HC Deb 08 March 1979 vol 963 cc1473-5
10. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the security position.

13. Mr. Biggs-Davison

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

Mr. Mason

In the past five weeks, five civilians and one soldier have met their deaths at the hands of terrorists. Among the civilians, two teenage boys were killed by a bomb intended for a security force patrol. Five persons have so far been charged in respect of three of these killings. So far this year, the level of terrorist attacks against commercial premises has been relatively low, but the security forces remain alert to the terrorists' capability and will continue to counter all aspects of the threat. This is illustrated by the recovery earlier this week of over 40 explosive devices during a planned RUC search of the Short Strand area of Belfast.

Mr. Goodhart

I congratulate the armed forces on their success and steadfastness in protecting the people of Northern Ireland. Is it not plain that much of the intelligence needed for a successful operation such as the disarming of the 42 bombs in Belfast the other night depends on the successful interrogation of suspects by skilled interrogators? Is it not true that anything that limits such interrogation is harmful to the protection of the community?

Mr. Mason

First and foremost, it depends upon intelligence. The British Army now, using the SAS and special patrol groups in each battalion, has built up a good intelligence network in the Province, and that is bearing fruit. It is an indication of how the Army manages to get sufficient information to thwart planned attacks upon the Province. I am aware that interrogation plays a part, but it must be done fairly and properly without anyone feeling that extraction of information is being got by other than fair means.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

At this time, when the House and the people of Northern Ireland feel a particular debt of gratitude to the security forces, will the Government not be deterred by surmountable problems of comparability in other services and come to a decision on the award of a general service medal to the RUC and the RUC Reserve? Does not the Secretary of State agree that a long time has elapsed since my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) raised this matter?

Mr. Mason

I am aware of the calls that have been made by hon. Members opposite, but I am not satisfied that the RUC particularly wants this sort of recognition. Its members get regular recognition in the gallantry awards and distinctions that are given to them every year in the Honours List.

Mr. Bradford

In view of the Secretary of State's concern about the amount of propaganda for the IRA, will he ensure that taxpayers' money is not used to give Seamus Twomey another opportunity to ventilate his views through the Arts Council or any other body in Northern Ireland which is financed from British taxpayers' money?

Mr. Mason

No doubt this was raised during yesterday's debate, but, to be fair, the hon. Gentleman should recognise that offers are made to many other people to put forward their views in some of these magazines. I was not particularly aware of the case of Seamus Twomey. I shall certainly have a look at it.

Mr. Kilfedder

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I be told why I have not been called to ask a supplementary question—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please wait until after Question Time to make his point of order? He will find that he has plenty of company.

Mr. Litterick

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what contribution to the security of Northern Ireland was made by the arrest in Edinburgh on Monday of this week of Mr. Brendan Gallagher, a citizen of Strabane? That was his three hundred and sixty-third arrest at the hands of the British authorities.

Mr. Mason

First, that is a matter for the Home Secretary and not for me. Secondly, I am sure that Brendan Gallagher has taken my hon. Friend for a ride at least 300 times.