HC Deb 20 January 1992 vol 202 cc19-29 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke)

I have to report to the House with deep sadness that, shortly after 5 o'clock on Friday afternoon, seven construction workers on their way home from work were killed and seven were injured, five very seriously, when their minibus was blown apart in a massive explosion at Teebane Cross, on the main Omagh to Cookstown road in County Tyrone. The police investigation is continuing, but it is believed that two plastic barrels containing some 300 lb of home-made explosive were placed beside the roadside hedge and detonated by command wire from a vantage point overlooking the scene. The Provisional IRA has admitted that it carried out this mass murder. In addition, in the first three weeks of the year, five other people—all civilians—have been murdered by terrorists.

I know that the House will join me in extending deepest sympathy to the families, friends and colleagues of all those killed or injured, and in utter condemnation of these attacks, which demonstrate the profound depravity and moral bankruptcy of terrorism. All those killed or injured were working men going peacefully about their lawful occasions, yet the terrorists did not hesitate to murder or maim them.

In the face of such unmitigated evil, the reaction of the community and the Government is one of grief and of righteous anger; but I and my colleagues are absolutely determined that it must also be one of resolute and vigorous action. No society which believes in democratic values can allow the ballot box to be overridden by the bomb and the bullet. Violence has not brought, and will not bring, the terrorists any advantage. The democratic path is the one that we shall tread, and we shall go where it leads, not where terrorists seek to direct.

The first task for Government is to ensure that the security forces have the resources—legal and material—which they need. It is for the security force commanders to ensure that all the resources available to them are used with the maximum effectiveness. Both the level of available resources and their deployment are constantly adjusted as necessary to counter the foreseeable threat. When we judge that additional resources are needed, they are made available. My hon. Friend the Minister of State announced on Saturday that extra troops would soon arrive. They are already on patrol. In addition, extra troops are also now in the Province in support of a specific operation to enhance the security and to improve the effectiveness of vehicle checkpoints in Fermanagh.

We know that the terrorists can kill, but they cannot win. No democratic Government or society can allow such people to prevail. Nor will we. The security forces will continue to prevent or deter, as they are now doing, by far the largest part of planned terrorist activity. They will also do everything practically possible to protect the public. With the assistance that is increasingly forthcoming from ordinary members of both sides of the community, they will resolutely and successfully pursue not just those who carry out terrorist attacks hut also those who plan them. They will do so within the law; and they will continue to bring the criminals before the courts. That is the only way for a civilised democratic Government to deal with terrorism.

I wish to add a personal word on a subject related to recent events, in which I played a personal role. The decision to maintain the acceptance of a long-standing invitation to go on Mr. Byrne's show in Dublin on Friday night was prompted by the opportunity that it afforded to speak to the people of the Republic of Ireland about terrorism and the response of a democratic society. Yielding to an unsignalled invitation to sing on the show was innocent in intent, for reasons which are personal to myself, but it was patently an error. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I wish to apologise unreservedly to the families involved in Friday's bombing, to those who represent them in this House, and to all those in our wider society who would have taken wholly justified offence.

My commitment to Northern Ireland and its people is, I think, familiar to the House. It is because of that commitment and my understanding of the values and decent opinions of the Province that I have placed my resignation at the Prime Minister's disposal. I also advised him that if he were not to accept it on the spot he should defer any decision on it until after he had concluded his coincidental visit to the Province today.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. On behalf of the Opposition, I join with him in extending sympathy to the families whose lives were shattered last Friday by the IRA's vicious murder campaign. This afternoon, the House must demonstrate its united determination to resist terrorism. We must give a clear and simple message to the IRA and other organisations which emulate its savagery. There are no legitimate targets, be they members of the security forces or civilians. We will not give way to those who mistakenly believe that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. They can play no part in any inclusive dialogue which can create a genuine peace process.

The IRA should have no illusions that it can bomb and shoot its way to the conference table, for it cannot. No one who seeks to impose his will by terror can have a constructive role to play in the resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland. No one who is responsible for massacring his fellow citizens will be accepted as a partner in the effort to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

There is a legitimate expectation that the Government will provide the resources, in terms of both personnel and finance, to ensure the security of all the people of Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State therefore confirm, as he did in part today, that the Government will meet that expectation? In this time of sorrow, when many people are close to despair, we must remember the many occasions on which the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the security forces have thwarted the evil enterprises of the terrorists. In the words of Sir Hugh Annesley, it is slow, patient and incremental police work that will succeed in defeating this evil; there is no quick fix.

The people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, of Britain and the Republic expect their constitutional politicians to put aside their differences in pursuit of a peaceful political solution and to raise no false obstacles to sitting down to discuss matters among themselves. We heard at the end of the statement a characteristically honest and courageous statement by the Secretary of State. Those who have worked with him during the time that he has been in his present post have come to admire the hard work, courage and assiduity with which he has pursued the object of bringing the parties within the island of Ireland to sit down with the British Government and resolve their differences. What happened on Friday night happened, but in my humble opinion it never was, nor should it be regarded as, a resignation matter.

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not only for his robust statement about democracy but also for his very kind personal words.

I confirm that the Government will meet the expectation in terms of personnel and finance. I agree that patient work by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, supported by the other security forces, is the key to these endeavours. In the searches in Belfast over the weekend of 11 and 12 January, which on three occasions revealed a mass of destructive material, we had an outstanding example of that patient work.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

The House will be aware that Ulster Unionist Members bitterly regret the need for the Secretary of State's statement. It will be aware also that we have a long, deep and bitter disagreement with the Government over their whole political and security policy in Northern Ireland. However, we believe that it was right that the statement should be made in the House, from which have come the decisions that, in our opinion, have done so much to encourage the IRA through the years. I sometimes think that if the mutilated bodies of those who have been killed were laid out on the Floor of this Chamber the consequences of the decisions of those who sit here might be more effectively brought home to them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a leading Northern Ireland member of his own party recently described security in the Province as a joke? For the past 23 years Unionists have been saying exactly the same thing with regard to both security policy and political policy. To the people of Northern Ireland the Prime Minister's "no change" comment is simply a promise of more of the same. If the Government are not prepared to tolerate a situation of continuing violence six years after the previous Prime Minister first uttered those words, let them forsake that which has failed.

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that we very much welcome his commitment to taking the path of democracy regardless of where it leads? Indeed, that was the policy espoused by two Members of this House—Airey Neave and Ian Gow—who were murdered. If the Government were to decide to take that route, their decision would be very welcome in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for expressing his approval that a statement should be made today.

In reply to his observations about security, I should point out that in recent weeks the Chief Constable indicated that four out of five terrorist attempts are prevented and interdicted as a result of the work of the security forces. It is, of course, a matter for concern that there should be the fifth. The manner in which the security forces in Northern Ireland conduct themselves commands the admiration of all, and I am quite certain that the hon. Gentleman did not intend to impute any lack of commitment to them.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's comment about the Government's policy since 1985, I should make the point that I have been Secretary of State for two and a half years of that period. There are moments when I think that it may be that insufficient attention is paid to the coincidence of the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the upsurge in the supply of Libyan arms, which made a very considerable difference to the armaments of the IRA.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

I should like to express here, as I have done outside the House, my deepest sympathy to the bereaved and to the families of those who were injured. I assure the Secretary of State that the people in my constituency are no longer impressed by congratulations on their resistance to terrorism. They want positive, active measures to bring these devils to justice.

My people feel that the right hon. Gentleman would have been better employed if he had rushed to comfort the bereaved rather than carry out a song-and-dance act among people in Dublin, or even watch a rugby match. That is the opinion of the people I represent. However, the right hon. Gentleman has shown that he is indeed a right honourable gentleman, and for that he deserves great credit.

What steps were taken to protect the employees of this firm following an explosion that took place some time ago and that could have killed as many as were killed this time?

Mr. Brooke

I recognise the force of feeling that prompted the hon. Gentleman to speak in the way that he did on behalf of his constituents. There will be a thorough investigation, which will address all the circumstances, into this attack and that journey.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

I express my sympathy, along with that of my two parliamentary colleagues who are at funerals in Northern Ireland, for the families of those who have been killed and send our sincere wishes to those who have been seriously injured for a speedy and full recovery.

I add my voice to the condemnation of the activity of the Provisional IRA which has pertained in Northern Ireland for more than 20 years and which in this case was clearly sectarian as it killed seven Protestant workers. Actions of evil and barbarism are its stock in trade.

May I ask whoever may hold the Secretary of State's office, whether the right hon. Gentleman or his successor, to recognise that the policy in security has failed? Its failure can be seen in the graveyards across Ulster. We need not a tinkering with security policy—a change here and a change there—but a root-and-branch change in security policy so that it changes from a reactive one to a proactive one and becomes a policy of going after the IRA, of taking the fight to the IRA. That will put us on the route to victory over terrorism.

Mr. Brooke

I join the hon. Gentleman in his moving remarks about graveyards across the Province and in his condemnation of sectarian attacks such as that which occurred on Friday last week. I understand the feeling within his party that has given rise to some of the security recommendations which he conferred on my hon. Friend the Minister of State last week, and which he described as a root-and-branch policy. However, I am not sure that everybody who looked at what can and should be done in the Province would necessarily agree with all the elements of the policy that he put forward.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

I join the entire House in utterly and unequivocally condemning the atrocity that led to the Secretary of State's statement. Seven people, most of them young people and all from the Protestant community, were murdered, and murdered for exercising one of the most fundamental rights of all—the right to work. They were also exercising their right in keeping with the loyalty with which they were born, as they were helping to rebuild a security station. Presumably, those who murdered them were also born with loyalties. The answer to divided loyalties and different loyalties is not murder; it is respect—respect for the differences and an accommodation of those differences.

Achievieng that accommodation is the challenge that faces the House, the two Governments involved and all the parties in Northern Ireland. I ask both Governments to intensify their co-operation in order to achieve that aim. If certain parties refuse to co-operate, we should get on with it anyway, and leave no vacuum to be filled by murders such as those which happened on Friday.

As to the Secretary of State's personal statement, as he knows, we do not always agree about everything, but we very much appreciate the efforts that he is making to bring everybody around the table. If the process is to be continued, I hope that his Prime Minister will ensure that he is there to continue it.

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and not least his closing remarks. He has been a doughty fighter over a long period in favour of the use of democracy and dialogue and in condemnation of the use of violence. If this incident plays a part in intensifying the co-operation between the two Governments on security policy, I think that good will have come out of it. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that all of us who are engaged in the democratic affairs of the Province—that does not simply involve Governments; it involves also political parties—have a joint responsibility to see whether we can advance matters by way of dialogue.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I know that it would be the wish of my constituents that I should convey heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved and the injured in their grief and agony. For more than 20 years the IRA has been executing a horrendous campaign of genocide against the Protestant community, and in the names of the thousands of dead and injured I urge the Government to take the war to the terrorists. That would need the full, undivided and unambiguous support of every decent person in Northern Ireland, and the support of the Dublin Government, who have equivocated too often in the past.

I repeat a suggestion that I made to the Secretary of State at the time of the last atrocity in Northern Ireland. I asked the right hon. Gentleman to appeal to the Roman Catholic Church to excommunicate the terrorists—the evil gang of murderers, and their supporters and helpers. I was interested to read in a Northern Ireland newspaper today that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam had considered the same proposal.

I wish to refer to the personal statement which the Secretary of State made. I think that his decision was an honourable one and one which we would expect from an honourable man. I pay tribute to the efforts that he has made since he has held the office of Secretary of State to bring all constitutional politicians together. There is still hope that talks can succeed. I point to the last Northern Ireland Assembly, of which I had the honour of being Speaker. The Members of that Assembly worked for the good of everyone in Northern Ireland, regardless of religion or politics.

Mr. Brooke

I appreciate the personal remarks made by the hon. Gentleman.

When he talks of taking the war to the terrorists, I must reassert from the Dispatch Box that the actions of Her Majesty's Government, and of the security forces on their behalf, will be conducted under the rule of law and that the rule of law will not be thrown away, for that would be a concession to the terrorists.

It is at times suggested that the security forces are operating under a series of shackles, which it is sometimes suggested are of a political nature. I know of no such shackles.

Mr. Alex Carlisle (Montgomery)

May I and my right hon. and hon. Friends join in expressing sympathy for those who died or were injured in the atrocity in County Tyrone on Friday? It was murder of extreme wickedness. May I also say on behalf of my party that the personal code of conduct of the Secretary of State is an example to us all? I urge upon him that he should not resign. If certain others were in tune with his message of peace, we should see much quicker progress in Northern Ireland.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that he should hold his nerve to the twin track of political progress and strong security? Will he agree also that it would be a serious mistake to abandon the high standards of justice to which we try to keep as a reaction to these events and the evil in Northern Ireland that took place last Friday?

Does the right hon. Gentleman share with me the view that nobody should be allowed to bomb his way into any forthcoming general election campaign? Surely all political parties would do well to agree that there is to be no political vacuum in Northern Ireland and that we are determined to fight for peace as the future of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Brooke

I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's personal remarks. I confirm that the Government's nerve will hold in the context of the twin track of political progress and a robust security policy conducted under the rule of law.

In addition to what the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, the Government are preoccupied with social and economic development. Dire though the attacks on Belfast have been during the past two months, it is a sign of just how successful economic development has been that the IRA should have felt it necessary to retaliate in the way that it has.

On the question of the period between now and the general election, obviously I cannot predict the exact course that events will follow. I share the hon. and learned Gentleman's view that if we can avoid a vacuum, that will be in the interests of a democratic society.

Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)

May I assure my right hon. Friend that, in my judgment, it is both correct and entirely characteristic that he should offer his resignation? Whatever the outcome of that gesture, I hope that he will be reinforced and fortified by the knowledge that the whole House recognises the formidable qualities that he has brought to one of the most taxing posts in Government.

May I say, as every other hon. Member would wish to say, that we condemn that act of violence—indeed, that act of war, for that is what it was—and have great sympathy with the victims? However, if justice and peace could be secured by this House passing ritual condemnations, Northern Ireland would be the most pacific province in Europe.

We are once again confronted with the fact that there can be no progress in Northern Ireland without greater military security. Although I appreciate that no one should at present, and on the Floor of the House, talk lightheartedly about the deployment of military forces in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the considerable virtue that many would feel if the border with the Irish Republic were more effectively supervised hereafter?

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his generous personal remarks. Of course, I endorse what he says about justice and peace and about the need for greater military security. I hoped that I had made that clear in an earlier answer. The fact is that everything else that occurs in Northern Ireland must be sustained by the quality of the security policy.

I agree with my right hon. Friend about the significance of the border in the campaign in which we are engaged. There is no doubt that the scale of the weapons brought from Libya in the period before the Eksund was apprehended by French Customs has made a considerable difference during the past five or six years. It is known that that material is stored in the republic and then brought north for use by the terrorists. Of course, it is also used by those terrorists who choose to reside in the republic. Better maintenance of the border is a central factor in our policy and it is very much at the heart of the arrangements and agreement that we have with the Irish Government.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The right hon. Gentleman should not consider resigning over the affair in Dublin. The strong views expressed on both sides of the House—which in itself is unusual, divided as it is in its political structure—on the way that the right hon. Gentleman has carried out his job should send a clear message to the IRA: that it will not bomb its way to the conference table; it will not affect us now; it will not affect us during the general election; and it will not affect us after the general election. Such unanimity is unusual in this House, so the IRA should note that message.

There is no quick fix for security in Northern Ireland—and I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not think that there is—whether in dealing with last Friday's incident or, sadly, the tit-for-tat murders that follow. There is no easy way and internment is not the answer. Will the right hon. Gentleman study the battery of legislation available in the Province to determine whether it could be used more effectively by the security forces to interrogate people? That is what people sometimes have in mind, but think that it should be done by internment. I believe that it can be done without internment.

Mr. Brooke

I pay tribute to the quality of the testimony given by the right hon. Gentleman—the only Back-Bencher who has held my office—about the way in which democracy is defended against the forces of darkness in Northern Ireland. I shall, of course, establish whether we can use elements of the legislative battery that is available to us in a different way from the way in which it has been used until now. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make any suggestions privately, I shall be very grateful for them.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I accept everything that has been said by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House about the need for a stronger line against terrorism. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that for 20 years he and his predecessors have pursued the will-of-the-wisp of power-sharing, devolved government; and that, for as long as it is pursued, the IRA will believe, rightly or wrongly, that it will get us out in the end?

Has not the time come at last—some of us have been saying this for a long time—for my right hon. Friend, or his successor, to consider seriously the alternative policy that many have advocated: administrative devolution, or short-term integration? Is that not the only way to make it clear to the IRA that there can be no question of the United Kingdom's abandoning the Province?

As for my right hon. Friend's personal position, may I express my admiration for the frank and manly way in which he has offered his resignation? Occupying, as he does, what is virtually a vice-regal position, only he can judge whether he can maintain his authority after the visit to Dublin. That is above all a matter for him to decide; but I very much admire the way in which he addressed the House with his habitual frankness.

Mr. Brooke

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind closing remarks.

I am aware that what the Government have latterly pursued has been periodically categorised as power-sharing devolution. The Government's view has been that, if we are to have a system that will work and last in Northern Ireland, it must be a system on which agreement can be obtained around the table, and on which the endorsement and the thumbprints of all involved in constitutional politics in the Province can be secured. We have kept an open mind about what that system might be. In my opinion, the sooner that we return to serious discussion about the government of the Province, and about the other considerations that were invested in the earlier talks, the better the people of Northern Ireland will be served.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I appreciate that there is great interest in this serious matter, but we have another statement, and there is great pressure on the subsequent debate. I shall allow three more questions from each side, but I am afraid that after that we must move on.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I strongly disagree with the political intervention of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). What evidence is there, however, that, after nearly 22 years of sustained terrorist atrocities, the Provisional IRA is any nearer to achieving its objectives than when it started its activities in 1970?

If the country and the House have refused, since then, to give in to terror—despite all the horrors that have been inflicted against humanity on the mainland and, especially, in Northern Ireland—why should the leadership of the Provisional IRA and its fellow travellers, wherever they may be found, conclude that we shall give in to terror during the next 21 years?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman's attitude to terrorism always does him immense credit. I am grateful to him for what he has just said. I confirm that no progress of any sort has been made by the Provisional IRA towards its objective.

If I may hark back to the answer that I gave to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), one of the areas on which there has been a significant concentration by the Government and the security forces in recent years is the financial resources available to terrorists—I hasten to say on both sides of the community. There is not only anecdotal evidence but a fair amount of proxy evidence now that that is working.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

Does my right hon. Friend accept what is becoming obvious by now—that many of his hon. Friends, and Members in all parts of the House, have no wish or even thought that he should resign over this issue, or that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should see fit to accept his resignation? Does he recollect that during the talks last summer that he strove so hard to make successful the IRA, at least for a time, was marginalised? Does he further agree that the best security for the people of Northern Ireland is in talks and an agreement between political leaders and parties within Northern Ireland so that they may govern their own Province in the interests of all its people? Does my right hon. Friend think that, election or no election, the sooner they get on with it the better?

Mr. Brooke

It was, I think, common cause among all of us who were involved in the talks last year, and who, I hope, will be involved in the talks in the future, that they are not peace talks per se; they are talks about a political settlement, not only in terms of Northern Ireland but in terms of the relations between Northern Ireland and the republic and between Great Britain and the republic. However, my hon. Friend is perfectly correct: if we can make constructive progress along those lines, one of the consequences will be that we shall marginalise the terrorist.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

I join with colleagues in all parts of the House in sending my deepest sympathy to the relatives of those who lost their lives in Friday's slaughter. May the House not forget, through the Secretary of State, the workmates of those relatives who I am sure today, as they go about their legal business and pursue their employment, must have their own personal thoughts against the background of Friday's events.

I believe that I am right in saying that the Secretary of State is a direct descendent of the famous Scottish writer J. M. Barrie. May I take the liberty of reminding the right hon. Gentleman of his relative's famous quote in relation to his own personal position: that each man's life is like a diary in which we set out to write one account and finish up writing something different and that our most humble moment comes when we compare what we have written with that which we intended to write.

In relation to the right hon. Gentleman's personal position, there is no hon. Member who believes that he intended any malice in what happened on the television show on Friday night. In the presence of the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House, may I suggest to the Secretary of State that his personal position, because of the very sensitive job that he does in Government, should be cleared up before this day is finished?

Mr. Brooke

In responding to the hon. Gentleman's reference to Sir James Barrie, I should say that I do not, I fear, have a drop of Scottish blood, but he was my father's godfather. The hon. Gentleman has introduced me to sayings of his in the House today that I had not previously appreciated.

As to what the hon. Gentleman said about those who worked for Karl Construction, the building firm that was decimated on Friday, let me pay here, on the Floor of the House, the most profound tribute to those in civilian employment in the Province who go to work to make it possible for the security forces to do their job.

Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is right that he should restate the Government's commitment to their policy in Northern Ireland, based on the rule of law? Does not he equally expect the rule of law to be observed on both sides of the Irish border? For a considerable time, at least some of us have questioned where the IRA is trained and where it comes from. I should be glad to hear, therefore, what intensification of efforts are being made by Garda Siochana or Irish military personnel.

As regards my right hon. Friend's personal position, he is usually right and he is inevitably honourable. Although the hard and stony-hearted would never be touched by his personality, anybody with a shade of warmth would respond vigorously. I sincerely hope that he retains his position.

Mr. Brooke

I am aware, as we all are, that activities of a potentially terrorist nature occur in the Republic of Ireland. I am immensely gratified that those who participate in the activities of co-operation between the RUC and Garda Siochana say that the quality of co-operation is at its highest point for 30 years. In practical terms, it can always get better, and that applies on both sides of the border. In our relations with the Irish Government and the Garda, we are determined to secure a further contribution to the ending of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Of course, the Irish Government give us considerable co-operation, but in all these affairs—this applies to us as well—we can be still more effective than we are.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I rarely comment on Irish affairs, not because of lack of interest but because the Irish communities would reject any opinion or suggestion if they considered it a "Brit" suggestion or opinion, but, in this instance, the circumstances are so hideously distressing that I feel compelled to comment and to ask the Minister whether he thinks it a heavy irony that last Friday's incident followed successive discoveries of large caches of arms and whether perhaps it was a desperate attempt by the IRA to reassert some degree of authority.

Some people complain about security, but perhaps we can all agree with the plea of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) for a proactive rather than a reactive response. Does not the proactivity need to be politicians of all parties coming together and discussing and listening to each other rather than simply making pronouncements?

The Secretary of State is one of the few Ministers for whom I have any respect. We have had enough casualties and it would be singularly unfortunate and quite improper to offer the IRA the additional victory of his resignation. I hope, in common with the rest of the House, that the matter is resolved today.

Mr. Brooke

The Chief Constable of the RUC, both last July and, more recently, at the beginning of December, warned of the intensification of terrorist activity. It was recognised that Tyrone was likely to be the area in which there would be activity subsequent to the activities in Belfast. I cannot comment on whether last Friday's events were reactive to the security forces' recent successes, but the searches on 11 and 12 January were, by the standards of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), proactive exercises in terms of their success.

I am not confident about how I should take the hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks, but I shall bear with equanimity what I suspect may be a poisoned chalice.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is not it now incumbent on all decent men and women in both our countries to sink their party differences and concentrate on destroying this evil? To that end, will my right hon. Friend tell the Irish Government that their constitutional claim to Northern Ireland gives a spurious justification to the IRA's expressed determination to drive the British out of the island of Ireland? Will he also point out to the Labour party that its constant and continual opposition to the prevention of terrorism Act will deprive our security forces of the extra powers that they need to destroy terrorism?

Mr. Brooke

In terms of articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, I said when I addressed the Dublin chamber of commerce on Friday in conjunction with Co-operation North that the Irish Government had made it clear that articles 2 and 3 would be on the table with regard to any talks, and that is, of itself, a reason to seek to proceed with the talks. As for the point my hon. Friend raises about the Opposition's attitude to legislation, it is up to the Opposition to speak for themselves—and I say that knowing that they will do so honourably.