HC Deb 27 February 1992 vol 204 cc1098-100
2. Sir Patrick Duffy

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

4. Mr. Hunter

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

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke)

My last statement to the House followed the deaths of nine people on 4 and 5 February. Since then there have been five deaths as a result of the security situation, including four men shot by the security forces near Coalisland on 16 February.

The Government and security forces will continue to meet their responsibility to bring terrorism to an end within the rule of law by pursuing a firm and resolute security policy and by working for progress in the political, economic and social fields.

Sir Patrick Duffy

Does the Secretary of State accept that the security forces must not only act within the law but always be clearly seen to act within it if they are to deprive the terrorist group of the environment in which it thrives? Will he therefore ensure that after any incident involving the use of lethal force there is a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation so that the facts are plain to see?

Mr. Brooke

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his statement and endorsement of the policy under which the security arrangements are conducted within the Province and for his reference to the rule of law. I assure him that after each such incident the Royal Ulster Constabulary investigates the circumstances.

Mr. Hunter

Will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to the introduction of short-term selective internment? At a time of heightened terrorist activity, would not that undermine the operational effectiveness of the terrorists and play havoc with their planned acts of violence?

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the powers of executive detention are on the statute book and are available for use. We do not comment further on them, beyond the fact that they are available for use.

Mr. Maginnis

Was not the Secretary of State a little disappointed at the reaction of some Church leaders to the successful contact by the security forces at Coalisland? Is not it important that the Northern Ireland Office should ensure that full information is available to the public on the extent of the deadly arsenal that the terrorists had with them on that occasion, which included AK47 assault rifles and Dsh heavy machine-guns?

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the public are aware that 12 dedicated terrorists were involved in that attack and, although no one glories in anyone's death, make it clear again that only four were shot? Does not that show that the security forces acted with remarkable restraint and that there is no dedicated shoot-to-kill policy?

Mr. Brooke

I support the hon. Gentleman's observations on the need for the circumstances of such cases to be made known. I do not think that there were any doubts in Northern Ireland about the circumstances of that case. The four men who were killed were sent on a murder mission. It is easy to assess their potential for action and their intent from their fire power, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Does the Secretary of State recall a speech that he made several months ago in which he encouraged the business community to take on racketeers? Does he recall that he said that if the business community took the first step he and the police would give it whatever support and back-up it needed? Is he aware that one business man did as he suggested and, as a result of his coming forward, three people were convicted of racketeering? However, that business man was forced to close his business, change his name and go into hiding with his wife and two children, and he has received no financial support from the Northern Ireland Office. Despite the sympathy expressed by the judge in court, there is no way in which that business man can legally make a claim against the Northern Ireland Office. Will the Secretary of State ensure that his Department backs up his promises to the business community and ensure that such disincentives to the business community coming forward are not allowed to continue?

Mr. Brooke

I know that the hon. Gentleman supports our drive to deprive the paramilitaries on both sides of the sources of finance that sustain their campaigns. I recall the speech to which the hon. Gentleman referred and I know that he has referred before to a case similar to that which he described today. I confess that I thought that that case had arisen a little before that speech. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me about the details of the case to which he referred I shall be happy to respond.

Mr. Mallon

When a Government have a serious problem that has lasted 22 years, cost billions of pounds in security and military provisions and caused immeasurable suffering to some people, it is reasonable to assume that they have a long-term policy for creating lasting peace and ending the waste. As we come to the end of this Parliament, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to give us some insight into the Government's long-term policy which has been formulated during the past 13 years? I am not referring to ad hoc arrangements or short-term palliatives. Will the Secretary of State give an unambiguous statement of the Government's long-term policy for creating peace in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Brooke

As the hon. Gentleman implied by his question, the Government's central purpose must be to bring terrorism to an end. Terrorism will come to an end when the terrorist no longer believes that he has any chance of securing his objective by the means that he is using. That calls for a robust security policy to enable the people of Northern Ireland to live normal lives conducted within the rule of law. But it also implies, as my answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy) stated, Government policy in political, economic and social matters that deprives the terrorist of the support which he might otherwise have enjoyed.