HC Deb 03 July 1986 vol 100 cc1151-3
2. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

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

7. Mr. Spencer

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

8. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

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

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

Since I last answered questions in the House on 5 June, two people, a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and a Catholic business man, have been killed in incidents arising from the security situation. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for both these brutal murders.

The efforts of the security forces are continuing to yield results. During 1985 a total of 522 people were charged with serious offences, including 24 with murder. So far this year, 330 people have been charged with serious offences, and 125 weapons, 15,000 rounds of ammunition and 1,200 lb of explosives have been recovered.

Mr. Bruinvels

I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend and the members of the RUC on the success of their clear-up rate. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is bad enough leading Members of the Democratic Unionist party threatening the lives of members of the RUC? Does he agree that the clear-up rate for crimes that has been achieved by the RUC makes Northern Ireland the safest part of the United Kingdom, with about 42.8 indictable offences per 100,000, compared with massive figures for the rest of the United Kingdom? Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that every possible financial aid and means will be given to help the RUC, to give it that protection and to ensure that Northern Ireland remains virtually the safest part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the tribute that he has paid to the RUC. In the light of certain difficult charges that have been made and the inquiry, with which the House is familiar, it is important to put on record the outstanding performance of the RUC in impartially seeking to enforce law and order and to protect people while they go about their daily lives. It is worth remembering that the hon. Member of this House who made that disgraceful remark about the police force was then safely protected by members of the same police force as he went home.

Mr. Spencer

The sons of Leicester who are serving in two battalions of the Royal Anglian Regiment in Northern Ireland are daily showing their commitment to the security of the Province. Does my right hon. Friend not feel that their efforts would be helped if those who at present are obstructing the Anglo-Irish agreement withdrew that obstruction?

Mr. King

I take the point that my hon. and learned Friend has made and I pay tribute to the Royal Anglian Regiment and those who serve in it. My hon. and learned Friend will know that, sadly, a major in that regiment lost his life as part of the total commitment of this House and this country to seeking to defeat terrorism in Northern Ireland. I wish that there were greater recognition by some of those who describe themselves as Loyalists of the commitment of us all to the defeat of terrorism and of the support that we give to that commitment.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend continue to emphasise that it is the overwhelming wish of the House that the Government should maintain their commitment to the Anglo-Irish agreement, providing as it does for further cross-border co-operation? Does he agree that the IRA's wholehearted opposition to the agreement stems from its recognition that it is likely to be the true loser from this agreement, and not others?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she has said. It is true that the IRA greatly fears the agreement, because it provides the best hope that we have had of the start of the co-operation that will be the only effective and lasting way to deal with terrorism. Perhaps I should add in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) that when one refers to Northern Ireland as being basically a law-abiding place, one should not underestimate the continuing threat that terrorism poses. That is why we need to use every endeavour, particularly in co-operation with the Government of the Republic of Ireland, to defeat this curse.

Ms. Clare Short

Does the Secretary of State remember that one of the reasons that we were given for the Anglo-Irish agreement was the need to reduce the alienation of the Nationalist population of Northern Ireland? We know that supergrass trials are one of the factors that alienate that community from any belief in justice in the criminal justice system. We in Britain now face the horrifying reality that probably the wrong people have been locked up for the Birmingham and Guildford bombings. Does this not make the Secretary of State worry more about the use of supergrass trials without even juries in Northern Ireland? When will he give us some progress on this issue?

Mr. King

The hon. Lady may recognise that concern about supergrass trials has not been exclusive to the Nationalist minority community. There is concern because of the real problems that are posed in a society where terrorist intimidation is rife. There are problems in having jury trials, including the problems that they pose for an extremely brave and committed judiciary in Northern Ireland, the members of which have discharged their responsibilities with amazing courage and dedication. It is right that the House should recognise that. We are aware of some of these concerns and these are some of the matters that we are considering.

Mr. Bellingham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the conduct of the UDR men who have recently been convicted was appalling and a disgrace to that fine regiment? Does he agree also that that outrage should be seen in the light of the fact that tens of thousands of first-class men and officers have served in the UDR since the troubles began? Will he confirm to the House that he still has complete confidence in the regiment?

Mr. King

I can give that assurance absolutely unequivocally to my hon. Friend. I am glad that he has put matters in perspective. The charges were serious on which members of the UDR were found guilty, but that must be put in the context that 33,000 men have served in the UDR. Some of the bravest people in the whole of the United Kingdom are part-time members of the UDR. The House will have noted that, sadly, one of the murders that occurred only this week was of a part-time member of the regiment. The part-time members serve with great courage and dedication. It is particularly because of their courage and dedication that one so much regrets the occasional incidents, such as we have had, that involve UDR men. If such incidents occur, those concerned will be brought to justice.