§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
All taxis operating in Belfast are licensed either as public hire or private hire taxis.
§ Mr. Bowis
It has long been known that the black taxi system in Belfast has provided financial support for terrorism in that city and the Province. As we now have gruesome evidence of its involvement in terrorism and in the recent murder of two British soldiers, will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that that particularly unacceptable form of transport system is hounded out of the centre of Belfast, for the protection of all its citizens?
§ Mr. Needham
We are aware of the connection between paramilitary organisations in both communities and black taxis, although there are many black taxi operators in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland who do a very good job. The Chief Constable has established an anti-rackets squad to deal with rackets generally in Northern Ireland, and that is a high priority. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is bringing forward provisions in a new prevention of terrorism Bill which we hope will go a long way towards knocking out all forms of rackets in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
Is it not a fact that these battlewagons, as some of these black taxis have become, contributed largely to the appalling murders of two British soldiers? They are not simply used for monetary gain, but as battlewagons. Such activities should be stamped out. If some innocent people suffer, It is better than innocent lives being lost.
§ Mr. Needham
As my hon. Friend is probably aware, two taxi drivers and the chairman of the Falls Road Taxi Association have been charged with offences in connection with those horrific murders. Clearly, any such misuse of taxis is absolutely disgraceful, but my job as the Minister for the environment is to ensure that both public and private hire taxis are properly licensed and controlled. Nevertheless, as my hon. Friend said, the police must be given the powers to ensure that they stop any terrorist or paramilitary activity by black taxi operations or their drivers.