§ 1. Mr. Dunlop
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what was the total cost, in manpower and money, of policing the march from Toomebridge to Burntollet.
Mr. Wm. Ross
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many police officers, soldiers and members of the Ulster Defence Regiment were deployed on 5, 6 and 7 January 1979 for the protection of the procession of supporters of imprisoned criminals from Toomebridge to Burntollet; what is the total cost to the police authority in respect of the officers so deployed; and how many hours of police time were spent on this operation.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)
On each of the three days of this march, an average of 850 police officers, three companies of Regular soldiers and one company of the Ulster Defence Regiment, together with their various support services, were deployed to assist in preserving peace and public order. It is not possible, without disproportionate cost, to provide a figure for the additional expenditure incurred by the security forces operation.
§ Mr. Dunlop
Does the Secretary of State agree that the so-called civil rights commemoration order is nothing short of an exercise in coat-trailing and provocation, designed to contain large numbers of the security forces? Does he also agree that a total ban should have been placed on this parade and that it should have been confined to the village of Toomebridge where, as I am sure he is aware, there is almost 100 per cent. support for the IRA and its activities?
§ Mr. Mason
The Government decided that the march was legal because the Chief Constable had estimated that there would be no serious public disorder. The marchers complied with the Act and gave notice that the march would take place. However, the Chief Constable did enforce some route changes on the way.
1647 The hon. Gentleman should note the encouraging fact that at no time during the course of the three-day march were more than 250 people marching en route and that at the final rally at lunch time on Sunday there were fewer than 500 supporters. The main objectives of the march were to obtain support for the Maze prisoners and the "Troops Out" movement.
It failed miserably in both these objectives.
The Secretary of State says that 850 police officers, three companies of Regulars and one company of the UDR were deployed, on average. Surely he is obscuring the fact that between Dungiven and Burntollet 1,440 police officers, six companies of Regulars and heaven knows how many members of the UDR were deployed. If the reason for banning a march is that it will lead to serious public disorder, how does the Secretary of State arrive at the conclusion that there was no such danger when over 2,000 members of the security forces were needed to protect the march?
§ Mr. Fitt
Has my right hon. Friend any indication of the cost to the security forces of the protection given every year in Northern Ireland to the marches of the Orangemen between March and August to commemorate the doings or misdoings of a Dutchman who had fallen out with his father-in-law in this country?
§ Mr. Mason
My hon. Friend knows as much as anyone in this House about marches in Northern Ireland. He also knows that it is a democracy and that we allow marches and demonstrations provided that notice is given under the public order provisions. Provided that the Chief Constable feels that there is no danger to public order, there is no reason why marches should not take place.
§ Mr. Neave
With regard to the conditions in the Maze prison, which was the subject of the march, we very much 1648 welcome the pamphlet that the Secretary of State has just published, through official sources, to help put the record straight. Will he circulate this pamphlet to embassies and high commissions all over the world, and especially the official photograph showing that the cells were deliberately smeared by the prisoners in this dirty campaign? Will he also intensify such counter-measures as he can take and seek television time in the United States and Europe to answer this crude propaganda?
§ Mr. Mason
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I did not anticipate the subject of the Maze prison arising on a question relating to the march to Burn-toilet. I have circulated the pamphlet to every Member of Parliament and to every national newspaper north and south of the border as well as in Britain. It has been circulated to all the media, and many copies will be going to foreign embassies and consulates abroad.
§ Mr. Flannery
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a unique view of democracy that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) holds when he suggests that people should demonstrate only when they have 100 per cent. support for the demonstration? Does my right lion. Friend agree that to ban any march in Northern Ireland, without a great deal of good reason, would be to lend ourselves to a viewpoint that we do not hold? Does he further agree that demonstrations should be allowed to take place wherever possible?
§ Mr. Mason
I think that in general terms my hon. Friend is right. We have to consider seriously the main goals of the march, the likelihood of provocation en route and whether the demonstrators are intending purposely to march into areas where they know from the outset that there will be confrontation and conflict. We take such matters into consideration, together with the Chief Constable's advice to me, and wherever possible we allow the marches to take place.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind that the dispute referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was not a family row but had to do with deep principles? 1649 May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he dared to take such a simplistic view of these matters as the hon. Member for Belfast, West is taking, he would find himself in serious trouble not only at Burntollet but at other places?
If so many members of the police and the Army were deployed on that occasion, why was it that law-abiding citizens going about their lawful business were banned from part of the parade route and directed to go another way, and were even told that if they insisted in going along the Queen's highway they would be arrested?
§ Mr. Mason
I cannot be responsible to the hon. Gentleman, I am sorry to say, for every incident that might have taken place en route. There were no serious incidents. That is the main point. The Chief Constable's estimate of the march was right. I cannot afford, in my job in Northern Ireland, to take a simplistic view of any incident that arises there.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I propose to call the two hon. Members who have risen, but on other questions I shall call fewer hon. Members to ask supplementary questions, in order to make up the time.
§ Mr. Mates
Since the march concerned protests about conditions in the Maze prison, may I thank the Secretary of State for affording the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) and myself the opportunity of visiting the Maze prison two weeks ago? May I congratulate the Government on what they have done in their robust—
§ Mr. Mates
May I ask the Secretary of State to say once more—because it needs to be repeated endlessly—quite unequivocally that he will not give way to the protesters at the Maze, and will maintain the standards of prison discipline which are current throughout the United Kingdom? Will he also say that he will continue to consider as United Kingdom prisoners all those who 1650 have been convicted and are serving sentences in the Maze prison?
§ Mr. Mason
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased that he was able to take part in the all-party parliamentary visit to the Maze prison. It is part of our policy of gradually allowing views from impartial observers to emanate from there. As the hon. Gentleman knows, members of Northern Ireland political parties and Church leaders have been to the Maze. We decided that this policy was right. The observations of the all-party parliamentary delegation were encouraging.
There will be no return to political status in the Maze for any of those protesters—they might as well know it now—whether I stand at this Dispatch Box or whether it is a Conservative Minister. There will be no amnesty, either. The Maze prison is one of the finest prisons in Western Europe. The facilities granted to the prisoners who conform are better and more advanced than those afforded to prisoners in Great Britain.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
In deference to other hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, I shall not ask a supplementary question.