Such persons who have served either in police forces or auxiliary forces and are deemed to have been guilty of misconduct shall be excluded from enrolment in the force. —[Mr. McNamara.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.1238
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
I have been waiting for nearly 14 hours with keenness and anticipation to speak on this Clause. However, as my hon. Friend observed, I was not so much kissed by the blarney stone as bludgeoned by it in my youth, and, therefore, I merely move this Motion formally.
§ Mr. Hattersley
It is perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the Committee if I simply reply by entertaining it with a selection of readings from the draft regulations we propose to lay before Christmas. These comprehensive regulations will cover many of the points raised by new Clause I, but my hon. Friend will want to know at least three proposals in the regulations which will deal with exclusions in some detail. Each case I quote will signify people who will not be eligible to join the new regiment.
Regulation 326 says that those ineligible are men who have been discharged from the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the Ulster Special Constabulary for misconduct of any sort or with a character assessment of less than average, except where the assessment was lower solely on account of insufficient service.
Regulation 326 (F) deals with exclusions for criminal offences, and it stipulates the criminal offences which will constitute an exclusion, including theft fraud, assault, injury or indecency, among others.
Regulation 0613 states than an officer of the force cannot distribute an election address or take an active part in politics unless he has relinquished his appointment in the force.
Regulation 326 (I) lays down that it is not possible for a member of the reserve to be a member of the R.U.C. There can thus be no overlapping between the two forces.
I will not detain or weary the Committee by continuing to go through these draft regulations. Those I have referred to are four of the more important ones.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Can the hon. Gentleman say to what extent these are similar to the Territorial Army Regulations?
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. McNamara
We have had what in many ways have been very interesting, very emotional and very stimulating debates on the Bill. One of the strangest things that has happened during the debate has been the metamorphisis, certainly within the past few days, which seems to have overtaken my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) in the minds of the Unionist Members opposite. Starting off in the early days of the Police Bill as a ragged peasant girl from the bogs to whom nobody paid any attention, my hon. Friend has now appeared as a latter-day Countess Markowitz.
It was stretching the bounds of credence a little when the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) tended to suggest that my hon. Friend had some part to play in the I.R.A campaign of 1956. At the age of nine, despite her undoubted precociousness, ability and a great deal of talent, this would have needed some little ability from my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. McMaster
I apologise if I have misled the House. The fact was that I was recounting the exploits of the I.R.A., starting in 1920. The hon. Lady interrupted me and said that she did not remember that; she was not born then. When I referred to the later exploits, I said that the hon. Lady might remember them, since they were within her lifetime. I was not suggesting that she had taken part in them.
§ Mr. McNamara
That is reassuring and it goes some way to settling the minds of my hon. Friends on that matter, because we were a little concerned about it, if only because it put my hon. Friend's achievement a little under the shadow.
I would like, however, at this stage to part company to some extent with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster. In the course of the debates—indeed, since the Bill was suggested—many of us have doubted the need for the Bill and have seen it mainly as a political 1240 decision. We have seen the position of the B Specials, as the armed wing of the Unionist Party in Ulster, as being the question that we were really discussing. We were discussing not a military situation, but a political one—how we could get the B Specials under some sort of political control. To my mind, if we had to take a decision, the decision of the Bill was the best one; namely, that we should take this force under Regular officers' command and thereby achieve control where we did not have it in the past.
During the course of the debate, although we have not had acceptance of any of our Amendments, about which we felt quite keenly, we have, nevertheless, obtained such a degree of assurance on quite a number of issues that I would say to people who are in the minority in Northern Ireland that so far as I am able to dictate to them in any way, which I do not really claim to be able to do, here they have a chance. If we claim that unless there is this change in the old B Special force all the other reforms which have been promised are useless; if we say that it is on this issue that the temper both of the Stormont policy and of the good intentions of the Westminster Government will be tested, here, above all, is the supreme opportunity to test it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not want any "Hear, hears" from hon. Members opposite. If any of them speak in support of me I shall think that we have lost the case completely.
My hon. Friend has said that if there is a choice between a rush of recruitment or a well-balanced force he will go for a well-balanced force. He has said that a special recruiting drive will take place amongst ex-members of the Regular forces resident in Northern Ireland. He has said on Second Reading and elsewhere that people whom it is thought the minority would not find acceptable will be vetted by the G.O.C. under most stringent British Army conditions.
Having had all those assurances one is entitled to say to the minority, "If you want to see any hope out of the situation in Northern Ireland you must, if nothing else, call the Government's bluff. You must, if necessary, swamp the recruiting offices with your applications. You must put forward your best candidates. If you 1241 accept, as I accept, that there is no military threat, if you accept, as I do, that this is merely a political way of containing the B Specials, you must prove this, because otherwise the argument goes by default. Any minority in Northern Ireland has lost, and we have lost."
This is their opportunity. If they believe that the solution lies in democratic and constitutional methods, we shall end up in the situation which one of my hon. Friends spoke about earlier—that if we have this force it can show that feeling of relationship between the communities. We can get rid of the community tensions and get rid of the force, and by chance, one day, with God's blessing, we shall also get rid of the border.
§ 8.53 a.m.
§ Captain Orr
I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that we have had a fascinating and interesting night. One does not want—and it would be out of order— to go over the many Amendments that have been discussed, but it has been remarkable throughout the night that support from hon. Gentlemen opposite has steadily dwindled from 36 to 25, to 18, and then to 12, in the Divisions.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I see nothing about the size of Divisions in the Bill, and on Third Reading we discuss what is in the Bill.
§ Captain Orr
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for compelling me not to have to rely on my memory.
On Third Reading it is appropriate that someone from this side of the House should briefly welcome the Bill as it now stands, welcome the intention to bring the Ulster Defence Regiment into being and say that we hope that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North will be successful in his appeal to members of the minority community to join the force.
Everybody in Ulster who really wishes to see good will between the two communities—and I believe that that applies to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland on both sides of what might be called the sectarian fence—will echo the 1242 wish that not only will the new force get off the ground in that right way but that those who have served Ulster in the Ulster Special Constabulary, those who have faithfully served Ulster in other ways and in other forces, those who are willing faithfully to serve the security of the State—in fact all—irrespective of their religion, will now join the new force. I hope that the hon. Member's plea will be heeded, because it is essential that the new force should get going fast. It was one of the essential ingredients of the Hunt Report that the new force should get off the ground quickly.
I welcome the proposal that recruiting should start soon. I hope that by 1st April we shall have an effective force, because if we do not have a successful force, the continuation of the Ulster Special Constabulary will be essential. That was clearly set out in the agreement reached between the two Governments and underwritten by the Home Secretary perfectly plainly. Unless the new force gets off the ground and is effective and is representative of all sections of the community, we shall be left with a situation in which the Ulster Special Constabulary will have to continue.
For that reason, I warmly welcome the Bill as it now stands. I hope that the Ulster Defence Regiment will have as proud and as successful a history as its predecessor, the Ulster Special Constabulary.
§ 8.56 a.m.
§ Miss Devlin
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) is of the opinion that we have had a fascinating night. I did not find it fascinating. Hon. Members came to the Committee stage of the Bill with a number of serious Amendments about which I felt strongly. I have made my attitude to the Bill perfectly clear. I have not tried to mislead the House, and I have been perfectly honest and open in saying that I supported Amendments on the basis that I could not stop the Bill from becoming law and that I regarded the Amendments as a second line of defence.
I am totally opposed to the Bill. Throughout the night hon. Members have made great play with the terms "minority" and "majority", and I have been asked to urge members of the 1243 minority in Northern Ireland to join the Ulster Defence Regiment when it is formed. From my speeches in the House, when I have repeatedly stated my political attitude, it must be well known to hon. Members that in my political dictionary the minority in Northern Ireland is not those people who choose to worship in a Catholic Church. In my terms, the majority in Northern Ireland is the working-class people of Northern Ireland and the minority is that class of society so ably represented on the Opposition benches by the members of the Ulster Unionist Party.
If I am asked with my definition of "minority" to ask the minority to join the Ulster Defence Regiment, my answer is to refuse. If I am asked to ask what the House calls the minority, that section of the majority population who happen to be Catholic working class, to join this force, I refuse, as I have said before.
I will not ask the Protestant section of the working class to join this force—not, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) saw fit to state, because I am opposed to the defence of Ulster. I am very much in favour of the defence of Ulster. To me Ulster, Northern Ireland, the Six Counties, 26 or 32 counties—a country is no more and no less than the people of that country. I am very interested in defending Ulster—that is to say, Ulster's people; all of them. I am very interested in defending the rights of the working class people of Ulster.
For generation after generation stumbling blocks have been put in the way of the working class of Ireland to divide them on the basis of Protestant and Catholic in the North of Ireland. I seriously ask hon. Members if it is the principal request to ask me to support and encourage the creation of a stumbling block consisting of 6,000 armed men once again to create division between the working-class people of Northern Ireland. There cannot be unity where there is an armed force to keep them apart. But, let us face it, that is what the Defence Regiment is for.
Time and again, despite our Amendments, hon. Members on the Government Front Bench have failed to give us clear military justification for the creation of a military force. There have been Amend- 1244 ments tabled by my hon. Friends and by me, but none from the other side of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "One from a Liberal."] I apologise to the Liberal spokesman who tabled an Amendment; but no Amendment came from the Conservative and Unionist Party. We put our Amendments down because we felt it important, and I still do, that the regiment should not be called the Ulster Defence Regiment.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With all respect, we cannot discuss now Amendments which have been defeated in Committee. We are discussing the Bill as it is.
§ Miss Devlin
As the Bill stands it remains the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill, to which I am totally opposed. As the Bill stands, the regiment will contain 6,000 men, to which I am totally opposed. I could go one by one through the various aspects of the Bill we have discussed all night. Since we are on the Third Reading of the Bill without amendment, it must be clear that I am opposed to the various parts of the Bill I debated, and in principle, to the Bill as a whole. Therefore, far from recommending this Bill or this regiment to anyone, I must claim the right of principle to state my principal belief and advocate that no men join this force.
There is not much more I can say on this Bill because it will become law. There will be an Ulster Defence Regiment, but once again I ask the Government to consider their folly. I ask them to consider that I stand here and that, although throughout the course of the Committee stage and frequently in this House hon. Members opposite have referred to me in not the most complimentary terms, if I am nothing else I am representative of the attitude of ordinary people in Northern Ireland. I do not mean the ordinary Catholic or the ordinary Protestant, I mean the ordinary person who is interested in ordinary things. This Government have not provided anything to meet the needs of the ordinary people.
The Government should have invested their money not in a military force but in constructive assistance. Until they do this I will not support them. I will not support them in continuing the tradition of the folly of this House in passing legislation against the interests of the 1245 people of Ireland. I will never support military intervention of British forces on Irish soil.
§ 9.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I think that I voice the view of all hon. Members on this side of the House when I congratulate the Minister on the manner in which he has conducted the Bill through to this stage. It is the first occasion that I have taken part in debating a major Measure when the Bill has reached this point completely unamended, something which must have been seldom equalled in the history of this House.
The hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) put up a gallant fight throughout the night in an attempt to get the Bill amended. I have been puzzled all through because, while she condemned the U.S.C., she has also condemned the Government for introducing something in its place. She was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) as a latter-day Countess Markowitz. I wish to pay her a nicer tribute. She reminds me very much of a comedienne——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing a Bill and not the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin).
§ Mr. Maginnis
I wish the new regiment every success. Like the majority of hon. Members, I hope that members of every community in Northern Ireland will join it and help to make it a force which will be worthy of the people of Northern Ireland.
§ 9.8 a.m.
§ Mr. McGuire
We must begin by remembering that the Bill was originally introduced because the members of a minority in Northern Ireland—I use the word "minority" in a somewhat different context from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin)—proved that justice was in many respects denied to them. They had a test of loyalty thrust down their throats, for it was said, in effect, that the Catholic minority was not subscribing fully to the constitution of Northern Ireland.
I intervened on Second Reading when my right hon. Friend the Member for 1246 Easington (Mr. Shinwell) pointed out the fears that people had about the Bill and why he thought it would not be acceptable to the minority in Northern Ireland. He thought that the Catholics would not co-operate to make the Measure a success. I intervened to try to put him right, and I referred to Cardinal Conway, the Cardinal Primate of all Ireland.
A fetish has been made by the Unionists of loyalty towards Northern Ireland. The cardinal has explained on behalf of the Catholics that they have always given recognition to the constitution of Northern Ireland, they have been denied many of the benefits of the constitution of Northern Ireland but if a test of loyalty depended upon the abandonment of the noble conception of a united Ireland, in the eyes of the Unionists they were in a treacherous position. I am in exactly that position, as are many of my hon. Friends. They look forward to the time, realising that it will be a long way ahead, when we have a United Ireland.
Will the Bill, with its title and the apparatus for initiating the first section of the Ulster Defence Regiment, induce Catholics to play their full part? I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), and I hope and trust that in spite of what has been put in the way of Catholics by the pact between my Government and the Stormont Government, the selection of the title—
§ Mr. McGuire
I stand corrected. The title will be the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to arrive at a balanced community in the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is charged with part of the defence of Northern Ireland.
The Hunt Committee, in spite of feeling that fears are much exaggerated and probably have no reality, recognised that there was a psychological need for this force. I am questioning whether the title of the Ulster Defence Regiment will persuade Catholics to play their full part, and, in spite of the title, and in spite of the concession that certain commandants of the B Specials will go over to the new regiment, I hope that the Catholics 1247 of Northern Ireland will play their full part.
Certain people in Northern Ireland, particularly the backlash section desire the title and the way of selection to thwart Catholics and prevent them coming forward, and thus reinforce the view that Catholics are basically disloyal. On Second Reading the Secretary of State for Defence said—and I am paraphrasing his words—that there was no higher demonstrable form of loyalty to the Crown than joining the British Armed Forces, and the Catholics provide 50 percent. of the Northern Irish defence forces. The charge of disloyalty could not be maintained against them regarding then attitude to the B Specials. It was an offence to them—the words stank in their nostrils—not merely that they were not encouraged to join, but that it was deliberately intended that they should not join.
We have come a long way from that situation. I believe that if my coreligionists in Northern Ireland want to get rid once and for all of any paramilitary force, the best way in which they can demonstrate their feelings is to join the new force. I believe that there is no threat, but a concession has been made on psychological grounds.
When the House handed over the six counties of the ancient province of Ulster to what became known as the Northern Ireland Government, the sovereign Parliament at Westminster relinquished real power. The actions of the people who administered power on our behalf in Northern Ireland were not subjected to close scrutiny in this House. This Bill, with all its imperfections, has built-in safeguards so that we shall never again fall into the trap of not scrutinising very closely what is going on in Northern Ireland. This has been our fault. I can well remember trying to catch the Speaker's eye and being ruled out of order——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is now being ruled out of order. He must talk about the Bill.
§ Mr. McGuire
I am about to sit down. All I will say is that I welcome the abolition of that convention and look forward to giving closer scrutiny in the future to what is going on in Northern Ireland.
§ 9.17 a.m.
§ Mr. McMaster
I will not detain the House long at this late hour. I wish to say only a few words. Too much play has been made about Unionists and Catholics—and I mean, of course, Roman Catholics. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) admitted to the House that she was opposing the Bill not on behalf of the Catholics as a whole, but rather on behalf of a group or society which she represented—that is to say, a left-wing Socialist minority——
§ Mr. McNamara
In view of the absence of my hon. Friend, it is surely incorrect for the hon. Gentleman to misquote her words. He may feel that she represents that particular group, but that was not what she claimed to represent. The hon. Gentleman should make that clear.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am sorry the hon. Lady has not seen fit to stay to the end of the debate. However, she did try to draw a red herring across the debate by equating the Unionist Party with the upper class. That is wrong. The Unionist Party in Ulster represents all classes. I am proud to represent all classes of workmen in Harland and Wolff and Short Brothers. No such distinction is recognised in Northern Ireland.
To return to the Bill, I should like to welcome it and look forward to the future. I hope all classes and members of all religions will join in seeing that the Bill works. I look forward to the time in Northern Ireland when nobody asks to what religion one belongs.
The need for the Bill was clearly stated in the Hunt Report, which dealt with the history of the Irish Republican Army and the insurrections and atrocities in Northern Ireland. The report concluded in paragraphs 27 and 28 that though the main danger in Northern Ireland was more likely to be ill will and discontent in the streets, one could never be sure that there would not be an attack from outside.
It is the duty of the Government to provide for the security of the State. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom which has a land barrier and is likely to be subject to further attacks. It is necessary as long as there is the possibility of attack that the force should be formed and remain in existence to protect our border.
1249 I sincerely hope that members of all classes and religions will come forward and join the force so that we can look forward to a future in Northern Ireland in which we can forget the bitterness and hatred which has been revived in past months and has so upset our progress as a proud and important part of the United Kingdom.
§ 9.20 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
I know that hon. Members who are still here have been here for a long time. Therefore, they will wish to depart as soon as possible. I apologise for delaying them a little longer, but it is necessary, at the end of such a debate as this, for some of those who have participated to underline the reasons why they have done so and to express their conclusions on the Bill.
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I understand some of the difficulties with which he may have had to contend throughout the night, and I congratulate him on the good temper that he has shown. It must have been more irritating for him than for us.
I think that I speak for other hon. Members on this side who have participated in the debate in saying that I make no apology for having scrutinised the Bill with the care that we have. Here I echo partly what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire). One of the few protections that we have for the situation in Northern Ireland and one of the only reasons why we can hope for something better in future than we have had in the recent past is the fact that it is now established that this House will scrutinise Irish affairs very much more carefully in future.
The Minister rebuked me for quibbling —I think he actually said for questioning the provision—about the calling up of the reserves. He said that it was ungracious of me, when we were getting such a big extension to our authority over the force, to quarrel because we had not got the whole lot. This is merely a contrast of the way that we have dealt with Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the country. I do not think that he should have used the word "ungracious". I do not complain about it, because it was a mild rebuke. However, I think that he should have put it the other way. He should 1250 have talked to hon. Gentlemen opposite and reminded them that this House and this Government are being ungracious to the Government in Stormont and to the Parliament in Northern Ireland by providing them with a loophole which would not be available for forces in this country. I think that the loophole should be closed, and I still hope that it will be closed. I hope that the matter will be remedied, even though we have to call in Beelzebub to cast out Beelzebub. I am referring to the House of Lords.
I do not take the view stated by some hon. Members and by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), who talks as though the conclusion of the Bill is to end in a mood of good will and that all we have to do is to go home singing hallelujah. That is not the situation.
My misgivings about the Bill are not so different from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). It is not a much better Bill than it was on Second Reading. The only major concession—and I do not suppose that my hon. Friend would describe it as a concession—was a statement of what my hon. Friend considered to be the nature of the Bill all along. Nobody could state the case with greater skill than my hon. Friend. Everybody knows that his skill in this House is enormous, and he put the case as well as it could be put.
My hon. Friend argued that the Government all along had wished to see an entirely different composition of the force from that which it had before. I am sure that my hon. Friend is sincere in that desire. I am sure that it is the Government's desire to make a different kind of force. I have not the slightest doubt about their desire for that; but I do not believe that they have provided in the Bill the means to achieve it. If they had accepted some of our Amendments they would have moved much further in the direction of getting a Bill which could be acceptable in Northern Ireland. But, as it is, we are still faced with a Bill which has the wrong name, and a force that is going to be too large, and its composition is still highly uncertain and problematical.
Indeed, the composition of the force does not depend on the Government 1251 Front Bench, or even on hon. Members in Stormont. They have to appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) to see whether they can get the kind of force that they want, and she is not prepared to say that she will invite people to join the force. I can understand her feelings. If the Government wanted my hon. Friend and others to appeal to the Catholic minority to join the force, they should have been prepared to make much bigger concessions. They should have been prepared to go much further. I know the arguments. One argument is that they would stir up the backlash. That is the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster. She says that it is the blackmail from the backlash that has stopped a better Bill from being produced, and I do not see how anybody can deny that.
Down, South is fixed in my mind because of the debate. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) insists upon the terms of the Bill, and it was notable that at the end of the debate he came back to where he was at the beginning and spoke as though the whole situation was still absolutely governed, without any qualification, by the agreement that was reached between the Stormont Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of this country in their declaration. In my opinion, that declaration is not sufficient to provide for the future of Ireland. It is not sufficient to provide peace in Northern Ireland, because that declaration still leaves with Stormont much greater authority than it is capable of exercising.
§ Captain Orr
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that his Government could have broken an agreement freely entered into?
§ Mr. Foot
I cannot go over the whole history of the proceedings, I should be out of order if I were to do so. I can understand the Government making an agreement with the Government of Stormont during a critical and difficult situation—I do not blame the Government for that—but they then proceeded to translate that agreement partly into the Bill. I am complaining that the translation of the compact into the Bill has been far too greatly influenced by pressure from Stormont, and we have 1252 had one example after another of that. I cannot believe that if the Government had started fresh to decide what sort of force should be set up by the Bill they would have chosen the title that they did, or the size that they did, or that they would not have been able to insist on much more stringent provisions about the change in the composition.
I have on my side the bulk of the Hunt Committee recommendations. We have abandoned three or four major recommendations of that committee about the size of the force and about the abandoning of the Special Powers Act. We have not got that yet. We are promised it. We are told that eventually Stormont will abolish it, but we have been told that for 50 years, and I shall believe it only when I see it.
The best that I can extract from the situation, and the best that we can say to people in Ireland, the only thing that we can say to the minority in Ireland who have been so grossly misused over the years, is that whereas the authority of Westminster was distant and very difficult to invoke, and could only be invoked by convulsions on the streets which brought the troops there, now there is easier access to Westminster. I hope that that access will continue, and that part of it will be through my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster.
In my opinion it is very important for the development of democracy in the United Kingdom—both this country and Ireland—that this House should constantly listen to what the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster has to say.
§ Mr. Foot
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. It is extremely important that this House should recognise—and that the people of Ireland should recognise—that whatever deficiencies they may see in the Bill they now have an access to this House which they did not have before, and that they will continue to exercise, week by week and month by month, through the voice of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is repeating what I told him to keep away from. We are discussing the Bill.
§ Mr. Foot
I conclude by saying that the cause of the Bill was the threat of 1253 pogroms in this country such as had not been threatened for generations. It was only the intervention of the British Army which prevented that. The Bill is partly justified in terms of alleviating that situation. I understand the purpose of the Government. But I wish they had listened more carefully to those hon. Members on this side who have had much to say on Northern Ireland. Everybody wishes that the Government could have made this a better Bill, with a much better chance of accomplishing the work that they want to see accomplished, but which will be accomplished only when hon. Members exercise sufficient viligance to see that Irish affairs are investigated to the greatest possible degree in the months ahead.
§ 9.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I hope that after the Bill is passed the members of the Ulster Defence Regiment never have an opportunity to distinguish themselves in the field. But if the security situation in Northern Ireland is such that the regiment has to be called out, I hope that after our debates a well-balanced and well-led regiment will show that devotion to duty which we have come to expect in the military field from the soldiers of Northren Ireland.
§ 9.33 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard
There is one thing that we can say about the Bill on Third Reading: it has had a long and exhaustive examination. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). As one of those who have sat through the whole debate since seven o'clock last night I can say that it is not often that one has an all-night sitting and feels at the end of it that it has been of some assistance and worth while. The debates throughout the night and the way in which the whole Bill has emerged from Committee, together with the speeches made and the sentiments expressed—not exclusively from the back benches—have improved the position.
The Government recognise the very deep feelings of those who have moved Amendments and taken part in the debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) clearly has deep and passionate feelings about her own country—about its history and traditions and the way in which its people have 1254 been treated in the past. This I understand and appreciate.
But I must tell the hon. Lady and a number of other hon. Members who may feel a similar sentiment that the situation today is unique in respect of Northern Ireland. This is probably the first time since 1922 that the situation in Northern Ireland—the very existence of Northern Ireland itself—is at a turning point. I do not believe that in the 48 years or thereabouts since Northern Ireland came into existence as a constitutional entity it has had so much upheaval in such a short time, or that the House has been so concerned with its affairs.
The main fear that is still clearly there is that the Ulster Defence Regiment is merely the Ulster Special Constabulary under another name, that what will happen is that it will be the same people, doing the same jobs, recruited in the same way, officered by the same people, and confined to the same religion.
That is the fear which has emerged not only from this debate, but in the last week or so from organisations in Northern Ireland itself. I think these fears are unjustified. I think these fears can be allayed, should be allayed and will be allayed provided that three things are recognised.
Originally—quite a long time ago it now seems, and perhaps unwisely in the course of one of the Amendments to this Bill—I tried to list about 12 points. Eventually I subsided under the weight of opposition to the points I was going to make. But perhaps I can now at least make three of them, and emphasise that the force as it will emerge when it is recruited and is operational, will be unique in three very definite and distinct ways and will be totally different from the Ulster Special Constabulary which it will replace.
Firstly, the new force will cease to be what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) somewhat extravagantly described as a private army. It will become part of the Regular forces, subject to military law and capable of being called out only by the regular forces themselves. I do beg my hon. Friend not to under-emphasise the importance of that advance—that it is now integrated into the Regular forces of the Crown.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, the new force will cease to be 1255 a sectarian force only. The pace of recruiting and the procedures of recruiting, to what is frankly an unprecedented extent, have been quite deliberately chosen by the Government in order to provide for a well-balanced force. Indeed safeguards are built into the Bill and into the force to ensure that the treatment of both Catholics and Protestants is equal. Again, I do not think my hon. Friends who have doubts and criticisms about this Bill would doubt for one moment that if that can be achieved, then it is indeed a major advance as far as the affairs of Northern Ireland are concerned.
The third point, nd I think this is one which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale appreciates, is that for the first time since 1922 the size, the administration, the organisation and the use to which this force is to be put will be subject to debate, questioning and scrutiny in the House of Commons.
I am bound to say to my hon. Friends that when one puts these advantages and these achievements on the one side of the balance sheet, and on the other side one puts the criticisms one has heard in the debate on the Bill—namely, that the name is wrong and that the force is too high— the overwhelming advantages for Northern Ireland come down very much in favour of the Bill.
I think the final word I would say on the Bill can best be summed up in words used by Lord Hunt:There is one final point; it is perhaps the most important of all those which we have to make. We believe that the recommendations in this report will call for outstanding qualities of leadership to carry them out. There must be a conviction of the need for the changes and a due sense of urgency. There must also be an ability to appreciate the problems of Northern Ireland and the sensitivities of its people combined with a determination to chart a course towards the future, undeflected by the events of the past.I think those words sum up the Government's attitude to this Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.