HC Deb 07 February 1985 vol 72 cc1086-9
3. Mr. Parry

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

8. Mr. Latham

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

18. Mr. Proctor

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

Mr. Hurd

Since I last answered questions in the House on 10 January, one member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and one civilian have died in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province.

The security forces continue to combat terrorism with courage and determination. Since the beinning of this year a total of 57 people have been charged with serious offences including two with murder and five with attempted murder; and 14 weapons, 691 rounds of ammunition and 1.5lbs of explosives have been recovered.

Mr. Parry

Will the Secretary of State consider reviewing the use of weapons by these security forces, bearing in mind the killing of Mrs. Norah McCabe by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the killing recently of a young joyrider by the Ulster Defence Regiment? Both these innocent people lost their lives unnecessarily. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider disbanding the UDR, which is a sectarian organisation with fewer than 2,000 Catholic members? Will he make a statement on the recent protests made by the Irish Foreign Secretary to his Department?

Mr. Hurd

Every soldier and police officer in Northern Ireland who goes out on an operation knows that he is subject to the law. The courts take a serious view if they find that the force used went beyond that which was reasonable. That is a serious constraint that is not always properly appreciated. I do not believe that it would be compatible with the security of Northern Ireland or with the safety of its citizens to disband the UDR. We have had various exchanges of a courteous kind with the Irish Government on several recent incidents and I am not sure to which one the hon. Gentleman is referring especially.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the Conservative Benches and, I suspect, on others in this place there is the hope that we shall hear no more talk of disbanding the UDR? It has been doing excellent work and it is regrettable that deaths have occurred recently.

Mr. Hurd

Yes, Sir. Talk of disbanding the UDR ignores the crucial role that it plays in many parts of the Province. It is important that by its methods of recruitment, training and deployment it is made clear that it is a force whose aim and purpose is to defend all citizens of the Province and that it is not, as has been alleged, a sectarian force.

Mr. Proctor

In the light of the proposed talks between the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the so-called Army Council of the IRA and the statement of Dr. FitzGerald that if the meeting takes place in the Republic he will take measures to ensure that it is broken up, will my right hon. Friend take similar measures if the talks take place within the United Kingdom? Will he give an assurance that the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act will apply to all those who participate in the talks and condemn all those who take part in the talks, which are treasonous talks?

Mr. Hurd

I have expressed my view that the proposal that such a meeting should be held is not wise. Under our system it is not for me to decide or direct how the law in Northern Ireland, let alone any other part of the United Kingdom, should be upheld. That is the responsibility of the chief constables. It is clear that if members of the IRA Army Council were to meet in Northern Ireland, avowedly in that capacity, they would be committing an offence under section 21 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisons) Act 1978 of belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation.

Mr. Hume

In the light of the obvious controversy that surrounds the UDR, has the Secretary of State yet apprised himself of the numbers of members of that regiment who have been charged with or been found guilty of serious offences? Does he not think that he should have apprised himself of such figures?

Mr. Hurd

Of course I am aware of the serious cases that have occurred over the years and which have involved different members of the security forces, not solely the UDR. Those cases have been taken very seriously by the judiciary and the courts. I am also aware, because I have met them and, in some cases, their widows, of the large numbers of people in Northern Ireland who have joined the UDR at great personal risk. Under continuing tension and risk over many years they have given a great deal of selfless service to their fellow citizens. That must also be taken into account.

Mr. Peter Robinson

In view of the great controversy involved in the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) meeting murderers, and in view of the Secretary of State's statement at the Dispatch Box today that such a meeting would be illegal, does he agree that under the Criminal Law Act 1967 anyone who refused to give information about such a meeting would commit an offence that is punishable by imprisonment? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the golden principle that no-one—politician or pauper—should be seen to be above the law?

Mr. Hurd

No one is above the law. I am advised that under section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 a person who has information likely to secure the arrest of someone who has committed an arrestable offence commits an offence if he fails within a reasonable time and without reasonable excuse to give that information to the police. That is probably the section to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Secretary of State consider the use of additional units of the SAS to counter the IRA's campaign of genocide in the frontier regions—genocide which, unfortunately, has involved many members of the Ulster Defence Regiment?

Mr. Hurd

That is not directly a matter for me, but units of the Regular Army are available to the General Officer Commanding when, in consultation with the Chief Constable, he believes that they are needed.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

I welcome my right hon. Friend's denunciation of the campaign of character assassination as well as physical assassination of the UDR, but is not the reason why some people are able to misrepresent the Regiment as sectarian the systematic murder of so many Catholic members of the UDR and the systematic intimidation of their families? Was not the first fatal casualty in the UDR a Roman Catholic lining in the Falls road?

Mr. Hurd

I believe that that is right. It is certainly true, regrettable and understandable that the proportion of Catholics in the UDR has declined. I have no doubt that intimidation has played an important part in that. It is essential that the UDR's role is understood and defended by those who recognise the realities of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The regiment itself, by its recruitment, training and deployment, should show to the world that it is not a sectarian force.

Mr. Duffy

What specific action has the Secretary of State taken about the partiality of the UDR revealed at the recent trial of one of its privates, Mr. Geoffrey Edwards, for the murder of a Sinn Fein election agent, Mr. Peter Corrigan? What incentive is there to abandon the bullet for the ballot if one puts one's self at risk from, of all people, men in British Army uniform?

Mr. Hurd

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should take that line. Under our system, it is for the courts to take a view of offences of that kind. As he knows, the courts took a serious view of the case to which he referred. There are plenty of opportunities for members of the minority community to take part in the public life of Northern Ireland, and I wish that they would increasingly do so.

Rev. Ian Paisley

May we have an assurance that every step will be taken in the Lisnaskea area to see that UDR men who are serving valiantly the cause of peace in the area get the adequate cover that they need? Will the right hon. Gentleman order an inquiry into the circumstances of the tragic murder of Mr. Jimmy Graham, who, in going to Derrylin without any cover, might as well, from the security point of view, have beeen going to Crossmaglen?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman has told me of his concerns about that case, and they are being looked into.

Mr. John David Taylor

Will the Secretary of State confirm that about 35,000 people in Northern Ireland are serving or have served in the UDR and that, on the basis of those figures, it is wholly irresponsible for the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) to call for the disbandment of the UDR? Will he remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the disbandment of that force could result only in the transfer of many thousands of regular soldiers from the British Army back into Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hurd

I have said that what the UDR does in the Province is indispensable for the protection of its citizens. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is wrong and misleading for generalised accusations to be built on the basis of particular cases. I am surprised that people with experience, particularly those with experience in the legal profession, should fall into that trap.

Mr. Spencer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the security situation in Northern Ireland is not helped by actions such as those of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who, on a day when marches had been banned in the city of Leicester, came to the city and spoke publicly in favour of the actions of Sinn Fein and spoke in an inflammatory manner?

Mr. Hurd

I am hardly surprised. I am even less surprised at my hon. and learned Friend's reaction, which I share.

Mr. Archer

Has the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to study the poll carried out by the Northern Ireland consumer panel, and published in the Belfast Telegraph, demonstrating that 89 per cent. of Protestants in Northern Ireland believe that the system of justice is fair, while only 36 per cent. of Catholics have a similar belief? Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliff (Mr. Duffy), will the right hon. Gentleman try to identify those aspects of the system which cause such anxiety among Catholics? Does he propose to make a beginning by introducing legislation to implement the Baker recommendations?

Mr. Hurd

I read the interesting poll which was published in the Belfast Telegraph yesterday. Although one should take such surveys with some scepticism, it showed the truth of something that I have been trying to say for some months, namely, that it is misleading to generalise about such matters as the attitude of members of the minority community to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and such generalisations are not borne out by those findings. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entitled to prod me from time to time about legislation to reflect decisions on the Baker review. I hope that we shall be able to make an announcement about that before long and that legislation will follow as soon as we can find a slot for it.