HC Deb 28 June 1984 vol 62 cc1143-7
2. Sir John Farr

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

3. Mr. Peter Robinson

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

4. Rev. Ian Paisley

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

7. Mr. Molyneaux

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

9. Mr. Proctor

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

10. Mr. Bellingham

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

11. Mr. Yeo

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 24 May there have been six deaths in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province. Three of those killed were civilians, one was a soldier, one a police officer and one a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

So far this year, 277 people have been charged with serious offences, including 29 with murder and 37 with attempted murder. In the same period, 119 weapons, 15,940 rounds of ammunition and 7,342 lb of explosives have been recovered.

Sir John Farr

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the relative stability that he has achieved in the Province. In particular, I congratulate the security forces on the wonderful efforts that they have made. Will he assure the House that he does not intend to relax his pursuit of the terrorists? Will he use every legitimate means, including the successful super-grass system, which has put so many men behind bars, where they belong?

Mr. Prior

We shall use every method under the law, and that includes converted terrorists.

Mr. Robinson

Does the Secretary of State accept that, far from there being relative stability, the figures which he has recited show that for the first six months of this year there was more violence than in the comparative periods of the previous two years? Does he believe that the stinging rebuke given to Sinn Fein at the polls may force it into a more overt military stance? What steps does he intend to take to have a security policy which will effectively deal with that?

Mr. Prior

The security statistics on deaths are worse this year than they have been for the last two years, but the general overall statistics are considerably better. One must, of course, bear in mind the activities of the IRA, connected as they are with Provisional Sinn Fein. I should have thought that one of the good things to come out of the European election results was the strong vote for constitutional politics on the part of the minority community and some check at least on the vote which Provisional Sinn Fein obtained.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The right hon. Gentleman has confirmed that more people were murdered by the IRA in the first six months of this year than in the comparable periods of the previous two years. Does he not feel that the time has come for a change in the security policy that he has been pursuing? Is he not alarmed by the fact that the people of Enniskillen are concerned about the announcement, just made by the police authority, of the closing of the police training centre in Enniskillen? Is he aware that this looks like a retreat and that the people in the border areas feel sore about it?

Mr. Prior

So far this year, of the 39 deaths, 31 may have been the responsibility of Republican terrorists. That is a serious situation. I do not think that it calls for any changes which would be helpful in security policy, but if changes were needed, I assure the House that they would be made. The answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that the police authority considers that the facilities for training recruits at Enniskillen are no longer adequate, but it has not yet put a proposal to me, and not until one comes to me can I say whether it will be satisfactory.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the Secretary of State share my concern and alarm over the fact that the flow of explosives from the Republic of Ireland has more than doubled compared with last year? Will he take urgent and effective steps to reduce this flow?

Mr. Prior

We have captured a great deal more explosives this year than for some years past. The figure for the whole of last year was 3,762 lb and we are already double that this year. There have been some of the biggest finds for a number of years. The place from where the explosive comes is hard to define—there is evidence that on a number of occasions it has come from the Republic, and I am in contact with the Republic on the matter—bearing in mind the ease with which explosives appear to be able to travel and the ease with which they can be made.

Mr. Proctor

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that of late there has been a welcome improvement in the level of security along the frontier? May we have an assurance that that improvement will not be temporary, but will be maintained?

Mr. Prior

There is always room for improvement, and I would not be satisfied with security along the border or anywhere else in the Province. There has been good cooperation at junior level in recent months along the border, and I hope that we can improve it further.

Mr. Bellingham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right and proper, when it comes to the criminal law, that members of the security forces are treated in the same way as other citizens in Northern Ireland? Does he agree also that, regardless of the merits, it is intolerable when a Foreign Minister of another country publicly criticises members of our judiciary?

Mr. Prior

The present system of cases being referred to the independent DPP and then brought before criminal courts sitting in public where appropriate is the best method of ensuring that justice is seen to be done. As for interference from other countries, I cannot stop what others may say, although I think that on many occasions it would be more helpful if they did not comment.

Mr. Yeo

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, notwithstanding any slight increase in the number of lives lost in the first half of the year, the general stability of the Province is much greater than many on mainland Britain might believe from what they read in the press? This reflects the work of the security forces, which I was lucky enough to witness at first hand recently, and the political efforts of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Prior

I am delighted that so many Members on both sides of the House are making visits to Northern Ireland to see for themselves the much greater degree of stability and co-operation within the Province. I hope that they will do all that they can to help us attract more industry and thus to get more employment in the Province. I agree strongly that Northern Ireland requires its own political dimension and democratic institutions, and the more that we can do to encourage people to take part in these activities, the better.

Mr. Maginnis

Is the Secretary of State able to assure me that should a site be identified for the police training depot which meets the criteria laid down by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary in his report to the police authority for Northern Ireland last July, he will not rule out locating the new depot in County Fermanagh?

Mr. Prior

I give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman. He will understand that it will be a difficult matter to decide. We must recognise that the size of the police force has trebled in the past 10 years and that there is a need for a much more up-to-date training centre than the present one. At the end of the day I must give every consideration to the best interests of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Ms. Clare Short

Will the Secretary of State comment on the security implications of a large part of the community in Northern Ireland losing faith in the impartiality of the criminal justice system? Will he comment especially on he contents of a letter which I received today from a man called Jimmy Brown, who is on trial in the Kirkpatrick super-grass case? He tells me that three of the accused have been in gaol for 29 months and are now facing charges arising from their fifth super-grass. He recently applied for bail and his application was refused on the ground that he might not answer for trial—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Lady will bear in mind the sub judice principle.

Ms. Short

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I will. Although Jimmy Brown tells me that he produced evidence that at least 12 Loyalist prisoners accused of murder had been given bail, no Nationalist prisoner has ever been granted bail.

Mr. Prior

I have always felt that one of the best things in Northern Ireland is the utter impartiality of the judiciary. In some cases suspected criminals, or alleged criminals, who have been remanded in custody on one charge have subsequently been further remanded on other charges. To some extent, that is the cause of considerable periods on remand. In his report, Sir George Baker made further recommendations on the subject of bail. One problem is that a number of people who have been let out on bail have absconded, and we cannot afford to the let that happen.

Mr. McCusker

Bearing in mind that the hallmark of the most recent murders of security forces would appear to be that the murderers have had access to detailed personal information about the people whom they were about to kill, will the Secretary of State assure us that known members or supporters of Sinn Fein do not have access to sensitive information in either the Civil Service or the public service generally in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I am certainly not aware of any members of Sinn Fein having access to the kind of information to which the hon. Gentleman referred. If he has any evidence to that effect, perhaps he will let me know.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

In considering the security situation in Northern Ireland, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to maintain the high morale of British forces serving there? It is a matter of great worry, therefore, that the danger money allowance of £2.15 per day may be done away with. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that that allowance will continue?

Mr. Prior

Those are matters not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. A report in a newspaper about my views should not be attributed to me, because those were not my views.

Mr. Skinner

In view of the fact that for more than 15 years a massive number of shootings and killings have occurred in Northern Ireland, has the Secretary of State seen the statement by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Democratic candidate in America, suggesting that it is now time, because of the United States presence in Lebanon and Vietnam, to discuss withdrawing British troops from what he described as a colony? Is it the case that this particular Secretary of State has only a one-way ticket now that he has declared himself fed up with Northern Ireland and is not interested in a long-term solution?

Mr. Prior

When I was at school, a schoolmaster used to say to his class that it was better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. I should have thought that the remarks attributed to the United States presidential candidate and the remarks of the hon. Gentleman fall into that category.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Gentleman should put the dunce's cap on his head.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has asked his question. He must not persist.

Mr. Nicholson

I hope that I shall not induce a similar answer from the Secretary of State. Will he confirm that the security measures which were introduced after the Mountain Lodge murders in my constituency have been drastically reduced?

Mr. Prior

I had better write to the hon. Gentleman about that matter, because I should have to check the position to give him a proper and accurate answer.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the British service men in Northern Ireland, both now and in the past, have been and are Northern Ireland citizens, because the British Army is just that—the British Army?

Mr. Prior

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Archer

To revert to the serious question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), may I ask whether the Secretary of State has been made aware of the deep alienation among communities in both traditions arising from what they perceive as the erosion of traditional legal standards, for example, with the use in multiple trials of uncorroborated super-grass evidence? Leaving aside the merits of the argument, which we may have an opportunity to debate in the near future, has the right hon. Gentleman considered whether, in the interests of law and order, that alienation may be at such a price that it outweighs any possible benefits?

Mr. Prior

Of course, I consider these matters extremely carefully. In all the circumstances, I believe that the use of converted terrorists to give evidence is perfectly in line with accepted practice in the United Kingdom. As for other statements that have recently been made, of course I am aware of the anxiety that they have caused, but it is not for me to comment on the judgment of the courts or on statements by members of the judiciary. I must maintain that position.