HC Deb 14 April 1983 vol 40 cc926-9
8. Mr. Proctor

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

12. Mr. Molyneaux

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

Mr. Prior

Since I last answered questions on 10 March, I regret to inform the House that three members of the security forces and four civilians have died as a result of the security situation. An RUC reservist arid a soldier were killed in separate incidents while off duty, and a soldier died after being blown up while leading a patrol in West Belfast. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for these killings.

Of the civilians who died, one was shot by the Provisional IRA, who later admitted that it had intended to kill someone else, another man was shot to death at home in bed, and a third was killed when an RUC patrol opened fire on a stolen car after a man was seen to display a gun. Finally, last night a man was shot dead in County Armagh. I understand that he was a sergeant in the Territorial Army. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for this further killing.

Once again I should like to pay tribute to the gallantry and painstaking work of the security forces. So far this year 157 persons have been charged with terrorist-type offences, including eight with murder and 10 with attempted murder, and 65 weapons, 26,857 rounds of ammunition, together with 261 lbs of explosives have been recovered.

Mr. Proctor

In the light of that gloomy statement, for which I thank my right hon. Friend, will he consider urging the GOC and the Chief Constable of the RUC to intensify covert operations along the frontier areas, particularly in such constituencies as that represented by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker)?

Mr. Prior

Many covert operations are going on all the time. I shall draw my hon. Friend's suggestion to the attention of the GOC and the Chief Constable, but I must leave it to their professional judgment whether the correct level of covert operations as compared with overt operations—which are also important—are being carried out.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Secretary of State assure us that he will take every precaution to deal with the upsurge in terrorism that is being stimulated by the Dublin forum and various other so-called initiatives?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that there has been an upsurge in terrorism. The level of violence, generally speaking, is considerably down. That should in no way be interpreted as complacency on our part. We shall do all that we can to defeat violence. We shall never give in to terrorism. The terrorists should learn that lesson, and the sooner the better.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency of Down, North the police presence is lamentably inadequate in many areas? For instance, on occasions there are only two police cars patrolling in the highly-populated area of Bangor, where a constituent of mine was murdered by the IRA on Easter Monday, and one in the Ards area? Will the right hon. Gentleman look into this problem and see that the people there are provided with adequate police protection?

Mr. Prior

I shall draw the attention of the Chief Constable to the point raised by my hon. Friend. The point was brought out in the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) about the degree to which operations should be covert or overt. Both are important. I agree that in view of the recent tragic incidents in the Bangor area it is important that the public should be reassured.

Dr. Mawhinney

Will my right hon. Friend seek an early opportunity to probe the commitment of the Irish Government to security and law and order in Northern Ireland, bearing in mind the recent reports in the Irish press that law and order have broken down in parts of Dublin to such a degree that vigilante groups have been set up and are seeking to deter criminality by knee-capping?

Mr. Prior

I have no responsibility for what happens in the South. However, the degree of co-operation across the border is good, although one has to recognise that this is placing considerable strains on the resources of law and order in the South.

Mr. McCusker

Bearing in mind that Mr. Elliott was the fourth of my constituents to be murdered this year, and the second sergeant in the Territorial Army to be killed in County Armagh in recent times, is it not time that the Territorial Army was given a specific anti-terrorist role, because the problems, especially those in my constituency, mean that no body of trained men can opt out of the anti-terrorist campaign, particularly if the terrorists have decided that they are legitimate targets?

Mr. Prior

That is a point that needs to be considered. I extend my sympathy to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, who have suffered so much. Up to now the Territorial Army has been kept away from an anti-terrorist role, but these are matters that must be kept under review. Three territorial soldiers have been murdered in the past 12 years since the troubles began, compared to the far worse record of other security forces. We need to consider carefully before we can make any changes, but we shall have a look at this question.

Mr. Skinner

You are not winning.

Mr. Concannon

That offhand remark, "You are not winning" is not appropriate to what happens in Northern Ireland and does not give us much encouragement. We do not talk about winning or losing in Northern Ireland. A political solution is more appropriate.

I understand that question 15 has been withdrawn, so I should like to ask the Secretary of State some questions about the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. How long does he intend that the review shall take, what does he intend to do with it, and will we have the review in time for the next renewal debate on the emergency provisions?

Mr. Prior

I know that Sir George Baker is keen to get on with the review. It is my desire that we should carry out the review as quickly as is reasonable. I cannot say at this stage, and it would be unfair to Sir George to say before he has even had a look, whether it will be completed in time for the next order on the Act. However, I have left him in no doubt that the House is anxiously awaiting his review and would like it to be proceeded with as quickly as possible.

Improvement and Repair Grants

9. Mr. William Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on how many dwellings, previously declared unfit, the Housing Executive has paid improvement and repair grants in each of the past five years.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Mitchell)

This is a matter for the Housing Executive, but I understand from its chairman that the information sought is not readily available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Mr. Ross

Will the hon. Gentleman make inquiries to discover whether any of those houses were not only declared unfit but were incapable of being made fit at a reasonable cost? Will he then try to find out whether grants have been paid on such houses, and if so, how that matches the statutory requirement that dwellings so declared in redevelopment areas are paid for and compensated only on the value of the site?

Mr. Mitchell

I shall certainly take up the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised with the chairman of the Housing Executive However, if the hon. Gentleman has any information about any particular sites, I shall be grateful if he would write to me and draw them to my attention. On the broader point of rural unfitness that lies behind the hon. Gentleman's question, I can assure him that I have set in hand a special study of the problem and I hope to have the results in a few weeks time.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Minister bear in mind that the Housing Executive is very quick to see that unfit dwellings in the private sector are closed down, but not quick to deal with its own deplorable houses? When he receives the report, will be consider this matter?

Mr. Mitchell

The programme for dealing with rural cottages is going ahead as fast as possible. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind, I hope that he will write to me.