security last March. Since then, support for this suggestion appears to have been growing steadily. Some members of the security forces, I think not all, regard it as absolutely imperative that we should ban Provisional Sinn Fein. They made this very clear to me. They find it incomprehensible that the Government should concentrate so much effort on crushing the Provisional IRA, as they are 1720 rightly trying to do, while leaving their partners in Provisional Sinn Fein able to walk around scot free.
From any ordinary person's point of view, the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Fein are two arms of the one body. If anyone in this House is in any doubt about that, let him turn to the Twomey document and read it very carefully. It was quoted extensively in The Times on 13th June. The document said that members of Sinn Fein must be under an IRA organiser at every level. It went on:Sinn Fein should be directed to infiltrate other organisations to win support for and sympathy of the movement.I do not think there could be more convincing evidence that Provisional Sinn Fein is simply the Provisional IRA under another name, differing only in its methods which, as the document shows, are designed to weaken the union and also to conduct subversive activities in favour of the Provisional IRA.
The Government have quite rightly stated time and time again that those who lend their support to terrorism must be regarded as criminals and treated as such. They should, therefore, not tolerate the existence of Provisional Sinn Fein. They permit terrorists and their collaborators to shelter under the wing of a so-called political party. Only by renewing the proscription of Provisional Sinn Fein can the Secretary of State make it unequivocally clear that it is the policy of the Government to deny the terrorists a platform, especially a television platform, on which they can pose unconvincingly as democratic politicians. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give serious consideration to this point. Throughout our visit I came across it when talking to the security forces.
Of course, the great strains imposed on the forces during this crisis have not impaired their courage and dedication. I thought that morale remains extremely high. Wherever one went, one gained a clear impression that the three branches of the security forces were working together in a most successful partnership. There are a number of detailed problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham will be referring. For example, in certain areas the UDR is finding it difficult to get experienced recruits, although the RUC seems to have faired rather better in that respect, as 1721 I learned during my visit to the RUC training school at Enniskillen. There we noticed that a number of former British soldiers were joining the police as well as a number of older men with experience of the Armed Forces.
However, the Army is losing too many experienced men from its own ranks, for reasons which may have little to do with the Secretary of State but a lot to do with the Ministry of Defence. For that reason, the increase in the full-time element of the UDR to which the Secretary of State referred and which has been urged for so long from the Opposition Benches assumes an even greater significance. Although the right hon. Gentleman announced considerable improvements, the full-time cadre is still below the enlarged establishment authorised last year. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do all that he can to pursue this.
I now come to the subject of direct rule and the review which we shall conduct in this debate. After four years, we have to look at direct rule, and I come to the need for political progress in Northern Ireland.
Those who attempt in some way to discredit my right hon. Friend's announcement about the need for one or more regional councils do not have much sense of reality and are not being very constructive. This is not 1974 and the year of the power-sharing Executive. Some attacks on what my right hon. Friend said have missed the point totally. The reform of local government is necessary as a start, at any rate, to what the right hon. Gentleman was saying. Some of my right hon. Friend's critics do not seem to realise that time has moved on and that a workable arrangement in the area of local government has to be found.
Nor is it really sensible for people to accuse those who promote the idea of a second tier of local government of relying on military solutions. The Opposition have been putting forward a programme for regional administration based on an elected council in which all parties could participate. I mention that because the Secretary of State said that that was his policy.
At the moment, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where regional services are not under the con- 1722 trol of locally elected representatives, and we feel that this position should be restored to bring Northern Ireland into line with the remainder of the Kingdom. We think that directly elected regional councils are necessary to remove from Parliament much business which is of a strictly local nature and to enable councillors to exercise democratic control over area boards and other statutory bodies. We feel that that is a democratic principle. We envisage that they would have a wide range of powers, and I repeat that there will be scope for all political parties.
Here I quote and pray in aid a statement by Mr. Lynch. It is very unusual for me to do that. In his latest speech, Mr. Lynch said:The solution must be sought in the direction of giving both sections of the Northern Community the possibility of participating in the decisions which affect their society and daily lives.I hope therefore that he will recommend the minority to support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in making a start through local government, because this is what could be done, especially since it is being done in the district councils—an area where the Secretary of State is proposing to give greater powers, in any case.
We cannot announce in opposition a very detailed scheme, but in our view the idea offers the best possibilities of progress, for example, in education, to which we shall refer in future debates, where locally elected representatives should have very much more say.
The Opposition are still very disturbed at the lack of interest which the Government seem to be showing in the report of Mr. Speaker's Conference on Northern Ireland's representation. They are not even prepared to publish a Bill about this. We should like to know the real reason for their unwillingness. A Bill could be published easily this Session, whatever the future may hold. I hope that some comment on this will be made by Ministers in this debate.
In agreeing to these orders, I congratulate the Secretary of State on much of what he said about the security situation. A very fine job has been done by the security forces. It is still a long haul. But I must record the disquiet of the Opposition at the failure to make any 1723 political progress. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he would have talks along the lines of the assembly which he proposed in the past. I have described it as too ambitious. I think that the talks should be limited to local government regional services. That is the difference between us.
It is not too late for the Secretary of State to make a further attempt to get a political solution. But it is no use aiming too high and running into the power-sharing impasse again, which is what he will do if he is not careful.
I can only express my frustration at the attitude in certain quarters to the efforts which are being made on both sides of the House to try to find a political solution. But, like the Secretary of State, we shall not be deterred by threats to the Union. Plans for the weakening of that Union are quite unacceptable to us, as they are to most members of the Labour Party. As the Secretary of State said, a majority of the people of Northern Ireland believe as we do, and we must continue to uphold their wish to remain citizens of the United Kingdom.