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.

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

Yes, I shall do that. It is my experience that the co-operation between the Army and the RUC is extremely close and confident. Where there is a request for support from the RUC, the Army are quick and willing to give it.

The essence of our policy is simple. It is that the security forces should operate within the law to bring those guilty of terrorism crimes to justice before the courts. The Government will not allow themselves or the security forces to be drawn on to any other ground. Any other approach would be wrong in principle and counterproductive in practice.

This policy can provide the community with the service they need only if the security forces can be sure of the support of all those within the community who obey the law. Indeed, this is true of all parts of the criminal justice system, from the policeman on the beat to the highest court in the land. We must continue to look for ways of winning the confidence and securing the support of the whole community. Many opportunities already exist. They extend from local police liaison groups, formal and informal, through encouraging recruitment from all parts of the community to my proposals for a more independent element in the way complaints against the police are examined. They include keeping the operation of the criminal justice system under close review to ensure that it is fair and effective and that it strikes the right balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of society to be protected from violence and crime. This effort cannot be one-sided. It is not just a matter for the Government or the police. It is up to the whole law-abiding community and its political leaders to show that they hold to the basic principles that underlie our system of law and order and that they are prepared to support and sustain those who duty is to protect us all.

Of course there is room for improvement. Criticisms should be voiced and proposals made. Only a stupid Government close their ears to the suggestions of their fellow citizens, but those suggestions need to be judged against whether they sustain or undermine the true interests of security on which our freedom depends.

I should like to say something about a matter that was raised in the earlier debate, because it is an area where an immediate and practical contribution can be made to help the police during a difficult period. I am referring to the control and routeing of parades and marches, which several hon. Members in different parts of the House have already mentioned.

I endorse what the Chief Constable said about provocative parades and marches in the foreword to his annual report last year. These can lead to disorder and retaliation, and they require the deployment of considerable police resources that could be put to much better use in countering the terrorist threat. I suggest that limitations to the traditional routes are not a restriction on individual liberties and that a responsibility rests on the organisers of all parades—traditional or non-traditional — from both communities to show a greater understanding of the difficulties that the police face. They should show more flexibility than has sometimes been shown in the past over the choice of routes.

The Chief Constable has said that he will be ready to impose conditions on a march if necessary, but that should be a last resort. We are not talking about a general or inflexible policy but about local discussions between the police and the organisers and decisions taken one by one by the Chief Constable in the light of local circumstances.