HC Deb 01 December 1994 vol 250 cc1321-3
4. Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what changes in security arrangements he intends to make as a result of the IRA ceasefire.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler)

We have always made it clear that, when terrorism is seen to have ended permanently, but not before, it will be possible to remove the preventive measures that have had to be put in place to protect the community.

Various adjustments, based on security advice, have already been made, including the lifting of border road closures: the need for other measures is kept under review.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

As it appears that the Government have been pushed by the Americans into advancing those talks, and as this minority Government now depend for their continued existence on the support of the Ulster Unionists, and will therefore find it difficult to treat them impartially in any talks, would it not be sensible to make the one gesture that the Secretary of State can make—withdraw the troops from the streets? A return to normality is the best way of underpinning confidence.

Sir John Wheeler

I can assure the House that the Government are not pushed in any direction, but take decisions based on the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

As for the issue of withdrawing troops from the streets, it is for the Chief Constable to decide the level of security arrangements as operational necessity dictates, and local commanders will decide how much support they require from the armed forces in their areas.

Rev. William McCrea

In view of the stupid question from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who knows little about what is happening in the Province, and in view of the visits by members of the security forces to members of my constituency to tell them that they are being actively targeted by the IRA, how can the Prime Minister and Secretary of State agree to the removal of border road closure orders, particularly as many of the people who are under threat live along the border?

Sir John Wheeler

The hon. Gentleman is no stranger to the evil of terrorism, so I fully understand and sympathise with the anxiety that he expresses on behalf of his constituents. However, in removing border road closure orders, the Chief Constable, supported by the Army, takes into account the need to maintain security and to protect people living in border areas. There is no suggestion of reducing the support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary for the protection of those communities, especially in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker

Is the Minister aware of the unacceptable upsurge in ordinary crime since the ceasefire? Will he give the RUC sufficient resources to combat that more overtly?

Sir John Wheeler

I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman obtains his information, but yesterday I spoke to a divisional chief superintendent, who assured me that ordinary crime had not increased, but that there had been a welcome increase in support for and contact with the police.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the RUC's resources will remain strong and adequate to deal with the ordinary crime problem and the potential threat of any resumption of terrorism from any quarter.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Will my right hon. Friend give a clear assurance that the Government will not negotiate with a criminal organisation such as the IRA, or with those who support them, such as Sinn Fein, or drop any hints or give any assurances about the gaol terms to be served by convicts who have been convicted of serious criminal offences, or offer any amnesties to people who have yet to be convicted of serious criminal offences or agree to differential policing arrangements in the Province? Will he assure the House that, whatever happens, we will never allow justice in this country to be politicised?

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I can give him the assurances that he seeks. There is no question of negotiation on the length of prison sentences. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, there will be no amnesty for those who have been properly convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by the impartial courts in Northern Ireland; nor is there to be any change in the criminal justice system or the effectiveness of the police service.

Mr. Murphy

Does the Minister agree that whatever security changes occur in Northern Ireland—and we hope that reductions will be made in security arrangements—the Government must do all in their power to provide jobs and training for those people working in security who will inevitably be made redundant? Will he assure the House that security changes will not mean an easier time in Northern Ireland for the burglar, the so-called joy rider or the drug trafficker?

Sir John Wheeler

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new duties at the Dispatch Box. I assure him that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is developing a series of programmes to deal with the threat of ordinary crime of the kind that he describes. There will no diminution in the resources available to the police service in Northern Ireland or any change in the criminal justice system that would enable ordinary crime to go undetected or unpunished.

Mr. Robathan

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about greater contact between the public and the police. He will know that, notwithstanding the ceasefire, the campaign of intimidation against people in both communities, which involves punishment beatings and expulsions from communities, is continuing and is carried on by both IRA and loyalist groups. As the security forces are now able to go about their business without direct threat to themselves, is my right hon. Friend able to comment on the progress being made by the Royal Ulster Constabulary to put criminal thugs who are intimidating communities where they belong?

Sir John Wheeler

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There is no excuse at all for those who seek to usurp the law through any pretended duties of policing on the streets of Northern Ireland. The policing of Northern Ireland is a matter for the police service and for no one else. The RUC will vigorously investigate any allegations of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers with a view to making arrests and placing people before the courts.

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