§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Melchett)
My Lords, I will with permission repeat a Statement that my right 824 honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is making in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"A body calling itself the United Ulster Action Council seeks to bring Northern Ireland to a standstill by calling for a stoppage of work from midnight tonight. Most of the militant Loyalist paramilitary organisations are associated with the Council whose membership includes the Ulster Workers' Council, the newly formed United Ulster Unionist Party led by Mr. Baird and the Democratic Unionist Party led by the honourable Member for Antrim North. The Action Council are asking for the implementation of the majority Report of the Constitutional Convention, which was rejected by this House a year ago. They are seeking confrontation with the Government and with Parliament. They are also asking for a different security policy.
"I believe that the proposed action would be economically disastrous for Northern Ireland, especially at a time when the Government have been giving special attention to the needs of the Province where much has been done to help restore confidence. Such confidence is, of course, essential if much needed foreign investment is to come to Northern Ireland. Only last week I was able to announce new orders worth £60 million to £70 million for Harland and Wolff. The House must also remember that the disruption of the Northern Ireland economy is also an aim of the Provisional IRA.
"I am not in the least complacent about the present security situation. I can well appreciate the feelings of frustration in Northern Ireland that the community there has had to suffer so much for so long. But equally I am convinced that what the United Ulster Action Council is doing and proposes to do is not the way to improve matters. A stoppage would distract the Security Forces from their efforts against the Provisional IRA, who have recently suffered reverses.
"The Government will not be coerced. They will help the community to resist bullying tactics. The Government are supported in this by all the other political Parties in Northern Ireland, and by the trades unions and 825 employers' organisations, all of whom have condemned the proposed stoppage.
"The Government will deal firmly with any disruptive action that may be taken and will give full support to all efforts to keep industry and commerce in operation. There may be attempts by intimidation to prevent people getting to work. This activity is clearly illegal and a matter for the police. The Chief Constable has informed me that the RUC will act against this and all other forms of illegal activity, invoking support from the Army if necessary. The GOC has called up all the Ulster Defence Regiment for full-time service in order to assist regular troops. The Spearhead Battalion and further reinforcements have arrived in the Province. If there is disruption of public utilities, the Government will do everything possible to mitigate the hardship and inconvenience. As a last resort specialist servicemen are available to maintain minimum services essential to the life of the community and of individual citizens.
"I hope, however, that common sense will prevail and that a small section in Northern Ireland will not try to inflict this pain and distress upon themselves and their fellow citizens. The House will, I know, join me and the majority of people in Northern Ireland in condemning those who seek to foment the proposed disruption."
My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend, Mr. Roy Mason, in another place. I think from these Benches we must surely feel once again sad that Northern Ireland is caught up in yet another, if I might say so, irresponsible action. So far as we can all see, it can only do harm to the economics of this land. I know that from these Benches we fully support the Government's intentions to be firm with these minority groups who are trying to disrupt Northern Ireland.
We should also like to say how much we appreciate and respect the work which our security forces have carried out in past years in order to maintain law and 826 order. But at this moment our troops are having to be taken away from seeking out the bomber and the criminal, to man the barricades and to do light jobs which are not, after all, going to keep the criminal at bay. We are not going to proceed with a long speech about the agonies of this wretched strike of these irresponsible groups, but we do intend to say that we back the Government and hope the Government will make these people see common sense.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, I, too, should like to join in thanking the noble Lord for repeating the Statement which has been made. We, too, should like to assure the Government that we on these Benches are firmly behind them in this attempt to make a firm stand on this occasion—rather more firm than happened unfortunately on a previous occasion. I think that this might be the right moment to say how heartened we are by the enormous proportion of the Unionist movement which has refused to get itself stampeded into any support for this insane action.
There is only one question I should like to ask. There have been ugly rumours that there were plans afoot to get hold of the weapons issued for self-defence to reservists in the Ulster Defence Regiment and police off duty. I should like to ask whether steps have been taken to safeguard this particular aspect of security.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, may I thank both noble Lords very much for their support for the steps which the Government are taking and the policy the Government have adopted. I am sure that that support will be welcomed by the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has said about the marvellous stand that the huge majority of the Unionist population have taken in opposing this threatened action.
The noble Lord asked me one question about a rumour which I confess not to have heard, although I have heard a large number of very silly and unsubstantiated rumours. I can assure the noble Lord that there is no basis to it. I can assure him that all the necessary security measures on arms and everything else have been taken.