§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill, as I think the House will appreciate, deals with one of the most sensitive aspects of the present problem in Northern Ireland-an aspect which. in the past, has aroused the strongest passions in both communities. If we can find the right answers a significant contribution to peace throughout the Province can be made-indeed, a contribution to peace in Ireland as a whole. I recognise the deep concern felt in many parts of the House about certain aspects of the Bill, and I shall try to satisfy hon. Members that the Bill meets all their legitimate anxieties.
I want to make one other point by way of introduction. Deep and sincere feeling on a matter like this often leads to words which may be regarded on one side or the other as provocative and inflammatory. We are used to speaking plainly in the House, but I hope that hon. Members will remember that an incautious expression of opinion here in Westminster can provoke a reaction in Northern Ireland which leads to ordinary working-class families at best living in terror and at worst having their houses burnt round their heads. I hope that we shall be able to satisfy ourselves, at the end of the day's debate, that the House has contributed to peace and not conflict in Northern Ireland.
The central issue raised by the Bill is the future of the Ulster Special Constabulary-the B Specials, as they are often called. All Members recognise that this force is highly controversial. In paragraph 145 of his report Lord Cameron described the feelings of the Catholics about the U.S.C. force. No one can deny that that feeling, as he described it, exists. But the House should be equally aware of the feeling among the Protestants in Northern Ireland. Because of the circumstances in which 1320 Northern Ireland came into existence the U.S.C. is regarded by many Protestants as the only dependable line of defence against terrorism by forces from the South. I am not trying to justify this feeling, but the House would be making a great mistake in ignoring it. It is a reality, and an important political reality, in the situation that we now confront.
It is only if we keep continuously in mind the real strength of feeling on both sides in Northern Ireland that we shall understand some of the reactions in Northern Ireland to the present Bill. Unless we do understand the psychological realities in Northern Ireland we have little chance of success in reaching the objective which I believe we all have at heart, namely, to bring lasting peace to this troubled Province.
On 12th November my hon. Friend made a statement about the Government's proposal to form a new military force—the Ulster Defence Regiment—and on the same day a White Paper giving details of the proposals was presented to Parliament. The House will remember that the creation of such a force was recommended by Lord Hunt's Advisory Committee on Police in Northern Ireland. That committee based its main recommendations on the principle that the police role and military role should be separate in Northern Ireland, as they are in the rest of the United Kingdom.
It proposed that the Royal Ulster Constabulary should be relieved of all duties of a military nature as soon as possible, and that the Ulster Special Constabulary should be replaced by two separate forces, one a volunteer police reserve to support the R.U.C. in normal police duties, the other a locally recruited part-time force under the command of the General Officer Commanding, Northern Ireland, to support the regular military forces on purely military duties. The Ulster Defence Regiment is the second of these forces, designed to carry out the essential military functions of the Ulster Special Constabulary.
Lord Hunt's committee believed that it will be necessary for some time to come to protect key installations and to undertake such other tasks as may be necessary to guard against the threat of armed guerrilla-type attack. The Government endorse this view, and the tasks 1321 upon which we propose to employ the force are described in paragraph 5 of the White Paper.
First, let me repeat that it is not our intention to employ the new force on crowd control or riot duties in cities. The role that we envisage is quite a different one. There are, unfortunately, all too substantial reasons why a military force of this nature is needed in Northern Ireland and nowhere else in the United Kingdom. This year alone there have been a number of attacks on public utility installations in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Be fore my right hon. Friend departs from his exordium may I point out that he is apparently continuing to mix up Northern Ireland and Ulster. Will he kindly distinguish between these before he departs from his introductory remarks?
§ Mr. Healey
It seems to me that my hon. and learned Friend prepared his question before I began my speech. I have referred at all times to the territory of Northern Ireland.
This year alone there have been a number of attacks on public utility installations in Northern Ireland. On 30th March there was an attack on the electricity sub-station at Castlereagh, when two transformers were severely damaged by explosion. On 20th April the main supply from Silent Valley reservoir was broken when two 30-inch diameter pipes were blown up. Part of Belfast was without water for four days, and repairs took about 10 days.
On the same day an electricity pylon at Kilmore, County Armagh, was severely damaged by explosive charges. On 24th April a 48-inch water pipe was blown up at Dunadry and took 4 days to repair. Today's newspapers provide further evidence of the reality of the problem in Northern Ireland.
And there is a long history of violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Eric Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)
§ Mr. Healey
I will give way in a moment. Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to finish this part of my remarks.
1322 Without going back to the inter-war years, I would remind the House that the Hunt Report drew attention to the campaign of terrorism which lasted from 1956 to 1962. During that period over 300 major raids and nearly as many minor raids occurred. More than 30 of these raids were on police stations. Over the period about 11 million night patrols were carried out by part-time members of the U.S.C.
Hon. Members will appreciate that the threat is of an attack on key points and installations by armed bands and members of subversive organisations. And—if this meets my hon. Friend's question—the attacks do not necessarily come from terrorists on one side of the political spectrum in Northern Ireland. An armed band could originate within Ulster, or, as in the past, come across the border from the Irish Republic. Its objective could be sabotage, seizing arms, or undermining public morale.
This threat, which is unique to Northern Ireland because of its land border and its internal difficulties, must be countered and deterred. I know that some hon. Members believe that the threat is exaggerated, but the people of Northern Ireland have seen it repeatedly in the past, and have regarded the U.S.C. as an essential defence against a real threat. As the Hunt Report said, the fear of terrorist attacks is very real, and public anxiety will not be allayed unless precautions are taken and are seen to be taken.
I admit that there have been these difficulties in the past, but I do not understand how my right hon. Friend can talk about the mere blowing up of installations as being sufficient for the growth of a large new force. People in the City of Liverpool have had their pipelines broken on six occasions during the last three years by the Welsh Nationalists, and this has not led to my demanding in this House that we should set up a special force to deal with the Welsh Nationalists.
§ Mr. Healey
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his self-restraint on those occasions, but I am bound to remind him that the political climate in which the attacks have taken place over nearly 50 years in Northern Ireland is, thank heaven, a very different climate from the 1323 political climate in Liverpool and the surrounding area. One could not make the same approach to the problem as it is known to be in Northern Ireland as we are legitimately able to make to the situation in other parts of the United Kingdom.
What is essential, in view of Her Majesty's Government and of the Government in Northern Ireland, is that this threat should be met by a properly constituted military force, trained specifically for this purpose and under military discipline and control. That is why Lord Hunt's committee emphasised in its report the distinction that should be drawn between the military and the police tasks which the Ulster Special Constabulary has hitherto discharged; it recommended that the new force which is to undertake military duties should be under the command of the General Officer Commanding, Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I told the House on 13th October that this must be a military force under military discipline and control, and 1 must explain to the House why. It is not that we think that soldiers are necessarily better disciplined than policemen—though to the extent that there may have been some lack of discipline in the past I intend to make certain that the new force will not be open to criticism on that score. The real reason is that military discipline is imposed under the special sanctions of military law, because military law recognises the special stresses and responsibilities involved in the use of military arms. Disobedience, absence without leave, and so on, are not just questions of internal discipline in a military force; they are penal offences.
§ Mr. Healey
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point later.
Because this is a military force and its members are, in the words of Clause 1(2) of the Bill,members of the armed forces of the Crown",its direction is under by control and hence under the control of this House, to which I am answerable.
I draw attention to the fact that the Bill makes this explicit in one very important respect. The direction of the force will be under the control of the 1324 Secretary of State in Whitehall and the power to call it out will be vested solely in regular officers of the Army on my authority alone. They are to be regular officers because it is important that they should be fully integrated in the military chain of command. This has been done to balance two requirements which might otherwise conflict; that an essentially local force should be able to respond quickly and flexibly to local emergencies, and that it should nevertheless be fully under the control of the central Government. This we consider to be the best means of ensuring that it will be a local force that is effective, but not liable to misuse.
Its immediate commander will be a brigadier of the Regular Army; and he, in turn, will be under the command of the General Office Commanding Northern Ireland, who is responsible through the normal chiefs of staff machinery to me, as a member of the Cabinet, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) was hastening to intervene to say.
Officers of Regular Army will hold key positions in the force right down to battalion level. The chain of command is thus absolutely clear; but, obviously, the Northern Ireland Government will always be very closely concerned with the purposes that the Regiment is designed to serve, and we envisage that the G.O.C. will work in the closest consultation with them. The present machinery for doing so is through a Security Committee presided over by the Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs. But the final decision will always rest with Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the responsibilities of the officers of the new force, who are said in the White Paper to be subject to military law at all times, will he confirm that this means that they are subject to Queen's Regulations for the Army?
§ Mr. Healey
I think that I can do that. However, I shall ask my hon. Friend to check that point and, if that is not the case, to correct me when he winds up the debate. But I am sure that that is the case. There will be about 200 regular officers and senior N.C.O.s of the Army interspersed at various levels in the new force.
1325 Subsection 2 of Clause 1 of the Bill includes a provision that any member of the force shall be subject to military law at any time when he is in possession of arms, ammunition, or specified equipment belonging to the Army. The intention here is to ensure that members of the force who may be required in special circumstances to keep arms and ammunition at home shall be subject to military discipline while they are in possession of such arms or ammunition.
This question of the need to keep arms at home was raised in the House last Thursday by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and by other hon. Members. Some hon. Members suggested that the storage of arms at home might be a cause of concern, and I recognise this.
The first point is whether there is any need to provide for arms to be kept at home. It has long been the custom for most members of the Ulster Special Constabulary to keep arms in their own homes. How far it was appropriate for a police force to do this is a question on which views may differ, but we are now clear that the military or para-military responsibilities of the U.S.C. are being transferred to an Army unit. It is not the general custom for members of Army reserves to keep arms at home, and it is our intention that as a general rule, and to the greatest possible extent, the arms of the Ulster Defence Regiment shall be kept in central armouries.
But the primary task of this force is one that is not shared by any element of the Army Reserve. It is the task of defence against what Lord Hunt's committee called" armed guerrilla-type attack and the essence of such defence is the need for rapid reaction to any attack or threat. This rapid reaction may have to be achieved in rural districts where the homes of members of the regiment may be scattered over quite a wide area.
Let me take an example which I do not consider far fetched. There are many analogies for it in history. A member of the regiment might very well live within a few hundred yards of a designated key point, but be several miles away from the headquarters of his unit. This man would not necessarily keep his arms at home all the time, but if intelligence gave reason to suppose that 1326 there was a threat of attack against this particular key point it would make obvious sense that so long as the direct threat persisted the man should keep his weapon and ammunition at home, even at times when he was not actually called out for guard duty. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No".] I do not believe that hon. Gentlemen would expect that he should be required to travel several miles to collect his rifle and then to travel the same distance back again at a time when speed would be of the essence if an attack materialised.
§ Mr. Healey
I can tell my hon. Friend that not only the whole of the Swiss Army, but the whole of the defence force in Denmark, which I visited recently, does this. They keep at home not only small arms, but mortars and heavy machine guns as well.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that comparing the situation in Northern Ireland, in Ulster, with the situation in Denmark of Switzerland makes a joke, a mockery, of the whole thing? If what he is saying —and I am willing to be carried along with him; I am trying very hard—is that we are setting up a regiment of the British Crown forces, then should not they behave like regiments of the British Crown forces normally behave? If he is saying that under the guise of setting up such a thing we are recreating the B Specials and behaving in the same way, up with that we are not going to put. Frankly, it looks to me as though my right hon. Friend is trying to ride the awkward horse of the B Specials under the guise of setting up a regiment of Her Majesty's forces.
§ Mr. Healey
With respect to my right hon. Friend, I think that, on reflection, he will recognise that what he said was quite unfair. As I proceed with my speech, he will see other reasons why it is unfair.
There was this problem over a period of six years a decade ago when about 300 attacks were carried out against key points. It was absolutely essential that when an attack had been carried out, a bank had been robbed and weapons stolen, perhaps from a police station, it 1327 should be possible to man a road block, within minutes of hearing of the attack in order to catch the perpetrators. We envisaged this when I was in the Local Defence Volunteers at the beginning of the last world war, and I think that I am right in saying that on many occasions Home Guard units kept their arms at home for the same sort of reason. [Interruption.] If I can complete my presentation of this point, hon. Members may find that some of their alarm is unnecessary. Let me repeat that this, the holding of arms at home, would he authorised only in special circumstances and that our general policy will be to centralise the storage of arms.
My second point is that the execution of this policy will be under the direct control of the General Officer Commanding in respect both of central storage and of special authorisations for arms to be kept at home. This control will be effectively exercised, and the G.O.C. will delegate his powers to authorise arms to be kept at home only to senior officers of the Regular Army. This, I think, will allay a number of doubts which hon. Members may have.
As the House is aware, it has been our policy since August that the arms of U.S.C. members in cities should be stored under central control, and for some time now there have been no U.S.C. arms kept at home in the cities of Belfast and Londonderry.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to hon. Members' concern about this matter. Would he not agree that if what he is saying is that as a result of intelligence one soldier in this reserve might be allowed to keep arms at home, surely nothing could be more dangerous and nothing could incite a would-be attacker more than the prospect of a one-man Army. Surely, in those circumstances, there would be at least half a dozen troops drafted in? Nothing would be worse than to have one man expected to put down a situation.
§ Mr. Healey
I do not suppose that in such a case the General Officer Commanding would telephone the Commander of the I.R.A. telling him the name of the soldier who was allowed to keep his weapon at home. I think that 1328 the right hon. Gentleman is not seeing the problem as it would arise in reality.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
My right hon. Friend referred to the I.R.A. Would he not agree that the recent explosions and sabotage which have taken place in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with the I.R.A.? Is he aware that at the moment there are men in prison who are members of the illegal Ulster Volunteer force and the extreme Protestant force?
§ Mr. Healey
Yes, I am aware of that and it is a disturbing development. It is because I am aware of that that I made the point that the type of threat that the new force might have to counter may well come from any sides of the political spectrum of Northern Ireland. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point.
May I now pass to the question of numbers, which is also a matter of controversy. The strength of the force is not laid down in the Bill, and it is the Government's intention that it should be controlled through the normal procedure of the annual Estimates. As the White Paper stated, the Government intend that the actual size should be determined in the light of experience as the build-up proceeds, but that in any case it will not ultimately exceed 6,000 officers and men.
The House may wonder why this figure is higher than that mentioned in the Hunt Report. I should like to point out, first, that the figure of 4,000 was necessarily very tentative: the Committee did not have the means to take a detailed assessment of the requirement. Secondly, while we have assured the Northern Ireland Government that a fully adequate military garrison will be maintained in Northern Ireland, I am sure that nobody wants us to keep a regular garrison of the present size in the Province for any longer than is necessary.
We have looked at the size of the Ulster Defence Regiment from the point of view of the part-time military element that we need to have available to support whatever full-time garrison may eventually be judged to be appropriate as the situation returns to normal.
Our first assessment of the military requirement—bearing in mind that this is a part-time force and that there must 1329 be considerable limitations on the frequency with which a man can be expected to turn out for duty in a part-time force —is that a ceiling of 4,000 might not be sufficient and that we might need to be able to recruit up to a figure of 6,000. But I would stress that 6,000 is a ceiling —it is not a target—and that no decision has been taken to authorise recruitment to this level.
§ Mr. Orme
Is my right hon. Friend aware that when he talks about 6,000 men in Northern Ireland, that sounds very few compared with the rest of Great Britain, but if we equate that number with the rest of the United Kingdom we would have a standing Army of 240,000 men, based on that parallel for Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Healey
This may well be so, but it is also the case that if we had had the sort of violence and disorders which have been seen in Northern Ireland in the last 50 years I doubt whether organised society in Britain would have stood it. One must recognise that the problem there is, unfortunately, different from the problem here.
As I understand it, the purpose of all Members of good will on both sides of the House is to remove the fundamental problems which have been responsible for this tragic history. Until they are removed, the possibility of violence and disorder, as we have found in the past, remains. Unless people are satisfied that that possibility can be kept under control, the fundamental conditions for security in which political advance is possible will not be achieved.
§ Mr. Healey
May I be allowed to proceed a little further before I give way again? I have been tolerant, but I must be allowed to proceed a little further, or nobody will have a chance to make a prepared speech as distinct from a prepared intervention.
As the White Paper said, the final decision will be taken in the light of experience as the build-up proceeds. There is bound to be a process of build-up, if only because the strict security vetting upon which we shall insist will take a certain time. It will be necessary by 1st 1330 April to have enrolled sufficient men, though not necessarily the eventual strength to enable the regiment to carry out such operational tasks as may be necessary in support of the Army formations that will still be there, but we envisage that recruitment will be a continuous process during the early months of the regiment's existence and that as it grows in strength it will increasingly take over the role which Lord Hunt's committee foresaw and which the Government have endorsed.
We are determined to attract qualified people from all sections of the community, and we shall mount a vigorous campaign to do so. But as my hon. Friend said in his statement to the House on 12th November, it will be necessary initially to draw our …ecruits substantially from men at present in the U.S.C. After all, the fact that they have already volunteered for service in a force which has in part some of the functions of the U.D.R. shows that they may well volunteer for this new regiment.
The application forms—and I shall deal with this point in more detail in the light of events of which some of my hon. Friends are conscious—will be available at many distribution points such as Army recruiting offices, Regular Army or T. & A.V.R. units, post offices, and police stations. I hope that these forms will be available by 1st January. With so many distribution points, any applicant wishing to join the Ulster Defence Regiment should be able to obtain a form quite easily. Completed application forms will be sent to the military headquarters Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Healey
I will give way in a moment.
Scrutiny of all application forms and the decision on individual applications will be vested solely in the military H.Q. Northern Ireland. If the, G.O.C. Northern Ireland, advised by the commander of the regiment, has any queries on recruiting in general or on particular cases he will, of course, refer these to me.
I say again that recruiting will be organised and controlled by the British Army in Northern Ireland and that the British Army is responsible to me. Some 1331 confusion has, not unnaturally, been caused by certain publications of the Northern Ireland Government in the last week or so. As the Leader of the House promised, I now shall seek to clear up that confusion.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, the House must recognise and accept the existence of widespread and genuine fear in Northern Ireland, among the Protestant community at least, lest the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary should leave them defenceless against terrorism and infiltration. Some of us far removed from the area concerned may feel that these fears are exaggerated, but they are real; they have dominated the life of the Province for the last half century at least, and to ignore them would be to court disaster.
§ Mr. Healey
With respect, hon. Members have asked me to make a careful statement on this problem. I hope that I shall be allowed to complete this part of my statement, and then I will readily give way to questions.
I was not surprised, therefore, when, on 3rd November, the Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs told the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office that he was anxious to explain publicly in Northern Ireland that there would be no gap between the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary and the creation of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Minister for Home Affairs proposed to allay fears by a television broadcast which would begin with officers nominated by the G.O.C. Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Healey
If hon. Members will listen, they will know why he did not succeed—which would begin with officers nominated by the G.O.C. Northern Ireland and their Inspector-General of Constabulary answering questions on the proposed force. He asked to include in this discussion details of the Government's plans for these forces. My hon. Friend was unable to agree to this television broadcast, as Parliament had not been told of the Government's proposals.
1332 As he made clear in his letter of 17th November to the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), which has now, I understand, been placed in the Library of the House, my hon. Friend agreed last Friday to the script of a proposed broadcast, arranged by the Northern Ireland Government on Ulster Television, subject to certain amendments. In consequence, the agreed text did no more than repeat the Government's intentions. It is a long-established practice that Governments, on the publication of a White Paper, co-operate with bodies who wish to make its provisions more widely known.
I think that these points should be made clear. First, as soon as the issue of privilege was raised here, the Government of Northern Ireland took immediate action to withdraw all further advertisements. Secondly, no expenditure was specifically incurred by the United Kingdom Government on the television broadcasts or on any form of newspaper advertising. Thirdly, owing to various misunderstandings, both in London and in Northern Ireland, the newspaper advertisements appeared without our commenting on the project. I regret this, and I am taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again.
Mr. Speaker, you ruled yesterday that there was no prima facie breach of privilege in these publications. If I may say so without impertinence, I am sure that you were right. Once a Bill is published, it is normal to discuss it widely. Statements about the Bill, in my experience, are rarely confined to the Government who sponsor it alone. Indeed, if that were so, public debate, and indeed parliamentary debate, would be impossible.
I think that the House must understand the pressures under which the Northern Ireland Government felt themselves operating. I think that some of us rarely give sufficient credit to the members of the present Government of Northern Ireland for the great risks they have taken with their own political position in order to make more progress in the last two months than has been made in Northern Ireland during the last half-century.
§ Mr. Healey
The hon. Gentleman may believe it to be an irrelevant point, but at the moment the Northern Ireland Government are doing everything they believe is in their power to create a basis for a happier position than has existed in the past.
We must understand, too, the natural and wholly legitimate desire of the Northern Ireland Government to reassure their own supporters that they were not to be left defenceless and that there would be no gap in time or capability between the disbandment of the U.S.C. and the creation of the new Ulster Defence Regiment.
Some of the phrases used in some of the publications of the Northern Ireland Government, I confess, would not have commended themselves to me, but I hope that I can eliminate any confusion they may have caused by stating categorically once again that recruiting for the new force will not begin until the Bill becomes law, and in any case not earlier than 1st January next year. Recruiting will be carried out by the British Army in Northern Ireland, and the G.O.C. will be responsible to me as Secretary of State in the United Kingdom for the way in which it is carried out; and 1 shall be responsible to the House.
§ Miss Devlin
If I heard the Secretary of State correctly, on two occasions during his speech so far he has stated that recruitment will not begin until the Bill becomes law. I therefore want to draw his attention to an article in The Guardian of 19th November, 1969, written by John Cunningham, which begins in this way:Application forms for Northern Ireland's new security force were sent to all B Specials last week, the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Porter. admitted at Stormont yesterday.
§ Mr. Healey
Can I help the hon. Lady by saying that I intend to deal with that specific point in a moment. As I have said, recruiting will be carried out by the British Army under the G.O.C. who will be responsible to me, and I am responsible to Parliament. I am coming to the so-called application form in a moment.
I know that many hon. Members are concerned by the way in which we plan to vet potential recruits. The vetting procedures, which are broadly similar to 1334 those in Northern Ireland for the Regular Army and for the T & AVR, are based on the completion by each applicant who seeks to enrol in the Ulster Defence Regiment of a form containing personal details, namely, the name, address, nationality, date of birth and civil occupation of the applicant, his wife and his parents. It also lists the civil employments held by the applicant during the last five years, any previous service in the Armed Forces, and his religion.
Each completed form will be scrutinised at Headquarters, Northern Ireland, and this scrutiny will include security vetting. In doubtful cases, the G.O.C. Northern Ireland will consult anyone whose opinion he values on either the sincerity of the application or upon the veracity of the personal details.
The purpose of this screening process, which will be applied strictly to each application, is to ensure that no undesirable persons are accepted into the regiment, and, in particular, that applicants who are known to be members of, or sympathetic to, organisations on the extreme wings of Protestant or Roman Catholic opinion will be excluded. We will not recruit persons previously members of the police forces whom we know to have behaved improperly in the recent disturbances.
The House will recognise that no system of security vetting can be foolproof, but I believe that the system I have outlined, which has been based upon considerable experience of the Regular Army and the TAVR in Northern Ireland, is as satisfactory as can be devised. It will not be rushed or skimped to complete recruitment by 1st April, 1970.
Because the vetting procedure is vested in G.O.C. Northern Ireland, the House can rest assured that every application will be considered thoroughly, fairly and impartially. Applications from members of the U.S.C. will be examined in the same way as any other applications, and there will be no automatic right of transfer for them.
I should make it clear in this context—here I answer the question raised by the hon. Lady the Member for MidUlster—that the so-called application form circulated to members of the U.S.C. is not an official Army document such as will be the basis for formal 1335 application to join the U.D.R. when recruiting starts in January.
§ Mr. Healey
I think that if my hon. Friend showed a little more patience he would advance the debate and his own knowledge a little better than would otherwise be the case. This so-called application form was initiated by the staff officer of the U.S.C., not to recruit members for the new forces, but essentially to enable an impression to be formed of the numbers of U.S.C. members who would be interested in applying for membership of the two forces.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I have here a report of the debate in Stormont in which Mr. Porter took part. This is what the report says:The form referred to had been sent out to B Specials by their staff officer, but only after publication of his speech. It simply asked how long they had been in the force, if they had military experience, and which force they would prefer to join. (Mr. Hume): 'Tell us what is written at the top of the form? ' (Mr. Porter): 'Application form'.
§ Mr. Healey
I have just told the House that this was called an application form. I have also explained that it has nothing to do with an application form for joining the new Ulster Defence Regiment.
§ Mr. Healey
I have just explained that the reason it was circulated was to enable U.S.C. leaders to form an impression of the numbers of their men who would wish to join one of the new forces. I think that I answered each one of my hon. Friend's questions even before he rose.
§ Mr. McNamara
I have listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend has said. An important point here is: on whose responsibility, and with whose knowledge, was this form issued? At the moment, the Specials are supposed to be under the general command of the G.O.C. Northern Ireland. Was this done with or without his knowledge?
§ Mr. Healey
I believe that the Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs is making a statement on this matter in the 1336 Stormont this afternoon, and I prefer that to be left to him.
§ Mr. Healey
This was not an official Army document. It has nothing to do with the recruiting procedure which will be carried out by the British Army under the command of the G.O.C., Northern Ireland, starting in January. It was not a fortunate choice of words to call it an application form.
§ Mr. Healey
I have given way a great deal. If I may, I will get on a little further and then I may start giving way again.
§ Mr. W. Howie (Luton)
I have listened intently to the interruptions which have come from below the Gangway and, in part, I sympathise with them. My right hon. Friend has referred to a statement which is being made elsewhere today. Will some reference to that statement be made in the winding-up speech tonight so that we may be fully acquainted with its contents? We are very disturbed about this matter.
§ Mr. Healey
I hope that when winding up the debate my hon. Friend will have the advantage of this statement to comment on it and, if necessary, to communicate it to the House.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster(Belfast, East)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the TAVR. Will it be possible for people leaving the Territorial Army to apply to join the Ulster Defence Regiment? If so, will they have to go through all the vetting? Would it be possible for them to transfer automatically if they transferred from the TAVR?
§ Mr. Healey
Anybody who wishes to join the new force will, of course, be subject to the process of vetting to which I have referred. After all, if members of the police on transfer are subject to it, I see no reason why members of the TAVR, if they wish to join on leaving the TAVR, should not be similarly subject.
§ Miss Devlin
On a point of order. Is it in order for the debate to continue, as 1337 the general public may be confused between the force which we are now discussing and a non-existent force for which application forms have already been sent out and which will not have the authority of this House? Given that the general public may confuse this nonexistent, and therefore illegal, force with the force being established by the Bill, is it in order to continue the debate?
§ Mr. Healey
The new regiment must get off to a good start and I hope that it will not be subject to the same interruptions as my speech. The stop-go principles which I have been compelled to adopt have been forced on me. Perhaps my hon. Friends who are responsible for this stopping and starting will forgive me if I do not give way.
As my hon. Friend has informed the House, initially it will be necessary to draw substantially on the U.S.C. and as nearly 60 per cent. of the officers of the U.S.C. are over 50 and almost 40 per cent. are over 55 years old, we think that it is prudent as a transitional measure to be prepared to make a certain number of exceptions to the normal age limit of 55. To a lesser degree, the same applies to senior N.C.O.s.
This transitional arrangement will permit the enlistment of experienced men who can contribute much to the success of the new force in its formative days arid until younger men can be trained to the appropriate standards.
§ Mr. Healey
The arrangements will also allow present county commandants of the U.S.C. to be considered for appointment as full-time battalion commanders.
Some hon. Members have suggested that an advisory committee on recruitment might be set up to assist the G.O.C., Northern Ireland. We have noted this suggestion and agree that there might be advantages in it. Such a committee might give advice on recruitment policy, bearing in mind, for example, the importance that we attach to recruiting from all sections of the community. The detailed composition and terms of reference would 1338 require careful consideration after a closer study of the problem, and I will of course inform the House of our conclusions on this at the right time.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills(Belfast, North)
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen that John Hume and Ivan Cooper, of the Civil Rights Movement, at Stormont, have welcomed this new force and called on their supporters to join it?
§ Mr. Healey
I read with care the full HANSARD of the debate from which my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) quoted earlier. I believe that the leaders of Roman Catholic opinion in Northern Ireland, particularly after some of their anxieties of recent days have been allayed, as I hope they will be by my statement this afternoon, will be prepared to advise their supporters to join the new force, because I believe that the success of the new force in fulfilling its many vital functions cannot be complete unless there is a reasonable balance of the communities inside it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making it possible for me to make that point.
The emoluments of part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment have been pitched at a level which we hope will be attractive to intending recruits. Part-time members of the U.D.R. will receive a tax-free annual bounty of between £25 and £35, depending on their length of service, on completion of their annual training obligation, and they will receive regular rates of pay for full days' training or duty in the same way as the TAVR. A Supplementary Estimate will, of course, be required to cover al expenditure on the force incurred before the end of this financial year.
These emoluments compare favourably with those of the Ulster Special Constabulary and we consider this is to be fully justified by the more stringent training requirements of the new force. These requirements are considerably stricter than those of the U.S.C. because the U.D.R. will be essentially a military force with military duties.
The training requirements are described in Clause 2(5) of the Bill and our plans are set out in paragraph 15 of the 1339 White Paper published last week. The obligation will consist of 12 full days' training and 12 two-hour training periods. A certain number of optional training periods will also be available. The requirement for 12 full days we regard as the minimum which should be set in addition to the two-hour training periods.
The 12 days will normally include one consecutive period of not more than a week. This will provide an opportunity for sustained and concentrated unit training, which in many ways is the most valuable part of the whole training programme. A week's camp may not be required of every man every year, but it will be a normal feature of the programme and we must ask every member of the regiment to be prepared to take it on.
Naturally, when members of the force have been called out for duty in an emergency such as at present, it might well be neither sensible nor appropriate to insist on the full training obligation in addition to the time spent on duty. The White Paper made this clear. It also stated that in exceptional circumstances the requirement for a substantial consecutive period might be varied. The point here is that there might in exceptional circumstances be compassionate or other personal reasons why a man could not get away for a whole week at the time that he was required to do so. In such a case we would certainly try to meet the man's special circumstances by adjusting his training requirement.
I must, however, make clear that there will be no general relaxation of the training obligations and that it would be very difficult to provide for a man whose business commitments, for example, would make it regularly impracticable for him to get away for a week's camp. We will do what we can for the exceptional case, but the overriding requirement must be the need for a proper standard of training for this Army unit.
The Bill provides the necessary legal framework for the establishment of the Ulster Defence Regiment. As my hon. Friend said in his statement last week, the Government are determined that the new regiment shall be a success and will do everything in their power to ensure that this is so. We regard its success as vital to the people of Northern Ireland 1340 and I hope that all sections of the community will give the regiment their support and that the leaders of all sections of the community will encourage to join the regiment all those who are willing and qualified to serve the community in this way.
I say again, the regiment will be a military force with a military function. It will be part of the British Army as a whole responsible, like the rest of the Army, to the Chief of the General Staff and the British Secretary of State for Defence in London. I believe that, as now designed, it will not only fulfil the role in the security of Northern Ireland for which it is primarily designed; it may also fulfil a far wider and even more constructive function.
Ever since I first became Secretary of State for Defence I have been struck by the role of the Services in Britain as an instrument of social integration—as a means by which men of all walks of life and from all parts of Britain and the Commonwealth can be welded into a living unit. This is true, above all, of the Northern Irish regiments of the British Army. For many years, our Irish regiments have included both Protestants and Catholics. Indeed, they now have almost as many Catholics as Protestants. But while the Catholics and Protestants in these regiments remain equally proud of their faith and their special traditions, this is never a source of conflict in their daily work, and still less in battle. The religious affiliation of the individual officer or soldier has been completely irrelevant: at most, it is a matter for banter and leg-pulling on mess nights.
I think that both sides of the House will agree that in recent months the Army in Northern Ireland has given a practical demonstration of its ability to provide that framework of security which is indispensable if a successful effort is to be made for removing the sources of conflict between the communities. We all now want to move forward from the negative aim of preventing conflict to the positive purpose of binding all sections of the community together in work for the common welfare.
The Ulster Defence Regiment will, like the reorganisation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, provide a first-class opportunity for progress in this direction. Like so many Irish regiments before it, it can 1341 set the pattern for common effort in the Province as a whole. As an integral part of the British Army, it will join with other Army units in satisfying all sections of the community in Northern Ireland that they can live henceforward in peace and security. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. George Brown
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many of us who do not want to be obstructive are, none the less, very disturbed by the situation. Speaking for myself, much of my disturbance has not been allayed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I was hoping to raise this point before Mr. Speaker left the Chair. The issue on which I seek your advice is to discover how one can move from this point. My researches, aided by officers of the House, have revealed many possibilities. One that was used in 1875 and admitted by the then Speaker was that, the Second Reading of the Bill having been moved, a Mr. Stephen Cave—a name not unknown to those of us who are interested in the history of this House—was allowed to move that a Select Committee be established to consider and report upon the various complications raised. That was accepted as being the equivalent of deferring the passage of the Bill.
I regret that I have to put this to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I say, I was hoping to put it to Mr. Speaker before he left the Chair. In the circumstances, may I ask you whether you would, either now or later in the debate, accept a Motion that a Select Committee should be established to consider and report upon the various complications of this Measure, and let that be considered as a Motion for the deferment of the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
I could not accept a Motion at this stage, and I cannot now say what I would rule in the future.
§ Mr. Howie
Further to that point of order. I have considerable sympathy with the views put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), which seem to have some support from my right hon. and hon. Friends below the Gangway. However, is it not clear to us all that the situation in Northern Ireland is one of some urgency and that, however well intentioned, it 1342 might be an error to refer this matter to a Select Committee? Should we not perhaps—
§ 4.34 p.m.
Mr. Geoffrey Rippoa (Hexham)
I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for the way in which he has introduced the Bill. I think that all of us will echo the sentiments expressed in his introductory remarks, and I am sure that most of us feel that both the tone and content of what he said will commend it to moderate opinion both here and in Northern Ireland.
We are debating a Measure which should be welcomed by the House as a whole. The formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment on the lines set out in the Bill must be regarded as an essential part of a rational reorganisation of the police and defence arrangements in Northern Ireland.
As the Secretary of State said, the Bill arises directly out of the Hunt Report. The Hunt Committee was set up by the Northern Ireland Government, who promptly accepted its main recommendations, as, subsequently did this House in the debate on 13th October. In view of that, there ought not to be any grave difference of principle between us.
The chief of the Hunt Committee's recommendations was that there should be this clear distinction, which we on this side readily accept, between policing and security functions. Therefore, it seems to be right that this aptly named Ulster Defence Regiment, which is to be a volunteer force modelled on the Territorial Army, should undertake the task of assisting the Regular Armed Forces in what are essentially military duties.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman has announced categorically what he will accept. Will he accept the difference between Northern Ireland and Ulster and realise that Ulster is a larger place than Northern Ireland, and, therefore, that the Bill is misnamed and should be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Rippon
I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman's objection is widely echoed here or in Northern Ireland.
1343 It is equally right that there should have been this simultaneous announcement of the creation of the new unarmed Police Reserve which will be recruited to assist the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Accordingly, the Police Bill met with general acceptance in the Second Reading debate on Monday.
The Bill that we are considering today is in line with the division of responsibilities now taking place, I think with general approval here and in Northern Ireland. That stems from the understanding which all of us now have that, in the past, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been saddled with too many roles. However, we ought to take the opportunity of reiterating that these Measures are not in themselves any reflection on the brave and patriotic men who have served with distinction in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Special Constabulary or the B Specials for many years. They are not personally responsible for the fact that fears and tensions have been aggravated during the recent tragic disturbances by having men who were armed for para-military duties being called upon also to perform police duties for which they should have been unarmed and crowd control duties for which they were essentially untrained.
I am sure that the Home Secretary went to the root of the problem when he said, on 13th October:It was this mixture of roles which, in some ways, separated the constabulary from the public and so prevented that free and relatively easy communication which prevails in this country between police and public and which makes the public feel that the police are part of the community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th October. 1969; Vol. 788, c. 52.]The armed forces are also part of the community, as will be the new Ulster Defence Regiment. But their role is fundamentally different. In consequence, the recruitment, the organisation and the deployment of the new regiment raises issues which are separate from those which we considered on Monday.
We all now recognise that there has to be this clear distinction between the para-military duties which the bulk of the 8,000 members of the Ulster Special Constabulary carried out, predominantly in rural areas, and the urban duties, including crowd control, which are required of a normal police reserve. Bearing in 1344 mind the existing strength and responsibities of the Ulster Special Constabulary, it seems to us that the proposed maximum strength of the new regiment of us to 6,000 officers and men is about right. It is, in fact, based on the military advice tendered to the Government and is in line with the suggested 1,500 in the Police Reserve. With the sharing of existing responsibilities, it seems a properly balanced division.
In the defence debate last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) expressed our admiration for the way in which the Army have been successfully pursuing their peace-keeping role in Northern Ireland. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said:The services which the Army has rendered to us in Ulster are incalculable, and it would be very wrong if this occasion passed without my saying on behalf of my colleagues from Ulster how deeply we all appreciate what the forces have done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 715–716.]Nevertheless, we must all share the Secretary of State's hope, which he expressed this afternoon, that as many as possible of the additional Regular forces now deploy in Northern Ireland will be relieved of their arduous responsibilities as soon as the situation permits. I do not want to dwell today on the way in which, some of us think, our defence forces are overstretched or lack the reserves to meet our commitments or other unforeseen emergencies at home or overseas. One thing is certain: no matter how many Regular troops are kept in Northern Ireland, no one can doubt the value of, and the immediate need for, an Ulster volunteer force to meet what the Hunt Committee called the armed guerilla type of attack, to guard key points and installations—
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
On a point of order. The right hon and learned Member has spoken of an Ulster volunteer force. Such a reference is an infringement of the sovereignty of Eire, which is an adjoining territory. I have made the point—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am seized of the hon. and learned Member's point of order, which, in fact, is not a point of order, although it may be his point of view.
§ Mr. Rippon
Perhaps it would be better if I substituted the phrase "Northern Ireland volunteer force" so as to make it clear that I am now talking about it in general terms in the light of the present situation and the Government's proposals, in which I concur.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend please not give way to that sort of nonsense? Have we not for many years had regiments of the British Army incorporating the word "Ulster", in which province Northern Ireland is situated?
§ Mr. Rippon
I cannot, of course, foresee whether an interruption will be nonsense. The reason I modified what I have said, although I entirely support the title of the proposed new regiment, was the connotations which might be involved by using in a vague way the term" Ulster volunteer force". Many people will understand why I made the slight amendment.
We need this force to deal with the armed guerilla type of attack, to guard key points and installations, to carry out patrols and to establish check points and road blocks. That there is this real risk of continuing terrorist activity in Northern Ireland is confirmed by the information given in the Hunt Report, to which the Secretary of State referred. It is also confirmed by the Cameron Report, paragraph 9 of which states:The Irish Republican Army (hereinafter called the I.R.A.)"—it is a lawyers' report—continued a campaign of violence even as recently as the period between 1956 and 1962, and there is evidence that its activities still continue and its objectives remain the same even if temporarily its tactics vary.This is in no sense a fear which is an illusion. It is a real and present fear.
Certainly, the number of Regular troops who would be needed to supply guards and patrols along the border and over the six counties would be impossibly large in the absence of a trained volunteer force. Even if they were available for this purpose, which they are not, such Regular troops would inevitably lack the necessary local knowledge of the countryside and the people which is vital in counteracting terrorist attacks and infiltration.
1346 While we agree that it is right that the general practice will be to store arms centrally, I am equally sure that it is sensible to acknowledge, as the Government have done, that there must be exceptions if the only way in which men can respond to emergencies is by keeping their arms at home. That must apply particularly in rural areas. It may be that we ought to bear in mind to some extent the special vulnerability of central stores to terrorist activities.
The safeguard, which I consider an adequate safeguard, as the Secretary of State said, is that men keeping arms at home will be subject to military law, and I understood from the statement of the Minister of Defence for Administration that they must have been given permission by an officer of the British Army. In making his statement to the House last week the Minister of Defence for Administration stated that the new force will "of necessity" be drawn substantially from the Special Constabulary for its initial recruitment, and that has been borne out by what the Secretary of State for Defence said this afternoon. This must be so.
At the same time, I am sure that no hon. Member on either side of the House wishes otherwise than that the new regiment will attract recruits from all sections of the community, and we must all share the Secretary of State's hope that all the leaders of the communities in Northern Ireland will do what they can to encourage this and to support it. But recruitment from the Special Constabulary is obviously essential if the new regiment is to become viable—even if not complete as the Secretary of State said—by 1st April, 1970 from the start of recruiting on 1st January.
Moreover, as the Minister acknowledged in his statement, no one can doubt that the Special Constabulary is composed of a majority of men who have given good service and who are suitable as members of the new regiment. Meanwhile, I understand from what the Secretary of State said that we have been given the Government's firm assurance that the Special Constabulary will remain in existence until the new security system is established. It is essentially a security system which is being set up in rather 1347 special circumstances and we therefore welcome what the Government said about the need for strict security vetting—and, I add, strict security vetting on the lines Indicated this afternoon by the Secretary of State. It is clearly necessary to eliminate extremist political elements of all complexions. I am sure that he is right in saying that the system must be applied "thoroughly, fairly and impartially".
The danger is not just of an attack across the border, which it is the Army's responsibility to defend. As the Home Secretary said on 13th October:There can be incidents. It is, therefore, important that the Northern Ireland Government Security Committee should have the fullest consultation on the composition of this force and upon the role which it will fulfil."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th October, 1969; Vol.788, c. 56.]As the Government have said, although the defence of the United Kingdom is the responsibility of the Government of Westminster, the tasks for which this new force will be raised are of the greatest importance to the Government of Northern Ireland. Accordingly, we welcome the fact that at every stage there has been close consultation between Westminster and Stormont and that mutual agreement has been reached.
§ Mr. Rippon
I cannot improve on what I thought was the wholly adequate answer of the Secretary of State to his hon. Friends, and I will not begin to try to do so.
While we must all hope that the existence and role of the Ulster Defence Regiment will in itself be a sufficient deterrent, we must accept that there is a real danger that on occasion small units of the regiment will be in action against terrorists and will have to deal with infiltration and sabotage. It therefore might be helpful if the Government made it clear that the regiment will remain an active force until such time as not only the Ministry of Defence but the Govern- 1348 ment of Northern Ireland are satisfied that all risks of terrorist activity have passed. That might appear to be a wholly unnecessary assurance to give, but, if I may be forgiven this observation, no one a few years ago would have conceived of the dismemberment of our own Territorial Army in this country.
I was very interested in what the Secretary of State said about the wider role which the Ulster Defence Regiment will ultimately play when there is an end to the threat of guerilla attacks and terrorist activities. It is to play the role which one normally associates with the Territorial Army. I agreed entirely with what he said this afternoon about the tremendously valuable role played by the forces and the Territorial Army in what he called, in a somewhat academic but not too bad a phrase, "social integration". It is not just a force for the Tories in Northern Ireland or over here.
The White Paper and the Bill give a fair amount of information about the organisation, terms of service, equipment, and so on, of the new regiment, and the Secretary of State has filled in some more details today. There are, however, one or two matters which I should like to raise now. Perhaps they can be more easily dealt with in Committee, but perhaps the Minister who is to reply would deal with some of them which might save time later.
We welcome the fact that it appears to be the intention that the new regiment will be better paid and more fully equipped than the Special Constabulary and that the Government have stretched the age requirements beyond the normal Territorial Army limits to allow the maximum number of experienced Specials to join, as he said, in the formative stage. But may we be given a little more information about what other weapons the Government will supply to the force apart from rifles? Will the rifles be the modern FN rifles, and will some automatic weapons be available, although not necessarily kept at home as in other countries?
Paragraph 17 of the White Paper refers to the mobile element of the force, but the organisation paragraph makes no mention of it. May we be told a little about what it will consist of? Will there be a mobile element in each battalion or only in those which have the particular requirement for the operational area which they control?
1349 The Secretary of State has helped us quite a bit today by telling us a little more about the training required, which was dealt with by the Minister of Defence for Administration in his statement last week. Some anxiety was expressed, especially about the one week's consecutive training, which might bear unduly harshly on the family farmer and the farmworker and so inhibit recruitment. I am told that there is also a little concern in some quarters about the possibility of having to train on Sundays. The Secretary of State said that he would look into the exceptional case, but some of these cases are not so much exceptional as quite likely to arise in the rural areas. Perhaps he would make it clear that he has these difficulties, particularly for the rural community, very much in mind.
I have been concerned today primarily with the direct issues raised by the proposed formation of this new regiment and the specific military role which it will play. At the same time, I am sure that it is right that I should reiterate that we on this side of the House are all extremely conscious of the need to bring about change that is politically acceptable to all sections of opinion in Northern Ireland. We hope that this separation of military functions from police functions in a way which diminishes fear and animosity and encourages much more broadly-based recruitment will be helpful. We think that the Bill should be welcomed and we must hope that in the calmer atmosphere which now prevails the Northern Ireland Government will once again be able to forge ahead with their programme of reform andreconciliation to which they set their hand, not —and I think that this should be said in fairness—just in the last two months or so, to which the Secretary of State referred, but a considerable time before the recent troubles began.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
We on this side of the House are in complete agreement with the opening words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. No matter what differences prevail as between the two sides of the House, we seek to promote peace and harmony in the Six Counties and hope that whatever measures are taken by the Stormont Government or by Her Majesty's Government will enable all sections in the 1350 Six Counties, whatever their creed, to enjoy security and prosperity. That is our purpose. But there I part company with my right hon. Friend. There was no mistaking his clarity of expression or his presentation of the Bill. But I am bound to say that I thought that his arguments were, for the most par, irrelevant.
I propose to deal with this matter as objectively as possible in the circumstances. During my right hon. Friend's speech there was a symptom of turbulence on this side of the House. But that is not altogether surprising. After all, in both the speeches made so far not a word was uttered about the origin of the Bill. It has nothing to do with militarism. It could have been avoided. There need not have been any legislation of this character at all if the Stormont Government, since they were initiated many years ago, had recognised the rights of the minority in the Six Counties to quite justifiable reforms in housing, adult suffrage, and the like. It is precisely because the Stormont Government negelected their obvious responsibility to the minority in the Six Counties that this Bill has become necessary.
One should treat the, subject with as much objectivity as possible. Perhaps I have some qualifications for dealing with it in that fashion, because a few months ago I was in Belfast and I was approached by some Press people and asked for my views about some of the notabilities in the Six Counties. For example, I was asked for my opinion of the Rev. Ian Paisley, and I replied that he was obviously a man of strong convictions. I was asked what I thought about Captain Terence O'Neill, and I said that it was obvious that he was a man of the highest integrity. I could not have been more objective and diplomatic than that.
But it is idle to suppose that passions and even turbulence can be allayed in the Six Counties by this legislation. If I sought to find a reason for opposing the legislation, the reason which I am about to advance might be regarded as strange, but not altogether strange in the circumstances. When I discover that on the other side of the House, and, in particular, among hon. Members from the Six Counties, there is a remarkable euphoria and enthusiasm and, as the right hon. and learned Member for 1351 Hexham (Mr. Rippon), leading for the Opposition, has just said, a welcome for the Bill, that is quite sufficient for us on this side to oppose it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I cannot imagine anything more irrelevant than that interjection by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills).
My reason for advancing opposition to the legislation may be regarded as even fantastic and grotesque, but one's political complexion is often conditioned by what opponents say and when I find such an extravagant welcome for this legislation I wonder about it. Anyway, I dislike it. That, for me, is quite sufficient reason for speaking in opposition.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence advanced some remarkable arguments in support of the legislation. He dealt with the background associated with the Six Counties for many long years. He mentioned terrorism, sabotage and the like and said that the purpose of the Bill was to prevent it. The manner of preventing it is to create a para-military force so that some members of it, in rural areas in particular, when they are appraised of an act of sabotage or apprehend an act of sabotage, can seize their rifles, proceed to the scene and deal with the situation. That is about the most grotesque conception of the role of a military force that I have ever heard.
I could have understood my right hon. Friend if he had said that some elements of this para-military force were sent to particular areas where sabotage or terrorism was apprehended—that would be different—and that they would be provided with the necessary means of dealing with sabotage or terrorism. That, however, was not what my right hon. 1352 Friend said. They are to be spread all over the place and some provided with arms, which may or may not be used when there is an act of terrorism or sabotage. It is very odd to me. What kind of force is this to be? It certainly will not be of much value.
There is something more about this. It is intended to recruit members of this force. My right hon. Friend said—I noted in particular his observations on this aspect of the legislation—that intending recruits will be furnished with an application form; they will be asked to answer a set of questions concerning, in particular, their religion. They must be desirable persons. That was my right hon. Friend's language. "Desirable persons" was his expression.
The interpretation in the Six Counties among not only the Unionist Members of this House, but also the general public —I do not want to speak of the Orange Order—associated with the Unionist side of politics about who is desirable may not satisfy those who are making application.
§ Mr. Healey
My right hon. Friend will recognise that the decision will not be taken by members of the Unionist Party. The decision about whom to accept and reject will be taken entirely by the General Officer Commanding, who is a British officer and responsible to me. I made this clear in my speech.
§ Mr. Shinwell
If somebody applies to join the British Army and goes to a recruiting office, he is weighed and studied carefully—his length, breadth and the rest of it—and is asked a few questions and he signs a document. That is all easy going. It is a different situation, however, in the Six Counties.
The most desirable characters have to be recruited. That is the intention. We cannot want undesirable characters. What is an undesirable character in the opinion of the Stormont Government or of some of the extremists associated with the Unionist Party?
§ Mr. Healey
That is a totally irrelevant question, because the Stormont Government, the Unionist Party, the extremists and all the demonic characters to whom my right hon. Friend refers will have nothing whatever to do with recruiting, 1353 selecting or vetting the persons concerned.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That interjection is also irrelevant. I am merely posing the general proposition, disregarding the question of the creation of a para-military force.
Who will be responsible for the interpretation in the Six Counties? What will be the interpretation of those members of the Orange order, the Unionist Party or the extremists associated with them? What is the interpretation of "desirable character"?
I will deal with the proposed Army. Somebody goes along, fills in an application form and is security vetted. I suppose that he would be asked a few questions—for example, what is his religion? He might reply that he is a Roman Catholic. That is all right. He might then be asked, "What is your opinion about partition?" I would be interested to know what the reaction would he. He might be asked, "What is your opinion about the Stormont Government?". I can imagine what the answer would be. Or have you ever been associated with the Civil Rights Movement? Have you ever been arrested for anything in the nature of turbulence in recent months in the Six Counties "—in other words, "Are you a desirable character?".
I doubt very much whether there would be many recruits accepted from the minority section in the Six Counties. Indeed. I do not suppose that those on the other side of the fence want them.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am trying hard to listen to the right hon. Gentleman's somewhat irresponsible speech. Does he not know that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the former Prime Minister and many members of the Government have made it clear that they want all sections and members of all religions to join the force? One of the faults of the previous force, and why the B Specials did not succeed, was that too few of the minority came forward to join it, which was a great pity.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am familiar with what appears in the Press and the utterances of those associated with the Stormont Government. Of course, they have made those declarations, just as my right hon. 1354 Friend has made them and just as my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration made them the other day. Of course, they say, "We would like these people in." I would like them in, also.
I recognise that this will be very difficult for them if they arc security vetted and if they are asked—this may not be satisfactory for some hon. Members on the other side—to give their allegiance to the Queen. I know, of course, that the Roman Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Conway, was asked the question, during the turbulence in recent months, whether he would give an assurance of allegiance to the Queen. There was no satisfactory response. And I am not surprised. We may be certain that in the attempt to recruit these people there will be considerable difficulty, and, at the end, the majority in the Six Counties will be satisfied that an overwhelming number of those not associated with the minority are in control.
Now I come to the B Specials.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr(Down, South)
A point of clarification, because I want to be sure that I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is arguing. Is he arguing now that in any force which is set up an oath of allegiance to the Queen should not be obligatory?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am not creating the force. I have had some association with the forces in this country over a fairly long period of time, and I understand what the drill is. Of course, if one enrols in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, one takes an oath of allegiance to the Queen, and the force proposed is to be part of the British forces. In the Six Counties a large number associated with the minority will find great difficulty in making such a pronouncement. That is my opinion. I think that I am right about this—for various reasons, but largely because they do not trust the Stormont Government.
Now I want to deal with the Stormont Government. What is the reason for this legislation? The inability of the Stormont Government to maintain law and order. There is no question about that. Is it denied? If the Stormont Government had been able to maintain law and order over a period of years, and particularly during recent months, since 1355 the Civil Rights Movement was initiated, there would be no need for this legislation at all. The question I venture to pose, and I should like an answer—presumably it will come from somebody on the other side of the House, or perhaps from the Minister who is to wind up—is, if the Government are incapable of maintaining law and order, are they reliable? If they are unreliable and unable to maintain law and order over periods of time and there is no guarantee that they can do so in future this legislation would be irrelevant. Ought we not to look for some alternative?
I recognise that there is a difficulty here. I do not want to see Her Majesty's Government here taking over the Six Counties lock, stock and barrel. I do not think that it would work, but the question is: is there an alternative if the Stormont Government are proved unreliable? I challenge contradiction on that point. The Stormont Government have been proved unreliable and unable to maintain law and order, otherwise there would be no need for this legislation.
Then, clearly, the same Stormont Government must be prepared, irrespective of this legislation, to promote reforms, particularly as regards civil rights, which we in this part of the United Kingdom possess, otherwise this legislation is simply whitewash and there will be no settlement at all.
§ Mr. McGuire
I should just like to go back to what my right hon. Friend said about Cardinal Conway, because I think that unwittingly my right hon. Friend has done a disservice to what I think is the point of view. I do not think that it is so much a question of Catholics—and my right hon. Friend knows I am one, although I am not in Northern Ireland—in Northern Ireland, if they accept a position under the Government, accepting an oath of allegiance. It may be true that this is made a fetish of by Unionists, but I do not think that that is an obstacle. I think that what creates an obstacle in the minds of the Unionists is that they want men like Cardinal Conway to abandon for ever the concept of a united Ireland, and they relate that refusal to abandon that noble concept with being in some way in a traitorous position to- 1356 wards the Government of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Shinwell
My hon. Friend has reinforced my contention. I revert back to what I was saying about the difficulty of recruiting this force, because if anybody wishes to join and were to declare that he wants a united Ireland he would be regarded as an undesirable character, even by the military, and I do not think my right hon. Friend would contest what I have just said.
I want to come to the question of the Regular forces in the Six Counties at the present time.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It is quite possible for a person who believes in a united Ireland to stipulate that that must be accomlished by peaceful means. Would not a person who holds this view be eligible to join the force? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman or some other Minister could answer that?
§ Mr. Healey
May I make this simple point, that 45 per cent. of the members of the Irish regiments of Her Majesty are Roman Catholics and that many of them come from Southern Ireland and none has any difficulty in taking this oath whatever. I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), who knows a great deal more about the problem and has much more recent knowledge of it, will confirm what I said.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The position of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is quite different from the position of this paramilitary force, because anybody who wishes to enter the Royal Ulster Constabulary is not security vetted—they are not under the control of the Commanding Officer in the Six Counties. If one is a member of an Orange Lodge, there is no difficulty about enrolling in the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is welcomed at once. [Interruption.] Is there any doubt about this? There is no need for the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) to tell me about the Six Counties. I knew more about the Six Counties than he does before the hon. and gallant Gentleman was born. I do not require to be informed by him on the subject.
I want to ask about the Regular forces. Before this trouble occurred we had, I 1357 think, about 5,000 of the British forces in the Six Counties. I think that that is right. We had a few regiments there. That number has now been escalated to about 9,000. I want to know: are those troops to be withdrawn when we have the paramilitary force in the Six Counties? Is the paramilitary force to take over the functions of the Regular Army?
§ Mr. Healey
May I help my right hon. Friend by repeating what I said both in this debate and a fortnight ago? The troops will be withdrawn when the special duties on which they are engaged in preventing violence in the cities are no longer necessary, when things have returned to normal. We have deliberately, since we assumed responsibility in August for order in Northern Ireland, not used the Special Constabulary on those duties. The function of the new force is to replace the Special Constabulary for a completely different type of duty. With great respect to my right hon. Friend, I made this repeatedly clear, both in this debate and the previous one, and I think that if perhaps he had paid more attention on those two occasions, rather than to his experience before the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) was born, my right hon. Friend would be more closely in touch with the problem.
§ Mr. Shinwell
My right hon. Friend has made another speech. He has made several speeches during the course of this debate, but we have got no further as a result. I will say no more about that, though I may, perhaps, take another occasion to do so.
Let me deal with the position. My right hon. Friend has not answered the question at all: how many of the Regular forces are to be brought back from the Six Counties? What my right hon. Friend has said is that when we have got this paramilitary force in operation, when there is no further sign or apprehension of turbulence or any trouble, then, of course, our troops, members of the British forces, will be brought back to this country.
In those circumstances, we shall be left with the paramilitary force. It is surprising that my right hon. Friend who was responsible for practically disbanding the whole Territorial force in this country be- 1358 cause it cost too much, should now recreate a territorial force in Northern Ireland. If it is not a Territorial Army, what is it? It will even receive higher bounties than the Territorial forces—
§ Mr. Healey
With respect to my right hon. Friend, I wish that he would listen. I have made it clear that the new force will receive higher emoluments than the U.S.C. and less than the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve, which is well recruited in Northern Ireland at the moment and doing an excellent job as a reserve for the Regular Army, which is its function.
My right hon. Friend would make a more helpful contribution to the debate if he would listen to what is said and not base his arguments on assumptions which are totally contrary to the facts both as known and as stated to the House.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will listen to what I am saying. I am asking why he has created what, in effect, is a Territorial Army in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Shinwell
My right hon. Friend did so to deal with apprehended turbulence, and the fashion in which he proposes to use the force is, in my judgment, ridiculous.
I come to the question of arms. This is a package deal which is concerned not only with the creation of a military force but with the B Specials. The Royal Ulster Constabulary will be fortified by the new B Specials. Is that denied? Of course not; it is contained in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Let us see what has happened. There has been a demand by the minority in the Six Counties for the abolition of the B Specials, because they were not trusted and were alleged to be brutal and sometimes uncivilised. I do not vouch for these statements, but that is what we have been told and what we understand to be the position.
The B Specials are not to be provided with arms. There will be a centralised depot for the storage of arms and 1359 occasionally the B Specials will be provided with arms. I suppose that, before the present situation arose, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was provided with arms and did not require to apply for firearm licences. Similarly with the old B Specials, they were provided with arms which they could keep at home or take from a centralised store, and they did not require to apply for licences.
A question recently asked the Stormont Parliament was replied to by Mr. Taylor, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry for Home Affairs. He gave particulars of the firearms certificates issued in the Six Counties. The firearms certificates issued were as follows: for small bore rifles, 13,649; for revolvers, 1,562; for rapid fire weapons, 595; for shotguns, 51,752. The total number of certificates issued by the Stormont Government was 77,358—for a population of less than 1¼ million.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Interruptions, most of them irrelevant and unnecessary, have caused me to occupy more time than I should and I hope that will be accounted to me for righteousness.
Who are all these people in the Six Counties who are provided with firearms certificates? Are questions asked when a firearms certificate is issued? I guarantee that the overwhelming majority of holders of firearms are those not among the minority but in the majority. They will now be supplemented and fortified by B Specials, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the paramilitary force of 6,000.
The position is ridiculous. I cannot understand why the Government have introduced this legislation. I do not believe that it will procure peace in Northern Ireland, but that it will create a revulsion of feeling, unless the Stormont Government play ball and introduce reforms which have been justifiably demanded over and over again and which are denied to the minority in the Six Counties. I want peace in the 1360 Six Counties, but I do not believe that we shall achieve it as long as the present Stormont Government are in power and the Unionist majority adopt the attitude of welcoming legislation simply because they know that they have gained a victory.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Hamilton (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I cannot share the apprehension, if not the anguish, of hon. Gentlemen opposite about this White Paper. Representing a Border constituency remote and in the main rural, I welcome the White Paper and the formation of this new regiment, and for this reason I intend to be brief.
The working party, which was set up only in the middle of October, realised the essence of swift decisions and has worked out its finding with commendable speed. The White Paper underlines the Government's concern and recognition of a need for adequate defence in Northern Ireland. It is obvious from the instant and inevitable protest from the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) that the White Paper is both constructive and realistic. I trust that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, regardless of persuasion, either religious or political, will give full support to the regiment in recruitment and recognition. It is essential that the force should gain the confidence of the entire community.
There are two serious but not insurmountable impediments to the gaining of this confidence. The main recruitment in rural areas will come from the farming industry, comprising, in the main, owner-occupiers, who will not be able to give up seven consecutive days each year for training. Industrial employees with only two weeks' holiday each year will be in the same position. Relaxation of this obligation must be made, otherwise recruitment, especially in rural areas, will undoubtedly suffer, and, just as important, there will be strong resentment among those who want to serve Northern Ireland in this force but, because of circumstances beyond their control, will not be able to do so.
I welcome the Secretary of State's clarification of security vetting, which has already become a vexed problem. I trust that this will be put over to the people of Northern Ireland in a simple straightforward way so as to alleviate 1361 any mistrust or misapprehension. I emphasise that one wrong recruitment in this new force could endanger future morale and the feeling of the public towards the force. A more thorough system of vetting will have to be undertaken than is normal with military applicants. I hope that the Special Investigation Branch in Northern Ireland will consult the Intelligence Service of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in this matter.
Before the debate is concluded, I trust that the Government will give an assurance to the people of Northern Ireland that the existence of this force will not be subjected to the whims of the Government of the day or in any way be affected by financial stringency. Northern Ireland is entitled to this assurance. I welcome paragraph 14 of the White Paper concerning the fact that members in certain circumstances can retain arms and ammunition in their homes. Obviously, this is an important matter in rural areas. The Ulster Constabulary in the County of Fermanagh, which I represent, during the last 50 years has not lost one weapon, nor during that time has there been one accident.
I am also concerned about the position of the permanent staff of the Ulster Special Constabulary so that their future should in no way be jeopardised as a result of a deliberate and virulent propaganda campaign which is at present being carried out against them. The Government must not be taken in by this new campaign of denigration. I trust that the force will meet with success, and I also hope that many members of the Ulster Special Constabulary will join this force. I appreciate that many members of the Ulster Special Constabulary harbour a feeling of anguish and also disillusionment in regard to unfounded criticisms, but if they join this force they will be serving Northern Ireland, as they have so loyally done in the past.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
In opening the debate, the Secretary of State for Defence embodied the tone and spirit with which the Government during these troubled times have rightly been approaching a difficult situation in Northern Ireland. I wish to put on record my tribute to the way in which the Gov- 1362 ernment as a whole, particularly the Home Secretary and Lord Stonham, our armed forces in Northern Ireland and the G.O.C., General Freeland, have conducted themselves in the past weeks and months. They have all made a considerable contribution to the stabilisation which has so far occurred, and no speech this afternoon would be complete without paying tribute to this good record.
It is a fact that up to about last week the Government carried with them the full support of right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House. We have all been impressed by the way in which they have handled this difficult problem and potentially tragic situation. But the announcement of this particular measure and the way in which the argumentation in favour of it has been backed up by Ministerial speeches has caused serious concern among the ranks of some Government supporters. This has been echoed in certain sections of the Press and also in Northern Ireland.
I would take up one point which was made by an hon. Member opposite who referred to Mr. Hume. I normally treat what that hon. Gentleman says with respect, because I know that he likes to quote correctly and to b2. put right if he errs in that respect. Therefore, I should like to bring the record up to date by referring to what Mr. Hume said at Stormont yesterday afternoon about the intended wholesale recruitment of the Special Constabulary into this new Defence Regiment. I quote from a report of the Stormont debate: "We know that the key question is the reorganisation of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Lord Hunt has seen fit to have that force disbanded. Why, asked Mr. Hume, should such a force be given preference in the setting-up of a new force?That is the key to this debate, and it is important that I should direct my right hon. Friend's attention to this matter. The wholesale, almost automatic, transfer of the Special Constabulary into the new Defence Regiment is being bitterly opposed by the Opposition in Stormont and in Northern Ireland generally and has given the gravest possible concern to hon. Members on this side of the House.
It is not possible to brush the problem aside as easily as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence tried 1363 to do earlier this afternoon in one phrase, by saying that an unfortunate term was used by Mr. Porter in allowing these application forms to be sent out. That is not good enough. I would not be so concerned with the fact that the form had been sent out if it were not a symptom of the most serious difficulties which will beset the policy of the Government, as is the intention of extremists in Stormont.
We all know that Mr. Porter and Members of his Government have been under great pressure from their own extremists. We know what Mr. Craig has been saying about Mr. Porter's policy. But the Government must not pander to the Craigs. Their political influence must be broken if there is to be peace in Northern Ireland. One can have any amount of understanding for Captain O'Neill, but what broke Captain O'Neill was the opposition within his own ranks.
When it became known that the Ulster Defence Regiment was to be set up, there was tremendous pressure put on the Government at Stormont by those who represent the extremists among the Special Constabulary or the B Specials. They threatened to break the Prime Minister. Anybody who has followed the discussions which have taken place in the parliamentary party at Stormont will know that I am simply stating the facts. A fresh campaign was worked up against Major Chichester-Clark. Threats were made that he would be broken and destroyed, as was Captain O'Neill, unless he bent to the wind of the extremists in his own party.
It is the duty of the Government at Westminister to oppose any such tendency and not to underwrite any concessions to extremism in Northern Ireland. This is the purpose behind the over-hasty sending-out of application forms. Major Chichester-Clark said at his Press conference the other day, after my hon. Friend had announced the White Paper in this House, "Join up". He created the impression that it had been agreed with the Government at Westminster that there should be a wholesale takeover of the B Specials into the new force. If words have any meaning, nobody can deny that his words at that conference meant that and nothing else.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
Was the hon. Gentleman present at this Press conference? If he was not, I suspect very strongly that the Minister was.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I always think that there are two types of facts—facts one knows on good authority and facts one knows because one was present. Nobody was present at the Press conference that Napoleon I gave, but we hear much about it.
I have read the full stenographic report of this Press conference. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I will provide him with the text from which I am now quoting. There is no dubiety. This is what was said at the Press conference. If the qualification for quoting what was said at any Press conference was physical presence at the conference, debate in the House would be severely limited.
I continue with what I am accurately putting to the House. If this force is to attract people from all sections of the community, as it must, and as it is certainly the Government's intention that it should, the first thing that must be countermanded is the easy assumption that in the first few months of recruitment the vast majority must come from the B Specials. Unless we can have a full assurance from the Government on this point, I shall find it difficult to support the Bill tonight.
It is difficult to believe that other people in Northern Ireland, particularly members of the minority, will be easily persuaded to join the new force if already 3,000 to 4,000 B Specials have moved into it before they have had a chance of their applications being considered.
Nobody has advanced any reason why there should be such a hurry. The application forms sent out by the officers of the Special Constabulary to their members were accompanied by a letter stating that recruitment would start on 1st January and that the whole force would be ready by 1st April. The hint thus was, "You come in now and leave no room for anybody else. Then the force will be composed entirely of you".
What other reason was there for such a great hurry? Nobody is attacking 1365 Northern Ireland at present. We have a large and efficient Army there under the command of the G.O.C. There are no reasons for creating an atmosphere of panic. On the contrary, political harm might be done if people were to feel that there was to be a stampede into the new force and that everything would be cut and dried before other people in the community could be properly considered for acceptance.
The only reason for the hurry was political. Because Major Chichester-Clark was under very great pressure from the extremists, he decided that the only way to reassure them—after all, they did not like either the giving up of their arms or the disbandment of the B Specials was to go as near as possible to giving the impression that this would be a continuation of the U.S.C. without saying so. There might be political reasons why the head of the Northern Ireland Cabinet would want to do that, but it is not a reason which can commend itself to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I am not certain that the hon. Gentleman has fully grasped the point that this registration was brought about by the structural changes introduced consequent upon the report of the Hunt Committee. If he reads the Hunt Report carefully, he will find that it makes no broad general criticism of the B Specials.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I will come to the question of criticism in a few moments. I am dealing now with the attitude of the Stormont Government. The points I have just made have nothing to do with the Hunt Report. I shall not pronounce on the behaviour of people in the constabulary force; nor have the Government the right to pronounce on that, nor has the hon. Gentleman, because the Scarman Commission has not yet reported.
However, when I was a member of an official delegation of Labour Parliamentarians in Northern Ireland immediately after the disturbances, I found people in opposition disagreeing on a whole host of things, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. However, one point on which they will all agree—moderates and less moderate people among the opposition—was that they did not accept that most of the members of the Special Constabu- 1366 lary had in the past conducted themselves honourably and properly. This is their point of view.
We shall have to await the report of the Scarman Tribunal on, for instance, what went on in Belfast, what went on when people were killed in their homes during the period of those troubles. I shall not pronounce on that issue, but I do not want anyone else to tell me that he can pronounce on it.
This being so, the minority in the opposition being generally agreed that they do not accept that most of the special constabulary had conducted themselves properly and honourably, the least effective way of convincing them that they should encourage some of their people to join the new forces is to fill it up with 4,000 or 5,000 B Specials first and then say, "There may be a few places left for you".
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
The hon. Gentleman having warned us all not to take Scarman before it comes, is it worthy of him then to indulge in a generalised smear against a very gallant force?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am not making a smear against anybody. I am saying that the minority do not accept the view, which has been too easily assumed from both Front Benches at Westminster, that most of the B Specials have acted properly in the past.
Therefore, I ask the Government to announce tonight that there will be no hurried recruitment, that people will be phased in, that plenty of time will be taken, that there will be no wholesale takeover of B Specials into the new force, that people from all sections will be encouraged to join by and by, and that there will be only a deliberately limited recruitment of the present members of the B Specials. My conduct at the end of the debate will depend to a large extent upon the answer on this point.
I turn to the equally dangerous question of members of the force keeping arms at home. No good reason has been advanced for the way in which this provision is to be operated. Immediately after the disturbances—I have no reason to believe that they have changed their 1367 minds competent British military authorities in Northern Ireland took the view, first, that there were far too many arms about, and, secondly, as there were far too many arms about, that there was always the danger, as the last 12 years or so have shown, of incidents occurring, because people stick a gun through the window of somebody's car too early in a conversation when no untoward incident has happened. There is a danger of incidents developing when there is in fact nothing to justify them, because arms are in people's possession and somehow or other they think that something is going on.
§ The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
I am reluctant to interrupt my hon. Friend, but this section of his speech began with the words: "competent British military authorities" have suggested. It would be unfortunate if the House were to believe that the things that he went on to say were the opinion of what he described as "competent military authorities".
It is very important for him to make it clear that, while the initial opinion that he expressed was certainly the view of military authorities, it has been the military authorities—indeed, the G.O.C. Northern Ireland—who have agreed, in extreme and special circumstances, to special constables keeping their arms at home during the last three months. It will be exactly the same competent military authorities who have to decide in future whether members of the new force keep their arms at home.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I accept that. I correct what my hon. Friend has said, to this extent. In the period shortly after the disturbances had occurred, the same competent military authorities took the view that this would be only a temporary arrangement as regards the Specials and that it was not desirable as a permanent arrangement. I stand by this and deliberately read it into the record this afternoon. People can change their minds, but the arguments behind this concern about allowing people to keep arms at home are as sound today as in the weeks immediately after the disturbances took place. It is essential that the House should know, before passing this legis- 1368 lation, that this view is as reasonable now as it was then.
On the problem of keeping arms at home, the Secretary of State said that there was nothing to worry about because the authorisation for their use would come from the military authorities. There is an obvious contradiction here. If it is to be the central military authorities that alert a small group of members of this special regiment somewhere in the countryside—I accept the examples that hon. Gentlemen opposite and the Government have advanced—surely the most efficient way of doing this would be for the Commander-in-Chief and his assistant commanders to have arms stored in different parts of the country. Then, when calling upon people to get ready for some conceivable action, they can be directed, as people in the Armed Forces normally do, as the right hon. Gentleman knows as a former Minister for the Army, to collect the arms, under supervision, and sign for them, as many of us had to do when we served in the Armed Forces, either in war or in peace, and be directed to the place of assembly. That is the normal and sensible way of doing it. I cannot see how anybody can contradict that.
Why not do it in that way? Why create this disturbance in the minds of so many in the minority that a number of people will still be allowed to keep arms at home?
I have not mixed this with the politics of the situation. I suggest this commonsense way of achieving the result that the Secretary of State advanced. I doubt whether any military authority would contradict this as a sensible way of doing it.
I suggest that it was for political reasons that some of the B Specials over the last three months threatened to resign, and some even resigned, at the moment of handing in their arms. I suggest that a big movement was developing among the B Specials who wanted to resign if they had to hand in their arms, even in the city centres. I suggest that it is for political reasons that they wish to keep arms in their homes and because it gives them the feeling that somehow they are special citizens. If there is no sound military reason for them keeping arms in their homes, the Secretary of 1369 State has no business to accept such political reasoning. He should throw it out of his intentions and announce tonight that people will not be allowed to keep arms in their homes.
I turn to my last point, which deals more with the political situation than with the practical matter of how this force should be arranged. I said at the beginning that the Government have conducted themselves very well during these difficult times. But my contribution would not be complete if I omitted saying that the chief spokesman for the Opposition on the political matters involved, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), has made a useful contribution to the development of the debate during the last few months.
This matter is also a responsibility of the Opposition. I am not addressing myself particularly to hon. Members from Northern Ireland constituencies I am talking about the Opposition as a whole. After all, the Opposition have responsibility for the party which is in office at Stormont, because it is the Conservative and Unionist Party. The Unionist Party is not some extraneous body which has nothing to do with the Conservative Party here.
We, on this side, have so far been lenient in the way that we have talked about the accumulated serious responsibility of the Conservative Party in this House and in the United Kingdom in general. After all, it is their intimate political colleagues who have been in office who have been responsible for the periods of intimidation and one-sided Government which has gone on for so long in Northern Ireland. They have a grave responsibility.
I thought that when the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk), who used to have a junior position in the last Conservative Administration, was in Northern Iraeland, as a member of a Conservative parliamentary delegation, the hon. Gentleman expressed himself at a Press conference in very strong terms against the kind of regime that his fellow Conservatives had been carrying on at Stormont for many years. He warned them that if they went on in this way they would get no support here. We had no echo of this attitude from the right hon. and 1370 learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) this afternoon. He talked as if nothing had happened in the last 12 months. He spoke as if there had been no need for the Civil Rights Movement. He spoke as though in the normal course of routine there should be set up a new defence regiment and we are now discussing the details.
There is a grave political responsibility on the leadership of the Opposition. There have been years of neglect. There has been no encouragement of their friends at Stormont to adopt a more responsible political attitude to the grave problems there. That being so, we would not regard the situation as other than utterly intolerable if it were to be completely covered up. What has happened in Northern Ireland under the Unionist and Conservative Government has been a complete breakdown of the ability to govern.
I want to read into the record one example that I heard about when I was in Belfast. Referring to the disturbances in Belfast, I said to Mr. Peacock, who was then head of the R.U.C., the ordinary constabulary: "We have been told that at one point a group of extremists went from street to street and burned down five public houses owned by Catholics that some people tailing along behind asked them not to do it, to which they replied, 'Well, we are going to do it, and to hell with you.'; and that one or two clergymen who tried to argue with them were brushed aside." I then asked Mr. Peacock: "Purely on the point of maintaining law and order and the defence of property, what were your people doing when these outrages were taking place?" Mr. Peacock replied, in a quiet voice: "I must admit that at one point we were not in control of what was going on."
This is the important factor that we have to consider. This is why there is such a large Army in Northern Ireland today. This has been passed over. It has not even been mentioned in passing in the debate. Yet it is the essential background to what we are discussing. Mr. Peacock was admitting that, with all the forces at his disposal, he could not control his own extremists. That is the significance of what I am saying. It was not a question of other people doing something against law and order he 1371 could not control the extremists on his own side.
We must not allow illusions to be created in Northern Ireland that there will be a wholesale transfer of the Special Constabulary forces into the new regiment.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am glad to have the agreement of my right hon. Friend. I hope that it will be said in no uncertain terms today that limitations on numbers and phasing-in will be imposed.
I am sure that this will disappoint some hon. Gentlemen opposite who may have committed themselves to the members of the B Specials by giving implied promises that there will be a wholesale takeover. It would be disastrous if the Government accepted this policy, and I hope that they will give the essential assurances for which we have asked.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
We have heard what I can only call a misinformed, wise-after-the-event, and highly mischievous speech by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson). I must bracket him with his right hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and for Belper (Mr. George Brown).
It is speeches of that sort, made over many years in the House, that have prevented any chance of our achieving a reasonable constitutional and constructive position in Northern Ireland, in the form of the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Time after time reasonable Ulstermen in the Northern Ireland Labour Party have had their political legs shot from under them by those on the Labour benches in this House. The Labour Party representatives in the House—especially that section below the Gangway—are in no position to make criticisms of the sort that they have made.
§ Mr. McNamara
Does the hon. Member recall the memorandum submitted co the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Captain Terence O'Neill—by the Northern Ireland Labour Party about the Northern Ireland Committee of the All-Ireland Trade Union Congress? Does he recall the terms contained in that memorandum, and the fact that Captain 1372 O'Neill was not able to receive it because he was ill, but that he denied that the majority of the points contained therein required any sort of redress? Does he realise that it is precisely that sort of speech, coming from hon. Members opposite, that causes hon. Members on this side of the House to make such criticisms?
§ Mr. Clark
If there had been consider. able electoral support for the Northern Ireland Labour Party—which, unfortunately, there was not, due largely to the anti-partitionist and republican speeches that we so frequently hear from English Labour Party Members—we might not have had the troubles that we have had, and we might not even have had the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin).
We are doing today what the House has done on a number of occasions before —creating a volunteer militia for Ireland. There have been several predecessors. A ballad tells us that the South Down militia was the terror of the land. Another goes so far as to tell us that the Cork militia beat the Turks at Waterloo, which is unlikely. On a more serious level there is, laid up in Armagh Cathedral, a French eagle which was captured from the French by the Armagh militia in the Napoleonic wars. Even hon. Members opposite below the Gangway must pay some tribute to the Irish Volunteers, who not only defended the United Kingdom but played their part in obtaining a Parliament for Ireland.
The new Ulster Defence Regiment will inherit a very honourable tradition. it will also inherit its purpose directly from its immediate predecessor, the Ulster Special Constabulary. The purpose of the Ulster Special Constabulary and the new regiment is to combat terrorism in Northern Ireland.
To understand the function of the new force it is strictly relevant to look at the record of the Ulster Special Constabulary over the years. That force was created in an ad hoc fashion under the 1835 Special Constables Act in 1920 and came into existence in the first three years of violent civil war—a civil war which was possibly more intense and bitter in Northern Ireland than in any other part of Ireland at the time.
Between 1920 and 1924 well over 1,000 people died violent deaths. Many more 1373 were injured, and many others were frightened out of their lives. The trouble in Northern Ireland was more bitter than in any other place because there was no element of class struggle, which seems to give a certain respectability to bloodshed in some people's minds.
The civil war in Northern Ireland in the 1920s could be expressed as Protestant village versus Catholic village and Protestant street versus Catholic street. It was the fighting that took place between these years that led to the polarisation between Catholic and Protestant. We had thereafter intermittent outbreaks, in the 1920s and 1930s. English Members will remember the attempts made by the I.R.A. to blow up Hammersmith Bridge, and the placing of bombs in letter boxes in 1938–39.
The Ulster Special Constabulary, having proved its sterling worth in the bitter fighting from 1920 to 1924, remained continuously in existence with a strength of rather more than 12,000 men. Rather than refer to history, however, it is more appropriate to talk of current events of the troubles from 1956—the night of 12th December, when 12 separate I.R.A. attacks were launched without warning and without advance Intelligence information—right the way through until the campaign was brought to its horrible finale with the cold-blooded murder of Constable Anderson on the border at Fermanagh.
The Secretary of State has given some details of that campaign, but to bring home what we mean by terrorism I am sure that you will bear with me, Mr. Speaker, if I talk about what happened in the years from 1956 to 1961 in the area around my home. I live 40 miles from the border. The local police barracks was attacked on three separate occasions in 1957 and 1958. At the time of the third attack there must have been at least 30 men involved on either side.
All the roads were blocked immediately before the attack—and there are five roads leading to the border. Automatic weapons were used. There was a gun battle up and down the street of a small town, involving 30 to 40 people. Two were seriously injured, and it is amazing that no one was killed.
We had the general ration of bridges, transformers and telephone kiosks being 1374 blown up, or of attempts being made to blow them up. A dozen such incidents took place within five miles of my home. A transformer within 100 yards of my home was blown up while I was standing at the door of my garage. My brother's car was wrecked by a tree felled with the obvious intention of killing him. We also found within five or six miles of my house four concealed dugouts, equipped with food, arms and bedding for terrorist attackers.
Finally, the nastiest attack was made on a training hut, and if there had not been a fraction of a second's warning eight men would have been killed. The consequent hatred resulting from the deaths of those eight people would have meant that the incident would not have been forgotten for many years in my area. Fortunately, those deaths were averted. That is what terrorism is, and that is what we are trying to combat.
The worst aspects affect not just those who go out to fight the I.R.A. or other terrorists, but those who stay at home, and especially the women. There are the bombs, the rifle shots in the night and the cars tearing up and down the road. There are the frantic telephone calls. It is not until hours later that people know what has been happening. That is not the kind of state that hon. Members would want their neighbours and relations to live in, but that is the state that we lived in on many nights between 1956 and 1961,
It is worth remembering that during that period there was an expansion of the Ulster Special Constabulary. I believe that it reached a strength of 17,000 men and together with the R.U.C. the force amounted to over 20,000 men involved in fighting the terrorists. They enabled the I.R.A. attacks to be countered successfully. If those attacks had been successful—if the deterrent of the U.S.C., spread evenly over the country, had not been so great—I hate to imagine to what level the terrorist activities would have risen.
But from the first day of their campaign the I.R.A. were defeated. If the I.R.A. had been successful and the forces opposed to them had been smaller Ulster might have been turned into chaos in 1957, and we would not have had to wait until 1958 and 1959. Those events took place only ten years ago. This year, 1375 again, there have been undoubted I.R.A. activities as well as the activities of Protestant extremists. Both the Hunt and the Cameron Reports made it clear that the straight military danger should not be overlooked, and that it was something very real. As the Secretary of State said, the prime object is the principal recommendation of the Hunt Committee. This answers the point about the constitutional position of the police and of the Northern Ireland Government in defence matters.
The Hunt Committee recommended that the police should no longer have the responsibility for the military defence of Northern Ireland against terrorists. I am delighted that the police can now get on with the civil police work which they do so well. It is no coincidence that we have the lowest serious crime rate and the highest detection rate in the British Isles, possible in the world, since our excellent civil police force also has this other burden. I am delighted that the Government have accepted the Hunt recommendation.
It follows, therefore, that the Ulster Special Constrabulary must be stood down. I am glad that the Army has realised that a force on the lines of the Special Constabulary is essential if terrorism is to be countered all over Northern Ireland. In fact, one must ask why the Ulster Defence Regiment was not created 50 years ago, when Ulster herself was created. It is a strange constitutional arrangement that a provincial Parliament should be given prime responsibility for the defence of the United Kingdom frontier and the defence of Ulster.
In 1956–61—not in the war-weary Britain of 1920 or 1923—there were constant guerrilla attacks, and the man mainly responsible for defending against those attacks was the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. Although the Army co-operated, generally well and reasonably, it was, in fact, the police and the Ulster Special Constabulary which, first of all, met those attacks and defeated them.
I do not believe that it is the function of a provincial government to carry out defence. That should be primarily the function of a central Parliament. I welcome the fact that the creation of the 1376 Ulster Defence Regiment will end the constitutional anomaly and the Government of the United Kingdom will take over full responsibility for our defence. I hope, too, that when the Secretary of State for Defence has responsibility for meeting attacks across the border, rather firmer representations will be made to Dublin by the Foreign Office than have been made in the past. It is widely felt in Northern Ireland that the Government of Southern Ireland have for far too long winked at the existence of a terrorist force in Southern Ireland.
§ Mr. McGuire
The hon. Gentleman opposite will surely know that the Republic of Ireland Government deal far more severely with their extremists than the Stormont Government deal with the Northern extremists in Ulster.
§ Mr. Clark
I thank the hon. Member. The answer is that they deal with them rather severely—occasionally. When the election is well over, for a couple of years they do put men into the Curragh, but the fact remains that continuously, for the last 50 years, a subversive terrorist organisation has drilled in Southern Ireland and the number of prosecutions for such drilling have been very few indeed.
§ Mr. Rose
I know that the hon. Member means well. Will he take it from me that I was present in the Dail when the question of Northern Ireland was debated recently and that every speaker on that occasion was far more moderate than even I would claim to be on this subject and repeatedly said that although they hoped to see Ireland ultimately united it could never be by coercion, and that every party united in eschewing coercion as a matter of uniting Ireland?
§ Mr. Clark
I have not read the HANSARD of the Dail quite as avidly as the hon. Member. I am prepared to accept that many people take a moderate view, but what we in Northern Ireland want is deeds, not words. We have known of this risk and have experienced terrorist attacks. Those of us who have been connected, as I have since my very earliest days, with the Ulster Special Constabulary, regret its passing. It was a body with many traditions and with a fine record. Despite what anyone has 1377 ever said about it, the I.R.A. never suggested that it was not a very effective weapon against terrorism—
§ Mr. Clark
It did not deal directly with the Special Constabulary, but only with a minority.
As my noble Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lord Hamilton) said, there has been a campaign of vilification of the Special Constabulary by the I.R.A. It is not surprising that the most effective weapon of defence is the first thing attacked. I have no doubt that the attack and the vilification was planned from Dublin by the I.R.A. and carried through with considerable skill.
It was an easy target, I admit, because the Special Constabulary appears seldom, except at night, and therefore the men who were seldom seen could be fixed upon as bogeymen, although they were ordinary citizens living next door to ordinary citizens. The average service in the Special Constabulary is probably 20 years for half an hour's action. Often, a man will have served 40 years 'and never seen action. It is not my experience — I have done many patrols late at night with the Special Constabulary—that it is composed of hotheads. The men who join are far more like the men who would man volunteer fire brigades or do civil defence work in this country. It is ridiculous to label the whole Special Constabulary, by arguing from the particular to the general, as hotheads and thugs.
Our object, here and in Committee, is, I hope, to make the Ulster Defence Regiment a fully effective force. I emphasise again that, for purely military reasons, so that we may have an effective military force to replace the Special Constabulary, it is essential that it must draw in the early stages on the Special Constabulary for experience, officers and men. If this new regiment has not a military purpose, it has no purpose at all. If we ever begin to neglect its military purpose and emphasise its social purpose and other functions, we will be doing it a great damage.
Roman Catholics will, of course, be welcome, just as there were Roman 1378 Catholics in the Ulster Special Constabulary—
§ Mr. Clark
If the shouts below the Gangway are evidence of the bigotry which hon. Members seem to feel, it will not do them much good.
There were Roman Catholics in the Ulster Special Constabulary a very few —but they did not remain long after the polarisation which occurred in the bitter fighting in 1923 and 1924. But we are prepared—I speak in this case for the Protestant community—to accept men, no matter what church they go to on Sunday, who are determined, as we are in Northern Ireland, to take the gun and the petrol bomb out of Irish politics. I believe that many people of both communities are prepared to place a deterrent there so that the gun may be removed from Ulster politics.
To ensure that this force is seen to be what it will be, the oath-taking ceremony should be partially public and meaningful. The security vetting of the men to discover both Protestant and Catholic extremists is of the greatest possible importance. The training schedules —and I am glad the Secretary of State made this point—must be flexible enough to allow the farming community to play their full part, for the farming community have always supplied some of the best men in every Irish militia unit. We hope sincerely that when the new force is formed, the sergeant instructors—the regular training sergeants from the British Army were very much the backbone of the Ulster Special Constabulary —will be able to transfer and become sergeant instructors in the new defence regiment.
There is an important point here, namely, the question of long service medals. The Ulster Special Constabulary has had few enough medals, although they have earned very many. Long-service medals are treated with considerable respect by the men who earn them. I ask that consideration be given to the possibility that men who have almost earned long service medals in the Ulster Special Constabulary should be allowed to take their medals when that force comes to an end. If a man has 1379 not completed a large number of years service, the years that he has completed in the Ulster Special Constabulary should go some extent towards a long service medal, which I hope many will earn in the new Ulster Defence Regiment.
We are glad that the new force is to be paid considerably better than the B Specials were in the past. I wish to emphasise that the most economical way of moving men around today is by allowing them to use their own private cars. May we have some assurance that there will be an adequate car allowance for the volunteers in the new regiment to enable them to use their own cars? Will the Government also look into the question of allowing men with a number of years experience to start at the full level of gratuity instead of having to wait Four years and work up to it?
In terms of equipment, to make the new regiment an effective defence against terrorism, communications, above all, are important. I would like short wave radio sets to be available for every patrol, and there should be telephones, if not in every volunteer's house, certainly in houses occupied by those down to the level of sergeant, because the instant turnout is the one thing which will make this an effective force for defeating terrorism.
Reference has been made to the storage of arms, and I support the right hon. Gentleman's statement on this matter this afternoon. A real danger exists if arms are not stored in anything but the largest and most carefully protected armouries. The 1956 I.R.A. campaign was armed largely by the successful raid on Armagh Barracks two years earlier. If there had been no such raid, it is very doubtful whether the I.R.A. would have been able to open up the campaign in 1956.
I think that perhaps the most important requirement of all is for the new force to have a better chance than the Ulster Special Constabulary had of achieving a good public image. We are delighted that they are to be given a smart walking out uniform, so that they may be seen more frequently and not criticised for not being seen, as the Ulster Special Constabulary was. Without forgetting the prime military rule, I think that we should 1380 find other new rôles for this force. They might set up a rescue and emergency service, and I should like to see them controlling crowds at football matches and agricultural shows. I certainly look forward to seeing the new regiment sending a team to Bisley. I hope that a full-time public relation officer for this force will be appointed almost at once. We want the reputation of this new force to be built up and we want it to be fully appreciated by. all sections of the community.
One question about this new force that has frequently been asked in my constituency, where it has been welcomed and where many people have said they would be prepared to join it, is, "How long is it going on for?" I ask the Government for an assurance that they will not materially reduce this force or stand it down without the full agreement of the Government of Northern Ireland. If that assurance is given I believe there is every hope that the new Ulster Defence Regiment will be a proud successor to the many volunteer militia units which have played such a noble part in Irish history.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I have been interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the fears of many people in Northern Ireland who were wondering what would happen if the B Specials went. I can understand the problem. This past year they have gone through a very difficult time and have had a bitter experience. Everything that they had been told to believe in has been shattered, and they have seen a complete political somersault turned by their leaders in Stormont.
When I last spoke in the House on this subject I said that much of the problem was one of fear. I can understand the majority's position, but it is exactly the sort of speech such as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Antrim, North which builds up the fear and the trembling. It was exactly the people 1381 going around at night on their patrols, putting up road blocks, stopping cars, knocking on doors and pushing rifles through windows who made my family and other relatives afraid of the B Specials.
Those are the people who now appear to want to be taken over completely into the new Ulster Defence Regiment. These are the people who make those of us who study the problem and who have relatives in the area very suspicious about the new regiment.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) in acquiting the Government on this point. We all know how hard the task has been for the Government and we know what a difficult path they have had to tread. But I also know that the general feeling amongst the minority in Northern Ireland is that they have been hoodwinked by the Stormont Government. The statement which emerged after the Downing Street conference that the B Specials were to go and that this other force would be a new one will not, we feel, turn out to be true.
We have carefully read the contents of the White Paper and the Bill and we have listened with attention to the statements which were made last week and by my right hon. Friend today. He has tried to build in safeguards for the minority. We accept that, but we fear that the ground has been taken away from beneath him. The moment the idea for this new force was mooted, and as soon as the Hunt Report was published, statements were immediately made to the B Specials, "You have nothing to worry about. You can come in. This will be a spendid new organisation, boys, and we want you in it."
I am prepared to accept that many of the B Specials are honest and hardworking men who feel that they are doing a job. It is not a job which I believe to e necessary for them to do; nevertheless, they are doing a job properly and correctly. But when general statements of this nature are made, when these points are put across by spokesmen from the Stormont Government, when we have statements—presumably accurately reported in the Belfast Telegraph—made by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, saying that the tradition of the B Specials will continue in the new force, 1382 that there will be plenty of room in the new force for these men and that the training conditions will be very flexible, we begin to be suspicious.
However, the difficulty over flexibility in training can result in there being no training. Everyone can make an excuse to get out of the training but can still be a member of the force, can still be a bully boy and can carry on in the way that the B Specials have behaved in the past.
§ Mr. McNamara
I see that my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration does not agree, but that is the fear which exists. It is because it is feared that the people coming in will be the very people who were involved in incidents where we have seen B Specials wearing white armbands, attacking civil rights marchers and going berserk, and that they will be fully mobilised again, that we are worried and suspicious about the situation. My right hon. and hon. Friends must understand how we feel.
It was with those fears in mind that I listened with interest to my right hon. Friend's statement about the idea of a new advisory committee. In many ways, it is a good idea, and I would like to see it implemented. However, if such a committee is to be set up, can it be written into the Bill? Can the necessary provision be made in Committee or on Report, or even introduced in another place, to set up this advisory committee'? Can we also be given any idea of the source of the information which is to be used when recruits are vetted by the G.O.C.? Presumably it will come from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, that being the body which has most of the information. Again, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility for us to be a little suspicious of the information being laid. We need more clear and categorical assurances about it.
The number of people in the force needs to be clearly considered. Nothing makes me more suspicious about the whole concept of this regiment than the fact that its numbers were jumped up from 4,000 to 6,000. When one adds to that the 1,500 men who are to go into the Police Reserve, one is very much on 1383 a par with the number serving in the B Specials at the moment.
I have never been convinced of the military reason for this force. In his report, Lord Hunt states that in many ways the fear of trouble from across the border is an exaggeration and a myth. But I accept that it is a real fear. The noble Lord opposite says that the trouble is more likely to come from sectarian bitterness inside the Six Counties. If that is so, we have to make sure that the new regiment starts off on a proper footing.
That brings me back to the military reason for the force. If I were a member of the Stormont Government, faced with the problems and with Westminster intervening, I would be confronted with three alternatives. The first is to abolish the B Specials. If that was done, the Northern Ireland Government would lose their political supporters. The second alternative is to maintain the B Specials. That would be unacceptable here, as well as being constitutionally difficult with an unarmed police force and armed police reserves. The third alternative is to hit on a political compromise. That is what the Northern Ireland Government have done and, because it is a political rather than a military decision, we are very suspicious about the number of men proposed and the way in which the B Specials are to continue in what is called the transitional period.
We are suspicious about the officer cadre and the people who are to form it The White Paper says that the battalion commanders will come from the existing officers of the B Specials. When one looks at the gentlemen concerned, one sees that, at best, some were guilty of grave neglect of duty in that they were unable to control their men and made no attempt to prevent them behaving in a fashion which was completely alien to the idea of any sort of police force. I put it no higher than that.
If that alone is not sufficient to show why we are suspicious of them, when one looks at the likely junior officers, many of them have been positively identified as being involved in specific incidents, and that makes us even more suspicious.
My right hon. Friend said that all those concerned would be carefully vetted. It 1384 will have to be done with the maximum publicity to overcome the evil which we have seen in the past few days following the television broadcasts, the advertising and, now, the statement which is to be made in the Stormont and which, unfortunately, we shall not hear.
When I interrupted my right hon. Friend, he answered my point by saying that it was to be the subject of a statement to be made in Stormont. However, it should be the subject of a statement in this House. After all, the G.O.C. is responsible to the Secretary of State, and the B Specials are under his control. For us to be able to continue this debate, we should be told what disciplinary action is being taken.
Other matters arise from it, and I have referred already to the problems of recruitment. In addition, we need more details of what is to be demanded of recruits in terms of educational qualifications than the vague answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). We want details of the physical and mental fitness requirements. There is nothing in the White Paper about that, although it is referred to in the White Paper dealing with the Police Reserve.
We are concerned about the upper age limit and the reasons given by my right hon. Friend for taking in people at such an old age. I can understand the paper argument, but it must not be forgotten that the age limit proposed will bring in the very people who were involved in the I.R.A. troubles of 1956 and 1961. They were brought up in the bitterness of the 1920s and 1930s. They are imbued with the old traditions of the Specials.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It is said that the recruitment of people over 55 is a transitional measure. Has not the Secretary of State failed to advance any reason why it should be allowed and why we should not stick to the upper age limit of 55 during the whole period in which the force is to operate?
§ Mr. McNamara
That is partly true. However, I think that my right hon. Friend was trying to argue that men of this age were made up partly of former Regular Army officers and experienced men who had been in the B Specials and that their experience would be of assistance in the transitional period.
1385 I can understand that as a paper argument, but, as a factual argument concerning the attitude of mind of these men, we are concerned about what is likely to happen if they are recruited.
I come then to the point which, above all, I find most difficult to understand. It is the statement that the force is to be called the Ulster Defence Regiment. In this, I know that I carry with me my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). Ulster comprises nine counties; six of these are in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Defence Regiment, therefore, is not to operate in one-third of the area after which it is designated. This could be used as a stage term for an Irishman's Army, but it is nevertheless important to many people.
§ Mr. McNamara
Certainly—the"Northern Ireland Territorial Force", the "Northern Ireland Defence Regiment". This would have the added merit of being the title which has been used in legislation coming from this House ever since that State was set up. Our Gracious Sovereign is Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not Queen of Great Britain and Ulster. Indeed, all the appeals for loyalty and support for the Crown and the Union Jack and the Ulster connection were well displayed in the Shan-kill Road when rioters went in with the Union Jack in one hand and petrol bombs in the other against British troops. "Northern Ireland" is a far better title.
But there is a far more important reason. The word "Ulster", used in connection with any of these forces, is bound to make the minority apprehensive. We who have been brought up in the tradition of Ulster volunteers, "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right" and all these other connotations—Smith and Carson and the various organisations set up by people such as the Rev. Ian Paisley—regard these as emotive words which are sometimes not understood or appreciated over here. It is partly because of what is almost a siege mentality among the majority that they like this title, but among the minority it is scarcely acceptable. I should like my hon. Friend seriously to consider this.
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to be supporting me when I suggest a different title. It seems reasonable to call it the Northern Ireland Defence Force. If that is the case, and we can reach an amicable agreement, I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will join with us in Committee in pressing such an Amendment.
We want satisfaction on these points—the vetting, the numbers, the training, the recruitment and the title—and it is on these subjects that we look for replies from my hon. Friend.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham(Antrim, South)
There are many Unionists in my constituency and throughout Ulster who are very unhappy about the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill. The initial mistake was made in August, when the military were not called in to assist the civil power, as has previously always been the case. Instead, they took over the control of security in Ulster and gave orders to the police forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Special Constabulary.
Following rapidly on and perhaps because of the innovation of military rule came the setting up of the committee under the chairmanship of Lord Hunt and comprising himself, Sir James Robertson and Mr. Robert Mark. They were appointed on 26th August, this year. When they reported on 3rd October, 37 days later, they acknowledged that it had not been possible to have made as detailed an examination as they would have wished and they stated that they would have preferred to have had several months at their disposal.
However, they emphasised that it wasour conviction that nothing less than the full implementation of the proposals it contains, within the shortest time possible, can suffice to lay a sound foundation for the good order and security of the Province".They were referring to the proposals in their report.
This appears to be rather an arrogant assumption, since they used in the document phrases such as:… had time permitted we would have wished to consult many others".1387 and,… the magnitude and complexity of the undertaking necessarily compressed into so short a periodand,… we did not have time to examine this in depth".and,… time did not allow us to examine".Such phrases show the rushed nature of the report.
Yet on the day it was published, it was accepted by the Government of Northern Ireland before any consultation could take place with the people, who are deeply involved, or, indeed, with their democratically elected representatives in Parliament. The Home Secretary was in Ulster on that day and I have no doubt that immense pressure came from Whitehall to get an immediate acceptance.
We are here today to implement one recommendation of the Hunt Report. The report refers to the Ulster Special Constabulary, or B Specials, as they are generally called, in the following terms:We know that to a man members of the U.S.C. are devoted to the cause of Ulster and that they and their forebears have done gallant service and we recognise the value of the anti-guerilla patrols and armed guard duties they have carried out, particularly in times of emergency.Having praised them, they recommend their abolition and their replacement by two new forces. It is the second of these new forces, the Ulster Defence Regiment, which we are discussing today.
There is a fundamental change in the composition of this new security force. It is to be separated from the police and it will be recruited and controlled from Whitehall. In recommending this change, Lord Hunt gave scant consideration to the history of the constabulary in Ireland over the past century. This attempted division of responsibility and authority may prove unworkable in practice, and, in times of emergency, it could be disastrous.
As an instance, in the last days of Whitehall rule in Ireland, security in Dublin Castle was non-existent. One saw a top secret stenographer typing a top secret order for the Army commander and at the same time adding an extra carbon copy which went out of a side door to Sinn Fein headquarters. I and 1388 many of my constituents fear that the I.R.A. will infiltrate the Ulster Defence Regiment and that security in the new Ulster security force will be non-existent.
In addition, the control and direction of this force will be from Whitehall. For nearly half a century Ulster has controlled her own destiny with a security force which gave gallant service and which was devoted to a man to Ulster's cause. This control is now to be taken from Ulster and her people. It is strangely cynical when one recalls the protestations of greater control in their own affairs which are being given to Scotland and Wales in the brave new world to come.
I myself cannot support the Second Reading of the Bill. I believe that the troubles which will spring from it will be endless and I look forward to the day when the law will be drastically amended and when Ulster will again control her own destiny.
Until that day comes, I advise the B Specials to join the new Ulster Defence Regiment and loyally to play their part, however restricted it may prove to be and however frustrated they may feel in the defence of Ulster.
I end by saying that I have listened carefully to the debate. The House has much to learn about Ireland which it will learn in the years to come.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Having listened to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham), I can begin to gauge the extent of the problem in Northern Ireland as regards the formation of the new force. It is the mentality of the hon. and learned Gentleman and those who support him that has made things so difficult over recent years, and particularly recent months, in Northern Ireland. They have at all times prevented the implementation of the reforms which were so necessary and which have been brought about by the action of this Government.
This debate will be one of the most important debates ever to take place in this House. It is concerned with the happiness and future peace and prosperity of all the people in the Six Counties of North-East Ireland.
1389 The Secretary of State asked all hon. Members to be moderate and not to make inflammatory remarks, on the ground that if we said anything in the House which might offend the Unionist extreme Right wing in Northern Ireland it could result in a backlash. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it could bring about a backlash. I go further and say that the very formation of this regiment has been brought about to prevent a Unionist backlash from occurring in Northern Ireland. After 50 years of inaction in social justice and fundamental freedoms in Northern Ireland, the Government at Westminister had the courage to force the Northern Ireland Government to implement social justice in that part of the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, the formation of this regiment is part of the price that we must pay for asking for those reforms. I do not think any reasonable hon. Member can believe in his heart that there is a need and a reason for the Ulster Defence Regiment.
§ Mr. Fitt
I agree. I accept the recommendations of the Hunt Committee, but I realise that, whatever the attitude of myself and particularly that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) and others who support me on this side of the House, this regiment will come into being.
I ask the Secretary of State for Defence that guarantees be given that this force will be representative of the whole community in Northern Ireland. Guarantees should be given that members of this force will be recruited purely and simply on grounds of ability, that no impediment will be put in their way if they are Roman Catholics, that no impediment will be put in their way if they believe in the eventual reunification of Ireland. I do not believe that that should be an impediment.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said that all the restrictions which can be imposed by the Unionist mentality when it comes to questioning the suitability of a recruit will mean that 95 per cent. to 100 per cent. of the new force will be members of the present Ulster Special Constabulary or people who have a like mentality.
§ Mr. Healey
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, as the vetting and acceptance of all applicants to join this force will be wholly in the hands of the G.O.C., Northern Ireland, who is responsible to me—and am responsible to the hon. Gentleman, amongst others—he can rely on a great deal more objectivity in the selection of recruits than he seemed to suggest a moment ago.
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept the promise which has been given to-day by the Secretary of State that there will be impartiality in the recruitment of this force. We will have to see it written into the Bill that the advisory committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke this afternoon, will also be representative of the whole community in Northern Ireland. That would dispel the fears of the minority in Northern Ireland that the new force will be only the carrying on of the B Specials in a diffierent uniform.
I realise that the Government must tread a very wary path, but it is very important at the outset that, when the force is created, it is seen to be a fair force, is seen to be representative of the whole community in Northern Ireland. We cannot afford to make a single mistake.
Over the past two or three days mistakes have been made. There was the terrible fiasco of the publicity of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and the abject apology and admission of fault by the Minister for Home Affairs in Stormont yesterday afternoon. We have been told that the present Ulster Special Constabulary has been under the control of the G.O.C. since a date in August. What has been the liaison? What were the reasons for the breakdown? If the Ulster Special Constabulary is under the control of the G.O.C., this must mean that its administration as well is under his control. Yet last Wednesday afternoon, as soon as the White Papers were published, a high ranking staff officer of the Ulster Special Constabulary—a colonel, in fact—sent out application forms.
Then we had the wriggling of the Northern Ireland Government—and, indeed, wriggling at this end—to try to excuse what happened. Yesterday, in Stormont, the Minister for Home Affairs, after 1391 being repeatedly questioned by the Member for Mid-Derry, let out that it was an application form. This afternoon the Secretary of State told us that it was not an application form. I can only say that those B Specials who received application forms last Wednesday and on succeeding days of last week took them to be application forms. If we have only clarified that point today, this debate will have been worth while.
I listened to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) when he launched his first objection to the name of the new regiment. I realise that an Englishman, a Scotsman or a Welshman may not be able to understand why citizens in one part of the United Kingdom object to the name "Ulster". The facts of history are there to prove that we have very real reasons for our suspicions, and I shall bring these reasons to the attention of right hon. and hon. Members.
The true geographical entity of Northern Ireland is nine counties. Six counties are in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. Three are part of the Republic.
It would be just as logical for the Government of the Irish Republic, particularly in view of the Ballyshannon incident which happened four or five weeks ago, when members of the Ulster Volunteer Force attempted to blow up the transformer at Ballyshannon, to set up an Ulster Defence Force. If that were to happen, we should have the ludicrous position that there would be an Ulster Defence Force on one side of the border trying to prevent ex-B Specials from going over, and, on the other side of the border, an Ulster Defence Force composed of ex-B Specials trying to prevent people from the other side from coming over.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is clear that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is not giving way.
§ Mr. Fitt
The term "Ulster" has very serious connotations for those who are opposed to Unionism in Northern Ireland. I can understand the Unionist mentality over the years, desperately searching for a national identity. They are not British. They are not Irish. They are Scottish-Irish. They do not know what they are at certain given times, so they try to establish that they are Ulster people.
We have in Northern Ireland a terribly emotive force known as the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee, led by Ian Paisley and ably supported by the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South. We have the Ulster Protestant Volunteers.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
On a point of order. I am not a member of the committee which the hon. Gentleman has named. I have risen on a point of order merely to state that to the House.
§ Mr. Fitt
The hon. and learned Member is a contributor to the Paisley Press, known as the Ulster Protestant Telegraph. Indeed, he has been billed as its Westminster correspondent.
The term "Ulster" is a further attempt by the Northern Ireland Unionist Party to usurp a historical term which covers nine counties in the province of Ireland, and which has covered them for many centuries since the dawn of Christianity. That is one of the reasons why we object to the use of the term "Ulster" and why the minority in Northern Ireland object to the Union Jack. Repeatedly throughout history we have heard it said by the Unionist Party in this House that the minority are disloyal and that they owe no allegiance to the monarchy, the Crown and the Union Jack.
That is not strictly correct. For years the minority in Northern Ireland have had the Union Jack stuck down their throats as the party political rag of the Unionist Party. Every week when I come to the House, as I travel from the aeroplane to the air terminal at Gloucester Road, I see the Union Jack flying. I recognise it as being the flag of the United Kingdom, but in Northern Ireland that is not so; it is a party political rag of the Unionist Party.
1393 Exactly the same objection arises to the use of the term "Ulster". This is why we have taken offence at the inclusion of the term "Ulster" in the name of this regiment. Northern Ireland was set up under the aegis of an Act of Parliament, 1920, and the Government there is known as the Government of Northern Ireland. I suggest that if the regiment has to come into being—and I believe that it will come into being—it would have been less offensive to call it the Northern Ireland Defence Regiment.
Even then I question the term "defence", because the only people who will attack Ulster and who will ensure that Ulster will finish are people within the ranks of the Unionist Party and whose representative this afternoon is the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South. These are the people who will finally ensure that the Province of Ulster finds its true place in a United Ireland. It will have been brought about by those people themselves.
May I deal with our objections to the Bill? We have heard it justified by the deliberations of the Hunt Committee. I have accepted the Hunt Report and its conclusions. One of its conclusions was that there should be 4,000 men in the new Ulster defence force. I believe that figure to be far too high, but I have accepted it. If there is to be a defence force in Northern Ireland, I accept the conclusion that it must have 4,000 men. The Hunt Committee's conclusion was reached after a clinical examination by Lord Hunt and his two colleagues of the committee. They were not pressurised by the Unionist Party; they had not been allowed to make representations to the Hunt Committee. The figure of 4,000 was, therefore, reached after Lord Hunt had made a clinical assessment of the situation.
But what happened after that report was issued? We could tell when we listened to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South. The Government of Northern Ireland accepted the Hunt Report the day it was issued—and the reason was the presence of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who happened to be in Northern Ireland on that day. But then the pressure was imposed. and we now see that there are to be 6,000 men in this force. If there is no reason for having 4,000 men, there 1394 is far less reason for having 6,000 men. It will cost the British taxpayers £1 million a year to keep this Force in Northern Ireland, defending Ulster—against what? As a Socialist, I bitterly resent this expenditure, especially in view of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science this week announced an increase in the cost of school meals. This is an imposition which should never be offered to people on this side of the Irish Sea.
We object, therefore, to the numbers in the force and we object to the recruitment. The latter is the most important objection which has been heard throughout the debate. Since it was announced that they had accepted the Hunt Report—and certainly immediately after the production of a White Paper last Wednesday —the Unionist Party have gone out of their way to make it as difficult as possible for members of the minority in Northern Ireland to join this new defence force.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would not necessarily have agreed with all the wording in the advertisements of which we have complained. The first statement in the advertisements was that applicants must swear an oath of loyalty to the Queen. I have already said that that in itself may not be offensive to large sections of the minority in Northern Ireland, but, mentioned as it was in the advertisement, it was meant to deter Catholic applicants from joining this force.
§ Mr. Fitt
I will not give way.
I realise that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland is in difficulty. I recognise that he may have to face a possible threat from the extreme Right wing of his own party or the B Specials. They feel that they are being thrown to the four winds. The hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South obviously did not listen to the appeal made by the Secretary of State this afternoon in which he asked for moderation, because the hon. and learned Member went out of his way to justify every single action of the Ulster Special Constabulary since it was formed in 1920. No force could be absolutely blameless over those years, 1395 and certainly not the Ulster Special Constabulary.
The hon. and learned Member quoted from the Cameron Report and said that it had commended the Ulster Special Constabulary.
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept that correction.
But paragraph 145 of the Cameron Report makes it quite clear that the minority in Northern Ireland have lived in terror of the Ulster Special Constabulary since it came into existence as a sectarian force on the setting up of the State. Why are the minority in Northern Ireland so terrified of the Ulster Special Constabulary? They have a reason to be terrified of the constabulary. Throughout the years there have been numerous incidents in which special constables have been found guilty in the minds of the public of carrying out infamous acts against those people they were allegedly protecting.
But let us take only the last 12 months. In November, 1968, a civil rights march was taking place in Armagh. There was a counter-demonstration run by Ian Paisley and his supporters. Riots broke out, and, finally, five members of the Ulster Constabulary were found to be involved, out of uniform. They were arrested and they were to be charged. But they got away, because an amnesty was quickly announced by the Government.
Evidence is in existence that well-known members of the Ulster Special Constabulary were at Burntollet, armed with vicious cudgels and weapons, beating up defenceless students, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster. The matter was raised in the Northern Ireland Parliament and the Minister for Home Affairs were asked why no prosecutions had been undertaken against the B Specials so readily identifiable in photographs which had been taken. He replied —and this could happen only with the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland—that their presence in photographs, even if they are carrying cudgels, is not evidence of a criminal offence.
The Tynan platoon of the Ulster Special Constabulary was involved in 1396 an incident in County Armagh where a young man lost his life. Later, that platoon was summoned to an inquest to give its evidence of what happened that night. It was instructed by its own legal adviser not to give evidence, and so far it has not done so.
One can therefore readily see the reason for the real fear among members of the minority about the formation of the new regiment that there will be a complete takeover by the Ulster Special Constabulary. This has been deliberately brought about by misrepresentation of the facts by the Northern Ireland Government. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Major Chichester-Clark, in the Press conference referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), said that 8,500 men would be lost when the Ulster Special Constabulary was eventually disbanded. There will be 6,000 members in the new force, the Ulster Defence Regiment, and 1,500 places in the reserve force, the R.U.C., making a total of 7,500.
Therefore, he said, everyone would be able to apply and their membership would be carefully gone into. In other words, he was saying that there are now 8,500 in existence and that with the natural fall off through age, sickness and other reasons there would be places for all those left in the Ulster Special Constabulary.
This is a most serious matter. As a minority spokesman, I have been talking to some of my constituents who have been seeking my advice and asking me whether they should volunteer for the new Ulster Defence Force. I said, and I say the same now, that I am in no position to advise them about joining the force unless guarantees are given about their recruitment. Once I am satisfied that there will be equal opportunity in this force for all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, I shall be prepared to recommend my constituents to joint it. But at this moment I am far from being in a position to recommend my constituents to joint this force, and I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State, or whoever winds up the debate, will be able to give the necessary guarantees. If not, I shall unhesitatingly call a Division on the vote in all conscience because I realise the serious situation which now exists in Northern Ireland.
1397 I hope that the Minister will be able to ease some of the suspicions in my mind and in the minds of many thousands of people in Northern Ireland. One of them concerns the method of recruitment. Will an advisory committee be set up? Who will be the personnel? How will the personnel be appointed? Will they be representative of the Catholic minority? Will they be representative of the trade union movement and the other various minority interests in Northern Ireland? It should not prove to be too great a difficulty for my right hon. Friend to set up such an advisory panel.
I do not see any reason for all the haste. It is not absolutely necessary that this force should be in operation on 1st April, 1970, as laid down in the White Paper. If we act in haste, the only people eligible for the force will be members of the present Ulster Special Constabulary. I have often heard the old saying, "The more haste, the less speed". There have been many civil rights demonstrations in Northern Ireland over the past 18 months. I hope that the days of civil rights marches in Northern Ireland have gone. I hope that society could be so changed that it would be unnecessary ever to have an outdoor demonstration again demanding social justice in Northern Ireland. But, if it becomes clear that there is to be a wholesale transfer of the B Specials to this new force, there will be demonstrations on the streets in Northern Ireland, because having won so little at such a terrible cost—at the cost of lives, homes and possessions all over Northern Ireland—we are not prepared to see a continuation of this sectarian force as it has existed in Northern Ireland for so long.
I ask for a guarantee that there will not be rigid adherence to the figure of 6,000, and there should be no rush towards the all important date of 1st April. If we rush forward to that date, it will be an appropriate day. It will certainly be All Fools' Day, because only a fool would rush to bring this regiment into existence in present circumstances without ensuring that it is representative of the whole community.
The Minister and the Government can allay the fears of the Northern Ireland minority because they want this force. But they want to be sure that if they go into it they will be given equal op- 1398 portunity with the other members of it. I realise that pressure may be brought to bear on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I have no doubt that pressures have been brought to bear and that behind the scenes the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland has been telling my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, "Unless we take all the B Specials into this new force there will be a backlash". I believe that that is one of the reasons why the Government here agreed to the name "Ulster Defence Force" and why they have agreed to the figure of 6,000.
But if there is to be a backlash in Northern Ireland appeasement will not prevent it. The extreme Right wing element in Northern Ireland are at present intent on creating a backlash—I do not level any charges against hon. Members opposite they know this as well as I do—and if action must be taken to crush this backlash, I believe that this Government should take it unhesitatingly and stop the appeasement policy which they appear to be following at the moment.
The fact that not all of my hon. Friends are in the House now should not indicate to the Secretary of State that they are unconcerned about the present situation in Northern Ireland, because I know that if we are not given undertakings this evening many of there will find themselves in the Lobby against the Government. I should be hesitant to take that step, particularly as the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South said that he will not support the Second Reading. There might be something of an altercation in the Lobby.
I am trying to be as reasonable as I can. All over Ulster there are violent passions just beneath the surface. These passions are surging through the whole community in Northern Ireland. The Government will find themselves in a difficult position if they appear to be doing one thing for one side of the community which brings a reaction from the other side. But they have acted very stupidly in acceding to this request for a force of 6,000, particularly in view of the publicity which has been associated with the recruitment. I hope that it will be made clear this evening that this force 1399 will be representative of the whole community and that no bar will be placed on any potential recruit because of his religion. If he believes in the eventual reunification of the country, he should be eligible to become a member of this force.
In three-quarters of his speech, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) justified every single action of the B Specials and then indulged in something like a charity performance. He wanted car allowances for them. He wanted them to have telephones in their houses. I realise why he had to make that speech—because he was looking over his shoulder at the vote of no confidence passed on him by one of the more extreme associations in his constituency. But he will have to show courage, just as all hon. Members from Northern Ireland constituencies will have to show courage. I could take the stand this evening that I am opposed to this regiment at all costs and that as someone who believes in the eventual establishment of an Irish workers' republic it ill becomes me to say that there should be a British force to defend Ulster. I am taking a courageous stand against many people who may be militantly opposed to me.
I dare say that this force will come into being. I want to see in Northern Ireland an acceptable force to prevent the activities of the Ulster Volunteer Force—people who have been causing such disruption in Northern Ireland and who were threatening no later than yesterday morning to cause further disruption. At the same time, I want to make it clear that if we are given guarantees I will not oppose the formation of the new force. But my hon. Friends and I will table many detailed Amendments and because we shall feel so intently about them we shall have to take them to a Division unless the Government agree to what we regard as reasonable requests.
By accepting this force, because I believe as a political realist that it is something that will have to be brought about, I in no way abdicate from my belief in the establishment of an Irish Republic in the future. In doing so, I know that I have the support of my hon. Friends on this side of the House because 1400 I believe that that is something which could not in any way harm the interests or the prosperity of the people in these islands.
I hope that I will be given the undertakings which I have reasonably asked of the Secretary of State for Defence. If those undertakings are not given, I will unfortunately, for the first time since I entered this House, find myself in the Lobby, even tonight, against the Government.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), with his acceptance in principle of the Ulster Defence Regiment, will not be accused by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) of being one of the dupes of Major Chichester-Clark or a latter-day Redmondite, a phrase which, I understand from the Irish papers, the hon. Lady has used recently in connection with Mr. John Hume.
I also think, as does the hon. Member for Belfast, West, that the regiment had to be formed. A force of this kind was essential in the Northern Ireland situation. My concern tonight is to see that we get the right kind of force as described by the hon. Member. I agree with many of the conditions which he has attached to it and which, I am sure, my right hon. and hon. Friends will support in Committee.
One condition which the hon. Member has mentioned and which other hon. Members have touched upon but about which I am not sure is the formation of the advisory committee, which the Secretary of State said that he would consider. In setting up a committee of this kind, we might be implicitly accusing the General Officer Commanding of bias, since under the present arrangements he would be responsible for the selection and vetting of recruits. I am sure that no one in this House would wish to suggest that the G.O.C. needs to have somebody looking over his shoulder to make sure that there is no element of bias.
§ Mr. Healey
I have that very much in mind as a risk. It would not be my intention to give the advisory committee, as it were, oversight over the G.O.C.'s responsibility for vetting as such. I think, however, as was suggested in a speech 1401 earlier by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), that there may well be a case for such a committee to keep an eye on the general policy and the way the whole thing is going. That is rather the sort of role that I would envisage for the advisory committee. I hope that the House will not press me beyond this today, because it is a new suggestion in which I see merit, but I would like to consider it more carefully before taking a final decision.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The right hon. Gentleman's intervention has been very useful in clarifying the way his mind is working on the proposition that if one has an advisory committee of this kind, its terms of reference should be very broad and should in no way derogate from the authority of the G.O.C., who will be trusted by everybody in Northern Ireland to make his unbiased selection of applicants for recruitment to the regiment.
The other point on which I wish to touch briefly, and which was made also by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, is the name of the regiment. If it makes the force more acceptable to the minority in the province, it does not matter what we call it. After all, what is in a name? Cannot the Secretary of State consider this and, in the special conditions that exist, think seriously about the proposal that the force should be called the Northern Ireland Defence Regiment instead of Ulster Defence Regiment? Most hon. Members of this House could not care less what it is called, but if there were likely to be strong passions in the Province, I am sure that we would not object to a modification in the Bill to which, I am sure, not even the Unionists should object. It would be a more factual description.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I will give way presently. As I understand it, Northern Ireland is the correct constitutional name of the Province which the regiment is being formed to defend. If that is the case, I know that my suggestion is slightly longer than the name merely of Ulster, but I cannot see why there should be objection in principle to a change in the title.
§ Captain Orr
What I dispute is the hon. Member's use of the word 1402 "factual", because the most northerly point of the island of Ireland is not in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I know that the hon. and gallant Member is concerned about this. He has said to me on many occasions that he would like citizens belonging to the minority in Northern Ireland to become recruits in the new force. If it will make it easier for Catholics to join by changing the name from Ulster to Northern Ireland, as well as supporting his own proposition, the hon. and gallant Member would be helping to secure an object on which he is very keen.
§ Mr. Lubbock
That might be thrown into the melting pot as well in considering what should be the name of the regiment. It is difficult for an Englishman to understand these fine distinctions, but I understand from the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West and from discussions that I have had with hon. Members representing Northern Ireland that these minutiae are things that worry them and that the big issues can be slipped through without difficulty provided that one can be satisfied on things like names.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West spoke about the so-called application form, which was disowned by the Secretary of State in his introductory speech this afternoon. He said that it was introduced by a staff officer of the U.S.C. to give an indication of the numbers of former U.S.C. members who might apply. We need to go into this a little more thoroughly, because if the G.O.C. is responsible for recruitment to the new force, presumably any steps which might be taken to find out the numbers who apply, their qualifications and so on, should be taken only with the assent of the G.O.C.
I would like the Minister to make it clear whether the staff officer who distributed the so-called application form to all the former members obtained the approval of the G.O.C. before doing so. This is a rather important point, because, first, Mr. Porter or his Department issued a denial when the accusation was made by Mr. John Hume over the weekend that the form was being distributed. Then. 1403 he made a further denial in Stormont yesterday afternoon. It was only when, as pointed out by, I think, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), Mr. Hume asked Mr. Porter to read out the title at the top of the form that he said, "All right. If you insist, it is, in fact, called an application form." The Secretary of State told us this afternoon that it was no such thing and that that description was a misnomer.
§ Mr. McNamara
It was, in fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson). On the point which the hon. Member is making, if approval had not been given, what was the reason and what is my right hon. Friend doing about it? What is happening to the individual concerned?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I hope that all these matters will be looked into. I am grateful to the hon. Member for suggesting further matters which might be examined by the Minister when he replies. This is all of a pattern, as the hon. Member will have seen from the point I made concerning the advertisements.
The Secretary of State for Defence told us this afternoon that he did not look at the texts. He said that there were certain phrases in the advertisements which might have been more happily worded. That was a great masterpiece of understatement, because certainly, whatever may have been the motivation behind the drafting of the advertisements, the impression which was given was that Catholics would be discouraged from applying, contrary to the policy of both Her Majesty's Government and the Stormont Government. Once again, therefore, one wants to ask who drafted the advertisements, who gave authority for them to be inserted in the newspapers and all the similar questions which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has put concerning the application form.
When one considers both these two developments, the application form and the advertisements, one is bound to ask, who is in charge? Is it the General Officer Commanding, as we have been told in the White Paper, subject to the advisory committee and the Secretary of State, or are a great many things being done behind our backs by the Stormont Government without any proper consul- 1404 tation whatsoever? I must say that, if one looks at these two unhappy precedents, one draws the conclusion that many things have been left to the Stormont Government which would be more happily retained in the hands of the G.O.C., subject to the final authority of the Secretary of State, so that, for instance, Questions can be asked in this House, as they could not be in relation to the actions of the Stormont Government.
That is really all I want to say on this, but I think it is important that the respective duties and roles of the Stormont and Westminster Governments should be clarified a great deal before we can be perfectly satisfied with the arrangements.
Now I want to come to the composition of the Ulster Defence Regiment, as we will call it for the time being till some Amendment is tabled by hon. Members who object to that name. I want to deal, first, with the statement made by the Minister of Detence for Administration on 12th Novmeber, when he said:Of necessity, the new force will draw substantially on the Ulster Special Constabulary for its initial recruitment…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 418.]After this statement, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party asked the Minister whether he thought it was likely to increase the acceptability of the new force if a substantial majority of it were to be recruited from the former B Specials, and the Minister rather dodged this question in his reply. What he said was that a majority of the men concerned weremen who have given good and honourable service to Northern Ireland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 420.]which seems to me a complete non sequitur. I am not going to dispute the Minister's statement. I have no doubt these men have given good and honourable service to Northern Ireland. I do not take the view that most of them are ogres going round slitting the throats of Catholic babies in the middle of the night, but what I do consider is that a small minority of this force have brought the whole force into disrepute and I think, without in any way intending to prejudge the findings of the Scarman Tribunal, we have enough circumstantial 1405 evidence, some of which has been reported to the House by the hon. Member for Belfast, West and others who have visited Northern Ireland, to say that a minority of the force have not behaved responsibly and that the name of the Ulster Special Constabulary has been tainted by the actions of this very small number.
I do not see why the Minister of Defence for Administration should say "of necessity" the new force has to be drawn entirely from these people. Why, indeed, cannot we look to the large numbers of ex-Service men who must exist in the Province of Northern Ireland who have been trained in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, whether during the Second World War or since then during their two-year National military service. I hear an hon. Gentleman saying sotto voce that they are already in the U.S.C. I cannot believe that, because, surely, not all the men who passed through a period of military service while conscription was in force can be either Protestants or part of the 8,500 present members of the U.S.C. It must have been a very much larger number than that who reached military age while conscription was in force in the immediate post-war period and who would still be young enough to come within the age limits specified in the Bill. So I do not accept at all the Minister of Defence for Administration's statement that it is a matter "of necessity" that the majority of this force should be recruited from former members of the U.S.C.
Also, my suspicions have been aggravated, as, I suppose, those of other hon. Members have been, by the decision to raise the maximum size of the force from the 4,000 officers and men recommended by Lord Hunt's Committee to the 6,000 announced in the White Paper. This point was touched on on 12th November. The Minister of Defence for Administration said that the higher ceilingis a matter of calculation based on the military advice available to my right hon. Friend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 421.]But Lord Hunt also had access to military advice. as he indicates in paragraph 5 of his Report, where he mentions the consultations he had with the G.O.C., Northern Ireland. I also refer the House to paragraph 7, where he says: 1406We have been able to bring to bear on the matters falling within our terms of reference a varied background of experience gained … during military operations elsewhere in aid of the civil power.So it appears to me that Lord Hunt's Committee had access to precisely the same military advice as was available to the Secretary of State, even though, perhaps, it was not in front of the Committee quite so long. I agree with only one thing said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark), that during the period the Committee had this under examination there may have been many aspects of the problem the Committee did not have opportunity to pursue in more detail.
It seems to me there has not been adequate consultation. How did the Minister arrive at a ceiling of 50 per cent. higher than Lord Hunt';, and apparently on the basis of the same advice? The inference which has been drawn is that a concession has been made to the reactionaries who want to provide a home for as many as possible of the B Specials who want to be retained in the force. I know that many hon. Gentlemen would take the opposite point of view, that if the force is kept up to a fairly high level, then it gives greater opportunity for people not former members, or not members of the Protestant religion, to come in, and that is an arguable case.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Yes, if there is more room, as the hon. and gallant Member says. All I am saying is that the general impression created in Northern Ireland is that the increase from the figure in Lord Hunt's Report to the one announced in the White Paper has been designed as a concession to the B Specials.
Also, while dealing with the optimum size of this force, I should like to refer to paragraph 27 of Lord Hunt's Report —the Report of The Advisory Committee on Police in Northern Ireland—where this passage occurs:
Indeed everyone hopes that the reforms already in hand and those still being planned will, by removing the causes of discontent, make it less likely that in the future extremists will be able to provoke disorder and so bring about the conditions in which terrorism can be effective. Moreover a realistic assessment of the capacity of the I.R.A. to mount serious terrorist attacks would probably not rate it very high, particularly as the Government of 1407 the Irish Republic has stated publicly that it is opposed to the use of force on the border".So, quite apart from the military calculation, to which I have referred, and the advice obtained by Lord Hunt from the G.O.C., there is the political factor which must enter into the assessment being made by the House of the size of the force which is required.
If, as we hope and expect, Stormont press forward with the reforms which have been undertaken, then there will be a lessening of sectarian tension, and the type of violent action which was described by the Secretary of State, against which this Force is designed to protect Northern Ireland, will become of decreasing frequency. Therefore, if anything, I would have said that 4,000 men would be perhaps the absolute ceiling—certainly a figure very much smaller than 6,000—since these reforms. I hope, will come into effect before very long.
If we say it should be higher are we not giving a hint to those people who fear that the undertakings given by Major Chichester-Clark and the majority of the Stormont Unionists in control there are not to be carried into effect? I do not believe that. I always think the better of people till the worse has been proved, and I hope that, as far as Major Chichester-Clark is concerned, he has every good intention of pressing on and getting these reforms through. Therefore one hopes that the need for a force of this kind will decline in the near future.
I am delighted to know that it will be the G.O.C. under whose command the regiment will fall who makes the assessment of whether or not people are entitled to join the new force. I think that a test of age is a good thing. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who made many criticisms about practically everything in the Bill and in the White Paper, did not refer to the Secretary of State's qualification that men of over 55 would be retained for a short interim period after the introduction of the regiment. This worries me—it has nothing to do with the right hon. Member for Easington, who is an evergreen—but I feel that men who are aged over 55 cannot be fit for arduous and perhaps hazardous military operations. There is also a feeling in Northern Ireland that the older the people in the B Specials are the 1408 more likely are they to be sectarian bigots. There should be an upper age limit of 55 right from the start of our operations instead of it being introduced later.
I come to the other criteria; suitability of service for a military force and strict security vetting. The clarification of those phrases we shall have to look into carefully in Committee. The Secretary of State said that a person would be asked to give his name and address, his civil employment, his previous service in the Armed Forces and his religion. There may be two views on whether we should ask for a person's religion. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's motives. He wants a balanced force, and this is his method of securing it. But none of those questions on the application form will enable him to distinguish the extremists whom he wishes to exclude from the U.D.R.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said that it was clearly necessary to eliminate extremists of all complexions, and I absolutely agree with him, but from the description which the Secretary of State for Defence gave of the vetting procedure, I am not sure how this is to be done. I hope he will disclaim the idea put forward by one hon. Member that security vetting should be done by the Ulster police. I do not like that idea. It should be purely for the military to discover which people are extremists and should be excluded. I would go further than taking out the extremists. Anyone who has taken an active part in politics in Northern Ireland, of whatever kind, should be automatically debarred from joining the new force.
I asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the officers would be subject, to Queen's Regulations. I am not sure what interpretation one should place on paragraph 13 of the White Paper which states:Officers will be subject to military law at all times others when on training or duty.I do not know whether this means whether they will be subject to Queen's Regulations. It is important to know this because, as anyone who has served in the Army wll remember, the Army has no politics. Paragraph J672 of Queen's Regulations for the Army states:Regular personnel are not to take any active part in the affairs of any political organisation or party.1409 Perhaps one of the guidelines which the advisory committee might give to the G O.C. is that any person who has been the chairman or a prominent officer of a constituency association, whether Unionist, Nationalist, or whatever, or any person who is or has been a member of an Orange Lodge —
§ Mr. Lubbock
Queen's Regulations do not go as far as that, and I will explain why I use the phrase "is or has been". An extremist might merely resign the chairmanship of his local Orange Lodge, say that he has no political affiliation and get into the U.D.R. No one would want that to happen.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
If a person resigned for bona fide reasons because he wanted to join the force, he would be debarred.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The G.O.C. would have a very difficult decision to make in deciding whether a person had resigned because he had genuinely repented of his evil ways and wanted to turn over a new leaf, or whether he was determined to carry the ideals of the Orange Lodge or the I.R.A. into the U.D.R. and suborn it from the inside.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvin-grove)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument and I can see the point in it, but would not he agree that to go as far as he is suggesting would produce exactly the kind of situation which, for example, developed into the witch hunt in the United States? I do not think that he could go to the extent he is advocating in keeping people out of this force.
§ Mr. Lubbock
No, because I am not discriminating against any particular people as was done in the United States. The witch hunt mentioned by the hon. Gentleman was directed against the Communists. I am saying that, in the tense situation of Northern Ireland, anyone who has taken a prominent part in political activities in whatever cause should automatically be excluded from the new force. By that I do not mean the ordinary rank and file member of the Unionist Party or the Nationalist Party. I mean someone who has been, for in- 1410 stance the chairman of a constituency association or an Orange Lodge, someone who has occupied a promient position in a political or quasi-political organisation.
May I give an additional reason for treating the rules about political activity of members of this force more strictly in the context of Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. I wrote in the summer to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army about two N.C.O.s of the Royal Irish Rangers who appeared before their commanding officer in Ballymena for taking part in the Orange demonstration in the town. The commanding officer admolished them and gave them a rocket for disobeying an Order. I thought that this was a serious enough offence to warrant more severe punishment and I wrote to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State asking what rules applied to political activities by members of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. In his reply the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said this:In the case of the two N.C.O.s referred to … the G.O.C. took the view that in the situation prevailing in Northern Ireland association of any kind with the political events of 12th July would inevitably raise questions as to the impartiality of the Army and would thereby impede service duties. In the circumstances he was justified in forbidding soldiers to take part in them. The two N.C.O.s disobeyed this specific order and were dealt with for that disobedience.There, the hon. Gentleman was telling me, and I agree with him, that the old rule that the Army has no politics has to be interpreted even more strictly in Northern Ireland than perhaps in any other part of the world where British forces may be stationed.
On security vetting, I agree that anybody who believes as a political philosophy in a united Ireland should not be debarred from joining the new force. I happen to believe in a united Ireland, not in the immediate future, because that would not be possible against the wishes of the majority in the Province, but I see this as a long term goal on a purely voluntary basis between the peoples of the North and the South and I think ultimately it will come.
I would not advocate the use of any force. In fact, I would defend Northern Ireland against anyone who attempted to 1411 impose unification upon it. I was glad that in an intervention the Secretary of State for Defence appeared to approve the point of view that people who believe in the philosophy of a united Ireland should not be debarred from joining the force. I should like this to be made plain by the Secretary of State in the House and in any future advertisements inviting persons to join up.
I conclude by saying that I consider it to be a dangerous precedent to allow people to keep weapons at home. The examples of Switzerland and Denmark given by the Secretary of State are quite irrelevant. There is no sectarian bitterness in those countries and there is no likelihood that weapons kept at home by the citizen forces of those countries would be abused.
I realise that the retention of weapons in homes will be authorised only in special circumstances and with the approval of the G.O.C. But the example given by the Secretary of State in answer to an intervention was ridiculous. He said that if a man lived near to a key installation and the depot in which the arms were kept happened to be several miles away, then in the event of imminent sabotage that individual could not be expected to go all the way to the depot to draw his arms and then travel back to the power station, or the dam, whatever it may be, which saboteurs were expected to attack.
Surely the Secretary of State is not saying that only one man would be put on such a duty. He would be working in a unit. If other members of the unit lived in the neighbourhood of the depot, why should they not come out, together with their arms, and join the man at the installation concerned when an emergency arose and not before. I cannot think of any military circumstances in which it would be necessary for individuals to retain weapons in their own houses. This point must be gone into in more detail in Committee.
I know that many hon. Members still wish to speak and I will draw my remarks to a close. Although this debate has emphasised the military aspect of the Northern Ireland situation, we shall not lose sight of the fact that the civil rights reforms which have been set in train, and which are to be pursued vigorously 1412 by the Home Secretary and also by the Northern Ireland Government, will move to a rapid conclusion so that the new force will be of a temporary nature and so that Northern Ireland can be restored to peace in the shortest possible time.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I would make a brief comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I agreed with practically the whole of his speech. But I could not possibly agree with the idea that anybody who had been a member of the Orange Lodge or a similar organisation should be debarred from becoming a member if this force. I thought that we desired to eliminate discrimination altogether, not to replace one form of discrimination with another. We would not be wise to pursue that particular line of thinking—although I can understand why the hon. Member sought to raise the matter—and I hope that we will not move in that direction.
I was uneasy when the announcement was made in the House that this new regiment was to be formed. I still am uneasy, but for different reasons. It seemed at the outset as if my right hon. Friends were agreeing to the disbandment of the B Specials, but replacing it with something else which basically was the B Specials in another form. However, my right hon. Friends cannot be accused of that particular sin. They have been falling over backwards to accommodate the Government of Northern Ireland and have given certain ground which perhaps they had no intention of giving.
I draw attention to the words of Major Chichester-Clark on this matter, as reported in the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, 15th November. He said:With the acceptance of these proposals at Westminster and Stormont, the U.S.C. as such will cease to exist. But its traditions of service will, I am sure, continue to live on in the new forces through the men who come forward to serve Ulster.He went on to say:Many of us, I know, would have liked the U.S.C. to continue, but since circumstances made that impossible, let us at any rate be profoundly thankful that such thorough steps are being taken to ensure that Ulster remains secure.Major Chichester-Clark is there saying that the traditions of service will continue to live on in the new force, but at the same time that he is sorry to see the old 1413 B Specials go. It would appear that. Major Chichester-Clark had some idea that within the new force something very much like the old force could be rebuilt. I am not suggesting that this is wanted by my right hon. Friends, but at the same time as Major Chichester-Clark made his statement the advertisements were going out, the television programmes were being broadcast, and it was being suggested, indeed advocated strongly, that the old B Specials should join up with the new force, and, obviously, were being encouraged to do so on a large scale.
The Cameron Report and all our knowledge and experience of the Northern Ireland situation prove beyond doubt that the minority in Northern Ireland for years considered the B Specials as a military wing of the Unionist Party. It was considered to be an instrument for enforcing Unionist policies in a military sense in Northern Ireland. If that is the fear, rightly or wrongly, of the people in Northern Ireland who are not in the majority, it is quite obvious that we in this House must do everything possible to ensure that that fear is completely removed, that the old image should completely disappear, and that, if there is to be a new force, it must not be tainted with the old concept of the purpose of the B Specials. We must get this point across to the people of Northern Ireland. Yet, at the same time as these statements were being made in this House, there were these comments on the other side of the water.
I would like to say that we ought not to have a new force at all in Ulster. I would like the position to be that we could say that we were not going to have the B Specials replaced by the Ulster Defence Regiment. There has been a great deal of exaggeration of the need for such an organisation. The Hunt Report., on page 12, says:Moreover, a realistic assessment of the capacity of the I.R.A. to mount serious terrorist attacks would perhaps not rate it very high, particularly as the Government of the Irish Republic has stated publicly that it is opposed to the use of force on the border.A little earlier, the report said:It should not be inferred from this assessment of the possible threat from terrorism that terrorist attacks are likely.We are told that this new force will not be involved in riots or internal affairs of that kind. Nor, we are hastily as- 1414 sured, is it designed to deal with the Republican Government. It is designed against terrorist attacks. But, as the Hunt Committee clearly pointed out, there does not seem any likelihood of terrorist attacks on a large scale. So why do we need a force of 6,000 people?
I know that, in Northern Ireland, over the years there have been attacks of a terrorist nature. I remind the House that my own City of Liverpool has had its water supply from Wales blown up six times. Yet we have not had a special force brought into being to deal with the Welsh Nationalists. The situation has been exaggerated, although, of course, there have been terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland. But if we had the equivalent size of force in this country in such a voluntary organisation, whatever it might be called. we would have a force of about 250,000, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) pointed out. Even with the greatest of terrorist attacks, we in this country would not need a force of that size to deal with them.
The whole situation has been greatly exaggerated, because, in the past, the force of B Specials has been used as part of the weapons of the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland to maintain their political control… I want to see that ended. I do not think it essential to have a force of this kind, but if we are to have a force, then the absolute maximum of numbers must be that laid down in the Hunt Report—no more than 4,000.
I hope that there will not be any great hurry in recruiting for this new force. I hope that the Government will not encourage all the B Specials overnight to leave that force and join the new regiment. If they do that, the minority in Northern Ireland will not join the regiment—not even those who have served in the British forces—because they will still believe that they are being put in the position of people without equality of rights.
Certainly, I hope that, in recruiting, the Government will look for noncommissioned officers who are in the minority part of Ulster's population but who have also been members of the British forces, and that these N.C.O.s will be given positions of responsibility in the new regiment. I hope that such 1415 men will be positively looked for. I suppose that here I am asking for positive discrimination, but I feel that it is essential to build up the full confidence of the people of Northern Ireland.
I hope that the Government will reconsider the name of the regiment. Its very name—the Ulster Defence Regiment —is a provocation not only of the minority in Northern Ireland but of the people in Eire. We must ensure that there is no question of this type of provocation.
I do not want to make a long speech, because other hon. Members wish to speak. I always feel that it is something of a scandal when hon. Members make long speeches, because I feel that, if they cannot put their basic points in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes, there is something wrong with them. Surely one can put one's main arguments in a short time without padding a speech out. We have had a few speeches tonight which have strained my patience, if no one else's particularly as I was trying to get into the debate myself.
But there are many other questions we are concerned about. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has urged the case for a special advisory committee and I hope that such a committee will be established.
I also hope that we shall get some real concessions from the Government on the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an interesting speech, but he did not give us any real concessions—for example, on the question of arms being kept in people's homes. Why do we have to have this? I will quote a case reported in the Liverpool Daily Post and the Belfast Telegraph. It concerns a B Special who was carrying a gun and who fired it during an incident. He was finally brought to court and fined. His counsel told the court:At the time of the incident his reaction was responsible in that he did not discharge the gun at the crowd, but fired a warning shot in the air.If one does not let the B Specials have the guns, they cannot carry them around. Incidentally, this man apparently had been given a Sterling machine gun. I want to make certain that in no circumstances can such a thing happen in future. I ask the Government for their 1416 assurance that members of the new force will not be allowed to have their guns at home.
I do not want to be put in a position where we shall have to oppose the Bill. It is clear that we need concessions, however. I remind the Government that there was a Bill in this House which we did not like called the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. I remind the Government, also, that some of us learnt a great deal about parliamentary tactics as a result and that this Bill is to be taken on the Floor of the House. Therefore, I should like to point out to my right hon. and hon. Friends, without making any threat, what happened on that occasion. We want some tangible concessions. If we do not get them, then it will be a long time before the Houses passes this legislation.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
It would not be unreasonable to remind the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that the precedent of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill is not a good one in this respect, because what he referred to was due to joint action by back benchers on both sides of the House.
I welcome the tone with which the hon. Gentleman started. Indeed, I welcome generally the moderation of his approach. Fundamentally, he made the same points as most hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken and I will deal with them in due course.
I found the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) very difficult to follow, because I was not clear whether he thought that there should be any kind of defence force. His solution seemed to be a total counsel of despair. But both he and the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) had the common desire, as had the hon. Member for Walton, of not hurrying the matter. Their approach was, "Let us, if we can, delay the Bill. Let us delay its implementation".
I am not sure whether they appreciate that by delaying the Bill—and this rather undermines the strength of the threat of the hon. Member for Walton to his right hon. and hon. Friends—the Ulster Special Constabulary will remain in being. The satus quo will prevail. Instead of being superseded by the Ulster Defence Regiment, properly under the command of the
1417 Minister of Defence and ultimately under the direction of this House, we will still have the Ulster Special Constabulary. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen opposite would be wiser to press this legislation through the House as swiftly as possible so that the new Ulster Defence Regiment can come into being.
I thought the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), about the fears, suspicions and objections to the legislation, more moderate and compelling than any other. I hope that that accolade will not be the kiss of death to him and the people who support him. But it was quite true. We recognise from that speech, rather than from others, the sincerity of the fears and suspicions that may exist, and I hope, during the course of my speech, to deal with them.
§ Mr. McNamara
Whether or not it is an accolade, I will grin and bear it. But is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that those of my hon. Friends whose speeches he would not regard as temperate are not honest and sincere?
§ Captain Orr
I was not seeking to imply that. The hon. Gentleman gave us an example of how to express fears and suspicions without using words which can be inflamatory. I refer in this context to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) who, throughout his speech, used words which were so irresponsible and inflammatory as to defeat the object of everything we are trying to do.
What are we trying to do basically? We are on the second leg of an operation designed to take away from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, assisted as it has been in the past by the Ulster Special Constabulary, the para-military role which neither of them should have had to bear for so long. We are trying to restore a situation where the police carry out the proper police role, which we were debating on Monday, of a civilian police force with the confidence of all sections of the community.
We are trying to devise a defence force to take on the former para-military functions of looking after the security of the State which the majority of people living in the State feel to be threatened. The hon. Gentleman recognised that there 1418 were fears amongst the majority, quite rightly so, just as I recognise with him that there are fears in the minority. We are now on the second leg of the operation which we started on Monday.
There is not a great deal of virtue in looking back in the way that the hon. Member for Penistone did—
§ Captain Orr
I will accept that. I am willing to put my hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Penistone in the same bracket as they are likely to appear in the same Lobby. If the hon. Member for Penistone likes the juxtaposition, he is welcome to it.
§ Mr. Mendelson
Speaking for myself, I do not like the juxtaposition. I did not go into the past. I explained the political situation of the last few weeks and months which forms the background to this debate.
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Gentleman tried to pre-empt the Scarman Tribunal. I and, I think, most responsible and sensible people prefer to await the verdict of the independent Scarman Tribunal, and this is what we do.
I come now to the Bill, and I want to deal with the main objections which have been put forward from hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The first point I regard as comparatively small in a sense. Several hon. Gentlemen—in particular, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), but I will come to him later—have pointed out the difficulty of the name of the new regiment. My interruption of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was genuinely seeking information. I wanted to know what name he wished to put in place of the Ulster Defence Regiment. He sugge3ted the Northern Ireland Defence Regiment.
§ Captain Orr
I did not. I was acknowledging that he had made a constructive suggestion. I did not say that I agreed with him. I like the proposed name. Ulster Defence Regiment is a perfectly good name. Ulster, as I think the 1419 hon. Gentleman said, has a long military tradition. The Royal Ulster Rifles is a famous regiment. I have never heard of members of the minority in Northern Ireland objecting to serving in the Royal Ulster Rifles—presumably because the Royal Ulster Rifles is part of the British Army and is under British Army control. But this new regiment will be part of the British Army and under British Army control. I cannot see that the name "Ulster" is any more of a barrier—
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Lady has no relevance to the debate. I am dealing with serious matters.
I do not suppose that the hon. Member for Belfast, West objects to taking his milk from Ulster Dairies or travelling on Ulster buses or watching Ulster Television, or any of the other things. This point about the name is a silly and rather trivial point.
§ Mr. McGuire
The hon. and gallant Member has made some valid points, but on the question of the Royal Ulster Regiment does not he agree that that regiment was formed when there was no dispute about what Ulster was? The Royal Ulster Regiment is much older than the formation of the Six Counties Government. Is not this the first time that this British sovereign Parliament in Westminster has given credence to the name "Ulster", and is not this what hon. Members like the hon. and gallant Member want?
§ Captain Orr
That is not quite true. Successive Ministers of Agriculture in this sovereign United Kingdom Parliament have negotiated with the Ulster Farmers' Union. I do not see that we should make so much fuss about something which is really rather trivial.
§ Captain Orr
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should forget it. It is not a point of very much substance. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman supports me.
§ Mr. McNamara
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying that it is not a point of much substance and should be forgotten, why not forget it, agree with me, and then we shall all be happy?
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. and gallant Member should not object. I was interrupted on ten occasions—three times by my own Front Bench; impertinent and impudent interventions—and seven times by hon. Members opposite. Why does the hon. and gallant Gentleman object?
§ Captain Orr
I am not objecting in the least. I never object to the right hon. Member for Easington. The age limit to which he objected would allow him to serve in that regiment. He would be very welcome to do so.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I was not objecting to the name. That did not matter to me. The primary consideration in my mind is that if we want to raise a force we must ensure that everybody gets a chance to get in. If people are security-vetted along certain lines, or are asked to take an oath of allegiance which they regard as objectionable, we shall never get the force we want.
The right hon. Gentleman's two points concern people being required to take an oath of allegience, and vetting procedures preventing a minority section from joining the new force. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has moved slightly from his earlier position. Do I take it that he would like to see a force in which both sections of the community would be interested?
§ Captain Orr
That is good. I agree with him.
I now come directly to the question: who should form the new force? Some play has been made upon the question whether it would be possible for anyone whose basic philosophy favoured a united Ireland, in the long run, to join the new regiment. I do not know. That is for the military authorities to judge, but in my opinion they should not base their judgment on a man's ultimate political philosophy. Some people believe in world government rather than government by States.
1421 The G.O.C. and those responsible for admission to the new force will have to consider whether the person seeking to join it is genuinely concerned, first, to defend the frontiers of the United Kingdom if they should be attacked and, secondly, to preserve the security of the State in which he lives. Those are the two criteria. But because of the peculiar circumstances of Northern Ireland the procedures should be strict. There should be strict inquiry.
I do not know how this can be done. The task will be a very difficult one, because all people of good will want to see a new regiment which is representative of all sections of the community. I am not sure whether my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) would agree with me about that. None the less, I think that we all want to see the new regiment including people from all sections of the community.
We are in a difficulty—certainly at the beginning—in that the people who are ready, able and willing to give such service are those who have done so for years. They would be the natural people to recruit into the new regiment. They would be expected to reply.
§ Mr. Fitt
Does not the hon. and gallant Member agree that there does not seem to be any prospect of an immediate attack upon the Constitution or the border of Ireland, and that in the present situation many Catholic ex-Service men who have given service in Her Majesty's Forces would be just as well trained and capable of fulfilling the role required of this new regiment as would members of the special constabulary?
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Gentleman may well be right. I should certainly welcome into the new force people who had given service in Her Majesty's Forces—people who had already shown that they were prepared to be loyal to the State. I am certain that they would be welcomed by any members of the present Ulster Constabulary who might join the new force. They would be welcomed as comrades.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer) said that there was no need for this force. He said that the necessity for it had been greatly exaggerated. I profoundly wish that I could agree, but I do not. I profoundly 1422 hope that the need for the Ulster Defence Regiment will disappear, but it will not. The Hunt Committee did not support the hon. Gentleman's view that a new defence force of this sort was not necessary. In paragraph 174, it referred to… the excellent services rendered to the Ulster Special Constabulary and the community at large by the permanent and full-time officers and members of that Forceand expressed the hope… that they will find it possible to continue in office for as long as their services are required.In paragraph 170, the committee referred to protection of the border and the State against armed attacks. In other words, throughout, it is apparent that the committee, for whatever reasons, considers that we should have a defence force of this sort. I am prepared to accept, as I hope we all can, so far as the general principle is concerned upon which we will be voting tonight, the setting-up of the regiment, what Hunt has said—that we need it.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West said that, in supporting this, he was displaying political courage. I agree with him: I think that he is. He is trying hard to be responsible. It is sometimes fascinating to listen to his speeches when he is trying to do so, because he has the greatest difficulty. But I appreciate the fact
§ Mr. McNamara
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should not be either so pompous or so patronising, when one considers the conduct of his party and his position over the years.
§ Captain Orr
With due respect, that is unfair. I may be pompous—I am getting old and that cannot be helped—but I am not sure that I intended to be patronising. Considering some of the claims which the hon. Member for Belfast, West made in the past, one would never have suspected that he would come here and say that he would support an Ulster Defence Regiment. It is not in the least patronising to welcome that, as I do. Once again, I hope that it will not do him any harm that I should do so.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Would it not be much better if the hon. Gentleman left my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) to state these matters in his own way and not put a gloss on it, which could be extremely dangerous and 1423 which twists the situation, because what my hon. Friend called for was a series of guarantees about the Bill?
§ Captain Orr
I was commending the hon. Member for Belfast, West. I recognise that he called for certain guarantees. These are precisely the things with which, if I were not interrupted so much, I would deal.
What are the guarantees which have been asked for? The first is the basic one about recruitment. I have dealt with that. The second was the question of arms—
Very well, I will deal with numbers.
I have no very strong view about the size of the force, provided that it is efficient. But could I say to those hon. Gentlemen who suggest that the present limit of 6,000—it is a ceiling and not a target, as the Secretary of State said—is too high, and should be lowered, that it might make it more difficult for the military authorities to recruit members from the minorities?
One must base one's consideration of the numbers in the force upon the simple question whether 4,000 as a limit is sufficient to do the job which the Ulster Defence Regiment is intended to do. If the hon. Members do not think there should be a force of such a size, or do not think that there is a role for such a force, it makes sense to argue that the forces should be smaller and cost less. But if one accepts what the Hunt Committee has said, that there is a necessity for such a force, one really ought to see whether we are getting the right numbers. [Interruption.] If I may be allowed to develop this argument in my own way, I shall probably make a little more sense than if I make my speech in the form of a running exchange.
Whether one calls it a ceiling or a target, the Special Constabulary as it stood had a paper membership of about 8,000. In fact, at any one time not more than about 4,000 were actually on duty. It is one of the facts of life that for every four-hour guard a strength of 25 men is required. This is one of the facts on which a working party—and this was a joint working party—came to the 1424 conclusion that there should be a ceiling of something over 6,000. I think that on the whole—although we can go into this in more detail in Committee 6,000 is about right as a ceiling. It might be that 6,000 would not be required. I hope that it would not be, but if we attempt to write into legislation a ceiling of 4,000 I think that we should get into great difficulties.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West, referred to the cost of £1 million. It is as well to bear in mind, in view of the task which the Ulster Special Constabulary has carried out for so long, that the cost was about £300,000 a year.
I now come to the problem of arms. Several hon. Members—and again I can understand it—expressed concern about the possibility that the members of the new Ulster Defence Regiment could store arms at home. So far as my colleagues and I are concerned, the fewer arms stored at home the better, but I hope hon. Members will accept that there are times when it would be proper for the G.O.C.—and remember that this decision will be placed in his hands—might say that because the nearest armoury was a long way away, the speedy defence of an installation in a remote area could not be carried out if the members of the force had to be brought to the armoury. I know of installations which are in that situation. Attacks come from all quarters and not necessarily from the I.R.A., and it might be dangerous to say that the arms must of necessity always be stored centrally because of something which is written into the legislation.
There is a danger in having central armouries. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) pointed out that the arms of a whole battalion were stolen from the barracks in Armagh, and they included the general's sporting rifle. The contents of an armoury at Magilligan were stolen. There are many instances of arms being stolen from armouries. Generally speaking, small arms have been safer in the hands of individual members of the forces concerned. But, in the general context, we want to get away from a situation where there are lots of arms about in Ulster. Everyone of good will wants 1425 to see a reduction in the number of firearms there.
The Bill make it plain and everything that the Minister has said is to the effect that the arms will be issued under Military control. The people who are to have them will be subject to military law. They are not to be used except under military law. They are not to be kept at home except with the consent of the military authorities. That is not unreasonable, though we can argue about it at some length in Committee.
I do not want to delay the House, but I must repeat the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North, about training and the difficulties which might beset potential members of the new force. Northern Ireland has very large country areas where there are small farmers who are willing to give up their time for all kinds of activities, but who will find it extremely difficult to give the kind of time suggested in the White Paper. If we are to have an efficient military force, it is obvious that it must be properly trained, and no people are more keen to have proper military training than the present members of the Ulster Special Constabulary. However, there are genuine local difficulties and while no one asks for any firm undertaking, if the Minister could tell us that he recognises those difficulties, it would be welcome.
It is suggested that an advisory committee might be set up to deal with matters of general policy concerning recruitment, though it is understood that it would not deal with individual cases. Will there be a representative of the Northern Ireland Security Committee on the advisory committee? If such a committee is set up, I think that it is important for the Ulster Security Committee to be represented on it.
I will not detain the House any longer. I welcome the new regiment and support it wholeheartedly. I hope that those who have given good service to Ulster in the past will join, that it will be representative of the community, and that it will be a great success.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Miss Bernadette Devlin (Mid-Ulster)
Before beginning the main body of my speech, I want to state that, as the hon. 1426 and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said that he did not wish to delay the House for long, and in view of the remarks he made to my good self, I hope that hon. Members will excuse me if I regard the Front Bench below the Gangway opposite as empty for the duration of my speech.
Several hon. Members have welcomed the Bill, not welcomed it, or welcomed it conditionally. I want to state my own position on a number of grounds. I want to state my own position politically. Certain hon. Members opposite should have declared their interest, in that some of their ancestors—in fact, their grandfathers—founded the force—the B Specials—about which we are talking today.
I make my own position clear. I believe in the Socialist Republic of Connolly. Therefore, I consider it an impudence on the part of the Secretary of State for Defence, or any other person on the Front Bench, to ask me in principle to advocate this force to anyone.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said that he thought that I was wrong in accusing others of playing modern-day Redmondite3. For the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), it should be made clear that, although he said that he accepted that the Bill would go through Parliament, he also said that he did not take it upon himself either to tell people to join or not to join the force. Such is my position. I will not at any point play the rôle of recruiting sergeant for the forces of the British Army in my country.
Given that the Bill is going through Parliament, given that there will be a Defence Regiment in Northern Ireland, I do not want to spend much time on the title. There are much more important things in the Bill which need to be dealt with. Someone suggested that there may be other constructive titles for this force, and I cannot see anything wrong with "Local Territorial Forces (Northern Ireland) Bill" and with the regiment thereafter being known as "the Local Territorial Force". This would have no partisan bias and would offend nobody, of whatever political opinion or of whatever religion. It would also be just as short a title.
1427 To get on to more important things, let us consider the matter of defence. if we are creating a defence regiment in Northern Ireland, we must ask ourselves the question, as several hon. Members have done: defence of whom, and defence against whom? We have heard many things about whom this force will defend and against whom it will defend them.
I submit in all honesty that the Bill is not designed to defend the inhabitants of Northern Ireland either against outside guerilla attack or inside guerilla attack. It is designed wholly for no military reason. It is designed to defend hon. Members who sit on the Front Bench in this House from the Northern Ireland Government.
I will state my argument for why I believe that the force is being created to defend this House against Stormont. In the given situation of what has taken place over the past few months in Northern Ireland, it is obvious to hon. Members that the Ulster Special Constabulary is nothing more than the political armed wing of the Ulster Unionist Party. If this Government had been faced with the fact that they had to disband that force, what would the steps have been? They were faced with two prospects. Either, under Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, they assumed responsibility in the House and, on the authority of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, disbanded the force from this House, or alternatively they issued a directive to the Northern Ireland Government to have that force disbanded.
What would have been the situation? Would anybody in the Northern Ireland Government have accepted that order from this Government? Would they, on the order of the Home Secretary, have said, "Yes, the force must be disbanded "? Even if they had agreed to it, even if the Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland had tried to enforce such an order, would the 8,000 B Specials have given up the arms which they had at home? I suggest to the House that they would not have done so and that we should have been faced with another Rhodesia situation. There were 8,000 armed men in Northern Ireland who would have defied the order of this House to lay down their arms. They would 1428 have been ably assisted by the Ulster Volunteer Force. They would have been ably assisted by a number of other armed para-military forces in Northern Ireland. And they would have received the assistance of a minority of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, also in possession of arms.
That is why this Government could not take the step of doing what had to be done—simply disbanding the B Specials. Therefore a compromise had to be reached. I ask right hon. and hon. Members on the Front Benches, do they believe, in all sincerity, that there is any necessity for the force which they are bringing into being? Is Northern Ireland an integral part of the United Kingdom or is Northern Ireland a colony of Great Britain? If we are an integral part of the United Kingdom, then we have a right to the protection of the British Army. If there are not enough people in the British Army, it is better that the attention of the House be turned to recruiting members in Northern Ireland for the Regular British Army.
§ Miss Devlin
I am not prepared to give way in view of the fact that there is very little time before the winding-up speeches. I apologise.
If what we need is more people in the British Army, would it not be better, on the basis of the argument put forward by the Government in respect of the police—the beneficial nature of having policemen serve not only in Northern Ireland but also in this country—that any territorial force should also serve outside Northern Ireland? The basis of the argument for a force which will serve only in and which will be exclusive to Northern Ireland falls on the very argument advanced in respect of the police the other night.
There were no military reasons for this force. We were faced consequently with the political reason, that unless the British Government were prepared to face U.D.I. almost immediately, they had to compromise with the Stormont Government and they had to adopt a "New Forces for Old" policy. I well understand why the Government felt it necessary to do this, and, looking at parts of the Bill, I well understand what the Government have attempted to do. They 1429 have attempted to appease the B Specials, they have attempted to appease the Stormont Government, and at the same time they have attempted to assert the authority of this House over that force.
This is a compromise. While I personally do not agree with compromises, I can understand them. But having undertaken that compromise, the Ministry of Defence should have continued to adopt a firm line with the Northern Ireland Government. Had they said to them, "This is a compromise. You will have the frontier defended, though we find it unnecessary that it should be done in this way. But we will not tolerate the interference of your Government in the affairs of the Government of Westminster and we shall control this force", I could have understood the situation better.
Indeed, I submit that that is the kind of thing which was said to the Northern Ireland Government and that that is why we had the advertisements in the newspapers and on television of which we have complained. That is why we had the advertisement on television, and, with all due respect to the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, I do not think that their wingeing, cringeing apology by way of a statement to this House tonight by any means explains or justifies their actions with regard to that advertisement.
I do not want to spend much time on it, but I should like to quote from the television interview. The interviewer asked the lieutenant-colonel who was there:What about guerrilla-type activity?The colonel's reply was:This would be dealt with by the Ulster Defence Regiment which is part of the Army".The Ulster Defence Regiment does not exist and therefore is nothing. He was then asked:What would be the strength of this regiment?He replied:Up to 6,000 men.He was then asked:Who do you want in the regiment? ".He replied:The initial entry will of necessity come largely from the Ulster Special Constabulary but we shall want recruits from all sections of the community.1430 That statement was not designed to encourage anyone else to join, because it implied that preference would be given to members of the Ulster Special Constabulary. It was therefore once again a case of this Government allowing themselves to be blackmailed by the Northern Ireland Government, because I am sure that they brought up the old threat that "the Right wing might split us and the Right wing might win".
If there is a very strong right wing in the Unionist Party, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West and anyone else in Northern Ireland can assure this House that its Left wing and its middle wing simply do not exist because they are all tarred with the same brush. Therefore, it would not matter who was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland because, just as the Northern Ireland Government is the tail that wags this dog, so are the ordinary people in the constituencies in Northern Ireland the tail that wags the Prime Minister in Northern Ireland, and they do as they are told, as their Right wing tells them.
Right along the line we have had compromise after compromise. It can be seen in this Bill. I have not tonight, because much time will be spent on them in Committee, gone through the things in the Bill which need drastically to be changed. But we have been told that to be a member of the Ulster Special Constabulary will be an advantage in joining this new force on the basis of previous military training. Quite a number, in fact the majority, of hon. Members are totally unaware of what kind of training the B Specials have had. Therefore, is it in order that the Minister should say that they have training and expect this House to accept his word for it, being totally ignorant of the kind of training which they have had? I submit that they have not had either the military training or the military discipline which is usual for people who join the Regular Army. Therefore, because they belonged to a force used to lax discipline, they will be most unlikely to get into this force.
I have seen members of the B Specials. I saw them in Londonderry during August. They have been seen on television coming out of the barracks on being called out. Is it military discipline, is it the policy of the Regular Army, 1431 to have people who were supposedly members of a military or para-military body walk out on duty and to take up their positions, however offensive I thought them to be, without even having bothered to button the jackets which they were wearing, some of them without even having bothered to put their caps on straight and very few of whom had bothered to polish their shoes?
§ Miss Devlin
I will not disagree with my hon. Friend when he says that some of them were, as I would say, not quite sober.
This is not the basis of discipline in the Army. If those people could not even manage to do those things, they have no right to claim military experience. It is also a historical fact that in the early years of the war, quite a number of people joined the Ulster Special Constabulary to avoid military service. Are they the kind of people the Government now want to join the British Army?
Therefore, I submit that when the Bill comes before us in Committee, hon. Members should be in full knowledge of the extent and type of training which has been given to members of the B Specials and that it should be left to us, the Members of this Parliament, to decide whether that can even be called military training.
Allegations have been made against members of the Ulster Special Constabulary. I will quote one. This morning, a researcher of mine rang up a member of the Ulster Special Constabulary. His name is Mr. Derek Eakin. Mr. Derek Eakin is a special constable with the Tullintrain platoon.He had been accused—that is to say, allegations had been made against him—regarding the Burntollet Bridge attack. He has received a letter inviting him to join the Ulster Defence Regiment. This morning, by telephone, he told one of my researchers that he had not yet decided whether to take up his place in the Ulster Defence Regiment.
That gentleman was given to understand by the letter he received that a place was waiting for him if he wanted it. Not only should he not have a place before 1st January—
§ Miss Devlin
It is not nonsense. I will produce the document for the hon. and irrelevant Member with the telephone number of the man in question.
In the first place, that man has been led to believe that there is a place for him in what is now a non-existent force. In the second place, even were his recruitment possible, this man has been accused publicly, in a book called "Burntollet ", of particularly criminal activities at Burntollet Bridge. Nothing has been done to deny it. No charges of libel have been made against the author of that book and yet this man has been notified by the Northern Ireland authorities that he is totally welcome in a military force.
It is my honest opinion that in view of the skulduggery which has gone on on behalf of the Northern Ireland Government and of all the backdoor methods they have used to try to prejudice what is going on in this House, the Bill should, in the interests of parliamentary democracy, be withdrawn until such time as the matter is cleared up. In my opinion, it should be withdrawn for good. Since, however, I accept that it will go through whether I like it or not, I think that it should at least be withdrawn until there is an investigation into what exactly the moderate Government of Major James Dawson Chichester-Clark, Squire of Moyola, constituent of mine, have been up to behind the back of the Minister of Defence.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
The reason I am participating in the debate is simply because I regard it as important that there should be a speech from a back bencher on this side other than from the Unionist Members for Northern Ireland. I have sat through a good deal of the debate and listened to much of what has been said.
I would like, first, to comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in a pleasing and humorous speech which, I think, all of us enjoyed. The hon. Member talked 1433 about his attitude requiring courage in this House, and that is accepted. We certainly accept it.
I want to put it to the hon. Member that it can equally be said of the Unionist Members in this House and of the Stormont Government at present that they themselves are engaged in a very courageous operation in what they are trying to do in Northern Ireland by means of the progressive measures which they have introduced and which they are speeding up and with the very support which they are giving to this Bill. It is no help to any Government if they have to deal with extremists, not only extremists opposed to them but also on their own side.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West said one thing about the Union Jack and about the Queen in relation to this Bill. He said that it was a pity that volunteers under the Bill had to subscribe an oath to the Queen and that he thought that this was not necessary.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The hon. Member must not use a point of order to continue to debate.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member may read his speech in HANSARD tomorrow. That is what he said. I listened to him.
There are a number of reasons why I support the Bill and this force. [Interruption.] I do not wish to add animosity to the proceedings. Plenty of animosity has been injected into the debate by Members on the other side. If they want some from me they can have it. I am quite capable of giving it, but I am trying to keep the temperature down. Hon. 1434 Members can have it which way they wish.
I support the Bill for a number of reasons. The first is that whatever may be said about the dependence or the independence of Northern Ireland under the Stormont Government, and however that may be seen by hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin), the fact is that the British taxpayer has to pay a lot of money for this force, and has to pay very largely for the troubles there have been and are in Northern Ireland. We want to see an end of these troubles, and I think that this force can contribute towards bringing peace in Ulster. Otherwise, I would not support it.
The hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster has on more than one occasion come to this House and said that she is concerned more than anything else with the social problems in Northern Ireland —with jobs, with houses and the like. It is impossible to create jobs or build houses in Northern Ireland while we have the kind of disturbing situation which exists there. She and the hon. Member for Belfast, West should be contributing to reducing the temperature in her country, but I am not aware that the hon. Lady makes a great contribution towards that end. In fact, the speeches I have heard from her on two occasions have been somewhat inflammatory, not conducive to creating the kind of situation which will mean social progress in Northern Ireland.
Statements have been made tonight by the hon. Member for Belfast, West and others to the effect that the new regiment should not be largely composed of members of the Unionist Party, and that it should be open to all; some doubt was expressed whether others would join. I want to put this to the hon. Member for Belfast, West and to the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster. It must be obvious that in their country the Unionist Party is in the majority. I remind the House that it is in the majority, in a parliamentary election, and that no complaint has been made about any difficulty with the franchise for parliamentary elections.
That being so, perforce Unionists will make up the majority of this new force, as they did of the B Specials. I hope, however, that others will join, and that 1435 the new voluntary force will, with the co-operation of all, act for the good of Northern Ireland. In no country can the minority run the majority, and the minority in Northern Ireland has to come to terms with the majority.
Finally, may I deal with the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster. She, of course, wants to be the Joan of Arc of Northern Ireland, but she does not want to go to the stake. She says that she does not intend to support the Bill. To? morrow, she is publishing a book—
§ Miss Devlin
On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to continue reporting as facts statements which were not made on this side of the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is responsible for the accuracy of the statements which he makes, not the Chair.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Lady is tomorrow publishing a book and I wish to quote from it. She has said that she has no intention of acting as a recruiting sergeant for the new force. She would make a very attractive recruiting sergeant, so it is a pity. I would not expect her to support recruitment to the new force, because on page 204 of her book she says, in relation to recent events:We leafleted the Free State Army, asking them to desert and come to our aid. We campaigned among the British troops, asking them to do the same thing.The hon. Lady said in the House tonight that she expected British troops to keep law and order in Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Lewis
The best contribution that the hon. Lady can make to the present situation is to try to encourage this force to be a force for good in Northern Ireland. It is important for her, for every citizen in that country and in this country that the British troops should come out of Ireland as soon as possible. That is my aim, the British taxpayer's aim and it should be her aim, so that Northern Ireland can peaceably get on with its own affairs.
§ The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
This has been, as I expected, an extremely lively debate. What has surprised me, although perhaps it should not have done so, is that it has also been, without exception, an extremely good humoured debate. In spite of the conviction with which disagreement between both sides of- the House has been expressed, I do not believe that any speech has been made which will fundamentally make more difficult the task of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in taking this next proposed step in what we hope will prove to be the solution of the difficult position in Northern Ireland.
It is perhaps natural that a great deal of the debate has been concerned with the political background to the Bill rather than with its military future consequences. I was very much in agreement with the opening words of the Secretary of State in his speech this afternoon. I thought that he had the matter absolutely right when he said that he recognised the anxieties aroused by the proposals in the Bill, but equally he was at pains to remind the House that entrenched attitudes, historical in origin—one could call them convictions or prejudices—are nevertheless the realities of political life in the present situation in Northern Ireland, whoever holds the responsibility there, and must be taken into account.
I will not involve myself too much in the political and historical part of the debate. I wish to say nothing that might make the task of the Secretary of State more difficult. But there are certain comments I should like to make on the military aspects of the proposals and 1437 the problems underlying them, many of which have already been touched on in the debate.
The Bill will establish a new defence force for Northern Ireland, and I hope that it will be passed speedily so as to enable the job of organisation and recruitment to proceed. Incidentally, I have heard some part of almost every speech made today. I do not believe a single hon. Member, with the possible exception of the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin)—but I am not even sure about that—has disputed the need for some auxiliary force of this character if security in Northern Ireland is to be promoted and sustained. Certainly nobody, whatever reservations they may have had about the Government's proposals, has made any suggestions about a clear or superior alternative.
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), in an intervention early in the debate, wanted a Select Committee. He wanted some delay until the problem was subjected to further examination. I do not believe he was right. No point raised in this debate today, from either side of the House, is beyond the capacity of the House to resolve in, I hope, a not too prolonged Committee stage.
I will say why I agree with the Government that the Bill is necessary. Last week I visited Northern Ireland and I formed the following impressions. Admittedly, the impressions were fleeting ones, but I hope that they do not present an inaccurate picture of the needs of the security situation. The first impression was that there are not enough ordinary civil police there at this moment to do the job that we expect from the police in this country. The remedy for that is already in hand.
Secondly, we need in Northern Ireland, and will continue to need, a military garrison of Regular soldiers. That garrison has been considerably reinforced. This state of affairs cannot be permanent, and will not need to be permanent, as the police forces increase in confidence and in strength.
But there are other roles which will require to be discharged if the security of Northern Ireland is assured, and these are roles which cannot be discharged by 1438 the Regular forces—in the first place, because we have not enough, and never shall have enough, and, secondly, because, even if we had enough, these roles, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, are an uneconomic and wasteful use of Regular military manpower. Even now, I think, it is accepted that trained Regular soldiers are misemployed—though necessarily at the moment—doing jobs on the streets which would be far better discharged by ordinary police were they available.
I think that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) rather underplayed these other roles, however, and was wrong to describe them as grotesque. I do not agree with him. Driving around Northern Ireland, I had pointed out to me out of the car window a place in the water main to Belfast which had been blown up in a moment of tension. The need for adequate guards for designated key points and vital installations at a time of communal disturbance is surely incontrovertible, and I do not see who is to do this job unless it be some sort of auxiliary force of the type contemplated.
At the moment, these jobs are being discharged by the B Specials. If it were not for what they are doing, the situation could not be contained. It has been decided that an alternative kind of force is preferable, however. That is the recommendation of the Hunt Committee and it has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government here and the Government of Northern Ireland. The sooner we can get on with passing this Bill through the House and raising and recruiting this new force and getting it into operation, the better for all concerned, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) pointed out in his very able speech.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I did not say what the right hon. Gentleman has attributed to me. What I was referring to was the idea, which I described as grotesque and fantastic, that when an act of sabotage happens men should be sent to the area. That is of no value. But if the British Government or the Government of Northern Ireland apprehend acts of sabotage, such as interference with electric installations and the like, surely they should assemble the necessary men at the 1439 point where they apprehend sabotage or attack and where this body can take the necessary action. Surely the right hon. Gentleman should be among the last persons in the world to talk in such a fashion, since he has been Secretary of State for War and knows something of military affairs.
§ Mr. Ramsden
If I mistook the right hon. Gentleman, I apologise. I shall come to the question of the deployment of the new force in a moment. I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman does not dispute the need for raising such a force.
Reference has been made to the problem of where the arms of the force should be kept. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) asked me directly whether I could produce any sound military reason for the decision that, in certain circumstances, some of the arms should be kept at home. My reply to him is that I believe that there is indeed in this case a sound military case for that decision by the Government. I believe that, in certain circumstances in the country districts, it would be impracticable to expect any effective action from the members of the force did they not have their weapons readily accessible. I believe that to be effective in certain cases would not be possible for members of the force had they to go to central armouries to collect their weapons.
However, the House would be wrong to make too much of this point. I think that the practice will probably continue much as at present, with weapons centralised in the big cities, and that the dispensations from the military commanders to allow the keeping of weapons at home will be exercised responsibly and only in appropriate cases. Some of my hon. Friends made a point about the desirability of keeping the training obligation reasonably flexible. This was a good point, and I hope that we shall get a satisfactory reply.
Some hon. Members opposite seemed to find a sinister implication in it, as though flexibility would lead to indiscriminate admissions to the force. I am sure that there is no such intention. I am sure that the degree of flexibility implied in the White Paper recognises that the force is bound to have recruits 1440 from country people, some of whom may have to milk cows seven days a week and for whom, therefore, an obligation of prolonged continuous training would create difficulties.
Much has been said today about the requirements for strict security vetting of future recruits to the force. The fact that there will be a procedure of security vetting and that it will be strictly administered by the military authorities ought to be a reassurance to both sides in the argument. It is clear from what we have heard today that some reassurance is required, because genuine anxieties have been expressed.
An operation on this scale is a considerable job. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure he has—has the necessary personnel available to conduct the operation and that, important as it is, it will not subject the raising of the force to undue delay.
Hon. Members, mainly on the other side of the House, have made a good deal of reference to the steps taken in Northern Ireland by the Northern Ireland Government—I suspect, in consultation with Her Majesty's Government—between publication of the White Paper and Second Reading of the Bill today. I thought that the Secretary of State was taken a little too much to task by some of his hon. Friends in this connection. I am inclined to look with some charity on the preparatory measures which were put in hand after publication of the White Paper.
There was some apprehension, when I was in Northern Ireland, about the political effect which publication of the White Paper might have. It was felt that had the two previous reports been given the benefit of a little more preparation of public opinion, the danger of disturbances might have been avoided. Everybody concerned was at pains to make sure that the same thing should not happen this time. Therefore, as publication of the White Paper has gone reasonably smoothly, I would not reproach the Government too much for what has happened. On the whole, the operation has been successfully conducted.
The right hon. Gentleman, when referring to pay, confused me somewhat. His hon. Friend may care to clear this up in his reply. I thought that the Secretary of State said that the rate of pay 1441 would be better than that now current for the Ulster Special Constabulary, but not comparable with that of the TAVR.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I am obliged. The question of pay is important, because many of these men will have to undertake these duties in their spare time, on top of a regular day's work. I understand that at the moment the ordinary man is getting about 9s. a hour. I have not worked out in hourly rates what the present proposals amount to, and any further information that the Government can give will be valuable.
The House appreciated the concluding passage in the Secretary of State's speech, when he referred to the constructive part which a military presence can perform and is performing in the breakdown of barriers between communities. We can see this happening now in Northern Ireland, and there is obviously scope for it to continue. I therefore make one suggestion: I have talked to people in Northern Ireland, and one of the things that most of them have pointed out is the difficulty of the development of friendly communal relations when there is a strictly segregated system of education, and children go to different denominational schools. That happens here, and it is not an easy problem to solve. We can sympathise with the diagnosis of the consequences.
In paragraphs 110 and 111 of its Report the Hunt Committee suggests a development in the form of a cadet force. The Committee suggests it in the context of the police, but whether in a police or a military context the idea is of value. I do not believe that this suggestion has been taken up by the Government in a police context, and I hope that it will receive some study from the Ministry of Defence, possibly on the lines of the Junior Cadet Force here.
The House wishes to hear the hon. Member's reply, and I can now bring my speech to a conclusion. During a day of very lively debate, when strongly-held opinions have been forcibly expressed, as one who is not personally involved in Ulster politics, I have been trying to keep an eye on the ball and 1442 to bear in mind that the truth of the situation that confronts us is this. Violence has occurred in the last year, property has been destroyed, people have been killed, homes have been burnt and, as always, the sufferers have been ordinary, innocent people, on the whole quite apart from political considerations and political attitudes. Their security can be assured by the creation of a force such as the Government are proposing and I hope that the House, both tonight and in Committee next week, will give the Bill as fair a wind as possible.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
For over 100 years debate in this House on Ireland has been as much concerned with what has gone on in the past as with the proposals that the Government of the day were putting forward for the future. That has been inevitable today.
The importance of the past in a debate about the future was clearly shown in the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). But as we respond, as we must, to demands placed on us by the history of Ireland in general and Northern Ireland in particular, there is an obligation upon us to respond in particular ways. The first way is to understand that all the passions, fears, memories and—using the word in its best rather than its worst sense—prejudices that we have heard expressed today are genuinely reflected in the life of Northern Ireland, are genuinely felt in Northern Ireland and appear in the Province as the real fears of ordinary people who are genuinely concerned about their welfare, their safety and their lives ahead.
We may disagree with their fears, we may believe them to be ill-founded or fantastic, but we should be very wrong to pretend that they do not exist. Were we to ignore in this debate the sort of fear which characterises a large part of Northern Ireland, we should produce a result which, in the short run, could lead only to riot and disturbance and, in the long run, could probably hold back the processes of reform and improvement to which all in this House and, I believe, the 1443 Government at Stormont are now committed.
The other thing which we must make very clear, thinking about the history of Northern Ireland, as well as its future, is the role of the Army in Northern Ireland, as it is now, and as it will be when augmented by the new regiment which we propose to create. It is, of course, not the purpose or the intention of the Army, now or as it will be, to preserve security in Northern Ireland as an alternative to progress and change. It is, in fact, the very opposite. The Army which is now there and the new regiment which we hope, after Christmas, will augment it, is there to ensure that security continues, while reform goes on hand in hand. Nothing about our role and our presence in Northern Ireland can be more important than that.
Certainly, no other formula for our presence there would be acceptable to the Secretary of State for Defence or to the Government as a whole. But, having paid proper deference to history, which is bound to cloud—"cloud" is the right word—the judgment of all of us about Northern Ireland, it is absolutely essential that the understanding of the history should not prejudice us against the hope that things can change—and things are indeed changing.
One of the things which can change and will change is the organisation of auxiliary forces in Northern Ireland. I believe that all responsible people there, including those many responsible members of the Special Constabulary, welcome those changes and accept and are glad that there are fundamental differences between the force which we offer to the House this evening and the Special Constabulary. What is equally important—but what has been largely overlooked in this debate though it plays an important part in making our judgment about the regiment—they also accept that there is a fundamental difference between the Special Constabulary and the force which was debated in the House earlier this week.
In fact, the fundamental proof of change is that the para-military force, the organisation to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington referred so often, is gone. There is no longer, or 1444 there will no longer be, subject to the wish of this House, a para-military force in Northern Ireland. There will be a military force, which will be part of the Army—not, I hasten to say, the British Army, if Britain does not include the entire United Kingdom, but an Army which is the Army of the people of Northern Ireland as well as the Army of the people of England, Scotland and Wales.
There will be a military force and there will be a regular police auxiliary. I mean "regular" perhaps in the American sense of the word that it does the normal job rather than the jobs which, in the past, have been allocated to a police force but which were not appropriate for it. But there will no longer be—this is surely the fundamental purpose and crucial importance of the Bill —a force which is an unhappy hybrid between the police and the military.
As a result, the hon. Member for Antrim, North cannot, I fear, have all his hopes realised. He asked for a number of assurances about the force, one of which was that the force which we discuss today, the regiment, should be made available for a variety of crowd control tasks. He mentioned football matches and other public functions. Of course, the Ulster Defence Regiment is not composed, is not intended, is not tasked to do that job. It is a military force doing a military job and the policing functions must be left to the police.
§ Mr. McMaster
While agreeing that it is wrong that the police should do an Army job, there are certain cases where the police are almost overwhelmed and it is right that they should call on the Army to come to their aid. If the Regular Army is not available, would it not be appropriate that the Defence Regiment should come to the aid of the police?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Of course, the Ulster Defence Regiment has the same liability as the Army has. It has the same liability as we all have under common law to come to the aid of the civil police in that sort of extreme circumstance. The point I make, and on which I must insist, is that the organisation and role of the force is such that it should not operate in a civil context. That is the most fundamental change of which I have 1445 to tell the House this evening. But there are a number of other changes which I must list to the House, although I do so in no sense of order of their importance or priority.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I cannot give way again for the moment.
The second change—and in no way is this necessarily the most important—is that the new regiment is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That means that the money for it is voted by this Parliament. That means that questions can be asked and must be answered in this Parliament. That is a fundamental safeguard as far as the force is concerned.
The next fundamental change is that it comes under the overall command of the General Officer Commanding British Forces in Northern Ireland, and its immediate commander is a brigadier of the Regular British Army.
The fourth fundamental change between the Special Constabulary, which will go, and the Ulster Defence Regiment, which will come, is the nature of the recruitment to the force. This is one of the points on which I wish to dwell in some detail. I wish to make it absolutely clear that recruitment to the force will be carried out by the Army, and by the Army alone. Potential recruits will apply individually to the Army.
Security screening will be the responsibility of the Army. To make sure that that inevitable and properly objective process produces a well-balanced result, we shall have the advisory committee about which my right hon. Friend told the House earlier today. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) asked if we could give assurances that that advisory committee would be representative of all shades of opinion in Northern Ireland; I think he said, "all shades of responsible opinion".
I gladly give him the categorical assurance that it will. I also give the assurance that the general remit of that committee will be to keep general recruiting policy under review. That, I believe, will not only show that the processes through which the Army go when recruiting are operative, but it will do 1446 a great deal to encourage confidence in and understanding of the force among the people of Northern Ireland.
As a result of questions that some of my hon. Friends put this afternoon, and because of the misunderstandings on which their questions must be based, I have to make other points clear about recruiting. There can certainly be no question of the automatic transfer from the Special Constabulary to the Ulster Defence Regiment. There can be no recruiting before 1st January. Indeed, a Statutory Instrument is necessary to set this force in being. I hope that I do not breach privilege of the House when I say that the effective date of that Statutory Instrument is likely to be 1st January, the date stipulated in the White Paper.
That naturally leads me to the question which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and others asked about the leaflet which my right hon. Friend described as the so-called application form to join the regiment. I share the view of my right hon. Friend that the objective in the circulation of that leaflet was to ascertain the likelihood of response at one level or another amongst the existing members of the Special Constabulary. But I say to the House—and it seems to me the most dramatic reassurance which can be given about the general nature of the force—that the most important thing about that form is that. irrespective of what it said at the top of it, it is not a recruiting instrument for the new regiment. The recruiting instrument for the new regiment is the normal Army recruiting form. The regiment will be recruited in the normal Army recruiting fashion. There is very little value in spending the time of the House trying to allocate blame or opportion odium. The important fact is that the recruiting processes are those of the Army and are answerable to this House.
It does not matter what other forms purport to do. My right hon. Friend referred to "so-called recruiting forms". They have no direct influence on the composition of the regiment.
§ Mr. McNamara
Does not my hon. Friend realise that, although we accept that, the effect which the original form has had upon the good name of my hon. Friend and of Her Majesty's Government 1447 and their intentions is such that the attitude of the Stormont Government is cutting the ground from underneath our feet? The effect has been incalculable.
§ Mr. Hattersley
If my hon. Friend's judgment of the effect of that form is right, it is a matter which the whole House will regret. The important constitutional conclusions to be drawn from the form is that the regiment will be so organised that it is answerable to this House, and forms which are not consistent with standards approved by this House are not a direct contribution to its recruitment.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
Does not my hon. Friend recognise that there is, here demonstrated, a most serious matter of indiscipline in the force for which the G.O.C. is responsible and for which, ultimately, my right hon. Friend is responsible? Will he assure us that the matter will be investigated thoroughly and that those responsible for this indiscipline will be dealt with in the appropriate manner?
§ Mr. Hattersley
My hon. Friend asks for a rather total assurance. I can assure him that the circumstances of the production of that form will be investigated. But I say again that surely the spirit of the Bill is looking forward to the new force, rather than recriminating about the recent or distant past. The spirit of the new force is that it is controlled by Parliament in the way that other regiments of the British Army are controlled.
§ Mr. Howie
I am eager to help my hon. Friend and keen to accept his assurances. We have seen instances where, apparently, application forms of a sort have been issued and where advertisements of a sort have been published without the authority of Her Majesty's Government. Is it not time that someone's ears were clipped?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I pass over the elegance of the punishment which my hon. Friend suggests and, reiterating the words of my right hon. Friend, I assure him that we are unlikely to allow these unfortunate matters to occur again. I hope that the House will leave it there.
I turn to the fifth distinction between the new regiment and the old force. 1448 It is one which has been raised on both sides of the House. It is that the new regiment will involve a substantial training liability. It is essential that the regiment, as part of the British Army, learns the military skills which it may need to employ, that it learns how to fulfil its proper tasks, how to live and work as a military unit and how to respond to the normal degree of military instruction.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have suggested that exceptions might be made. They have done that for reasons which I understand. However, I have to say, as my right hon. Friend said earlier, that there could not possibly be any general exception. There may be occasions from time to time when a man says that on this occasion, in this year, because of the circumstances which apply to him in, let us say, August, 1971, he cannot go to camp this month. That is one case, but we could not have a recruit who said to the force that, because of the nature of the job which he follows or the nature of his trade or employment, he can never go to camp, can never fulfil the training obligation and can never reach the levels of proficiency necessary in a general military unit. Despite the points which have been put to me with some force, I fear that that is how the position must remain.
This is one of the points on which Her Majesty's Government at Westminster and the Government of Stormont disagreed. This is only one of the examples of disagreement between us over the contents of the White Paper. I feel that out of respect for the Government at Stormont as well as the Government here I ought to make it very clear that there was general agreement between them and us as to the contents of the White Paper, but that there were some occasions on which our mutual disagreements were registered.
This is another point which it is necessary to make and it is one of the points which I hope my hon. Friends will understand. We were rightly anxious that there should be agreement whenever it was possible between Stormont and Westminster. We were anxious that there should be agreement whenever that agreement was consistent with the principles which we believe ought to characterise this force.
1449 My hon. Friends who seems to criticise the very principle of agreement should not do so on the basis that by co-operating with the Government of Stormont we are co-operating with some sort of Ulster extremism. Nothing could be further from the truth. The genuine voice of Ulster extremism was heard in the House this afternon when the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) described the Defence Regiment as a potential hotbed for I.R.A. infiltration. That was the genuine voice of extremism in Ulster. What we co-operated with and what we were right to co-operate with was the voice of moderation, and now the voice of progress, in Ulster.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
Will there be training links between the U.D.R. and the TAVR in Northern Ireland so that they will work in some sort of joint operation together?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Because of the similarities between the two forces, it is easy to assume that there is great identity between them, but in reality there is not. There may be occasions when they train together and we will certainly give those members of the new regiment who want it an opportunity to come to England on some occasions to take part in training exercises, although there will be no compulsion on them to leave Northern Ireland. But hon. Members should not overestimate the similarities between the tasks or obligations of the two forces.
I turn to three other fundamental matters of concern which have been mentioned today. Surely the first is the issue of whether arms should be kept, or must be kept, on some specific occasions at home. I well understand the concern which some of my hon. Friends have expressed in this matter. It is a concern which was created at a time and during conditions when large quantities of arms were kept in homes by individual members of the Special Constabulary, at a time before very strict limitations were placed by the present G.O.C., Northern Ireland, on the keeping of arms at home.
When my hon. Friends express their concern, they are surely doing so not out of simple principle, but out of fear that by some sort of process, or some sort of irregularity, all the horrors and fears and terrors which my hon. Friend the 1450 Member for Kingston upon Hull, North outlined may come about again. The fears are not of principle but of practice, fears about what may happen on occasions when arms are kept at home. To my hon. Friends who share those fears, I say that to believe that on those rare occasions when aims are kept at home the sort of enormities which my hon. Friend described are likely to happen is to believe a series of things. It is to believe that our recruitment policy has failed. It is to believe that our vetting processes have failed. It is to believe that the control that Regular Army officers will properly exercise over these men has failed. It is to believe that the character of the force is not the sort of character which my right hon. Friend described earlier and which I have tried to describe in the last 25 minutes.
Arms at home become a danger if they are held at home by dangerous men. It is our intention that such men should not be members of the force. But it is equally our intention that responsible men who are members of the force should have the opportunity to exercise to fulfil their duties in a practical and sensible way. On rare occasions in special conditions, special conditions which could hardly ever apply—could never apply—in towns it may be necessary for people to keep arms at home. I am sure that to make an absolute prohibition of such a process would be both irresponsible and likely to produce worse results than one could contemplate in rural districts of Northern Ireland.
I have said, and I say again, that the permission to keep arms at home is something which must be given by officers of the British Army acting naturally in the capacity in which they act when they exercise the right delegated to them to call out the Force. This is the additional safeguard—powers which can be exercised only by officers of the Regular British Army. Of all the safeguards that I have listed the fact that there will be regular officers of the British Army and regular warrant officers of the British Army organising and supervising the Force is, perhaps, the strongest safeguard of all.
Finally of the points of concern, I turn to the strength of the force. We have emphasised many times, but I think that we cannot emphasise toe frequently that the figure of 6,000 in the White Paper 1451 is essentially a ceiling figure. The White Paper makes that very clear. That is the ceiling which we will ask Parliament eventually to approve. That is the ceiling to which the force might eventually rise. But it is no more than a ceiling.
I quote from the White Paper:The actual size of the Force will be determined in the light of experience as the build-up proceeds, but in any case will not ultimately exceed 6,000 officers and men.I give the House a categorical assurance. Whilst it seemed to us, and continues to seem to us, prudent to have an establishment ceiling which is sufficiently large to meet any eventualities, there will certainly be no undue haste in raising the force to that level. I hope that this dilemma does not face us. But if we have to choose between raising the force to an immediate 6,000 or postponing a force of that size in the interests of getting a well-balanced force, we will choose a well-balanced force. Our natural hope is that that dilemma will not face us, but I think that the House would want to know that, if it did, we would choose to resolve it in that fashion.
I remind the House once more that the Bill stems naturally and inevitably from the Report of the Hunt Committee, which was accepted by Her Majesty's Government here in London and by the Government at Stormont. It is the joint communiqué which expressed the joint acceptance of the report, published here in Westminster following talks held on 9th/ 10th October. It outlined our original plans to set up this force and put it into operation. It is also that joint communiqué which answers the crucial question asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. 1452 Rippon)—the continued existence of the force until both Governments—that at Westminster and that at Stormont—are convinced that its existence is no longer necessary.
In paragraph 4(b) of that communiqué that exact assurance is given. Elsewhere in the communiqué we reiterate properly, as I must reiterate now, that the operation of the force has to be something which is done in close consultation, and one hopes co-operation, with the Government at Stormont.
I said in my statement a week ago that the problems with which the force has to deal are problems of the most urgent and intimate concern to the Government in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the Security Committee, on which the G.O.C. either sits or is represented, will continue to meet and will continue to consider the nature, jobs and tasks of the force.
I say again that the force is part of the British Army. The regiment is answerable, through the Secretary of State, to this House. Its funds are provided by this Parliament. It is organised and regulated as a regiment of the British Army. I believe that that is a substantial safeguard in any circumstances. Add to that the specific and special safeguards which the White Paper outlines or about which my right hon. Friend spoke today and I genuinely believe that the force can be commended to the House as an instrument for future peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr.Armstrong.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.