HC Deb 19 February 1976 vol 905 cc1653-64

11.30 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I wish to raise the question of the setting up of a unit of psychological warfare in Northern Ireland. My purpose in raising this matter is not in order that we on the Opposition side of the House, on the Northern Ireland Bench, should have any assurances from the Secretary of State, who will be replying to the debate, because no assurances that he can give us tonight will alter the facts that we have in our possession.

In times past in this House when certain matters have been put to the right hon. Gentleman dealing with the credibility of the leaders of the Loyalist community in Northern Ireland, an attempt has been made by the right hon. Gentleman—or, if not by him, by the Northern Ireland Office—to undermine their credibility. This debate would not be taking place if there were a degree of trust between the majority Loyalist community in Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office. Whether or not the right hon. Gentleman likes it, the stark, bald fact is that the Loyalist community in Northern Ireland has no confidence in him and no confidence in the statements that come from his office. It is all very well for the Under-Secretary to laugh, but we are dealing with a serious matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) raised a matter—I shall be using this to illustrate the contention that we wish to put forward tonight—concerning a document that had come from the police headquarters to the police in his area, in which the police were told that they were no longer to carry out their duties in certain "green" areas, except when they had prior permission from police headquarters.

This matter was raised in the House. The right hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend that it was rubbish and that no such document was in existence. Then, however, my hon. Friend was called up by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and asked to attend at a police station. He was told that he was liable to be prosecuted for being in possession of a document that should not have been in his possession because it came under the Official Secrets Act.

What credibility could we on this Bench give to the word of the right hon. Gentleman? What assurances could we accept when this has happened and my hon. Friend has been put to that particular punishment, so to speak, because he dared to raise such a matter in this House?

Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that when the document, the directive, was produced in the House, the Secretary of State said that he had consulted the Chief Constable and that the Chief Constable had made it very clear to him that the document that I produced was rubbish? Is my hon. Friend also aware that I was brought to Antrim Police Station and interrogated for one hour by two senior police officers on the directive of high-ranking officials in the Northern Ireland Office—those were the words of the police officers—or, perhaps, on the directive of the Chief Constable? Is my hon. Friend also aware that I was cautioned first, and told, after an hour's interrogation, that I could be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act?

Rev. Ian Paisley

These matters are of a most serious nature, especially as they were raised within the privilege of this House. My hon. Friend heard me raise in this House the matter of the Twomey document. I have with me a copy of that document. I quoted it in the House. When I produced that document in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office issued a statement saying that it was rubbish, lies, and, like everything else that Ian Paisley produces, of no credibility at all and something that should be forgotten about.

I come to this House with twice the number of votes that the right hon. Gentleman gets in his constituency. Then he tries to tell us that we are not credible figures. I am sure that he would like the majority that I enjoy in my constituency.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees) rose—

Rev. Ian Paisley

No, I shall not give way. The right hon. Gentleman will have 10 minutes in which to reply. It is always to the advantage of the right hon. Gentleman to have either a Private Notice Question or an Oral Question. The right hon. Gentleman gives his reply and my hon. Friends are not allowed to follow up the matter.

Tonight I shall lay down the issues as we see them. The Twomey document, which the Northern Ireland Office described as rubbish, was said to have no truth in it because it said—I quote—that Seamus Twomey, Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA, aware that he is no longer a wanted man, was seen this week at his house in 12, Trostan Way. He has been relatively open in his movements. The document was released in August, but at the height of the troubles on Thursday night in West Belfast, when the whole district was on fire, and when there were hijacked vehicles burning on almost every street corner, the Commander of West Belfast, Chief Superintendent Chesney, informed me that he was under pressure from the Northern Ireland Office to interview me about a document that was released in August of last year. I have made a note of his telephone calls, and find that he has rung my house eight times. He tells me that he is under great pressure to interview me about the document.

The other night I had a visit from two senior police officers. They told me that they were under instructions from the Northern Ireland Office and that their report had to be placed before the Secretary of State. I put a few things into the report which will do the right hon. Gentleman good if he pays heed to them. They told me that they had orders to see me about other documents in which there appears to be great interest, and they verified their authenticity.

In dealing with the trust and degree of dependence that can be placed upon what emanates from the Northern Ireland Office, I must make it plain that its credibility has been attacked not only by the United Ulster Unionists but by the so-called moderates, namely, the Alliance Party. Its leader is on record as speaking of the unreliability of statements issued from the Northern Ireland Office. It has also been under attack from the chairman of the SDLP. Let not the Secretary of State or the House think in any way that it is only one section of the community that does not rely upon the testimony that comes from the Northern Ireland Office.

We are concerned about what is taking place. According to the Northern Ireland Office, a statement was issued today in which it was said that talks with various political parties take place from time to time and that the Provisional Sinn Fein is included in those talks. It seems that the purpose is to elucidate the Government's policy. One would have thought that this is not the time for talking with the Provisional Sinn Fein, which is none other than the political wing of the Provisional IRA. The other day in Londonderry its leader went on record as talking about sending the SAS back from Northern Ireland in coffins.

People in Northern Ireland are greatly alarmed by this news. We have asked about this matter over and over again, but have not been given any answers. Apparently for security reasons, we cannot be told when and where the meetings took place, what was on the agenda and which officials took part.

This is the heart of the matter. We have had some interesting answers in the House. I asked the Foreign Secretary how many Foreign Office officials had been seconded to the Northern Ireland Office over the last year. It is very interesting that Foreign Office officials should be seconded to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Not if one understands.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The trouble is that we do understand. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us tonight the offices these people held and the work they did at the Foreign Office before their secondment.

I know that this issue is unpalatable to the Secretary of State, and I am glad. All the hee-haws of the Under-Secretary will not deter us. I am glad to see he has had his hair cut. Perhaps some of us wish that something else had been cut.

The Minister of State at the Foreign Office said, in reply to my Question: I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the Northern Ireland Office, as a newly created Department"— one would think the Northern Ireland Office had been set up only the other day. I fact, it was established in 1972 and has been in existence for nearly four years— has naturally drawn staff from many United Kingdom Government Departments and from the Northern Ireland Civil Service. One wonders what the Northern Ireland Office is. The whole Northern Ireland establishment has its own Civil Service and departmental heads. It ran under the Department of the Prime Minister, but evidently we now have the Northern Ireland Office as a large extra, grafted on. The reply continued: My Department has been happy to contribute to this process since its inception. In the past year seven officials have been seconded to the Northern Ireland Office from the FCO. Most of these were normal replacements."—[Official Report, 9th February 1976; Vol. 905, c. 29.] What is meant by "normal replacements"? How many of these seven were "normal replacements"? When I asked about the positions now held by these seven officials, I got no answer, except that they were filling normal posts. There was not a word about "replacements" or the "newly created Department".

What is happening in Northern Ireland? What are certain Government officials connected with the Northern Ireland Office doing? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us how many people attached to public relations and intelligence in the Northern Ireland Office have resigned or been shifted during the last 12 months. Perhaps he will tell us why these Foreign Office officials are in Northern Ireland.

An affirmation has been made—I affirm this in the House tonight—that there is an attempt in this unit of psychological warfare to discredit and undermine the Loyalist leadership in the Province.

There is one person for whom everyone in the House has respect. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he had great respect for the Leader of the United Ulster Unionists. Evidently, the Prime Minister thinks that he is respectable enough to attend a confidential session on the security of Northern Ireland.

At a Press conference yesterday the Leader of the United Ulster Unionists revealed that already under-cover in- quiries had been made into the money he had spent in the last two election campaigns. There was a suggestion that his earnings would not have enabled him to meet those expenses. That accusation did not concern the validity of the amount spent because that has already been checeked by the returning office and is open to scrutiny by all and sundry.

The Leader of the United Ulster Unionists, whom the right hon. Gentleman places on a higher level than the rank and file—a man who is respected on both sides of the House—affirmed yesterday that this under-cover operation is going on and that he was a target of it.

It has been all very well in the past to make denials and try to cast aspersions on those who make certain assertions, but as time unfolds the truth comes out. We have seen that with regard to the so-called truce and the so-called arrangements with the Irish Republican Army. We have seen what has developed.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Bright-side (Miss Maynard) asked the right hon. Gentleman: if two brothels and a health club were established in Belfast for the purpose of collecting intelligence; and if he will make a statement. The right hon. Gentleman replied: No, to both parts of the Question."—[Official Report, 13th February 1976; Vol. 905, c. 449.] Everyone in Northern Ireland could tell the right hon. Gentleman where those two places were. One was blown up by the Provisional IRA and the other was speedily closed. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us tonight that there is not a word of truth in anything I have said? Will he say that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North was dreaming when he went to Antrim police station?

Yesterday, several Convention members visited Stormont Castle—including my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast, North and Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and myself. The Northern Ireland Office put out a statement that as a result of these people going to Stormont Castle a policeman had his arm broken in two places. It was a bald statement.

It is a pity that the Press gave credence to that statement and did not interview the policeman. I was in his home. My hon. Friend was with me. The injury had nothing to do with the crowd being there. It was an accident. The policeman himself admits that it was an accident, in the slamming of a gate. Instead of having his arm broken in two places, he had two very slight fractures, one in his hand, the other in his wrist. There is a difference between a hairline crack and a broken arm in two places. If the Secretary of State thinks it laughable, that is all right as far as we are concerned. It was not laughable when he put out that statement last night.

When my hon. Friends met him today, the Minister of State said that it was only an accident, and tried to deny that the statement was issued from the Northern Ireland Office. This is part of what Loyalist representatives are up against, and no doubt it is only the beginning of much the same. I tell the right hon. Gentleman tonight that he can do whatever he likes; the truth will stand and the Loyalist people of Northern Ireland will continue to hold fast to those convictions that they have espoused.

11.52 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

I have eight minutes in which the deal with a speech following all sorts of allegations that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has made in Northern Ireland in recent weeks. I thought we were going to discuss the setting up of a psychological warfare unit in Northern Ireland, designed to denigrate the Loyalist politicians, but we have heard little about that.

On the radio a few weeks ago, the hon. Gentleman said As the days unfold, I hope to be able to lay bare the whole scheme, though to do so may even imperil my life. Nothing that has been said tonight could imperil anyone's life. What it does imperil is the hon. Gentleman's credulity.

There is no such unit. Nothing that has been said gives any evidence that there is. We have heard nothing about the list that apparently is available giving the names of the second-rank Loyalist politicians—and when it comes to the second rank, one wonders what the first rank is like.

All this was to be revealed tonight. Apparently, the hon. Gentleman was going to reveal what these people were up to. I do not know what they were up to. The names are being bandied about in Northern Ireland, rightly or wrongly, but despite what he has said in recent weeks, the hon. Gentleman has revealed nothing tonight. The truth is that he spent so long talking because he did not want me to reveal the sparsity of his argument.

Nothing has been said the reveals that there is a psychological warfare unit to denigrate Loyalists. I say this to the reverend doctor: it is all so nonsensical that it is no wonder that a right hon. Gentleman on the Unionist side talked about the low level of politics in Northern Ireland. Tonight we have heard not a word about a psychological warfare unit.

The hon. Member made great play of the modest number of people from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who were seconded to the Northern Ireland Office, and asked questions. He seemed to think he had stumbled on something, but, not for the first time, he is barking up the wrong tree. I shall try to explain to him.

I am responsible for the Northern Ireland Office and also for the various Northern Ireland Departments, and there is a Northern Ireland Civil Service separately recruited for the purpose. Of course, the Northern Ireland Office is a new Department. It is responsible for the law and order services—police, prisons, courts, administration, and so on—and it is staffed by 1,200 civil servants, 970 of them from Northern Ireland, while 230 members of the United Kingdom Civil Service have been drawn, as is natural with a new Department, from a number of Whitehall Departments and also from direct entry through Civil Service commissions.

When the Northern Ireland Department was set up it was staffed largely from the Home Office, for obvious reasons, because of the Home Office connection before. Increasingly, among that relatively small number of people, there are people from Defence and from the Foreign Office. Today I asked a typist in my office "Where have you come from?" She said "The Ministry of Defence." I said "Don't tell the hon. Member for Antrim, North, or he will think your name is Olga Polovsky, the beautiful spy." My secretary came from the Ministry of Defence recently, and because he used to work in the Department many years ago and I needed a secretary, I asked him to come along. It is not surprising at all that I have Home Office, Defence and Foreign Office people in my Department. It would not be surprising to the hon. Member, if he understood the United Kingdom Civil Service.

What am I supposed to be answering? We are told that there is a psychological warfare unit, specialising in character assassination and spearheaded by high-ranking officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, set up in Stormont Castle to discredit the leaders of the UUUC. That is totally untrue. It does not exist.

We are told that the unit has limitless money—do not tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer this—covered over in the Intelligence Estimates. That is totally untrue. It does not exist.

We are told that the campaign is already under way and that there is a list of victims to be attacked. That is totally untrue. There is no campaign and no list.

We are told that charges and innuendoes about the morals and personal relationships of UUUC members—though not, according to the BBC, of the hon. Gentleman himself—will be floated. These are apparently the second-ranking people. I frankly do not know what it is all about. I joked about it just now, but I do not know what is meant by these first- and second-ranking people, and I know nothing about the morals or otherwise of the second-ranking group.

It is tedious recitation, but I should not like the hon. Gentleman to imagine that I have overlooked a single piece of mis-information that he has not provided tonight but has provided in Northern Ireland.

Having run out of what was to be said, though not in the House, the hon. Member said that I was trying to soften up the Northern Ireland electorate for a referendum which will be nothing better than a trick to try to put the SDLP into Government in Northern Ireland. I have the powers to order a referendum, but I have taken no decision on the question whether it would serve any useful purpose.

The hon. Member has suggested that I have been making use of the Rowntree Trust as a channel for the "dirty money" I distribute for nefarious purposes. I do not know who should be most upset, the Rowntree Trust, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or myself. The Rowntree Trust is quite independent of the Government and is not supported in any way by official funds.

So much for the special character assassination unit. What the hon. Member has said is on all fours with the numerous other accusations about me, such as that about my giving orders that Seamus Twomey should not be arrested. All that I am doing is not signing interim custody orders. I have explained that the law is a matter for the police and the Army.

The hon. Gentleman has said that I sacked the Chief Constable of the RUC because I had quarrelled with him. Most spectacular of all, he has talked of the arrival of hooded men in a secret van to see me at Stormont Castle. I have often wondered what the driver told the hon. Gentleman when he turned up, because that was rubbish. This tittle-tattle does not stand up to the most superficial examination.

The hon. Member has talked about the Official Secrets Act. This Act applies to all documents. It applies to all of us in this House. I do not tell the police what to do. The hon. Member is not very struck on giving the information to the police, considering the row he has made about it. He ought to give it to the police, and so ought any other hon. Member. To be loyal to the Queen means to stick to the Official Secrets Act—not to the "Official Loyalist Secrets Act" but to the Official Secrets Act for the whole of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member has been talking nonsense. It is a damp squib. He has not revealed anything but his own inadequacy. That great brain, trained at the Bob Jones Academy, North Carolina, just has not given anything at all tonight. He has attacked the name of Northern Ireland, as he does so often. If this is the standard of Northern Ireland, no wonder we do not get very far—

Rev. Ian Paisley

You have not answered about the seven men.

Mr. Speaker


The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twelve midnight.