HC Deb 26 November 1970 vol 807 cc600-1
33. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make a further statement about recruitment to the Ulster Defence Regiment; to what extent weapons are kept at home; and what operations have been carried out, other than the protection of key posts.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

As at 20th November, the enlisted strength of the Ulster Defence Regiment was 201 officers and 3,668 soldiers. Slightly more than one-third of this number were authorised to hold their weapons at home. In addition to guarding key points, the Regiment has carried out patrols and road checks.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Are Roman Catholics being recruited in a reasonable proportion? If only certain weapons are kept at home, is my hon. Friend satisfied that the Ulster Defence Regiment is at the same degree of readiness as the Special Constabulary which preceded it?

Mr. Gilmour

I believe that the present percentage of Roman Catholics is about 16 per cent., which I believe to be reasonable, although we would of course, in time, like more. Only certain weapons are kept at home, but the regiment has demonstrated that it is fully effective and a thoroughly reliable and worthy organisation.

Mr. Richard

The hon. Gentleman will remember that, when the regiment was set up, one of the assurances which the previous Administration gave was that, if necessary, one would phase in the speedy recruitment to the regiment so as to maintain a proper balance between Catholic and non-Catholic entrants. Do the Government still find it necessary to hold back upon recruitment in order to preserve that balance, or are they satisfied?

Mr. Gilmour

As the hon. Gentleman will realise, we are not bound by the previous Government's assurances. They were not noticeably bound by them themselves. We certainly will not hold back recruitment, but we are hoping that there will be more Roman Catholics coming forward.

Captain Orr

In view of the anxiety in country districts about the flexibility of the use of the regiment, is my hon. Friend satisfied about the degree of co-operation with the Royal Ulster Constabulary?

Mr. Gilmour

That is a slightly different question, but we have certainly had no complaints about lack of co-operation.

Back to