Since I answered a similar question on 22 November last year, there have been six deaths arising from the security situation in Northern Ireland, including five civilians and one full-time RUC reserve officer. The police and Army continue to make significant finds of arms and ammunition and have in recent weeks made several arrests.
I understand that the Government are against linkage. Would not it be a good idea for the Minister to consider withdrawing British troops from Northern Ireland, particularly Scottish troops? Will he consider introducing an amnesty for all paramilitaries, whether Protestant or Catholic, to help the peace process?
The hon. Gentleman has previously asked me a series of similar questions. I respect his motivation, but I profoundly disagree with those questions and I believe that the majority of hon. Members think likewise.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes and for his solicitude about circumstances with which he is familiar—I do not, of course, in any way refer to his personal behaviour. As for the second half of his question, the Chief Constable's request to the police authority was for 441 men.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, notwithstanding the great courage of our security forces in Northern Ireland, they cannot do the job unless they are properly resourced in terms of manpower and equipment, any more than the forces in the Gulf can? Does he accept that the closure of vehicle checkpoints during the hours of darkness in my constituency has done much to alienate people on both sides of the community who recognise the need to have those checkpoints? Will he consider placing the checkpoints right on the frontier so that the citizens of Northern Ireland are not closed out at night? If the right hon. Gentleman tells me that that is not possible for security reasons, why can he claim that there is adequate co-operation from the Irish Republic on security measures against terrorism?
The hon. Gentleman, who is always constructive in his contributions to debates on security policy, knows the background to the closure in December of the six permanent vehicle checkpoints at night in Fermanagh, on my authority and on advice from the Chief Constable and from the General Officer Commanding. When the announcement was made, I said that we recognised the inconvenience that was caused to the local community and that the matter would be reviewed to see what we could do in response. That review is continuing. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having again, in his final observation, contributed to the process.
Will the review consider the whole policy on whether there should be permanent vehicle checkpoints? There is considerable feeling that permanent vehicle checkpoints make readily accessible targets for terrorists and that it is unfair to put our men at risk in that way when it might be more advantageous to have the surprise of unusual vehicle checkpoints, although we accept that PVCPs may always be necessary for heavy traffic in certain places.
It goes without saying, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, that all aspects of security policy in Northern Ireland will be kept under constant review. The policy to which he referred has now existed for a decade. In the analysis of the policy, one should draw attention to the considerable diminution of fear in the community immediately adjacent to the checkpoints as a result of the policy. However, I repeat that the policy itself is kept under constant review.