HC Deb 01 May 1986 vol 96 cc1080-1
3. Ms. Clare Short

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his assessment of the scale of Loyalist paramilitary organisations and the danger they represent.

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

The Government and the security forces keep under careful review all organisations which are paramilitary in character or associated with the use of violence. The security forces will continue to deal even-handedly under the law with threats to security or public order from all such organisations.

Ms. Short

I am sorry that the Minister has not answered my question, but has merely said that the Government will keep everything under review. Is he aware that Northern Ireland is massively armed—overwhelmingly so in the Loyalist community—with gun licences approved by the British Government? Will the Government undertake to review the many gun licences that are issued and call in some of them?

Mr. Scott

Firearms, shotguns, and, indeed, air rifles are under much stricter control in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain. If the hon. Lady has any particular suggestions for further restrictions in the law I shall obviously look at them, but at the moment we seek to exercise tight control in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hayes

Will my hon. Friend pay a particular tribute to Sir John Hermon for a courageous and sensible speech last week, when he made it clear that he and his officers will deal ruthlessly with that tiny minority of officers in the Province who behave in a party political manner?

Mr. Scott

I echo my hon. Friend's remarks, but the grounds for praising Sir John Hermon go much wider than that. He is a splendid leader of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and has been largely responsible for the progress that it has made in recent years.

Mr. Duffy

Does the Minister agree that if Unionist parliamentary representatives do not stand up to their back-room gunmen, the shameful statement of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) outside Belfast city hall on Easter Monday, that democracy has been done to death, will indeed be fulfilled, not, as he went on to say, by Margaret Thatcher in Downing street, but in Northern Ireland by Unionist parliamentary representatives?

Mr. Scott

I regret all such actions and statements that seem to encourage unconstitutional or unlawful action. However, with the prospect of talks between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State with Unionist leaders, I hope that constitutional action will now be pursued.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my hon. Friend agree that to deal effectively with the paramilitary organisations it is essential to have an effective extradition treaty with America? Does he also agree that for America to reject the new extradition treaty would be to deal a body blow to Anglo-American relations and call into question whether that country is seriously interested in suppressing terrorism?

Mr. Scott

The Government are bending every effort to secure the passage of the supplementary treaty on extradition with the United States. I do not believe that either the House or British public opinion would understand a failure to deliver that treaty through the Senate.