HC Deb 09 March 1978 vol 945 cc1592-5
9. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the present state of law and order.

12. Mr. Watkinson

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

20. Mr. Kilfedder

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

22. Mr. Jessel

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

23. Mr. Goodhart

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

Mr. Mason

Since the blast bomb outrage at the La Mon House restaurant on 17th February, terrorist activity has centred on attacks on members of the security forces, nine of whom have been killed so far this year.

The security forces maintain their drive to inhibit terrorist operations on the ground and to bring before the courts those responsible for criminal acts. Already this year the police have charged 177 people with terrorist offences, including seven with murder, 12 with attempted murder, 48 with firearms offences and 32 with explosives offences. Finds by the security forces include 51 weapons, over 6,000 rounds of ammunition and over 100 lbs. of explosives.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In view of the public and Press conjecture that the Portadown murderers might start a new series of sectarian atrocities, should not all those with influence in the Province encourage the brave and patient people of the Province in their steady stand over these years against reprisals, which are what the Provisional IRA wants to provoke?

Will the Secretary of State be reporting to the House—without disclosing information that might be useful to terrorists—the result of his continued review of security in this new phase of the troubles?

Mr. Mason

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying so, I seem to have plenty of opportunities to report to the House on how we gradually intensify or change the tactics within our security strategy. There is opportunity at Question Time, and during security debates. I agree that it is essential now to appeal to the people of Northern Ireland to cooperate with the RUC. We should warn people of the dangers of a backlash—just exactly what the Provisional IRA is hoping for—because in the wake of that backlash they may rise again to try to prove that they are the protectors of the minority.

Mr. Watkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Prime Minister of the South is sincere in his desire to see the Provisional IRA defeated, the greatest assistance to that aim could be given by accepting the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and also by encouraging every development of co-operation between the RUC and the Garda?

Mr. Mason

The co-operation on the border between the RUC and the Garda is good, and I hope that we can build on that in the wider operations of attacking the Provisional IRA or, indeed, any other terrorist activity both in the North and in the South. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and Her Majesty's Government have let the Republic know how worried they are that the Republic is not prepared to move forward on the convention on the suppression of terrorism.

Mr. Kilfedder

With regard to security in the Province, the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the urgent demand that I made that he should hold up the signing of the contract with the American firm of Rapid Data for the production of 500 new driving licences in Northern Ireland at a cost of almost £250,000, because—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he must come to the point and ask a question.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that that contract will not be signed, in view of the colossal amount of money involved, until he can assure the House that it is not a gift to the terrorists, who can alter the proposed driving licence, who can easily tamper with it, and use it as a means of identification?

Mr. Mason

I am sorry, but I do not appreciate the close relationship of that question to questions of security.

Mr. Jessel

Is there any restriction on the use of the Special Air Service?

Mr. Mason

There is no restriction on the use of the Special Air Service. It is under the command of the general officer commanding the forces in Northern Ireland. Like all the security forces, of course, they must not act beyond the law.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the quality of co-operation between the RUC and the Garda across the border varies from area to area and that the disparity between areas seems to be growing? Does he recognise that the best way to put that right would be to have ministerial talks?

Mr. Mason

I have no evidence to prove that there is a slackening of the co-operation between the RUC and the Garda on any part of the border. If the hon. Gentleman has such evidence, I shall be pleased to look at it. There is no doubt that as soon as we can find convenient dates ministerial talks will take place.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all hon. Members will be pleased by the continuous praise that he has given on the question of cooperation on both sides of the border between the RUC and the Garda Siochana. Does my right hon. Friend think that at some time after Easter he could set about arranging ministerial talks so that some of the problems of definition that have arisen over the past few days, with the raising of tempers—which cannot be good for anybody—can be cooled down and matters sorted out sensibly?

Mr. Mason

I heed my hon. Friend's wise words. Ministerial talks may take place after Easter. It entirely depends on the convenience of Ministers and how quickly we can get together. Although no ministerial talks may have taken place on the security front, officials have been working together on cross-border economic co-operation, and there is the likelihood of a ministerial meeting on that.

Mr. Mates

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, contrary to what the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) said, the introduction of a new form of driving licence is to be warmly welcomed for security reasons, and that the Government are to be congratulated on making use of the most up-to-date technology so that a document can be produced that is virtually tamper-proof?

Mr. Kilfedder

Let us put it to the test.

Mr. Mason

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) for giving a better reply than I could to the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). Clearly, the hon. Gentleman knows much more detail than I do about the matter.

Mr. Carson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency recently the Army saw terrorists planting a bomb in Duncairn Gardens, but because of the yellow card restrictions the Army was unable to take the necessary action to deal with the terrorists? Will he give an assurance today that steps will be taken to preserve the lives of soldiers in Northern Ireland, in that the yellow card restrictions will be lifted and they will be allowed to deal with the terrorists in the proper way?

Mr. Mason

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not advocating the abolition of the yellow card system in Northern Ireland. The soldiers, too, must be worried lest they kill innocent people in Northern Ireland. That is why we must have that sort of restriction.