Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:42 pm on 26th June 1985.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 11:42 pm, 26th June 1985

I beg to move, That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 3rd June, be approved. I make clear the Government's central commitment to firm, effective and measured security policies. I commend to the House the steady and determined professionalism of our security forces. I want to say something about the security situation, because that is the background against which we ask the House to renew the powers. I shall also set out the Government's response to the late Sir George Baker's valuable review of the operation of the Emergency Provisions Act.

Our debate earlier today recognised the wider political context in which the security situation has to be discussed. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I have made clear, we shall go on working for political and economic improvements. But the House should not persuade itself that positive developments in either the economic or the political life of Northern Ireland will deflect the terrorist. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said about that in the previous debate, although I did not recognise the account that he then gave of Government policy on that score.

Whatever other developments there may be, security will remain our first priority. It is the first requirement in any democracy, and it is by far the most important public service. So, with the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding it is my job to continue to work out measures which put the terrorists under intense pressure, and bring their campaign of violence to an end. Security policy is not static, but continually changing. We would be stupid to advertise the changes, and that sometimes makes it difficult to deal with criticisms. I sometimes feel that the terrorists have a clearer idea of the efficiency and success of the security forces than some of those whom the security forces protect, but perhaps that is inevitable.

I understand fully the strength of feeling about old and recent tragedies in Northern Ireland. I am informed of each and every death whenever it occurs, and I know the effect of such news. One feels the sorrow and anger—and the weight of responsibility too. We must and shall do all within our power to bring terrorism in Northern Ireland to an end. But I want to make another thing clear. No one helps a difficult situation by acting outside the law or by wild talk encouraging such acts. There is no such thing as security outside the law.

I have to hand the latest figures for violence. Such figures are, and should be, regularly given to the House. They show that so far, violence in 1985 is roughly comparable with violence in 1984, which saw less violence than any year since 1970. I report the figures to the House every month, but I shall not repeat them now in case I should be accused of being complacent about them, for I recognise that such figures can never give a true picture of the human tragedy which they represent. Each entry in the statistics is a new misery, and each entry should harden our resolve to continue to find ways of overcoming terrorism.

The RUC has borne the brunt in recent weeks. Total casualty figures have not increased, but the proportion of them borne by the RUC has increased. Since January, 19 police officers have been murdered by terrorists. As I would expect, the RUC has responded with calmness, with high professionalism and cool determination. The Chief Constable and all his officers have earned, deserved, and received, our greatest respect and appreciation. The RUC has relied on, and been given, the support of the regular Army and the UDR. In both cases, that support will remain essential.