HC Deb 16 November 1981 vol 13 cc23-9 3.48 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)

I shall, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about recent events in Northern Ireland.

The House has already made clear its sadness and revulsion at the murder of Robert Bradford on Saturday. I should like to add my own tribute to him as a hard working servant of his constituents. As you have already said, Mr. Speaker, all of us here will want immediately to express our sympathy to Mrs. Bradford amd her family—and not only to them but to the other families in Northern Ireland who have been bereaved in recent days.

This has been a black week in Northern Ireland. On Sunday 8 November, in Armagh, Trevor Foster was killed in a booby-trap bomb attack intended to murder his father, a member of the UDR. On Tuesday, another UDR soldier—Cecil Graham—was shot dead while visiting his wife and five-week-old baby. Eustace Kerr of the UDR narrowly escaped death on Tuesday when gunmen shot and wounded him at his farm in Fermanagh. The same day in Armagh Charles Neville, an ex-member of the UDR, was bombed and then shot to death when leaving work.

On Thursday, in Banbridge, Constable Pollock lost both his legs when a terrorist bomb exploded under his car. On Friday, in Londonderry, a terrorist bomb injured very seriously an innocent woman. During the weekend there was the attack in which Robert Bradford and Mr. Campbell, the caretaker at the community centre died; and in separate incidents one man was murdered and another shot and seriously injured in Belfast.

I come now to the murder of the hon. Member for Belfast, South. Robert Bradford arrived at the community centre in Finaghy in his constituency at about 11.15 am last Saturday. He went to the room where he holds a surgery for his constituents. A police officer was on duty with him. At approximately 11.40 am two men wearing boiler suits approached the building carrying a plank of wood. One of the men lowered the plank as he came up to the police officer, revealing a gun. The police officer and the caretaker were forced to kneel and were held at gun point as another gunman went inside the building. He entered Mr. Bradford's room and shot him.

In a scuffle at the entrance to the building, the caretaker—Mr. Campbell—was shot dead by another man. In all, there were five assailants armed with a variety of weapons which included a sub-machine gun. They left the building in a car taken from a family who had been taken hostage and, as they escaped, they fired a shot in the direction of the door to prevent anyone following. The police officer who had been with Mr. Bradford fired a number of shots at them, as did an off duty police officer who was in the area and had heard the shooting.

In the wake of such horrible murders I understand the anger and resentment that have led many people to urge that more must be done to stop such killings. In assessing our response to them, we must be clear about the purpose of all this violence.

The aim is quite deliberately to use murder to provoke further murders. The IRA wants to stimulate and intensify sectarian hatreds, to create the chaos that it believes will help its long-term objectives. We must frustrate that aim.

Any form of divisive action that could make the task of the security forces more difficult should be avoided. The right response is to work calmly, but firmly, under the law and under the guidance of the security forces for the defeat of terrorism.

The Government are resolute in this task and absolutely committed to that aim.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)


Mr. Prior

With the GOC and the Chief Constable——

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

The blood of Ulster is on your hands.

Mr. Prior

— in whose professional judgment I have full confidence——

Mr. Peter Robinson

You are the guilty man.

Mr. Prior

— I am looking at ways to make security measures more effective. Let no one be in any doubt that the Government are prepared to commit every available resource that may be necessary in the fight against terrorism.

Mr. Robinson


Mr. John McQuade(Bellfast, North)

Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Prior

But I have to tell the House——

Mr. McQuade

We have seen——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. McQuade

The Secretary of State is the guilty man.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. McQuade) must resume his seat.

Mr. McQuade

I live in the Shankill Road and——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Belfast, North must leave the Chamber at once.

Mr. Peter Robinson

What about the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. McQuade

Protestant people are dying in our country.

Grave disorder having arisen in the House, MR. SPEAKER, pursuant to Standing Order No. 26 (Power of Mr. Speaker to adjourn House or suspend sitting), suspended the sitting for 10 minutes.

Sitting suspended at 3.51 pm.

4.1 pm

On resuming——

Mr. Speaker

In my judgment the hon. Members for Belfast, North (Mr. McQuade), for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) are guilty of grossly disorderly conduct and of ignoring the authority of the Chair. I therefore name Mr. John McQuade, Mr. Peter Robinson and the Rev. Ian Paisley.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

I beg to move, That Mr. McQuade, Mr. Robinson and the Rev. Ian Paisley be suspended from the service of the House.

Question put:——

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Anthony Berry and Mr. Carol Mather

were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Members for Belfast, North, for Belfast, East and for Antrim, North will leave the House immediately.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I shall not be leaving.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Members will leave immediately. Will the Serjeant at Arms ensure that the hon. Members leave the precincts of the House? I warn the hon. Members that, if they have as much as a touch on their arms, they will be suspended for the rest of the Session.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Amen. It is no use our coming here anyway.

The Serjeant at Arms

Mr. Speaker directs that you withdraw forthwith from the House.

Hon. Members

Get out.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I suspend the Sitting for 10 minutes while the hon. Members for Belfast, North, for Belfast, East and for Antrim, North, leave the House.

Sitting suspended at 4.5 pm.

4.15 pm

On resuming——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to continue his statement, allow me to say to the House, and it may be for the benefit of other people, that I believe that the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), Belfast, East, (Mr. Robinson) and Belfast, North (Mr. McQuade) came here with the direct intention of ignoring the democratic processes by which the House works. I believe that they made up their minds before they came in that they would so behave until they were named.

Mr. Prior

With the GOC and the Chief Constable, in whose professional judgment I have full confidence, I am looking at ways to make security measures more effective. Let no one be in any doubt that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to commit every available resource that may be necessary in the fight against terrorism.

The Chief Constable and the GOC have told me that they do not need new laws or more resources. What they need is information, positive help and co-operation from everyone in Northern Ireland. Nothing must divert them from their task of thwarting, arresting and convicting the terrorists. I am convinced that the way to defeat terrorism is to gain the support of all people in Northern Ireland, whatever their political or religious convictions, for the simple proposition that murder must be opposed and murderers arrested and brought to trial.

That means more than standing aside or not actively supporting the terrorists. It must involve positive support for the security forces in their fundamental task of protecting life. I appeal now for the active co-operation, particularly from those in Northern Ireland who in the past have hesitated, for whatever reason, to provide information.

After a week such as we have suffered in Northern Ireland, I have no complacency about the security situation and the difficulty of the task that lies ahead of us. I understand and share the revulsion that all of us here feel against these appalling events.

The aim of all of us must be to channel that feeling, not into reactions which provoke one section of the community against the other, but into directions that will maintain calm, will broaden support for the efforts of the security forces against our common enemies and will offer the terrorists what they fear most: a community resolutely united against them.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

I thank the Secretary of State, his junior Ministers and his staff for keeping me so well informed about the terrible events over this traumatic weekend.

The Opposition deeply deplore the cowardly attacks that have taken place over the weekend, particularly the callous murders that have yet again scarred the Northern Ireland landscape. I send my condolences to the family of Mr. Robert Bradford, as I do to all the families who have suffered terrorist attacks here and in Northern Ireland. In my ministerial dealings with Mr. Robert Bradford we had our political differences, but they were without rancour or malice. I found him to be a hard-working and dedicated Member of Parliament for his constituency.

I urge as strongly as I can the people of Northern Ireland to listen to the Secretary of State's appeal for calm and to support the police and the security forces in their difficult task. Meanwhile, we on the Opposition Benches reaffirm our belief that lasting peace and stability will come to Northern Ireland only if the search for a political settlement is pursued. We therefore urge the Government to continue their difficult quest at a difficult time for a workable solution to the ever-deepening problems of that Province.

Mr. Prior

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, as no doubt the whole House is, and certainly my right hon. and hon. Friends are, for what he has said this afternoon. I believe that, if a message can go out from the House to the people of Northern Ireland to remain calm and resolute, that will be the most effective manner in which we can defeat the terrorists. Meanwhile, we shall do all that we can through the security forces to aid that process.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he calls the black week for Northern Ireland was the sequel and, to a large extent, the consequence, of what was done at the Downing Street meeting on 6 November? Will he recall that before 6 November the Government were told that that would be the consequence if they went ahead, and that they are, therefore, guilty of the consequences of which they were warned? Will he accept that, instead of listening to the warning, the Government continue to follow the advice of those who have persistently misled the Government and their predecessors over Northern Ireland? Will the Secretary of State at least refrain from pouring petrol on the flames—by referring to things like political progress and agreements, which indicate to people in Northern Ireland that Her Majesty's Government share, if not the methods, at any rate the aims of the IRA.

Hon. Members


Mr. Prior

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's comments will do a great deal of damage to those of us who seek the path of peace for all the people of Northern Ireland. Nothing could help more towards the end that we seek than better co-operation on security across the border, which is one of the main objectives that we must always try to promote. Nor do I believe that people in Northern Ireland can afford to turn their backs on economic, social and industrial partnerships with people in other parts of the island. It was those aspects with which the Anglo-Irish talks were concerned last Friday. Many people made up their minds about the outcome of the talks before they began. If they had perhaps waited a bit longer to see what would happen, the petrol that was poured on to the flames need never have happened.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

As the best deterrent against acts of terrorism is undoubtedly apprehension, conviction and punishment of criminals by the civil power, will my right hon. Friend, in the words of the Prime Minister, pursue "with the utmost vigour"—I speak as a strong unionist—the aim of obtaining that co-operation across the border and not least insist—for it is long overdue—upon extradition?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that statement. Naturally, we shall continue to press the Government of the Republic on the subject of extradition. In the light of recent events, I hope that the talks that were arranged on Friday of the week before last between my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and the Attorney-General of the Republic will help to produce a situation in which criminals are brought to justice, whether they are in the North or in the South.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the Secretary of State accept that my colleagues and I should again like to express deep sorrow at the crimes and to join in the sympathy that is being sent not only to the relatives of Mr. Bradford and Mr. Campbell but to all the others who have suffered in the past week? Is he aware that we support his determination not to be deflected by such crimes from seeking a political solution to the troubles of Northern Ireland and wholeheartedly applaud his resolve that the maintenance of order remains the duty of the security forces and of no one else?

It is clear now that the IRA is bent on creating anarchy in Northern Ireland, and also that certain hon. Members appear to pursue the same aim and in the process to obtain as much publicity as they can. The people of Northern Ireland should be aware that only the security forces stand between them and virtual civil war. They could pay no greater tribute to people of all sorts and in all walks of life who continue to serve them at great personal danger than by giving their full support to the security forces and ensuring that the criminals get no aid or comfort from anywhere in the Province.

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. If a message can go out that everyone should remain calm and that we should not fall into the trap that the IRA is busy setting for us, it may be possible not only to help to win the security battle, but in the long term to move to other objectives that will produce peace and prosperity for the North.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I understand that about 16,000 police in London are being directed to search 300,000 garages and workshops for 500 lbs of IRA explosives. Why has not the same systematic and thorough search taken place in Ulster for the enormous quantities of arms, ammunition and explosives that have destroyed so many innocent lives over the past 12 years? The Secretary of State says that he is considering ways to make security more effective, but will he take time this evening to read statements by his predecessors over the past 12 years, which contain the same pompous and meaningless remarks? Has not the crunch now come, and is it not time, at long last, for the Government to root out and destroy these evil sectarian thugs? If the Government fail—I give them this warning—Northern Ireland will move inexorably into a state of civil war.

Mr. Prior

In the past two weeks the Royal Ulster Constabulary has found two large blocks of explosives amounting to about 1,500 lbs, plus many other weapons. The constant search by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and other security forces continues. We have to make certain that in carrying out our searches we keep within the law, and that we intend to do. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the search will go on and will be intensified.

Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton)

May I associate myself and my colleagues on this Bench with the remarks made earlier this afternoon about the outrageous killing of Robert Bradford? I repeat that it was an offence not only against an individual and his family, but against representative parliamentary Government. Does the Secretary of State know that he has the sympathy and support of the overwhelming number of right hon. and hon. Members in his impossible task of ensuring security in Northern Ireland? Despite some of the remarks made in the House, and in particular in Northern Ireland, will he continue to seek in the end a lasting peace?

Mr. Prior

I am certain that after 12 years every hon. Member, whatever his views, seeks the path of peace. I believe that peace will come through absolute intensity to root out terrorism wherever it can be found, while seeking political advance within the law. That, too, is vital.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

Will the Secretary of State accept that last week, with its terrible events, was a repetition of an awful lot of other weeks in the past 12 years? There were five or six deaths last week, but in other weeks the total has been considerably more.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also accept that the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, through its spokesmen—the Catholic Church, political leaders and others—is at one with the right hon. Gentleman and the Government in taking whatever steps are possible to eradicate the cancer of terrorism? The Irish Government and all others allied with the minority in Northern Ireland in no way support the terrible and traumatic events that have overcome the Protestant community. Will the Secretary of State take it from me, as one who has spoken in the House on behalf of my community when it has been subject to such brutality, that the Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland are only too well aware of the situation facing the Protestant community and will do everything in their power to co-operate with the Government to bring the terrible events to an end?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks, particularly as they come from an hon. Member who himself has been subjected to so many attacks. Indeed, the Catholic community has been unanimous and resolute this week in its condemnation of what happened at the weekend and in the past.

Mr, Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Since the morale of the majority of people of Northern Ireland is all-important in the struggle against terrorism, will the Government reconsider their apparent withdrawal of support for the principle of unionism as expressed at the summit conference?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that there has been any withdrawal from unionism. What we have sought to achieve, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made abundantly clear, is an improved relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, which I believe would be of enormous value to the United Kingdom, to the Republic of Ireland and to the North of Ireland. Everything that has been said during the last few days has been published. Everyone knows what the facts are. I hope that people will not seek to distort the facts in any way, because it is the distortion of facts that sometimes leads people to make emotional responses that are not borne out by the facts.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)

Does the Secretary of State have any concept of what it is like to have had 200 constituents murdered, to lose two more last weekend, and then to be lectured today in the House about calmness and moderation? Can he imagine what it is like to be haunted every day by the thought that the sum total of one's political achievements is measured by death, destruction and the endless tramp of yet more funerals to attend?

How much longer do I have to come to the House and demand for my constituents what every other citizen regards as his birthright? If the Minister does not accept my words, the pile of corpses and severed limbs last week say mote eloquently than I could that a change in Government policy must come about.

Mr. Prior

I fully understand the feelings of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). I appreciate the suffering that his constituents have faced for the past 12 years. We are working to bring about a change in that situation, but it will not be accomplished quickly. It can be accomplished only when we can bring about understanding between the minority and majority groups in Northern Ireland. That, combined with the defeat of terrorism in any way that we can, is what we must do. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the defeat of terrorism in a modern society is a difficult matter for any security force. I hope that he will bear with us in what I understand and appreciate are the very severe pressures that he and his constituents have to face.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, I believe it is now in the interests of the House to move on and to leave that matter.