HC Deb 30 June 1988 vol 136 cc509-12
2. Mr. Livingstone

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

7. Mr. Ron Brown

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

Mr. Tom King

Since I last answered questions in the House on 26 May 1988 nine people have been killed in Northern Ireland. These deaths include the murder of a full-time UDR soldier by the Provisional IRA, the murder of two civilians in Belfast, and the murder by the Provisional IRA of six off-duty soldiers at Lisburn on 15 June. The Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for the death of one of the civilians and, while no organisation has claimed responsibility for the other death, it is believed to have been the work of a Loyalist paramilitary group.

The efforts of the security forces are continuing to yield substantial encouraging results. Since the beginning of the year, 182 people have been charged with serious offences, including 11 with murder and 10 with attempted murder. A total of 337 weapons, 72,000 rounds of ammunition and 4,100 lb of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland. I understand that the Garda Siochana has recovered some 220 weapons, 141,000 rounds of ammunition and 600 lb of commercial explosives.

Mr. Livingstone

I join the Secretary of State in deploring the record of carnage that he read out. Does he agree, however, that Amnesty International's report undermines the legitimacy of the security forces if there is any suggestion that they operate outside the law? Therefore, will he investigate the statement by the RUC in Belfast Crown court that it had decided neither to question nor to charge Mr. R. Jackson, a Loyalist paramilitary who was involved in the murder of Mr. William Strathearn, about using a gun supplied by two members of the RUC who are currently serving life imprisonment for their part in the crime? Can he justify two members of the RUC being in prison for life while the third person who took part in the offence was not charged? For once, will he not say that if I have any evidence I should give it to the authorities, because this comes from the RUC?

Mr. King

I should need to study the hon. Gentleman's question very carefully. I should like to know to what period it refers. I am bound to say that if there is evidence to that effect it must be dealt with in the proper way and should be submitted.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement about the shooting down of a helicopter in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that an Army officer appeared on television and told the people of Northern Ireland that Russia was put out of Afghanistan by the same procedure—the shooting down of helicopters—and that, if it continued, British policy in Northern Ireland would have to change? Will he comment on those remarks made by a British Army officer on the night after the shooting down took place?

Mr. King

I did not see that broadcast or hear that particular comment. Any development of a threat to helicopters would be a serious matter and involve alterations to the operating practices of the security forces. As we know, in Northern Ireland the security forces will, with their skill and courage, adapt and make the necessary changes to their operating procedures to combat whatever may be the assaults and devices of the terrorists. If, after 20 years, the terrorists do not know that and have not realised that there is no military way by which they can win this campaign, I wonder whether they will ever learn.

Mr. Brown

We all condemn violence, but is there not still a case for the phased withdrawal of British troops? I suggest the setting up of workers' defence groups, based on the trade unions, for the defence of the community and to counter sectarianism. That may be anathema to the Tory party and the Secretary of State, but will he at least give us his views on that suggestion, which is important to individuals who believe that class issues still prevail in that troubled part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. King

British troops are in Northern Ireland to protect the community from terrorism, from whichever quarter it may come. They will remain there as long as the community faces such a threat. The people who make necessary the presence of the troops are the people who conduct the terrorist campaign. They are, in a real sense, the "troops in" movement for Northern Ireland, because that is why the troops are there. I do not begin to support the suggestion that trade union groups could provide a security presence, but I should not like to let pass the opportunity to pay tribute to what trade unions have done in Northern Ireland in standing against sectarianism. The whole Province is in their debt.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the courage and dedication of Sir John Hermon, last night's vote has not helped morale in the RUC? Therefore, is it not vital to get this whole issue of the disciplinary proceedings over the Stalker affair out of the way as quickly as possible?

Mr. King

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There is the implication, in connection with the Stalker-Sampson affair and the original shooting, that no action was taken in pursuit of the matter. As we know, four members of the RUC were charged with murder. There has been a massive reorganisation of the RUC, and a significant number of changes have been made, some of them way back in 1983. That shows how long ago some of these issues were being dealt with. I also agree that it is desirable that these matters are finally resolved, and, if disciplinary charges are to be made, that they are dealt with. There may be an announcement shortly in respect of the recommendations made by Mr. Charles Kelly, which are now with the Chief Constable.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Secretary of State join me and other hon. Members in wishing a speedy recovery to 14-year-old Gillian Latimer, who was so tragically and callously injured by the IRA in my constituency earlier this week? Will he also commend the courage of the driver of the school bus, who brought it to a halt so quickly after being thrown out of his seat that other children were not injured in the crash that should have ensued? At a time when the IRA is plunging to even greater depths, how can the Minister justify the denial of resources to the RUC in the frontier areas, where some of the police stations have cut their hours to 50 per cent. of what they were a few months ago?

Mr. King

The whole House will wish to endorse the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. As he knows, I commented about our feelings for Gillian Latimer and her school friends and on the courage of the driver on that occasion.

On the second matter, we have, of course, made it absolutely clear that law and order and the fight against terrorism are top priorities in our expenditure considerations and that we have significantly increased the resources in that area. If problems arise in particular areas I should like to consider them, but I do not think that I should comment on those matters on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Marlow

In view of the point put to my right hon. Friend by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and other Labour Members, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the IRA is conducting more than one campaign—not only a campaign of terrorism, but a campaign to undermine the credibility of British justice? Would it not be a matter of some shame and disgrace if Labour Members were to lend themselves, either advertently or inadvertently., to such a campaign?

Mr. King

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that part of the IRA campaign is to look for people who will repeat various allegations and distortions that it wishes to propagate. Looking at the latest figures, I should like to see some of that enthusiasm for civil rights, personal liberty and freedom addressed to the issue of the punishment shootings and beatings that are being conducted by some people at present. Last year more than 200 young people and others in Northern Ireland were involved in knee-capping and beatings of one sort or another of the most violent and vicious kind.

Mr. McNamara

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that we all want confidence in the security forces. We welcome the figures that he has given relating to arms finds, and so on, but is he able to tell us about the new appointments to the Police Authority? We know why the people involved are not named—I do not challenge that—but can he tell us how many of the new members were drawn from the minority community, how many of those not reappointed voted to appoint an investigating officer to inquire further into Mr. Sampson's allegations about the conduct of the investigation into certain matters arising from two of the shootings and an alleged lack of assistance to the Stalker-Sampson inquiry team. and, finally, how many of those reappointed were from the minority community and how many of those who were reappointed voted for the defeated proposal?

Mr. King

On the latter point, I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman the information that he seeks. That is, of course, a matter for the Police Authority and, in its very full statement, it made clear many of the considerations that it had in mind.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, although he understands that it is not the practice, for obvious reasons, to disclose the names of those concerned with the new Police Authority, which took office yesterday, I am satisfied that it represents a good cross-section of people in the community and that there is a substantial representation from the minority community.