HC Deb 30 January 1992 vol 202 cc1066-7
10. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the prospects for an early settlement to the military conflict in Northern Ireland.

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

The actions of terrorists in Northern Ireland cannot be dignified with the description "military conflict". Peace will come when the terrorists realise, as they must, that they will never be allowed to prevail.

Mr. Hain

There is widespread admiration for the Secretary of State's persistence in tackling paramilitary terrorism and for his patience over the political talks. May I put to him the comments on BBC television this week of the commanding officer of bloody Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, who said that the present Government's policies and those of their predecessors had failed completely? Is there not a case for an entirely new agenda of constitutional talks, involving all elected representatives of both north and south, to agree a solution to this crisis? Otherwise we shall have 23 more years of killing and destruction.

Mr. Brooke

I am conscious how, whenever we come to one of these sad anniversaries in Northern Ireland, those who have participated in Northern Ireland affairs in the past make their contributions to the current debate. As for talks, the party leaders and I issued a statement earlier this week. I think that there is hope and expectation on the part of us all that we shall be able to come back into talks after the general election.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend accept that to deal with military conflicts in the Province British troops must be able to deal with the Irish Republican Army in a professional, military way, without their hands being tied behind their backs for political reasons? Does he further agree that people in the Province deserve equally high standards of security and protection from terrorism as those who live on the mainland?

Mr. Brooke

I have already remarked on the phrase "military conflict". As to my hon. Friend's comment that the security forces should be allowed to operate without constraint from political considerations, I can give a categorical assurance that no such restraint for political reasons will be imposed. The security forces will, however, always operate under the rule of the law.

Mr. Molyneaux

Does the Secretary of State remember that in Northern Ireland Question Time on 12 December he and I shared a concern about the build-up of munitions and arms as far south as Limerick for trans-shipment to Northern Ireland, as unfortunately happened? Does he feel that he might try to persuade Mr. Collins at their next meeting to devote a little more time to the containment of that particular problem rather than wasting it on demands that a policeman accompany every Army patrol in Northern Ireland, presumably to ensure that the Special Air Services remember to say "please" and "thank you" to any civilian they may encounter?

Mr. Brooke

I had the opportunity to discuss the matter that the right hon. Gentleman has raised at the conference this week. The Minister of Justice, who of course accompanies the Minister for Foreign Affairs to these conferences, is fully seized—as is the Commissioner of the Garda—of the necessity to identify the whereabouts of the arsenal because of its profound value to the IRA.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the current security situation in Northern Ireland illustrates the irresponsibility of those who oppose the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act?

Mr. Brooke

I have said before from the Dispatch. Box that the attitude of other parties in the House to that Act is a matter for them rather than for me.

Mr. McNamara

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that after the election and in the event of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) forming a Government, the right hon. Gentleman will support that Government in seeking to revive the talks on the basis of the three strands that have been the basis of his patient talks over the past two years? At the conclusion of the Nelson case, will the Secretary of State make a statement to the House about the supremacy of the rule of law in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Brooke

I hesitate to correct the hon. Gentleman's pronunciation, but in my day I fought the constituency of Islwyn which is now represented by the Leader of the Opposition, and I can tell him that it is pronounced "Issloin". In the unlikely event of an alternative Administration being returned to power and seeking to get talks started, on the basis of my experience over the past two years I wish the hon. Gentleman well. In response to the hon. Gentleman's second question, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, made it perfectly clear that we will not make any comment whatever on that case while it is proceeding.