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

The right hon. Gentleman knows the legal position. If there is a suggestion that a parade should be banned — [Interruption.] I am trying to complete the picture, because the picture given by the right hon. Gentleman was incomplete. If there is a proposal that any parade should be banned, that requires my approval. If it is a suggestion that a parade should be re-routed, as the right hon. Gentleman correctly said, that is a matter within the operational responsibility of the Chief Constable. These are not matters for outside intervention. They need to be decided in the light of a careful assessment of each local situation and the priority which I hope all hon. Members, leaders of constitutional parties and those concerned with the security of the Province, would give to the maintenance of public order.

There is a case in the future for looking at our public order legislation as it bears on the control of parades and demonstrations, especially in the light of the Home Secretary's recently published paper on this subject. That is a matter which I shall be examining carefully.

As we know, terrorists are at present active, particularly in border areas. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in those areas know that better than anyone else. Only the most determined and sustained effort in those areas will deal with the threat. In this task, our security forces in Northern Ireland depend crucially, as many incidents have exposed, on the co-operation that they receive from the Irish Republic. Nobody who wants to be taken seriously in discussing security can ignore that fact.

The efforts that the Garda already make have saved lives. But I would like to see, as I am sure the whole House would like to see, more intense co-operation at all levels to help counter the threat along and across the border. The Irish Government are, of course, well aware of our views. They have made no secret of their abhorrence of terrorism. The defeat of terrorism is as much in their interest as it is in ours.

I hope that the Garda and the RUC will find more ways of working more closely together and that, in the natural course, meetings will be held at all levels, including at the most senior. We all have much to gain — and the terrorist has most to fear—from better co-operation and a close understanding with the Irish on security matters. That is why Sinn Fein and the IRA are so strongly opposed to our present discussions with the Irish Government. They know what they have to fear from more effective security co-operation. They do not want to be throttled or deprived of the border as an operational asset. Therefore, they hope and work for the breakdown of discussions between the British and Irish Governments.

Some concern has been expressed recently, in the House and elsewhere, about the resources available to the RUC, now that the RUC has primacy in conducting the security policy. We shall continue to provide the necessary level of support, and such support is the first claim on my budget. Expenditure on the police service has quadrupled in real terms in the last 12 years. To a large extent, this reflects the growth in the size of the RUC in recent years.

There have been three increases in the authorised establishment of the force in the past four years, raising the ceiling of the regular RUC and the full-time reserve to a total of 11,000. When we have filled the few hundred remaining vacancies in the next few months, the overall strength of the force will have doubled in little more than nine years. The number of civilians working in direct support of the RUC has increased over the same period from 860 to almost 2,000, thus releasing police officers from administrative to operational duties.

The net result is that the total man hours worked by fulltime officers of the force during 1984–85—which is the most reliable indicator of the police effort—rose to its highest ever annual level of 23·1 million. It is right that such a large commitment of resources should be carefully managed to ensure that it is directed to the sharp end of policing and to our main priority, the defeat of terrorism. I therefore welcome the work of the police authority and the Chief Constable on the efficient management of these resources.

I do not suppose that anywhere in the world—certainly anywhere in the western world—there has been such a rapid expansion of a police force to deal with a particular threat in so short a time. Of course, it creates problems—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) will know from experience — some of which we have heard about, such as accommodation. Those are problems that we must tackle with as much speed and effectiveness as the build-up of the force. The build-up of the force and its spirit and professionalism after such a rapid increase is a notable achievement, not principally by Government but by the RUC and the community from which its members are drawn.