The Army in Ulster is doing a fantastic job of buying time for us politicians. Will my hon. Friend assure us that leave entitlements are really generous, and, in particular, that men whose families are left behind in BAOR have time while they are on tour in Ulster to get home and spend a reasonable period with their families before going back on duty?
I agree that the Army is doing a fantastic job in Ulster. The priority which the Ministry is attaching to this question is shown by its efforts to improve leave arrangements by providing leave travel concessions—for example, air travel at reduced fares to Great Britain or BAOR for short leave during an emergency tour which soldiers enjoy if the operational situation allows.
In Northern Ireland the troops can come under attack in all areas. This was not so heretofore, and therefore they are under greater strain than ever before. Will the hon. Gentleman keep this in mind when considering this very important subject?
The hon. Gentleman will recall the major gun battle in the Ardoyne last Sunday, coming as it did—as The Times pointed out on Monday—just two weeks after the Army had claimed that it had picked up every wanted man in the Ardoyne. This is not the first claim of this kind in the last few years which has subsequently been belied by events. Is this due to over-optimism on the part of the Army, which makes for seemingly extravagant claims? If it is, is it in the best interests of the ordinary foot soldier and his morale? Or is it due to unquenchable resources of the IRA?
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is every likelihood that the IRA will shortly commence a campaign of terror in the Irish Republic, just as it did years ago in Northern Ireland? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there are enough troops in Northern Ireland to deal with it, in view of the fact that there is some evidence that the Eire Government cannot rely completely on the loyalty of some of their troops along the border?
Can the Minister give some assurance to the people in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone who are perturbed about the present situation along the border? Can he assure the House that there will be more helicopter patrols along the border, so that the Army can have intelligence about what is happening on the other side of the border, in order to prevent the setting up of rocket launchers directed from the south to the north?
The security forces continue to control the border as effectively as is practicable. The requirement for further measures is kept constantly under review and, as my hon. Friend told the House on 16th November, a number of proposals are being studied.—[Vol. 846, c. 591.]
Is my hon. Friend aware that despite the considerable successes of the Army in urban areas the situation on the border is far from satisfactory. Missile attacks in the last two days have shown how vulnerable the border is. Will my hon. Friend take steps to make use of local knowledge by forming some kind of Home Guard or Civil Defence from those who, because of physical fitness or age, are unable to join the Ulster Defence Regiment or the reserve police?
Would not the security forces be greatly assisted in their work in these areas if extradition arrangements with the Republic of Ireland were working properly? Is my hon. Friend aware that of 16 applications that have been made to the Republic of Ireland for extradition, not one has been successful? I welcome Mr. Lynch's new determination, but should not this matter be vigorously pursued?
Is it not extraordinary that the Government should have announced the intended withdrawal of 1,000 troops at a time when they were saying that they were determined to destroy the IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland, bearing in mind especially the frequent attacks on police stations and the need for troops to defend them?
It is true that total troop levels have recently fallen. As the House will be aware, considerable reinforcements were deployed in Northern Ireland for Operation Motorman at the end of July. Since that task was accomplished there has been a planned reduction, of which recent moves are a part, but force levels are still significantly higher than they were in June.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that no level of British troops in Northern Ireland will be sufficient unless the people there come to their senses and agree to live peaceably together?
I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will understand if I tell him that it is not the practice, for reasons which I think he will appreciate, to give details of the deployment of troops in particular areas.