HC Deb 30 January 1992 vol 202 cc1057-9
3. Mr. John Browne

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the staff resources available to the special branch of the RUC.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

In the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, this information is confidential.

Mr. Browne

I accept the need for secrecy in the matter. Is the Minister satisfied that the present staffing levels are sufficient to carry out the necessary pre-emptive intelligence work? When will the agreed 441 new RUC people be recruited?

Dr. Mawhinney

The Secretary of State announced in November, as my hon. Friend says, that the Chief Constable's request for 441 additional police officers would be met. The recruitment of those officers began immediately, and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that more than 100 additional RUC and RUC reserve recruits were taken into training in December.

Mr. Maginnis

I am full of praise for the work that is being done by special branch in the RUC. Is the Minister aware that the best return for that good work is not being achieved in that shortcomings in the law allow the higher echelons of terrorist organisations—their command and control structures—to remain free to walk the streets with impunity, despite the fact that the RUC has provided high-grade intelligence about those people? Is he further aware that, in the wake of the Nelson trial, it is important to ensure that absolute primacy of the RUC in delivering law and order to the people of Northern Ireland?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the compliment that he paid to the special branch and to the RUC. I am sure that it is shared on both sides of the House, as it is from the Dispatch Box. If the hon. Gentleman, who is a considerable expert in these matters, thinks that specific aspects of the law should be addressed, I shall be happy to hear from him.

Mr. Mallon

Does the Minister agree that in any society, the public interest requires a system of law enforcement and justice that all can support and in which all can have confidence? Does he believe that that is possible in Northern Ireland, when some sections of the security services are colluding with terrorists, when they are using terrorists as agents while they are involved in terrorist activity and when some members of the security services are handing out confidential security documents as though they were pen-pal photographs? What changes will he and the Secretary of State demand so that the integrity of the law can be protected from some of those who are charged with enforcing it?

Dr. Mawhinney

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's remarks, the latter part of which related to a court case that has not yet been concluded, so it would be inappropriate and imprudent of me to comment on it now. My answer to the first part of his question is that in the few weeks that I have had my present portfolio, two or three times in public I have stated my firm belief that it is in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, the police and the security forces—indeed, in the interests of all of us —that the law be applied even-handedly and that those responsible for applying the law should do so.

Mr. McNamara

Can the Minister assure the House that he entirely supports the primacy of the police in all security matters? If so, will he now state to the House that the police are, and should always be, in control of all intelligence operations in Northern Ireland? So that all sections of the community can have confidence in the security forces, will the Government undertake to make a statement to the House after the conclusion of the Nelson case?

Dr. Mawhinney

I have already made my position clear in regard to the Nelson case, and I have nothing more to add. As for the primacy of the police, the view of Ministers is that that is not in question.