HC Deb 08 December 1983 vol 50 cc559-71 10.30 pm
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) on his maiden speech and thank him for reminding us of Johnny McQuade. I remember the time when Johnny McQuade questioned President Nixon in the Grand Committee Room. President Nixon did not know what had hit him. It was a most enjoyable evening.

I fully appreciate the feelings of all those hon. Members from Northern Ireland who have spoken this evening and share in full measure the horror and anger that they have expressed about what has been taking place, in particular in the past few weeks. But I feel especially sorry for the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers, because they are in a no-win situation. Like their predecessors, they have an unenviable job.

The interventions in the Secretary of State's speech brought home to me the fact that it is a pity that the leaders of the four parties in Northern Ireland—or the three which turned down the invitation—did not accept the Secretary of State's invitation to meet the Chief Constable and the GOC. Some of the questions that they have been asking tonight could have been answered at that meeting.

Alliance Members who try to educate ourselves about Northern Ireland affairs cannot understand why it is not possible for the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) to be present with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) on such occasions. They meet each other in the House and in the European Parliament. I am sure that they sometimes even drink together.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I cannot allow that remark to pass. I am known as a teetotaller — as one who is totally opposed to the Devil's buttermilk.

Mr. Ross

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. Perhaps the hon. Gentlemen take a cup of tea together. Certainly they both utterly condemn the violence in the Province, and I do not understand why they cannot now meet. There has been much criticism of the Chief Constable. I have always liked and respected the Chief Constable when I have met him. I cannot speak with the first-hand knowledge of other hon. Members, but I cannot believe that it is impossible for the hon. Gentlemen to meet him together and put the questions to him direct.

I fully support the Secretary of State's declaration that the defeat of terrorism must be our principal concern. I realise that some hon. Members on the Official Unionist Bench and also on the Opposition Benches will have knowledge of the debate that took place at my party's assembly, and the visits by some young members of my party to the Province and to the South. I have dissociated myself from some of the remarks that have been made following those visits.

Over the years I have tried to inform myself on the problems of Ireland, but I never expected to see a picture in an English newspaper of a British citizen in the constituency of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) — a farmer's wife —protecting her husband with a rifle while he ploughed the fields. That struck home. I felt that I just could not accept such a situation in our country.

No one has mentioned the continuing condemnation by many leading politicians in the South of the activities of Sinn Fein, and in particular of Mr. Gerry Adams. After some of his remarks in the South the other day, a senator called for his arrest. We should also not forget that at the moment an Englishman is being held hostage for a ransom of £5 million. One wonders what on earth is happening to that poor man.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) made a brave speech. I am not brave enough to go all the way with him. I truly believe that the only sensible way forward now—this is not the time for new initiatives—is to get the closest possible co-operation between the Dublin Government and ourselves in the defeat of terrorism and the strengthening of economic links. Some developments in the energy field, for example, seem to make a great deal of sense.

Despite the tragic events in recent weeks, there is a continuing need to increase public confidence not only' within the Province but in the United Kingdom generally and in America and Europe. That is why in the evidence that we have submitted to Sir George Baker and, in a resolution recently approved by my party's council. we are calling for some substantial revisions of the 1978 Act. We hope that they will be included among his recommendations when they are published some time in the new year.

We should like to go rather beyond his remit and seek the establishment of an independent prosecution service in Northern Ireland. We know that that is being studied for England and Wales, but we believe that it is even more important for the Province.

The reintroduction of jury trial is of course problematical. I welcome the words of the hon. Member for Antrim, North on that subject. No doubt jury trial in most terrorist cases is impractical, but we believe that juries should sit in non-terrorist cases unless the prosecuting counsel can convince the High Court judge that there would be a substantial risk of intimidation or a perverse acquittal if they did. There could be a further safeguard of a right of appeal against the judge's decision in such cases.

A less satisfactory alternative that has been mentioned this evening would be to give the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland discretion to de-schedule all scheduled offences rather than the limited number over which he can use his discretion at present. We prefer the former alternative because we believe that we should avoid Executive de-scheduling.

We have always felt that it would be highly desirable for serious cases heard in the absence of a jury to be heard by three judges rather than one as at present. I accept that that may cause problems, because there is a shortage of judges. We should pay a tribute to the courage of those who administer justice in the Province, some of whom have lost their lives in so doing.

The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 is to have a fixed life of five years as a result of Lord Jellicoe's recommendations. We believe that it is important that the emergency provisions legislation adopts the same limitation, although we would rather see it reduced to three years.

The need to tape-record interviews is as pressing in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. I trust that that will be another of Sir George Baker's recommendations. We could well go further and videotape.

I appreciate the problems of the Royal Ulster Constabulary over supergrasses. I cannot condemn the practice outright. I have expressed anxiety when the system has been used to obtain convictions in England and Wales, which is something that many commentators tend to forget.

I remind the House that there are three prisons in my constituency. I was involved in a case when a man was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment solely on the evidence of a well-known supergrass. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal, but I have grave doubts about it. Nevertheless, the case did not raise an outcry in this country, but immediately such a system is used in Northern Ireland everyone is up in arms.

I believe that the National Council for Civil Liberties is reviewing the problem. I am convinced that any amendment of present practices must apply throughout the United Kingdom and not just to Northern Ireland. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North on that.

We must plainly wait to see what Sir George Baker recommends, but in the meantime we must support the renewal of the emergency provisions and hope that some of our proposals will have been taken on board before we discuss the renewal of these powers again.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I say that the House may wish to know that the Minister hopes to reply to the debate at about 11.15 pm. Four hon. Members are still hoping to speak, so brief speeches would be a great help.

10.43 pm
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I studied what had been said in previous debates on this subject to prepare for this debate. I thought that it would be useful to see whether anything had changed. I found that the fundamental need to protect the civil liberties and human rights of the people of Northern Ireland was emphasised. I believe that that is an ideal to which everyone can subscribe. However, we know that it is impossible to protect civil liberties when the rule of law does not exist. When we talked about civil liberties in the past, we related it mostly to those who came before the courts, but we tended to forget those who must stand up to the violence that has pervaded Northern Ireland for 13 years.

Hansard has shown that the Ministers who introduced such debates always started by rehearsing where the rule of law has failed. This time last year, the Minister discussed how it had failed in the aftermath of the Ballykelly bombing. This year, sadly, we are talking about the murder of Edgar Graham, who was a great personal friend. He was an upright young man with great integrity, and he set an example to many politicians in that he never sought short-term political advantage but always looked for the long-term advantage to the people of Northern Ireland in any decision that he made.

During those 13 years there have been many incidents equally as sad as the murder of Edgar Graham. We have been told many times that there is no panacea for the trouble, but we have neither asked for nor expected a panacea. However, we recognise that the laws of the land must be put into effect. There is no point in having laws if they fail, yet the rule of law has failed under successive Governments during the past 13 years. We have not obeyed the basic rules that must be employed in the fight against terrorism. The first basic rule is that one never concedes anything to the terrorist. Unfortunately, during those 13 years terrorists seem to have been too wise for successive Governments, because hiding behind the minority—as it is called—Roman Catholic population, they have squeezed concession after concession from Governments.

We have not realised that the introduction of proportional representation for elections in Northern Ireland is a disaster. It has done nothing to get the people together; rather it has provided the opportunity for irresponsible and violent minorities to abuse the ballot box. The House is very wise not to be tempted to set out on the proportional representation trail in Great Britain.

We have failed to curb the glorification of violence, which we see continually on our television screens and hear on the radio. The funeral of the two terrorists shot by the security forces at the weekend was not portrayed as a defeat for terrorism but was used as an opportunity to glorify it. The so-called hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) and some of his cohorts were in the forefront of the funeral cortege, thus promoting the cause of terrorism and the IRA.

We have also failed in some small, but important, matters. We have not curbed illegal voting in elections. We hear the oft-recited defence by people who are caught voting illegally, "But your honour, it is a great Irish tradition." Nonsense. There is always a degree of personation no matter in what country an election takes place, but the organised personation that occurs in Northern Ireland is a disgrace to a democratic system.

We have failed to say to the Social Democratic and Labour party, "Certainly you will have your rights and the Catholic minority will have its rights, but those rights are within a state whose sovereignty is inviolate."

We have failed to listen to the cry for help from the minority community who want better security and who want the godfathers taken out of their midst even if it means the internment of Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Owen Can-on and such people. I have been told again and again by those belonging to the minority, "We do not want them in our midst. If you can take them away then our 17 and 18-year-old sons will be safe." It is difficult for parents to know where their sons of that age are. Many of them do not want their children to engage in violence, but how attractive to the young men those people must have seemed on television on the day the funerals took place. Here were people being portrayed on national television as heroes. It was shameful.

The Secretary of State said that perhaps we would be hard on him today. I have no intention of being hard on him. I know he said that he was well able to stand up to anything I could throw at him. I am able to stand up to the little innuendo that I should not say too much about the security forces and how they should operate lest I appear to be something of a know-all. I have never claimed that I have more knowledge than any member of the security forces in Northern Ireland. The last time he used that argument with me he said that there were a lot of people who had more experience than I had. That is a different thing. I probably have as much experience as anyone he cares to mention.

Successive Governments have failed to listen to the suggestions we have made. We know the country and what is required. My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) showed clearly that the basis of the problem lies on the frontier between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. I was disappointed when the Secretary of State admitted that there was a Dundalk corridor. Of course, he was absolutely right. He could have admitted that there was a Monaghan salient or a Fermanagh freeway. These are routes by which the terrorist has no trouble importing guns and explosives. If he has been away for a training session in Donegal, he comes along and commits another murder or two or three. If things get too hot and the security forces are closing in on him, he can disappear across the frontier again into the haven of the Irish Republic.

I am disappointed again that the best that the Secretary of State could do yesterday was to reintroduce the Baldonnell panel, about which I had forgotten. It was introduced by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) in 1974 but had lapsed and fallen into disuse. I am not sure that something that had fallen into disuse nine years ago is something we expect in 1983.

None the less, I was encouraged by the tone of what the Secretary of State said. I know how deeply he feels about the problems, and that he regrets every death and would do all in his power to prevent any further deaths occurring. It is in recognition of that that we are here tonight telling him that we want to help, and we want a reasonable solution, but he must listen to the elected representatives of the people. He cannot go on telling us that he relies only on the advice of the Chief Constable and the GOC. It is unfair to put the GOC in that position, because he acts in response to the Chief Constable.

What about the Chief Constable's assurances that he had enough men? I said earlier today that, in about 100 square miles in a part of my constituency on a number of nights—I have watched this carefully—there are four or five men on duty after midnight until 8 o'clock in the morning.

I do not have much faith in the performance of the Chief Constable, I am sorry to say. When we criticised him, he got a vote of confidence from the Police Authority. Let me tell the House about that vote of confidence. One would have expected that the Police Authority met as a body, discussed the performance of the Chief Constable and issued the vote of confidence, but that was not so. The chairman of the Police Authority decided to draft a vote of confidence which, I have reason to believe, he informed the Chief Constable he would be circulating among members. Each member of the Police Authority was telephoned and asked, "Will you append your name to this? Remember, we appointed the Chief Constable, and we had better back him up. So-and-so and so-and-so have already agreed to this, so will you?" What an easy way to get a vote of confidence—but what does it mean?

Rev. Ian Paisley


Mr. Maginnis

I shall not give way, as I have been asked to hurry.

Let me now deal with the Dowra affair, because again the Chief Constable has said that there no allegations against him. He is right, but what happened was that the commissioner of the Garda wrote to the Chief Constable with a list of disturbing facts and suggested that the Chief Constable should investigate those facts. I am told that the Chief Constable responded by saying that the allegations were unfounded. The commissioner replied that he had not made any allegations, but had reported the disturbing facts and wanted them investigated. It would be wise for the Secretary of State or the Police Authority to encourage the Chief Constable to conduct an inquiry into the Dowra affair, and then it could be put behind us once and for all, for it is affecting the morale of every man in the RUC.

We have received other assurances. For example, we had an assurance from the Irish Republic that the Criminal Law Jurisdiction At would be the panacea in that if we did not catch the terrorists in Northern Ireland we would get them in the Irish Republic and bring them to trial. Later I read in a new publication that the Garda assistant commissioner, Joe Ainsworth, under instructions from the Taoiseach, from Charles Haughey, told Ministers and officials that they could not afford to implement that Act. I am sure that the Prime Minister did not know that when she was in Dublin for meetings. So much for silver teapots.

We were told officially last week that RUC personnel were not patrolling close to the frontier. It would be ridiculous to expect them to patrol there because they are neither trained nor equipped to carry out the military operation that they would undoubtedly be called on to carry out were they patrolling right up to the frontier. The RUC will not be effective in that area until we provide military cover, and that cover will require one third of the Regular Army troops who, the Secretary of State has assured me, are based in Northern Ireland.

They would need to be situated in 75 firm bases; and by "firm bases" I do not mean that the soldiers in them would never move out. They would be bases from which consistent and well co-ordinated patrolling could take place over the whole length of the frontier. It would need one base every four miles with a platoon in every base, so that 35 men would be responsible for patrolling to a depth of two or three miles a length of frontier four miles wide. That would not seal the frontier, but it would dominate the area, allow the rule of law to operate and permit the men of the RUC to move towards the frontier without feeling —indeed, without the almost sure knowledge—that they may be blown up by a land mine.

Once we had established domination along the frontier by the Regular Army, the RUC would be more effective because they could operate in smaller numbers. Perhaps I should not have said that, because last night I came across an RUC patrol close to the frontier comprised of two men and one vehicle. While, therefore, we do not want smaller patrols, they would patrol with more confidence.

The UDR would, of course, provide internally an excellent back-up to the RUC. About 32,000 members of the Northern Ireland community have served in the UDR since its inception. If during that period a minute number of the members of that force have stepped outside the law, that must be viewed against the background of the vast majority of those 32,000 members who have not, and of recognises that 136 members of the regiment have been murdered by terrorists, 108 of them were off duty and doing their ordinary day-to-day work.

If the Secretary of State, in replying, were to advocte the policy that I have advocated today, there would be no reprisal killings because there would be a new confidence within the community. Witnesses would not be frightened to come before the courts. An amazing thing happened some time ago when a policeman was murdered after coining out of chapel in Armagh. Although 300 people came out with him, there was not a single witness. No one saw anything. The opposite is also the case. Two terrorists were shot in Coalisland on Sunday last, and I think that half the country saw that.

We would have no need for Diplock courts and no need for supergrasses. If that were the case, I believe that, in a years' time, we would have no need to renew the Act.

11.6 pm

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I shall try to be brief, as we have had many long speeches today.

I believe that we shall be here in 20 years' time—certainly in 10 years' time—if the type of debate to which I have listened umpteen times in the past 10 years continues as it has today. We have not discussed seriously anything other than security. The political realities of Northern Ireland, which spawn the terrorism, have not been discussed. We shall all be here discussing the problems in years to come unless we grapple with them.

The speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was, as usual, arid and barren and conveyed the impression that terrorism comes from only one side. One would think that there had never been any Shankhill "butchers" or bombings from the Unionist side. The Labour party abominates terrorism. We are completely opposed to it, from whichever source it comes—from the Unionist side or from the other side. The appalling murder of Mr. Graham yesterday, about which I spoke, shocked us beyond measure. I wish to reiterate that and place it on the record.

The great danger now is that any increase in this senseless slaughter, even one more dreadful murder, especially that of someone as prominent as Mr. Graham, could produce a landslide into the abyss. The hon. Member for Belfast, East said what some of us have been saying for years, when even Labour Front Bench spokesmen were telling us how much better things were becoming. Many of us warned that things would get worse unless some political solution to the problem of Northern Ireland was found. It is frightening to hear the cynicism in some quarters when one says that the deeper solution is political and that what is happening has been spawned by the failure to find a political solution after that border was drawn around an in-built Protestant majority, which was bound to produce what it has produced.

It is against a background of continuing unrest that the hon. Member for Belfast, East confesses that the emergency provisions legislation has done no good. Indeed, the situation is worse than when the legislation was introduced. There must be something profoundly wrong when the situation is admitted to be worse than it has ever been. It must not be divorced from the political background, so complex and intractable, which faces us all. We must try to maintain law and order — [Interruption]—without the crude interruptions that come from certain quarters.

Rev. William McCrea

Come on, Gerry Adams, speak up.

Mr. Flannery

—and observe civil rights and freedom of the individual. At the same time, we must try to maintain law and order, despite the presence of disorderly Members such as the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), who is comparatively new to the House. Between 17,000 and 18,000 arrests have taken place since 1978 and about 1,000 convictions have resulted. If the killings and arrest had taken place here on the mainland, there would have been perhaps millions of arrests as well as dreadful killings and maimings. The hon. Member for Belfast, East never mentioned how many arrests there would have been and how few convictions would have resulted. This must surely be a matter of great concern to us all.

When will we receive the report of the review body, for which we are all waiting, which will tell us how the Act has dealt with the problem? The upsurge in recent weeks is appalling to us all, but what is more appalling is that we all know that we shall face it with despair because nothing will be done about it. The Unionists adopt an intractable attitude to the minority community and the minority community makes it plain that it will not go to the Assembly because there is no chance of its ever winning the majority vote. It is in permanent subservience to a pseudo-democracy which has spawned all the killing.

In the Diplock courts there are no juries. They are presided over by one judge. In addition, we have supergrasses. There is one judge who sits alone without a jury or assessors. In front of him is likely to appear a perjured murderer who proceeds to condemn his friends. There is such cynicism that the system is considered reasonable. We know that every aspect of natural justice is being violated. When every violation takes place, a new layer of paramilitaries is formed. It is probably formed by young people who are appalled at what is happening in the violation of justice and the way in which people are put away on the word of the so-called supergrasses. If that is what we want to happen in Northern Ireland, we deserve not to solve the problem. We are conniving at the problems by not grappling with them in a proper manner.

Does anyone really believe that the Diplock procedure is a substitute for a proper trial or a serious attempt to get to grips with the political background which has produced this horrific situation? The issues are virtually never discussed politically even though we all know that it is basically a political problem and that the solution will have to be political. I fear that the emergency powers, alongside the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, the last Committee sitting of which took place this morning, will steadily become permanent and will wrongly be seen as a substitute for a real political analysis culminating in real democracy in Northern Ireland.

This morning the emergency provisions were regarded as permanent. The idea of their being temporary was not mentioned until the Minister reintroduced it in his final speech. The mentality that regards the provisions as permanent now adds to the sense of hopelessness that hon. Members feel about the intractable problem in Northern Ireland. It is true that we are not getting any further in this matter. The melancholy lists of gaoling and killing will go on forever, unless we get down to a proper discussion of the issues.

Communal politics and tribal groupings, where one group, because it is bigger than another, is always bound to win, are no substitute for political democracy and are bound to produce killings. That must be changed, or the killing will go on. If the mentality that produces that killing does not come to grips with what is occurring and there is no discussion with the rest of Ireland, we shall be saying the same things in six months, a year or 10 years. No amount of emergency provision and prevention of terrorism legislation will solve the problem of the lack of democracy that produced the killings.

Terrorists and murdereres could not flourish in a society in which all the people, across sectarian barriers, elected representatives with no sectarian prejudices. The Assembly is a complete failure. It is failing because it is seen by the minority community as an attempt to restore the old Stormont. That is why the minority community will not go into the Assembly. The same people will be in it, and there will be the same lack of democracy that existed previously. The Assembly is seen as a latter-day attempt to legitimise the domination of one tribe over the other when such domination has failed because of the lack of any real cross-community democracy, such as exists in the rest of the United Kingdom.

So long as that attitude exists, the terrorists will have their day. No amount of security can solve the problems of Northern Ireland. Many of my hon. Friends believe that more and new efforts must be exerted to involve both communities in the democratic process in a way that they have never been involved before.

It is getting late. I have sat in the Chamber all day. I have been the only Labour party speaker, apart from those on the Opposition Front Bench. We are the main Opposition, but we were not allowed to enter the debate until the last minute.

Rev. William McCrea

Where are the others?

Mr. Flannery

To underline our belief that no proper debate and discussion has occurred on any matter but security, some of us will vote against these emergency provisions as a protest, because nothing will be done about them. They will continue forever unless there is a political discussion.

11.18 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

I deliberately delayed replying to the debate to allow as many hon. Members as possible to make contributions, especially those who have the immensely difficult task of representing Northern Ireland.

We have had a very wide-ranging debate on security issues, although that is not surprising, because we are discussing the renewal of the emergency provisions legislation. In a sense, I am helped by having only a short time in which to reply, because it is inappropriate for me to go into any detail about the emergency provisions Act while the review of Sir George Baker is under way. We hope that, within two or three months, he will have reported, and then we hope that there will be an opportunity for the House to debate his recommendations and to look at the future of the legislation.

I apologise if, in the light of the short time that I have, I do not deal with every intervention made. I pay tribute to the excellent maiden speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker). He spoke with felicity, humour and charm. We greatly enjoyed hearing his speech. We look forward to hearing him speak on other occasions. There are only two matters on which I take the mildest of issues with the hon. Gentleman. First, he used the phrase "the acceptable level of violence", perhaps giving the impression to a casual listener that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State implied that there was an acceptable level of violence, whereas my right hon. Friend said precisely the reverse and insisted that we would accept no such thing.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the Army, the RUC and the UDR, to which we owe so much. I shall return to this issue in the context of another speech. I was sorry that the hon. Gentleman added his voice in criticism of the Chief Constable. However, I congratulate him. One would never have guessed that he was operating in a new sphere. We also appreciated the generous tribute that he paid to Johnny McQuade, whom we remember with such affection in the House.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Sole") made an important speech. He rightly mentioned the fundamental problem that is raised by this son of legislation—the need to balance the necessity to win the battle against terrorism with the minimum derogation from the human rights and civil liberties that we expect in the United Kingdom. It is important in that balance that we should never forget to weigh the rights of those who have been killed and maimed in the past and of those who may be killed and maimed in the future, unless the battle against terrorism is won.

The hon. Gentleman referred to supergrasses and converted terrorists. That is not a system, as it is sometimes alleged, nor is it something that is suddenly new in Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom as a whole. Over a number of years, individuals have come forward to the police wishing to give evidence about the crimes allegedly committed by former associates in terrorist organisations. They come from both Republican and Loyalist terrorist groups. There is no reason why the police should ignore such information when it can be responsible for removing dangerous criminals from society and putting them where they belong, behind bars. Terrorists in Northern Ireland continue to threaten the integrity of the judicial process in the Province. As long as the proper judicial process is followed — I am convinced that it is—it is right that we should make use of converted terrorists to get those dangerous men out of circulation.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to prosecution for plastic baton round deaths or injuries. Every single case when a death has been caused by a plastic baton round has been thoroughly investigated by the RUC. In every case, the papers have gone to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He has decided in those cases that there is no evidence upon which he can secure a conviction. He applies the same standards in those cases as he does to the others with which he has to deal. It is not for Ministers, but for the judicial process to take such decisions.

I refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would look at the way in which Sinn Fein and its representatives are dealt with by the Administration. I shall not expand on that.

The hon. Gentleman made a most disgraceful attack on the Chief Constable of the RUC. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and snipe at the man who has the most difficult job as chief police officer, probably in the world, enforcing the law in a democratic society that is under terrorist attack. It has been my privilege, because of my ministerial responsibilities, to work closely with the Chief Constable. I have come to admire the commitment that he puts into his job. I am glad of the opportunity to reaffirm the Government's complete confidence in his work. He devotes his considerable energy, skill and experience to the full to discharging his onerous responsibilities on behalf of the entire community in Northern Ireland. A little more support from some of the political leaders in the Province would not go amiss as he tries to tackle his difficult task.

For the hon. Member for Antrim, North to accuse my right hon. Friend of having failed the people of Northern Ireland, just about takes the biscuit. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman ever asks himself whether he has failed the people of Northern Ireland by the intransigence and inflexibility that he has shown in the past?

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Under-Secretary of State should come to Northern Ireland, fight a seat and see how he gets on.

Mr. Scott

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discharges his duties to Northern Ireland with immense commitment and effort.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the interval between arrest and trial in Northern Ireland, which is a matter of concern to the Government.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, the courts and the police continue to cope well with processing the many cases involving serious offences. The average time between arrest and trial obviously fluctuates, depending on many factors, not least the rate of arrests. We monitor the position carefully. No one wishes there to be undue delay between arrest and trial. I shall refer to some statistics to show that the waiting time is decreasing. In September 1977, the untried prison population was 701; in 1981 the figure was 490, and in September 1983 the figure was 370. Hon. Members may say that the figure is too large, but the movement is in the right direction. We shall continue to monitor the position and seek an improvement as rapidly as we can.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) referred to the "Dowra", or "McGovern" affair, as it is sometimes called. One must recognise that occasionally there will be misunderstandings in dealing with the sensitive subject of co-operation between police forces on different sides of a border that witnesses the passage of terrorism, arms and ammunition. I regret any episode that leads to the misunderstanding. It arose because, when the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana first made his representation, the Chief Constable of the RUC decided that the issue should be treated as a formal complaint, and therefore to put in train the statutory procedures which follow the lodging of any such complaint. It later became clear that that was not the intention of Commissioner Wren. A full explanation of the background to the incident has been sent to the Commissioner. I wish everything humanly possible to be done to ensure that misapprehension does not continue with police forces on either side of the border. Nothing must be allowed to affect the security co-operation between the RUC and the Garda. I assure the House that co-operation in that area is excellent.

My hon. Friend also referred to the Enniskillen training centre. The police authority is awaiting clarification about some matters from Her majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary who is advising the authority. Once the police authority receives their final clarification, it will put proposals to the Secretary of State. The matter remains with the police authority. I hope that in a few months progress can be made.

My hon. Friend also referred to the Baker report. He spoke with great authority in the debate, as he has previously, and I hope that he will give evidence to Sir George Baker. I am sure that Sir George would welcome the experience and knowldege of my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) made an important contribution to the debate. He aserted that the three prongs of British policy in Northern Ireland in recent years were the criminalisation of the paramilitaries, the Ulsterisation of the security forces which were continuing, but that the construction of proper political structures, which would involve the two traditions in Northern Ireland, had been abandoned. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The whole thrust of Government policy, with the White Paper of last summer, the Northern Ireland Act 1982 and the establishment of the assembly, was designed to ensure that there was a framework to enable the political leaders in Northern Ireland to come forward with proposals. The hon. Gentleman said that the Unionists have a veto on progress in these matters. Within the framework that we have established, and the opportunities that we have offered, both sides have the opportunity to veto further progress.

We can only encourage them to move foward——

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business):—

The House divided: Ayes 125, Noes 10.

Division No. 92] [11.30 pm
Alexander, Richard Dunn, Robert
Amess, David Eyre, Reginald
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Fallon, Michael
Baldry, Anthony Farr, John
Beggs, Roy Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Bellingham, Henry Forth, Eric
Berry, Sir Anthony Garel-Jones, Tristan
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Goodlad, Alastair
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Bottomley, Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hayward, Robert
Braine, Sir Bernard Hind, Kenneth
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Bright, Graham Hunt, David (Wirral)
Brinton, Tim Lang, Ian
Bruinvels, Peter Lawrence, Ivan
Burt, Alistair Lightbown, David
Butterfill, John Lilley, Peter
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Chope, Christopher Lord, Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Lyell, Nicholas
Coombs, Simon McCrea, Rev William
Cope, John McCurley, Mrs Anna
Couchman, James Macfarlane, Neil
Currie, Mrs Edwina MacGregor, John
Dorrell, Stephen MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Dover, Denshore Maclennan, Robert
Maginnis, Ken Ryder, Richard
Malins, Humfrey Sackville, Hon Thomas
Malone, Gerald Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Maples, John Sayeed, Jonathan
Mather, Carol Scott, Nicholas
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)
Merchant, Piers Speller, Tony
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Spencer, D.
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Moynihan, Hon C. Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Murphy, Christopher Stern, Michael
Needham, Richard Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Newton, Tony Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Nicholls, Patrick Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Nicholson, J. Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Norris, Steven Thurnham, Peter
Oppenheim, Philip Tracey, Richard
Osborn, Sir John Twinn, Dr Ian
Ottaway, Richard van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Page, John (Harrow W) Viggers, Peter
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Waddington, David
Paisley, Rev Ian Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Walden, George
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Penhaligon, David Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down) Watts, John
Powley, John Whitney, Raymond
Prior, Rt Hon James Wilkinson, John
Proctor, K. Harvey Winterton, Mrs Ann
Raffan, Keith Winterton, Nicholas
Rathbone, Tim Wolfson, Mark
Rhodes James, Robert Wood, Timothy
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Yeo, Tim
Robinson, P. (Belfast E)
Roe, Mrs Marion Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. Michael Neubert and Mr. John Major.
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Rowe, Andrew
Bermingham, Gerald Rogers, Allan
Cohen, Harry Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Flannery, Martin Skinner, Dennis
Hume, John
Maynard, Miss Joan Tellers for the Noes:
Nellist, David Mr. Dennis Canavan and Ms. Harriet Harman.
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 24th November, be approved.