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House of Commons

Thursday 28 April 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair. ]


Federation of Street Traders Union (London Local Authorities Act 1990) (Amendment) Bill (

By Order )

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 5 May.

Oral Answers to Questions


Cross-border Security --

1. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about recent developments in cross- border security.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler) : Both the British and Irish Governments are committed to working closely together to maintain and enhance security co-operation. The Chief Constable made it clear last month that co-operation between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda was

"at an all time high".

Lady Olga Maitland : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Will he join me in condemning the brutal murder of Gerry Evans in Belfast last night by the IRA off-shoot INLA ? In view of the increased number of atrocities now taking place on both sides of the border, perpetrated by the IRA, Sinn Fein and the loyalists, will he join me in encouraging the Irish Republic to build on the success of Operation Madronna to stiffen our security procedures--by, for example, increased surveillance on the border, helicopter flights and joint intelligence ?

Sir John Wheeler : The whole House will condemn without reservation the horror of the murders that have taken place in Belfast and Northern Ireland in recent days--eight murders in eight days. There are those who commit these appalling crimes and those who know who commit them. The public can help the police by using the confidential hotline and can assist the police in apprehending those who commit these abominable offences. As it is, the police are increasingly successful in the number of people whom they apprehend. As to my hon. Friend's second point, Operation Madronna has been particularly successful, involving the police service of the Republic, the RUC and police forces throughout the United Kingdom ; 41 searches have taken place and a large quantity of drugs, stolen property, cash and other documents have been seized.

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Dr. Hendron : I know that the Minister is aware that people in my constituency of West Belfast are being shot down as though they were rats, in the streets or in their houses. For example, Francis Rice was shot by the Provos two days ago, 16 young people had their knees blown off by the Provos, Liam Thompson was murdered last night by the interface in Springfield park, and Mr. Rand Brown, a shopkeeper starting work at 5.30 this morning, was brutally murdered. I put it to the Minister that the people of all of Belfast, especially west and north Belfast, are frightened. In Springfield park, where Liam Thompson was murdered last night, people complained yesterday about a breach of, or opening in, the interface there--they were concerned about that. I shall be seeing police chiefs about that myself. Can the Minister give a guarantee, so far as he can, that the police will provide protection ? I emphasise the word "protection". I am not asking for a saturation of all sorts of areas ; I am asking for protection in the evenings and at night time in the major housing estates and along interfaces, whether they are in west Belfast or north Belfast. I would appreciate that very much.

Madam Speaker : Before the Minister replies, let me remind the House that I am seeking brisk questions to Ministers and brisk answers. The last time that we had questions on Northern Ireland, the House reached only Question 7. That is not right. Members who have questions on the Order Paper have a right to be called, and I hope that we can move briskly today.

Sir John Wheeler : I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about his constituents. Let me give him an assurance that the police will spare no effort in pursuing those who committed these evil acts. I can tell the House that, already this year, 143 people have been charged with serious terrorist offences, including 31 with murder or attempted murder.

Rev. Ian Paisley : I am sure that the Minister is aware that those in the rural districts also feel the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) and are aware of what happened in Garvagh. All those deeds must be condemned without reservation. I trust that today the Minister will tell us something about the height of security between the forces of the Crown and those of the Irish Republic in the Crossmaglen area. What is all the problem about, when the Government are seeking to defend Royal Ulster Constabulary men and members of the British Army and to get them some sort of defence against those murderers in that area ?

Sir John Wheeler : I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the RUC and the Gardai are working with the highest degree of co-operation in the exercise at Crossmaglen, as I can further assure him that every effort will be made to protect all citizens in Northern Ireland, regardless of where they may live and who they may be.

Visitors --

2. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the number of visitors to Northern Ireland in 1993 ; and what is his estimate of their total expenditure.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tim Smith) : In 1993, 1.26 million

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visitors came to Northern Ireland spending approximately £173 million. That was the fifth successive annual increase in visitor numbers. I regard that as highly encouraging in what was a difficult year for the tourist trade worldwide.

Mr. Coombs : Does my hon. Friend agree that those are excellent figures, notwithstanding the difficulties in the Province that have been referred to in the past few minutes ? What further steps is the excellent Northern Ireland tourist board proposing to take further to promote tourism for visitors from outside the United Kingdom ?

Mr. Smith : In the past few weeks, the Northern Ireland tourist board has opened a new office in Glasgow to encourage more visitors from Scotland. Yesterday, I opened a conference bureau in Belfast, which is designed to encourage more conference visitors to the city.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : Does the Minister agree that many of those visitors came through the port of Larne last year and that to enable them to get to various parts of the Province we should have good lines of communication ? When will the Minister dual the carriageway between Gingles corner in Larne and Corr's corner in Newtownabbey ? When will he do a similar job to the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena, which would not only open up the north and north-west of the Province to visitors but assist those people who have to travel from that part of the Province to the new hospital in Antrim ?

Mr. Smith : That work will be undertaken when resources allow.

Mr. William O'Brien : Will the Minister comment on recent reports about a 5.5 per cent. drop in the number of visitors to Northern Ireland over the past year ? Will he also comment on the reduction in the grant to the Northern Ireland tourist board and accept that now is the wrong time to cut grant, when we want to build up confidence and increase visitors to the Province ? The tourist board has yet to reach its potential and more jobs can be created. Will he give an assurance that he will back continuing support for the tourist board and help local authorities that are pressing to introduce more tourism in their areas ?

Mr. Smith : During the past five years or so, resources devoted to the tourist board were increased substantially. We now have an extremely professional organisation which, given the difficult image problem that the Province has, is doing an excellent job.

United States (Ministerial Visit) --

3. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received in respect of his recent visit to the United States ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : Warm support has been represented to me both in North America and here for our firm opposition to terrorism and for the Downing street declaration.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, as he made clear in a recent speech to the Foreign Policy Association in New York, more than 90 per cent. of people in the north and south of Ireland renounce violence ? Does he also agree that, as with many other intractable problems in the world, democracy is the

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answer ? Is not it incumbent on all parties in Northern Ireland to espouse democracy, to renounce violence and to come to the negotiating table ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I warmly agree with what my hon. Friend has said. He is absolutely right about the number of people, north and south, who want an end to violence now. I note that Mr. Reynolds said in Dublin yesterday that the two Governments were now engaged at official level in preparing a framework document which everyone would be able to work on, whether Sinn Fein entered the process or not. That is a reference to the talks process in which so many hopes reside.

Mr. Molyneaux : In the course of his successful visit to the United States and Canada, did the Secretary of State detect an utter rejection of the IRA ? Was he aware of a new resolve in both countries to underpin the guarantees of self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland without any fear of coercion or persuasion ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : Indeed I did. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. There is no doubt that the spectacle of both Governments standing firmly together on a basis of consent and the rejection of violence has satisfied people in both Canada and the United States that those who continue to use or justify violence do so recognising that they cannot achieve their political objective by democratic means. Theirs is a profoundly unpopular stance in north America.

Rev. William McCrea : Does the Secretary of State understand the horror felt by my constituents and many others in the Province when he said in the United States that it was not the Government's intention to humiliate the IRA ? In times past, the Government have stressed that their intention is not only to humiliate the IRA terrorists but to annihilate them.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I should be grateful for a reference for that citation. What I said in my New York speech was that the British Government would not surrender to terrorism, and that no one would expect us to do so, but that to give up violence did not mean that one had to surrender aspirations or objectives. All that people have to do is abandon violence and it will then be open to them to enter the political democratic process. That is the point, and I should have thought that it was rather a sensible one.

Mr. Winnick : Is the Secretary of State aware that at yesterday's meeting in Dublin of the British-Irish parliamentary body, at which Mr. Reynolds spoke, all the Irish politicians who spoke made it clear that they were completely opposed to terrorism ? There was not the slightest difference between British and Irish parliamentarians on that issue, or in their support for the joint declaration. Does not that demonstrate that people and politicians in the Irish republic are totally opposed to all forms of terrorist violence in the north, and stand with us in the House of Commons on the issue ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : That is entirely true. It was also apparent to me when I read accounts of the successful tour of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and his party in the United States. The Americans were very impressed by the fact that that party stood behind the principles of the joint declaration. There

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is unanimity, and people who resort to violence and to justifying it are going nowhere except, in appropriate cases, to prison, for a very long time.

Mr. Couchman : During his successful trip to the United States, did my right hon. and learned Friend speak to anyone in authority about the continuing failure of the United States authorities both to extradite people to the United Kingdom when they are wanted for serious crimes here and to prosecute those who give comfort to the IRA by trading in arms or raising money ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I spoke to the Attorney-General, Mrs. Reno, who was very forthright in her desire to help in all matters connected with security. With great respect to my hon. Friend, it is not correct to say that the United States authorities fail to extradite people ; extradition in the United States, as elsewhere, is fundamentally a judicial matter. We have cases outstanding in California, on which I will not comment. In a recent case, people were acquitted of offences in Texas ; my hon. Friend may have that in mind.

Holding Centres Report --

4. Ms Short : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he expects to publish his detailed reply to the first annual report of the Independent Commissioner for the Holding Centres.

Sir John Wheeler : Sir Louis Blom-Cooper's first annual report as Independent Commissioner for the Holding Centres is currently receiving detailed and careful consideration. The Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Police Authority for Northern Ireland are being consulted on a number of suggestions put forward by Sir Louis. The Government's response will be made public as soon as practicable.

Ms Short : Does the Minister agree that, whatever the disappointment and anger that we feel towards the IRA for not responding to the opportunity to advance towards peace, it is crucial that the administration of justice in Northern Ireland gives real justice to everyone, no matter what they are accused of ? Will he therefore act on the recommendations of the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Lord Colville and the Independent Commissioner on Holding Centres and immediately introduce video recording of interviews in the province ?

Sir John Wheeler : I very much agree with the first part of the hon. Lady's question. She is absolutely right that confidence in the criminal justice system must be enjoyed by all sections of the community. I am glad to tell the House that the commissioner found absolutely nothing that might give rise to any cause for concern about the care and treatment of those in the centres.

As to the question of the use of video recording, very careful consideration will be given to that.

Export Businesses --

5. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has had about prospects for export businesses based in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Tim Smith : Recent business surveys and anecdotal evidence both suggest that the prospects for Northern Ireland's exporters are excellent. I am delighted to be able

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to tell the House that seven Northern Ireland companies, both large and small, have this year won the Queen's award for export.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my hon. Friend agree that the firm of F.G. Wilson Engineering in the constituency of the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) is a worthy third-time winner of the Queen's award for exports ? With over 90 per cent. of its output going to 140 different countries, is not the firm an example not only to other business in Northern Ireland but to businesses throughout the United Kingdom ?

Mr. Smith : My hon. Friend is entirely right. F.G. Wilson is an outstandingly successful engineering company and it shows what can be achieved in any part of the United Kingdom. I certainly congratulate it on its third Queen's award for exports.

Mr. Beggs : The tributes of the hon. Member for Bolton North-East (Mr. Thurnham) and of the Minister to a successful exporting company will be much appreciated by both employees and management. Will the Minister encourage courses in higher education on the appreciation of exports ? Will he also encourage companies with experience to share that experience with other companies that have, as yet unrealised, export potential in Northern Ireland as a means of increasing employment opportunities ?

Mr. Smith : On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the Department of Trade and Industry export advisers are there to do precisely that job and they advise companies that have no experience of exporting on overcoming some of the difficulties. On his first point, I should like to have a look at what he suggested.

Economic Regeneration --

6. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next expects to meet representatives of the small business community to discuss economic regeneration.

Mr. Tim Smith : I regularly meet representatives of small businesses through company visits and formal meetings to discuss a wide range of issues, including economic regeneration.

Mr. Bellingham : In the aftermath of the dreadful sectarian killings which have taken place, many people may be filled with doom and gloom. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is one bright light in the form of the recent extremely encouraging economic news from the Province ? Is not that in no small part due to the courage and drive of the small firms sector ?

Mr. Smith : My hon. Friend is entirely right about the good news on the economic front, and that stems from large and small firms. I should like to pay tribute to the work of the local enterprise development unit, LEDU, in encouraging small businesses to grow and export.

Mr. McGrady : Will the Minister undertake to review his departmental designations of deprived areas for the purpose of industrial regeneration, as they do not reflect the multiple deprivation and the needs of many areas, including my own ? Will he recognise that there is a connection between the environmental issue and economic

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regeneration ? Will he knock some of the quangos' heads together in the rural areas that most of my hon. Friends represent so that they work in harmony, rather than in opposition to one another, both at the Department of Environment and the Department of Economic Development ?

Mr. Smith : At the moment, we assess unemployment on the basis of travel-to-work areas. I shall have another look at whether there is a more sophisticated way to achieve what the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker : In his discussions with the small business community, will the Minister stress the advantages of locating within the north Belfast enterprise zones and the small business units in that community ?

Mr. Smith : I should certainly like to encourage more firms to invest in both north and west Belfast because of the high rates of unemployment in that part of the city. I was pleased to attend the other day, with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron), an expansion programme at Delta Print and Packaging and I hope to see more such expansions in that part of the city.

Mr. Fabricant : Is my hon. Friend aware that a group of business men in Atlanta, Georgia recently voted Northern Ireland as the prime location for investment in the European Union ? Is not that a tribute to the incentives of the Northern Ireland Office to introduce businesses into Northern Ireland ?

Mr. Smith : Yesterday afternoon, I went to see the staff of the Industrial Development Board who work on inward investment to congratulate them on what they have achieved--they have been working all over the world, including in Atlanta--because we have now seen a number of successes and substantial jobs announcements.

Mr. Stott : In view of the report by Professor Derek Birrell and Carol Wilson, will the Minister confirm the Government's continued support for "Making Belfast Work", the initiative which they started some years ago ? Will he also outline the steps that the Government will take to encourage private industry to invest and create full-time jobs, not part-time jobs, of which there are far too many, particularly in the initiative to which I have just referred ?

Mr. Smith : On Tuesday afternoon, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State announced that the "Making Belfast Work" initiative will continue for a further three years. Some £120 million has already been devoted to that initiative and we are determined to ensure that the resources devoted over the next three years are targeted even more accurately on those most in need.

Government Expenditure --

7. Sir Teddy Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the average Government expenditure per head of population, excluding security expenditure, in Northern Ireland ; and what information he has on the figures for Scotland, England and Wales.

Sir John Wheeler : Identifiable general Government expenditure, excluding security expenditure, per head of population in Northern Ireland in 1992-93 was £3,983.

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Information on the position in Scotland, England and Wales is available in the "Statistical Supplement to the Financial Statement and Budget Report 1994-95".

Sir Teddy Taylor : As a continuing reduction in unemployment is one of the best ways to cut high public expenditure, will the Minister look seriously and carefully at the consequences for jobs in Northern Ireland of the proposed massive increase in EC aid to the adjacent Republic of Ireland ? As that gap is already very wide, what on earth is the point of extending it further ? Will it not just create jobs in one place and destroy them in another ?

Sir John Wheeler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his well- known interest in that subject. European Community funding to member states and regions in respect of the structural and cohesion funds reflects the circumstances of each case. Northern Ireland, as a region of the United Kingdom, benefits from a substantial annual transfer of resources from the Exchequer, over and above European Community funding. The Republic of Ireland is a member state of the Community and receives its funding on that basis. The Government are always conscious of the implications of EC funding arrangements.

Mr. Canavan : Does the Minister agree with the Taoiseach's statement yesterday that the total British Government subsidy to Northern Ireland, including security costs, is now about £3.3 billion a year ? Does not that figure reveal the magnitude of the peace dividend and its potential benefit for all the people of the UK as well as of the entire island of Ireland ?

Sir John Wheeler : The subvention to Northern Ireland from Great Britain is now some £3.4 billion, but the citizens of Northern Ireland are citizens of the United Kingdom. They are entitled to equality of treatment with citizens of the United Kingdom in the services that they receive.

Mr. Barry Porter : Pursuing that point, will my right hon. Friend note that the Taoiseach also suggested yesterday that, in the highly unlikely event of the citizens of the Province deciding to leave the United Kingdom, that subvention from the UK Treasury would, in some way, be continued ?

It might be sensible to disabuse the Taoiseach of that idea, if it is part of his strategy, and remind him of the comment made by Lord Fitt some years ago that if he wants us to leave the house we should not be expected to leave the purse on the mantlepiece.

Sir John Wheeler : My hon. Friend has made his point, but, in the absence of any knowledge of what the Taoiseach said, I should not like to discuss exactly what implications his statements may have for future financial expenditure of any sort.

Mr. John D. Taylor : Do the expenditure figures referred to by the Minister include the £100 million that has to be paid each year by British taxpayers for southern Irish students to come to northern Irish universities because they cannot get grants in the Republic of Ireland and are required, under European Community regulations, to be given grants by the British taxpayer ?

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Sir John Wheeler : Again, I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the movement of money in that respect, but citizens of the United Kingdom benefit from educational and other activities in the Republic of Ireland.

Security --

8. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I regret to say that this year 19 deaths have been caused by terrorist action. Unrelenting and highly effective action by the security forces continues. In consequence, up to 27 April 143 people have been charged with terrorist-related offences, including 31 with murder or attempted murder.

Mr. Hunter : Bearing in mind that terrorism is the greatest abuse of civil liberty, will my right hon. and learned Friend give serious attention to the enhanced security proposals from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and other sources, including the admissibility of hearsay and electronically gathered evidence, redefining the right to silence, providing greater witness protection and encouraging supergrass evidence ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : My hon. Friend will know that the right to silence was adjusted several years ago in Northern Ireland along the lines that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary proposes to adopt in England now. Criminal law must respond effectively to the terrorist challenge and must do so in a balanced way. We always keep the matter under review and heed the views of the Chief Constable. But we also heed the view of, among others, the judiciary, and its likely approach in practice to specific innovations that may be suggested.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I wonder what the great British public would say if they were asked their views on the deployment of young men on the streets of Belfast and other trouble spots in Northern Ireland. Might they not say, "Let's get them out" ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I have a good deal of knowledge of that sort of question. My strong belief is that the people of this country recognise that there is a duty to protect their fellow countrymen against the threat- -carried out, in all too many cases, by bombing and shooting--that they could be driven out of their country. That is very well understood. I do not believe that there is a serious body of opinion which says, "Let them suffer".

Sir James Kilfedder : I join in the condemnation of the sectarian slaughter that has brought grief to so many Protestant and Catholic families in Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State not agree that the terrorists aim further to divide the community of Northern Ireland when the emphasis should be placed on reconciliation and healing ? Can he give an assurance that further steps will be taken to deal with terrorism, particularly in view of the revelations that the IRA has had talks with the intelligence services of Iran with the purpose of obtaining money and ammunition ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The Government are aware that there have been contacts between Iran and the IRA and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, summoned Iran's charge

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d'affaires today to express the Government's condemnation of that. I share the condemnation by the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) of the murders that he mentioned. We shall always keep under review the measures that can be taken in law to help the security forces in their unrelenting and impartial campaign to prevent murders and similar actions from being committed, and to bring those responsible to justice.

Mr. Benn : Has the Secretary of State seen the report by Brian Lenihan, the Chairman of the Dail Foreign Affairs Committee in Dublin and a former Irish Foreign Minister, that the time has now come to talk directly with Sinn Fein ? Is it not a fact that in Bosnia ceasefire talks go on all the time in the hope of ending the violence, that historically all violence has been ended by discussions opening up a new perspective, and that that has been the considered opinion of the overwhelming majority of British people over 20 years when that question has been put to them in opinion polls ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I think that the essential feature in this question is that this country is a democracy. If one talks with--by which the right hon. Gentleman necessarily means negotiate with--those who, in a democracy, are using violence for political purposes, one fatally undermines those who accept the constitutional restraints of democratic politics.

That is not just my view. It is the view of the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic and I believe it to be the view of the vast majority of people in this country. They know that defending democracy is always expensive and they know that the price is always worth paying.

Mr. Robathan : My right hon. and learned Friend may be interested to know that as a young man I was deployed on the streets of Belfast and that neither I nor any of my colleagues ever suggested that we should be withdrawn. However, we now ask--some nine years after the Anglo-Irish Agreement--what progress is being made with the Irish Republic in catching the terrorists south of the border who come north of the border to murder citizens of the United Kingdom and then return to their havens in the south ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : When my hon. Friend, who has personal experience of these problems, raises that question I think that I should say rather emphatically that the Government meant it when they said many times in the past that the level of co-operation between the two police forces has never been higher than it is at the moment. That is the view expressed recently by Sir Hugh Annesley, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and I have personal knowledge of the very close relationship between him and the Commissioner. There have been many recent successes by the Gardai south of the border in finding arms and munitions and disrupting attacks, although there is no doubt that more could be done with more resources. That can always be said in all circumstances, but I pay tribute to what is being done.

Mr. McNamara : Is the Secretary of State aware of the Opposition's support for the statements by the Minister of State to the Iranian charge d'affaires this morning ? That is a quite deplorable situation and he has our complete support in what he is doing. We also express our sympathy in relation to those who have been murdered in the recent spate of sectarian killings, whether in Garvagh or in

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Belfast. Are the Minister and the Chief Constable satisfied that they have sufficient officers and troops at their disposal to be able to defend the sensitive areas in Belfast ? Furthermore, can the Minister give an undertaking to the House that the type of opportunities that were given to the terrorists last night in their attacks across the peace line will be carefully checked ? What sort of warnings did the RUC give to the local population and were they sufficiently protected ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the Iranian involvement and, of course, I am also grateful for the sympathy that he has expressed. The latest advice that I have received from the Chief Constable, who is my principal adviser on security matters, is that he is satisfied with the force levels currently at his disposal. As for the Springvale episode last night, that is being investigated by the RUC.

Mr. Hume : Will the Secretary of State take clear steps totally to dispel the prejudice of people such as his own Back Bencher the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) in relation to what is happening in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland ? Will he confirm that over the last 25 years 99.9 per cent. of all of those who have been arrested and convicted of acts of violence in Northern Ireland were from Northern Ireland ? Will he also confirm that the security costs per head of population are much higher in the Republic of Ireland than in Northern Ireland ? Will he do all that he can to remove the desperate prejudice among some of his Back Benchers, which is a serious part of our problem ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I think that the hon. Gentleman, for once, does less than justice to the good faith and serious concern of Conservative Members and to their interest in finding a solution to a desperately difficult problem. That problem imposes heavy burdens, both financial and-- more importantly--in terms of the lives of the people of this country, including the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I do not therefore believe that this matter is helpfully attended to by making the sort of assertions that the hon. Gentleman has made. I understand very well my hon. Friend's concern ; it is shared by all Conservative Members.

Intimidation Of Witnesses --

9. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on measures to combat the results of intimidation of witnesses in criminal cases.

Sir John Wheeler : The practical arrangements for the safety and protection of Crown witnesses are matters for the Chief Constable who operates the witness protection scheme, but the Government condemn absolutely any attempt by anyone who seeks to damage the criminal justice system by any form of intimidation.

Mr. Trimble : I am sorry to say that that was a wholly inadequate reply. Has the Minister read the leading article in the current issue of Parliamentary Brief , written by Paul Wilkinson, the United Kingdom's leading academic expert on terrorism ? If so, has the Minister noticed, among other things, that the article recommends that the Government introduce a statutory witness encouragement and protection scheme, drawing on the experience of

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continental countries with a better record in this respect than the Government's ? Did he also notice the recommendation of certain other changes that we have recommended consistently over the past year ? Would it not be better to respond to those reasoned arguments than quietly to brief the press, as the Minister's office did last week, to the effect that the Government will do nothing, while maintaining their usual front in this House ?

Sir John Wheeler : The Government always welcome suggestions and ideas for improvements in these serious matters, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does a grave disservice to the Royal Ulster Constabulary when he implies that the Chief Constable cannot operate his existing scheme successfully in the best interests of the protection of witnesses. The police will continue to do that now and in the future.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there were more publicity for the RUC's excellent record of arresting people and less publicity for Sinn Fein and the terrorists, more witnesses would be willing to come forward as they would realise that these terrible men of violence are being successfully prosecuted ?

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