HC Deb 21 October 1971 vol 823 cc873-7
8. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will now make a statement on the defence facilities in Northern Ireland.

13. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Minister of State for Defence what changes he proposes to make in the defence arrangements in Northern Ireland.

14. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of State for Defence what armed forces and numbers are now employed in Ulster.

Lord Balniel

Current Regular Forces include three brigade headquarters, two armoured reconnaissance regiments, three engineer squadrons and sixteen major units in the infantry role; these are supported by the U.D.R. The total strength of Regular and U.D.R. units amounts to about 17,500 officers and men. Future force levels will depend upon the situation at the time.

Mr. O'Halloran

I am grateful for that reply. What ceiling is imposed on recruitment to the U.D.R.? Is it the policy of the right hon. Gentleman to confine command to British officers? How many British officers are commanding units in the U.D.R.?

Lord Balniel

The ceiling for the Ulster Defence Regiment has been lifted from 6,000 to a target of 10,000. If the hon. Gentleman will ask a specific Question about the details I will see that it is answered.

Sir G. Nabarro

Notwithstanding the deplorable statement of Senator Edward Kennedy that Britain is ruling Ulster by bayonet and bloodshed—a statement which I hope my hon. Friend will instantly denounce—will my hon. Friend have regard to the fact that there is now devoted to Ulster a disproportionately large part of our available infantry, weakening our strategic reserves and B.A.O.R.? Will he immediately consider the raising of four additional infantry regiments of the line, aided by the recruitment of four additional Gurkha regiments—eight additional infantry battalions in all?

Lord Balniel

The House knows that the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland is devoted solely to the preservation of peace and order and I do not think it necessary for me to reiterate the view that has been widely expressed in the House. My hon. Friend will know that we have recently announced our decisison to expand the four representative companies to full battalion strength. But he is correct to say that the strain on our forces in B.A.O.R. is considerable. Four major units are now deployed from B.A.O.R.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister will be aware that the Northern Ireland Government is responsible for law and order and the British Army responsible for security in Northern Ireland. I wonder whether he could settle a semantic problem and tell us where law and order begin and end and where security begins and ends, so that when we are posing questions we know whether something is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government or of the Ministry of Defence and, therefore, whether we are able to ask questions about what happens to people arrested by the British Army after they have been handed over to the kindly clutches of the R.U.C.

Lord Balniel

It is not for me on behalf of the Government to answer what the hon. Gentleman himself described as purely semantic questions. The preservation of law and order and the security of people to live in peace and tranquillity without the threat of being shot or maltreated in other ways are surely all part of the same process of the duty of the Government in this country.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

As a result of these operations, is my hon. Friend able to give some idea of the arms discovered by the security forces, their type, and whether many of them seem to have originated outside Western Europe?

Lord Balniel

Excluding the 3¼ tons found in Amsterdam and the arms found in the Republic of Ireland recently, the arms found since 9th August amount to 50 rifles, eight automatic weapons, 22 shotguns, 74 pistols and revolvers and nearly 18,000 rounds of ammunition, approximately enough to equip a company and a half of an infantry battalion.

Mr. Leadbitter

While objecting very strongly to the remarks of Senator Kennedy about our troops in Northern Ireland and emphasising that the House and the country consider those electioneering comments unfortunate and unwise, and again emphasising in the House the commendable spirit with which our forces are conducting themselves in Ireland, may I ask the Minister nevertheless to take into account the fact that some of us are a little worried about the use of very young soldiers? Although it is not known how many of them are involved, will the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to indicate that he will look into the matter, because young and very inexperienced soldiers may be unnecessarily vulnerable to the difficulties and violence in Northern Ireland?

Lord Balniel

I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) in very much resenting the sentiments expressed by Senator Kennedy. There is a minimum age of 18 and no Serviceman under that age is on active service in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McMaster

I am grateful for the magnificent work which the Army is doing in Northern Ireland. However, would it not be best in the long run to increase the number of soldiers there in order as rapidly as possible to search areas where trouble is continually breaking out and where not only may arms be hidden but bodies secreted? Should not the areas be searched thoroughly in order that the trouble may be brought to an end as quickly as possible?

Lord Balniel

Force levels will be constantly adjusted to meet the requirements of the General Officer Commanding, Northern Ireland. They have been constantly adjusted in the past and will in future.

12. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of State for Defence what is the result of the consideration given to the possibility of raising a full-time battalion within the Ulster Defence Regiment.

Lord Balniel

A separate full-time battalion is no longer being considered, but we are looking at other ways of introducing a full-time operational element as part of the permanent structure of the regiment.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

The Ulster Special Constabulary or "B" Specials could be criticised as being a Protestant rather than a people's force, but did not their disbandment during the time of the last Administration deprive our security forces of valuable intelligence? Will the Government press on with the development of the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is commanded by a Roman Catholic? Is it not the case that Catholic recruitment is being maintained, despite all the threats of terrorism from Senator Kennedy's gangster friends?

Lord Balniel

We certainly intend to press forward with recruitment to the Ulster Defence Regiment. As I have said, we have raised the target ceiling for the regiment. My hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for Defence for the Army has been given special responsibility for the regiment and recruits are coming forward in considerable numbers. We are most anxious to maintain the balance between all sections of the community so that they may play a full part in it.

Mr. George Thomson

Will the Minister reassure the House on a point raised in the recent debate, namely, that with the expansion of the Ulster Defence Regiment the former policy and practice of vetting recruits, initiated by this side of the House, is being continued by the Government?

Lord Balniel

I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance.

Mr. Brewis

Is my noble Friend sure that local people are being given sufficient chance to join in the defence of their own locality against sabotage and arson?

Lord Balniel

That is one of the points which the Under-Secretary is specifically examining.