HC Deb 01 March 1990 vol 168 cc374-6
5. Mr. Loyden

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures he is taking to improve public confidence in the security forces.

7. Mr. Ernie Ross

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what initiatives he has authorised to improve public confidence in the security forces.

Mr. Cope

The police and the Army need the support of all sides of the community to be fully effective. The Government, the Chief Constable and the GOC therefore continue to attach the greatest importance to the maintenance and improvement of confidence in the security forces by all appropriate means.

Mr. Loyden

Can the Minister say whether Brian Nelson, who is helping in the Stevens inquiry, had any connection with the security forces before his arrest?

Mr. Cope

Not without notice, but the inquiry is progressing; it is extremely thorough and is looking into all the matters that it has been asked to consider.

Mr. Ross

Now that we know that the screening of members recruited into the UDR has been unsatisfactory, does the Minister accept the- suggestion of Sir John Hermon that screening should be done by the RUC?

Mr. Cope

The RUC plays a considerable advisory role in such screening for the UDR and others. But in the end the decision about who joins the British Army must be a matter for the British Army.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

May I press my right hon. Friend on this? The "Panorama" programme made serious allegations against the UDR suggesting that it was biased in favour of the Protestant community. One point that it brought out was whether the RUC is always consulted in the vetting procedure. Will he give the House an assurance that the vetting procedure is now conducted in consultation with the RUC and that no one is allowed to join the regiment without its approval?

Mr. Cope

Yes. I thought that the "Panorama" programme was unbalanced in that it did not look at the entire record of the UDR. I assure my hon. Friend that the RUC is involved in vetting in every case. But the final decision on who joins the British Army must be a matter for the Army.

Mr. Barry Field

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to restore and keep public confidence is for Members of Parliament not to make ludicrous statements about the actions of members of the security forces? It was unbelievable that a soldier was accused of planting an explosive device on a British Army lorry. It was an extraordinary and outrageous suggestion.

Mr. Cope

Those who jump to conclusions immediately after an incident make a great error and can contribute greatly to the lowering of confidence.

Mr. Molyneaux

When the Minister and the Secretary of State receive a copy of the Stevens report, will they publish it in the context of a Command Paper, setting out the number of persons arrested for questioning, the number of cases referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the number of persons against whom terrorist-related charges have been authorised by the DPP? Subsequently will they publish another report giving in full the number of convictions obtained in those cases?

Mr. Cope

The Stevens inquiry will report to the Chief Constable of the RUC. As such, it would not be normal to publish it. Nevertheless, I am sure that the details for which the right hon. Gentleman asked will be forthcoming.

Mr. McNamara

Does the Minister accept that the Stevens inquiry is a matter not merely of supplying information to the DPP but of gaining confidence in the security forces among all communities in Northern Ireland? Therefore, it would be advantageous for the Government to find at least part of the report that they could release to the public.

The Secretary of State said that the RUC tasks all patrols. Did the RUC task the patrol that shot the two or three men outside the bookmaker's shop in Belfast? Why can we still not have the figures for the number of patrols accompanied by the RUC? As it is only a simple logging procedure and the Government inform us that the RUC tasks all UDR patrols, why cannot we have the figures?

Mr. Cope

The Stevens inquiry will report to the Chief Constable. I have no doubt that the report will contain some information that it would not be desirable to publish, but which is for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief Constable to consider. We have undertaken to consider those matters arising from the report that affect ourselves in the Northern Ireland Office. Although it is not a document for publication, I take the hon. Gentleman's points.

The shooting in the Whiterock road and Falls road area is currently under investigation, so I do not wish to add anything on that subject. On the hon. Gentleman's point about accompaniment, it remains the policy of the Government, the Army and the police to ensure that wherever possible patrols are accompanied to the maximum.