I understand from the Police Authority that, in addition to an expanding advertising programme, 13 full-time recruiting officers are employed throughout Northern Ireland maintaining close contact with likely sources of recruitment and with community leaders. In the two years from 1st January 1972 to 31st December 1973 the strength of the RUC has increased from 4,086 to 4,391, and the RUC Reserve has gone up from 1,284 to 2,514. Every effort is being made to improve recruitment still further and, particularly, to encourage people from all sections of the community to join.
Over 80 police officers are engaged full-time on training members of the force in Northern Ireland, and police cadets and selected police officers attend training establishments in Great Britain.
The RUC is used to the fullest possible extent to investigate crime and maintain order.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comprehensive reply. Is he satisfied with the arrangements for recruitment? Is he not aware that, following the disastrous effects of the Hunt Report, many policemen, particularly reserve policemen, have been attacked and murdered by terrorists? In those circumstances it is important that the morale of the police should be restored and the approach to recruiting broadened. The results of obtaining recruits from the minority section of the community have been most disappointing. Great intimidation is used to prevent members of the minority joining the police force. What steps is my hon. Friend planning to deal with the situation?
Of course, we are never satisfied with recruitment and we always want to see more from all sections of the community coming forward in Northern Ireland. However, I think that progress has been reasonable and I can assure my hon. Friend that a tremendous amount of effort is going into attracting recruits. The budget for recruiting drives is £50,000 for the year.
Is the Minister aware that the Opposition welcome the meeting of the head of the Garda Síochána with the head of the RUC. This is a positive step towards the co-operation which has been sadly lacking in the past, for reasons we all understand. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I dissociate ourselves from the remarks by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) about the effect of the Hunt Report. To what extent has there been success in gaining the toleration, if not the positive acceptance, of the RUC in those minority areas where feelings against the RUC have helped create the unhappy atmosphere of the last two or three years? To what extent are the minority coming forward as recruits for the RUC?
I welcome what the hon. Member said at the beginning of his question. Co-operation is certainly most important if we are to bring an end to the problems of Northern Ireland. We must try to get more of the minority into the police force. Currently they represent only about 10 per cent. of the numbers but there is a growing acceptance in this direction, which we must encourage.
In spite of the figures given by my hon. Friend, will he confirm that hundreds of men have left the UDR, the police and the police reserve in recent months, and that they are resigning for the same reason as Lord Cecil because they are disappointed with the Government's failure to deal effectively with the terrorists in Ulster?
I do not accept that. The figures are fairly encouraging and I hope that my hon. Friend will do everything he can to encourage more people to join the RUC. Intimidation and fear among the families have been partly responsible for some of the men leaving the force, and that is to be expected.
Will the Minister say when an announcement will be made about the placing of the new police college for the RUC? What steps is he taking to deal with the dilapidated police stations throughout the Province? Many of them are very old and in a deplorable state, and provide no proper accommodation for new recruits. The state of these police stations hardly encourages anyone to join.
On the first part of the question I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer, but I shall see that the information is provided. On the second part, in Northern Ireland there is a problem of finding sufficient builders to do the work and the repairs, but I know that the authority is giving the matter urgent attention.