'For the purposes of the Aimed Forces Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957, it shall be an offence for any person subject to those Acts to discriminate against, harass, hold in contempt or ridicule any person or persons on the grounds of religion, race, colour or political belief.'.—[Mr. McNamara.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.447 11.15 pm
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This is an unusual clause because it is based upon no conclusions or even argument within the Committee. Yet the Committee had before it a 31-paragraph statement from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), with eight appendices, which the Ministry of defence sought to rebut in a supplementary memorandum of 16 paragraphs. The Select Committee, in its wisdom, reached a majority decision to print both sets of evidence cheek by jowl, and then never came to any conclusion about them.
Yet if the evidence of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is correct, the Ministry of Defence's statement is nonsense. If the Ministry of Defence's statement is correct, the evidence of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is nonsense. With the wisdom that only this Select Committee could have, it decided not to reach any conclusion, not to examine the Ministry of Defence and not to examine the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. That is regrettable.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh wrote to the Select Committee and asked to give evidence. He was told that the Select Committee would consider that when he submitted his evidence. He did so and was told to hold himself ready to come forward to give oral evidence, but he was not called. One would normally say, "Hard lines," but in this case there were pressing reasons why the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh should have been permitted by the Select Committee to come forward, and I should have thought that those reasons would have commended themselves to democrats.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, in a difficult by-election, fought against two principal opponents. One, from Provisional Sinn Fein, was fought on an abstentionist platform. The other, from the Official Unionist party, was fought on a partial abstentionist platform; in other words, he would come in, sign up, get his money and go away. The Official Unionist candidate was defeated.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh desires as his ultimate objective to see the six counties of Northern Ireland part of a united Ireland. He seeks to achieve that not by the bullet or the bomb, but by arguing his case and by working constructively for it. He fought against opponents who had shown by their conduct how much they disparaged Parliament—Provisional Sinn Fein and the Official Unionists.
It was essential for this House to show its belief in the democratic method — its desire to give official democratic opportunities to people who advanced their point of view — and to show that Parliament had a forum, a great and unique Assembly, in which to discuss just those matters. I refer to the Select Committee that was discussing this Bill.
We are told that Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office told the majority on that Committee, "Do not call Seamus Mallon." [Interruption.] That statement has been made and has not be rebutted.
§ Mr. McNamara
The Minister and his hon. Friend should talk to some of their hon. Friends to discover why one of them told one of my hon. Friends that what I have described occurred. My hon. Friend in question was also a member of the Select Committee, and I value his opinion.
The evidence on both sides was contradictory. The Government said — and to show that I am not discriminating, I agree that the clause would apply to all regiments and all services—that theyreject any suggestion that either the discipline or training of the UDR is unsatisfactory.Yet it was only at the turn of the year that the Government felt it necessary to make fresh arrangements for training the UDR. They then said:Training must lay special emphasis on the skills required by soldiers who act in support of the civil power and who, therefore, come into daily contact with members of the public.That is why we say:it shall be an offence for any person subject to these Acts to discriminate against, harass, hold in contempt or ridicule any person or persons on the grounds of religion, race, colour or political belief.The members of this regiment have power to search and question members of the public. The Government say that there is a good complaints procedure and they sent the Opposition a copy of it. The amendment then says:It is suggested that the procedure discourages members of the minority community from making complaints, but there is no reason why this should be the case.I quote from a letter that was sent to the Select Committee from the parish priest of Bessbrook, Newry, County Down. He said:In my recent parish of Carrickmore, County Tyrone, I had reason to make representations on behalf of two of my parishioners at their request when they claimed they were ill treated by men from the UDR. I am enclosing copies of those statements and their accompanying letters and I would appreciate it if your committee would consider the allegations with a view to concrete steps. I believe that many who allege ill treatment at the hands of the UDR never make a formal complaint because I think they feel that it would be futile. Today I have spoken with the people connected with my enclosed complaints and there appears to be no follow up to the complaints. It all seems to have petered out or to have been shelved. They are interested in pursuing their complaints. Others, I feel, are afraid to complain.The Committee had no opportunity to find out whether those complaints had been pursued because it was not allowed to take the evidence.
In its statement the Ministry of Defence says:If a member of the public is reluctant for any reason to make a complaint of this sort directly to a UDR unit, it may be addressed either to a higher army headquarters or through local civil representatives.However, I received a letter at the beginning of this month which says:
On Tuesday the 25th March I gave a detailed account to the civil representative who takes complaints regarding the British army and I gave him a copy of the enclosed. Every day of Holy Week the UDR, the British army and on one occasion the RUC did not cease to stand guard over St. Mallachy's church, question and search people coming in and out of the different Holy Week ceremonies and search cars around the church.The conclusion of this particular parish priest was this:This would seem to have been a deliberate action on the part of the local military authorities following my statement.There is dissatisfaction among the minority community in Northern Ireland about present procedures. It does not 449 trust them. It does not believe that they are followed through. This is bad for the Ministry of Defence, the armed forces and the UDR.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Is not the hon. Gentleman making a very discriminatory speech? Is he not aware that at least 10 per cent. of the UDR is drawn from the minority community in Northern Ireland? Is he not further aware that the UDR was set up with the specific purpose of recruiting as many people as possible from the minority community who wanted to play a part in upholding law and order in their Province in order to keep the community as a whole at peace and enable it to enjoy the same pleasures as we enjoy on this side of the Irish sea?
§ Mr. McNamara
According to the figures that were given to the Committee by the Ministry of Defence, those quoted by the hon. Gentleman are inaccurate. I remember the circumstances, because I took part in the debates. The UDR was introduced, following Lord Hunt's report, to replace the role of the former B Specials. It was hoped that the UDR would be seen as part of the British Army, as under the discipline of the British Army and as controlled by the British Army, and that it would therefore be regarded as an impartial enforcer of the law in that part of the United Kingdom which is called the six counties of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately—
§ Mr. McNamara
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Perhaps he will allow me first to answer this point.
Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case. I shall now give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hind
Does the hon. Member not agree that during the course of their evidence to the Committee the witnesses from the Ministry of Defence said that there had been an active campaign by the IRA in Northern Ireland against Catholic members of the UDR when it had first been set up, and that there had been a large number of killings of Catholic members, which had effectively reduced, through fear, the proportion of Catholic members of the UDR to the present 2 per cent. or so?
§ Mr. McNamara
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making what were going to be parts of my speech. I am not seeking to disguise or glorify the role of the IRA, nor to gloss over the terrible way in which it has treated members of the UDR. Nor am I trying to minimise the casualties suffered by the UDR. That is not my role in this particular debate. My role is to try to find a way in which the minority community can feel some sense of support for the UDR.
There have been complaints about the conduct of the UDR and many individual members of it. I have not cited the examples given in this letter that I have here, because I did not want to inflame the situation, but these are complaints which have been made and which, in the first two cases, at any rate, have not been followed up. It is true to say that the UDR is seen by the minority community not to be an impartial enforcer of law and order, acting in support of the RUC and engaged in the pursuit of terrorists but, in many cases, to he harassing people, bringing weight to bear on them, making life difficult for people because they happen to have different political or religious views from the majority of the members of the UDR.
450 That may be regrettable. It may be that, because of pressure brought by the IRA, there are not as many Catholics in the regiment as the Government might wish. But it does not alter the fact of the present situation, that the UDR is seen by the majority of the people who voted for the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh as a force of oppression which has nothing particularly to do with suppressing terrorism but has more to do with keeping in its place a section of the community which does not accept the present status of the six counties of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. It is seen as an oppressive force.
People are dissatisfied because they have no confidence in the present system of presenting and dealing with grievances. People do not believe that the complaints are followed through: unless there is a concrete criminal charge, the RUC do not take the complaints very seriously. People feel little confidence in the discipline enforced in the UDR, because of the things that happen in their day-to-day lives.
That is why I am concerned about this. That is why I bring forward this new clause. It should he possible to create a new category of offence to cover the actions of members of Her Majesty's forces who criticise or harass anyone or who act in a way which challenges legitimate political and religious beliefs. A person's religion, race or politics is no business of any United Kingdom regiment. That members of the UDR use their status as members of the regiment to abuse people and to belittle them, or use the authority of the Queen's uniform or, as an hon. Member put it on another occasion, the Queen's cap badge, to oppress people is not something that any Member of the House would wish to see, let alone support.
Here, therefore, is an opportunity to show what we think of such actions by accepting new clause 5 and having it put into operation coherently, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom and wherever British armed forces are stationed, to ensure that members of those armed forces show a proper respect for individuals.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
All hon. Members will agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). However, many of us wonder whether his new clause will assist the objectives which he outlined. I do not wish to be the pedantic lawyer, but how cart the hon. Gentleman sustain the idea that there should be an offence of holding someone in contempt? How could the hon. Gentleman know whether I hold him in contempt? I do not, since he and I have been on many service visits together, and I hope that any court of law and the House would accept what I say. But how can one suggest that that would be appropriate to put before a judicial tribunal? That is the flaw in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. The introduction of such a concept could be counter-productive because it would cause uncertainty. It is so vague as not to be a justifiable issue.
I entirely agree with most of the hon. Gentleman's sentiments about the need for a lack of discrimination, but the House must recognise its limitations. We cannot legislate to make people good, happy or indiscriminate, and although the new clause is well-meaning, it would be counter-productive. Although the intention of the new clause is correct, it would go against the admirable sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hind
I support the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck). The clause is a statement of intent with which most members of the Committee would agree. Its major problem is that it is so broad that enforcement would be difficult. As a lawyer, I know that where the law is incapable of enforcement, it is brought into disrepute. One consequence is the crumbling of any code of discipline, whether for the armed forces or for civilian life. For that reason, I ask my colleagues to think carefully before introducing the new clause into the Bill.
The issue is the Ulster Defence Regiment. As a member of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, I should say that the question whether the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) should give evidence to the Committee was one of the most difficult that we faced. The Committee was constantly aware that it was supporting a democrat in difficult circumstances. I hope that hon. Members understand that we are aware of the difficulties under which Seamus Mallon came to the House.
§ Mr. Hind
I apologise; I should have said the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). We wanted to support a democrat who supported the process of constitutional change as opposed to violence. But our remit from the House, which was to consider the Armed Forces Bill, meant that it was outside our consideration. We would have been faced with examining the behaviour of every regiment, every section and every unit in the British Army if we had embarked on that course of action. It was an appropriate matter to be considered elsewheere, but not by the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Wallace
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the Committee was advised that certain matters dealt with in the memorandum of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) would fall properly within its terms of reference? Many features of the Ulster Defence Regiment make it unique in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the argument of the hon. Gentleman that the Select Committee would have had to consider every other regiment is fallacious. Can the hon. Gentleman give the rebuttal which two of his hon. Friends have already given that he was not briefed by the Northern Ireland Office on whether the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh should give evidence? Certainly I was not, but I wondered whether the briefing was available only to Government supporters.
§ Mr. Hind
I had no specific briefing from the Northern Ireland Office. I was made aware by a third party of the view of the Northern Ireland Office. That was anecdotal, but I never received a briefing. In such circumstances I take cognisance of what I am told and the sense of the advice that I receive.
The point has been made that the Select Committee had to consider the discipline code of the British armed forces. The memorandum of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was connected much more with the role of that unit as a part of the British Army than with the actual discipline of that regiment. We were being asked to consider not whether the UDR should behave in a particular way but, more fundamentally, whether the UDR 452 should be in existence in Northern Ireland and whether it should be carrying out its present role. That was entirely different from what has been raised here.
I emphasise that the Select Committee made a difficult decision because it realised that that was the course it should take within its remit. There are ways in which the matter could be considered but it is not by the vehicle of new clause 5.
§ Mr. Stanley
When the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) tabled the new clause I anticipated that he would wish to devote much of what he wanted to say to the Ulster Defence Regiment. As he has tabled the clause in a much wider context on the general question of discrimination I want to take the opportunity of the debate to make it clear that discrimination on grounds of race, religion, colour or any other grounds by members of any regiment or service of the armed forces in their dealings with other service men or with the public would not be tolerated and would be viewed extremely seriously. It is my view from what I have seen of the services—and I have been privileged to see a lot of them over the past three years—that they would find it absolutely abhorrent to be a party to discrimination in any of the forms to which I have referred.
Service law already contains a number of offences under which racial or religious discrimination would be an offence. For example, any conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline is an offence and any act of racial or religious discrimination would fall within the ambit of that offence.
More specifically, anyone subject to service law who uses threatening, abusive, insulting or provocative words or behaviour likely to cause a disturbance commits an offence.
I should also point out that the code of practice for the treatment and questioning of persons by the service police under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which came into effect on 1 March this year, contains this paragraph:
Discriminatory behaviour on the grounds of a person's ethnic or natonal origin may render a Service policeman, like any other member of the Armed Forces, liable to disciplinary action.Finally, I should make it clear that the Race Relations Act applies to service in the Armed Forces.
Given all the safeguards against discrimination that I have outlined and which already exist in both service and civilian law, I do not consider that the new clause proposed would add usefully to the prevention of discrimination in the Armed Forces.
Turning to the specific issue which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has raised, one has of course become familiar with his perception of the UDR. I believe that he is profoundly and, I find, sadly mistaken in his perception of the UDR. I am in no doubt whatever that the UDR is an admirable group of men and women. Of course, one can always find exceptions and one knows that there have been some individual cases in which people have behaved in a way which has led to serious criminal prosecutions. I do not deny that for a moment and I am saddened by and deplore that as much as the hon. Gentleman does. But it is quite wrong to generalise in relation to the whole regiment on the basis of those very limited, exceptional and deplorable cases.
The UDR as a whole does its job in a totally non-sectarian way, as indeed does the RUC. They are there to 453 support the civil power, to maintain law and order and to do their utmost against the awful pressure of terrorism or attempts at terrorism with which they live night and day.
I would hope that hon. Members on all sides of the Committee would recognise the enormous risks that people run simply by becoming members of the UDR. Those risks are well reflected in the casualty figures. More than 150 members of the UDR, including some women, have been killed as a result of terrorist violence over the years since the recent troubles began. More than 300 members of the UDR have suffered serious injuries. They have suffered thus trying to make a vital contribution to maintaining law and order in the Province and dealing with the very serious terrorist threat which they face.
I hope that we shall end the debate on this new clause with a real degree of unanimity in the Committee that the members of the UDR, both men and women, really deserve the highest admiration of the House.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
Would my right hon. Friend accept from me, for the sake of the record, as another member of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, that I was not approached by any Minister of the Northern Ireland Office on this or any other matter?
§ Mr. McNamara
I am sorry that the Minister took the attitude that he did to what I had to say, because I sought to choose my words very carefully indeed. I am very conscious that, for example, this week another member of the UDR was killed by terrorists. I am aware that many of these men and women think that they are playing a proper role for themselves and for the Province in which they live. I happen to think that this is wrong, but I believe that they are, by and large, honourable people. However, to the minority population they are seen as much as a cause of the problem as the problem itself. That is the point at issue. I believe that many of Her Majesty's subjects living in Northern Ireland have that perception of the UDR, regrettable as that may be.
§ Mr. McNamara
I will not give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman. Time is precious, and I merely want to answer the points made.
In putting forward this new clause, we were conscious of trying to find some way in which we could make the UDR, like all other British regiments, subject to the same regulations. Nevertheless, we wanted to throw out a signal that, in the light of the Anglo-Irish Accord, there would be some hope of this result. The Minister, all other hon. Members and I know what a stumbling block at times the very existence of this regiment was in seeking to find some kind of agreement. The Committee knows that special regulations were issued after the accord was signed to try to allay some of the fear and suspicion in the minority community.
Despite what the Minister has said, this is an opportunity for us to show, by this clause, the attitude of this Committee to any conduct of the sort described by the Minister, conduct we all abhor. To those pedants amongst the lawyers in the Conservative Party, if members of the other place are not happy about the wording of the clause they can change it. To me, the wording is no worse than that in the Army regulations which the Minister praised and said rendered the clause unnecessary: he said that wording was merely repetitious and repeating what was 454 already there. Let us make it clear, precise and accurate that in no regiment of the British Army can this sort of conduct be tolerated. This clause would signal that intention to the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. Godman
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) said in his speech that he had spoken to a third party. He did not say that that party was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office.
§ Mr. McNamara
I know that. I was therefore going to conclude by saying that it was interesting to hear what the hon. Member for Lancashire, West said; his words were chosen with great care. The Committee took on board what he said. He did not contradict his right hon. and hon. Friends, but he pointed out that it had been suggested to him—and perhaps this was through the usual channel, who knows—that it might not have been helpful to call the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). That is a nice way of saying that this was said to him, that he was subject to some pressure or that he at least listened to the argument. He listened and voted as he did.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 33, Noes 98455
|Division No. 138]||[11.53 pm|
|Alton, David||Loyden, Edward|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||McNamara, Kevin|
|Clay, Robert||Maxton, John|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Michie, William|
|Craigen, J. M.||Nellist, David|
|Dalyell, Tam||Parry, Robert|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Patchett, Terry|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Penhaligon, David|
|Foster, Derek||Pike, Peter|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Redmond, Martin|
|Hardy, Peter||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Wallace, James|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Livsey, Richard||Mr. John McWilliam|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Alexander, Richard||Durant, Tony|
|Amess, David||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Ashby, David||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Fallon, Michael|
|Batiste, Spencer||Favell, Anthony|
|Bellingham, Henry||Forth, Eric|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Freeman, Roger|
|Blackburn, John||Galley, Roy|
|Bottomley, Peter||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Gregory, Conal|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Brinton, Tim||Ground, Patrick|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Gummer, Rt Hon John S|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Burt, Alistair||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Cash, William||Hayes, J.|
|Chope, Christopher||Henderson, Barry|
|Conway, Derek||Hind, Kenneth|
|Coombs, Simon||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Cope, John||Holt, Richard|
|Couchman, James||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Dunn, Robert||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Jackson, Robert||Speed, Keith|
|Jessel, Toby||Spencer, Derek|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Stern, Michael|
|Lang, Ian||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Lilley, Peter||Sumberg, David|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Major, John||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mather, Carol||Tracey, Richard|
|Merchant, Piers||Viggers, Peter|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Walden, George|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Waller, Gary|
|Neubert, Michael||Watts, John|
|Pollock, Alexander||Whitfield, John|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Wilkinson, John|
|Powley, John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Raffan, Keith||Wood, Timothy|
|Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Mr. Gerald Malone and|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Mr. Francis Maude.|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Schedules I and 2 agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time. — [Mr. Stanley.][Queen's Consent signified.]
§ 12 midnight
§ Mr. McNamara
I should like to take a little longer on Third Reading than the Minister. You will have seen, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the reasoned amendment on the Order Paper tabled by the Opposition. It was not called and I do not quarrel with that in any way. However, it embodies a feeling of the utmost resentment on the part of Opposition Members of the Committee at the way in which we feel we have been treated. We did not expect, as the minority, to carry the day or to have equal determination but we did feel that opportunities should be given for evidence to be heard and cases examined.
The Chairman of the Select Committee ruled some matters out of order, although we felt that they were within the purview of the Bill. Those matters had been allowed on Second Reading. The Chairman's action implied criticism of Mr. Speaker. We were not allowed to discuss section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, which was a matter of considerable concern to Members on both sides of the Committee.
As the Committee proceeded we found that our line of questioning was being interrupted and decisions were being taken. My hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and myself felt that we were unable to continue our line of questioning. We were stopped, not on the grounds that we were going outside the realms of the Bill, but on the strange grounds that somehow or other the Ministry of Defence should not have to explain its attitudes on matters which were before the Committee.
We reached the surprising situation in which the guillotine motion was moved by the parliamentary private secretary to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) to prevent the 456 Committee from sitting when the Calcutt inquiry report was produced. We now know that Mr. Calcutt delivered his report to the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday, the same day that the report of the Select Committee came out. The Government had so much respect for the integrity of the House and for its abilities that they gave the house less than 24 hours in which to read perhaps the most substantial report ever to come from the Select Committee.
We had 24 hours in which to table amendments. This is not the way that Governments should treat Oppositions. This is not the way to maintain goodwill. They are trampling over the rights of the Opposition. We are not asking to have our own way but to have the opportunity to hear evidence. The Minister has said that we had an opportunity to hear evidence on homosexuality.
We heard much evidence from the Ministry and its officials. We had written evidence, but we were denied the right to call the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and denied the right to hear evidence from the Conservative group on homosexual reform. We were denied the evidence from these two groups and from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and Mr. Calcutt.
In the past I have had the privilege of being a member of a Select Committee under several distinguished Conservative Chairmen.
I have had the privilege of being a Chairman of a Select Committee. In all my experience I have never known of Members not being allowed to hear evidence. I have never known the Chairman of the majority party on the Committee state that the Committee will not call a person who wants to give evidence.
To move a guillotine in such a way was despicable. It was a most unhappy Committee upon which to serve. I regret it very much. In five years' time, when we are in Government, I hope that we will have more grace and more favour and more support. The election result at Fulham tonight will make sure of that.
§ Mr. Viggers
In view of the comments that have been made about the Committee of which I was the chairman, I think it is right that the record should be put straight.
The Second Reading of the Bill was on 21 November 1985 and the Select Committee had its first sitting on 19 December 1985. There were full sittings from 15 January to 24 March— a period of two months and 10 days. Early during the Committee's proceedings the members discussed broadly the timing of the investigation, and agreed to seek to complete deliberations by Easter, subject to the Calcutt report which remained to be discussed later.
On 19 February at the seventh sitting my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) moved that the Committee should complete its deliberations by Easter. At that time there was more than a month to Easter and no limit on the number of sittings that the Committee could have. He sought to firm up the programme for the Committee without putting a guillotine on the debate, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) implied. He sought to set a timetable which is completely different. On 17 March at the tenth sitting the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) proposed that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) should attend the Committee and give oral evidence.
When first I heard that an hon. Member wished to give evidence to a Select Committee, I thought that we should 457 yield to that request. The hon. Gentleman was asked to submit a written memorandum, giving his views and reasons why he wished to give oral evidence. He did and it is duly published in our report. When I saw his written representation I had to form the view that it was not the work of the Select Committee to hear those representations or to investigate that subject. The hon. Gentleman's memorandum states in paragraph 31 on page 259:
It is recognised that I have a critical view of the UDR and I would now like an opportunity to make my case on that issue, on behalf of the people who elected me to do just that.The Ministry of Defence answered that point in its memorandum in response to that of the hon. Gentleman, in paragraphs 6 and 9 on page 264, where it states:
The UDR is subject, like the rest of the Army, to the disciplinary provisions of the Army Act 1955 and to the Queens Regulations; additionally, they are subject to the UDR Regulations. They are also, like all other Servicemen in the United Kingdom, subject to the ordinary criminal law …The Army is well aware of some of the problems that can arise from contact between soldiers and the public in the difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland. There is, therefore, a well established procedure which members of the public can use if they feel that there is a reason to complain about the behaviour of any soldier.
The memorandum from the hon. Gentleman contained several specific allegations which could have been referred to Army disciplinary procedures, and some general points which were riot appropriate for the Committee to pursue. The truth is that Opposition Members were seeking to use the wrong vehicle to pursue their special concern.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that in moving that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) be heard, I simply said that the purpose of the hearing was to test the quality and extent of the evidence, and that judgment should not be made until that test had been carried out? Does he not agree that that seemed perfectly fair and proper?
§ Mr. Viggers
If the Committee, following its tenth session, had listened to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh on the subject of the representations that he wished to make, it would have had no alternative but to balance that view with others, and would have plunged itself into an inquiry way beyond its function and duty. It was inappropriate for the Committee to investigate that subject.
As a result of the vote in the Committee, in which I did not take part, Opposition Members chose to boycott our eleventh sitting when the Bill was debated in detail and amendments could have been tabled. On 24 March at the twelfth sitting they produced amendments, but refused to speak to them, despite that fact that I pointed out that if they spoke in support of the amendments, they might be supported by Conservative Members. However, they chose not to do that. I suggested to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who I thought was submitting some very sensible and intelligent points, that if he wished to speak in support of his amendments, the Committee might be interested. He chose not to support those amendments.
§ Mr. Viggers
The eleventh and twelfth sittings, on 19 March, were the occasions when the Committee should have amended the Bill and amended the Chairman's report, which subsequently became the Committee's report. By boycotting those sittings, the hon. Gentlemen and their party did themselves no service.
458 The evidence that we took—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have exercised a great deal of tolerance, because I can understand that there are resentments arising from the Committee's proceedings that hon. Members want to express in the Chamber. However, it would be most regrettable—I do not think that I can allow it to happen—for the Third Reading debate to be a prolonged and acrimonious inquiry into what went on in Committee. I hope that we can now return to the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bermingham
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There has been an attack upon the personalities of the Opposition Members who were members of the Committee, and the steps that they took. Surely they have a right to reply.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Hon. Members have a right to seek to catch my eye and to speak within the normal confines of debate on Third Reading.
§ Mr. Bermingham
On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that the Chairman of a Select Committee is meant to chair the Committee? It is not for the Chairman to attempt to direct and control he majority party upon that Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is not for me to rule on the conduct of members or Chairmen of Committees.
§ Mr. Viggers
The point of my remarks is to establish that the Committee has given proper consideration to the Bill and that it should therefore have a Third Reading. I submit that my remarks must be in order, in view of the comments and direct criticisms that have been made about my chairmanship of the Committee.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me, on perusal of the standing orders, that the Chairman of a Select Committee does not have power to accept a guillotine or closure motion in the way that—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We cannot now enter into a discussion about what happened or did not happen within a certain Committee. Those are not matters for me. We must return to the debate on Third Reading. I call Mr. Viggers.
§ Mr. McWilliam
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It does not seem to me to be in order for the House to finish consideration of a Bill which was considered by a Select Committee and improperly guillotined by that Select Committee. The House does not then have the opportunity properly to consider the full report that that Committee might have made.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have already told the hon. Gentleman and the House that what went on in the Committee is not a matter for me. I cannot rule upon that.
§ Mr. Viggers
One specific allegation made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was that I as Chairman prevented the Committee from discussing section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act. There was an allegation that I went against the indication of Mr. Speaker because that point had been discussed on Second Reading. In view of that specific allegation—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman continues along that line I shall have no option but to allow 459 all kinds of arguments to be put forward from all parts of the House in rebuttal of what he says. I am not prepared to allow that. We must return to Third Reading. On Third Reading, it is for the House to debate what is in the Bill. I hope that that is what we will do, and reach a conclusion on Third Reading.
§ Mr. Viggers
On the Third Reading of the Bill, we will notice that there is no reference to section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act, and that is because I as Chairman was given the specific advice that that was outside the scope—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is doing what I have told him twice he may not do. We cannot now have a prolonged inquest on what went on in the Committee. We must confine our remarks to what is in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will either do so or resume his seat.
§ Mr. Viggers
Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Select Committee had several purposes, one of which was to produce the Bill. We are now debating the Third Reading of a Bill which includes matters relating to the rights of the accused, children at risk, new technology and the powers of military courts. Important points have been raised on all of those matters. I am proud of the Bill, and I am proud of the Select Committee. The Committee has carried out vital work and it is important that the Bill, which I hope will receive a Third Reading in a few minutes, will merit as much consideration as the Armed Forces Act 1981 about which the Select Committee stated in its conclusions:
We note that the Ministry of Defence has in every case modified the rules of service discipline as recommended.I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that the Bill receives its Third Reading.
§ Mr. Wallace
I will bear in mind the ruling that you have already made, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about this being a Third Reading debate, although I note of course that there is a difference of opinion on that point between the Labour Opposition and the Government. I shared the frustration felt by the Opposition that the Select Committee which at the beginning had promise, did not grapple with some of the problems that hon. Members had hoped would be considered. For example, the problems contained in clause 2 of the Bill relating to the offence of interfering with equipment, messages or signals. I recall on Second Reading that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) suggested at some length that perhaps there were provisions in clause 2 that could have been used—if the Bill were an Act— instead of the charges that were brought in the so-called Cyprus secrets trials[...] do not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but that point was worthy of further investigation.
Clause 2 comes before us now without the House having focused on the matter or having an opportunity to consider the outcome of the relevant parts of the Calcutt inquiry report. It was the Government's view that the Select Committee should report without the opportunity of discussing the Calcutt report. Those hon. Members who took part in the Second reading debate will recall that the 460 Calcutt inquiry and the circumstances leading to that inquiry were referred to by nearly all the hon. Members who spoke. Unfortunately, the Select Committee was not allowed to have the benefit of the findings of that report and was not allowed to consider it.
Hon. Members reading the various parts of the Bill, not least clauses 2 and 3, will, as happens in many statutes, find some difficulty in understanding the complicated language. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) tabled an amendment to the Select Committee report asking that leaflets should always be written in good, plain English. Such was the division on party lines that that amendment was rejected, it is not surprising, therefore, that complicated language exists in statutes.
Within the confines of Third Reading, I would like to express the frustration of the alliance, over the loss of this opportunity, which comes round only every five years properly to review the discipline procedures of the armed services. The Select Committee was also frustrated in that aim. Nevertheless, the Bill as it stands, despite the reservation I have already expressed on clause 11, will improve the service discipline Acts. The alliance will support the Bill, although we do not necessarily support all the procedures it contains.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I do not seek to trespass outside the remit of the Third Reading. The main issue is whether we can support the Bill. The tragedy of the Bill has been the way in which we have reached this position.
Bearing in mind all the points of order that we have had tonight and the rulings upon them, suffice it to say that I make no apologies for looking at the Bill now as a wasted opportunity. Those of us who spoke on Second Reading had thoughts, perhaps dreams, that we might have something to contribute to the argument. Fair enough. That is how democracy works. The conceit in the Bill—I put it as bluntly as that— has been the steam-roller tactics that have been applied to it.
At the end of the day we do not have the best result. It is against that background that I shall seek, if no one else does, to divide the House. Every hon. Member has a duty which transcends on occasions party affiliations, and that is to the House, to the country, and, above all, to democracy.
Of course, evidence was taken. On occasions questions were asked of witnesses. We cannot on Third Reading consider how those question sessions occurred, but we can at least say that if at the end of day one is to have a fair result, those who seek to ask questions should on occasions be allowed to do so. No one—I say that with the greatest respect for the Minister—has a monopoly of wisdom on either side of the House.
Yes, sometimes the Opposition are difficult because they ask questions and want to debate and change a little bit here and a little bit there. Of course, in a democracy it is not just the right to speak that is important, but the right to be heard. The tragedy of the Bill is that many voices have not been heard.
Yes, we have done things in certain ways for centuries. But why should we not have the right in 1986 to question, perhaps sometimes in a way that is inconvenient to Government? If we in Britain are ever denied that right, we do not have a democracy but the roll-over, tank-like dictatorship that we criticise so much elsewhere.
461 I notice that the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) laughs, but I warn the hon. Gentleman that there comes a time when sides change and one becomes Opposition rather than Government. When one finds oneself in that position, arrogance should go and reason should reign, because in that position one wants to make one's voice heard. People have, on occasions, to believe that they may have something to contribute to a debate.
I revert to where I began towards the end of last year. Clause 2 is about criminal damage and interfering with radio sets and other matters such as those which lay at the heart of the Cyprus inquiry. If my memory serves me correctly, I suggested on Second Reading that the drafting of that clause was open to some worry because it could have meant that people prosecuted under it could come before a court martial rather than an old Bailey jury. I believe that I asked whether the result of a court martial would be the same as a trial before an Old Bailey jury.
I gather from what I later read that people were wondering whether I was being critical of courts martial. Those who did not read all my remarks failed to realise that my question was whether, after the Bill had completed its passage through the House, we could be certain that the quality of justice before courts martial would be the same as the quality of justice at the Old Bailey or any other Crown court in the UK.
If the answer to that question is yes, we shall have achieved something. If it is that we cannot be sure, we shall have failed. That is why I spoke in the way I did in that debate and hoped to be selected, and was selected, to serve on the Special Select Committee.
The tragedy is that at the end of all our deliberations—and I make no apology for reaching a point of frustration when I walked out—I cannot say, as we leave the Bill, that the dream I had when the measure commenced its passage has been fulfilled. One can ask Ministry officials a thousand and one questions, but it requires the will of hon. Members, and sometimes their willingness to accept the ideas of others, to create legislation that gives rise to a system that is just and fair. I oppose the Bill now with considerable reluctance because I fear that we have not created a system that is fair.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am happy to commend the Bill for its Third Reading. The measure was thoroughly prepared in the Department before being brought before the House, having had a five-year gestation period. It was thoroughly studied in Committee, having occupied nearly twice as many sittings as the Bill that was before the 1981 Select Committee.
I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) speak about the Committee proceedings in the way he did. I cannot recall serving on a Select Committee when in Opposition when I was able virtually entirely to dictate the agenda of the Committee in the way in which that hon. Member did, or was able to dominate the verbal proceedings of the Committee in the way in which he and his hon. Friends were able to do.
The Select Committee was admirably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). He conducted our proceedings with commendable efficiency. He showed unfailing courtesy to hon. Members on both sides, irrespective of party, giving every possible opportunity for them to put questions.
462 The Committee made some important recommendations for the future. They will all be studied carefully, as happened with the recommendations of the 1981 Committee, and each will be the subject of a considered response by the Government.
The Bill as it now appears before the House will meet the needs of the services and will, I am sure, have their confidence.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 100, Noes 23.463
|Division No. 139]||[12.31 am|
|Alexander, Richard||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Alton, David||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Amess, David||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Ashby, David||Lang, Ian|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Batiste, Spencer||Lilley, Peter|
|Bellingham, Henry||Livsey, Richard|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Blackburn, John||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Bottomley, Peter||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Major, John|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Mather, Carol|
|Brinton, Tim||Merchant, Piers|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Neubert, Michael|
|Burt, Alistair||Penhaligon, David|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Pollock, Alexander|
|Cash, William||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Chope, Christopher||Powley, John|
|Conway, Derek||Raffan, Keith|
|Cope, John||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Couchman, James||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Dunn, Robert||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Durant, Tony||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Speed, Keith|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Spencer, Derek|
|Fallon, Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Forth, Eric||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Freeman, Roger||Stern, Michael|
|Galley, Roy||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Gregory, Conal||Sumberg, David|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Ground, Patrick||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John S||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Tracey, Richard|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Viggers, Peter|
|Hawksley, Warren||Walden, George|
|Hayes, J.||Wallace, James|
|Henderson, Barry||Waller, Gary|
|Hind, Kenneth||Watts, John|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Whitfield, John|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Wilkinson, John|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Howells, Geraint||Wood, Timothy|
|Jackson, Robert||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Jessel, Toby||Mr. Gerald Malone and|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Mr. Frances Maude|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Clay, Robert||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Loyden, Edward|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Foster, Derek||Maxton, John|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Michie, William|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Nellist, David|
|Pike, Peter||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Mr. John McWilliam and|
|Redmond, Martin||Mr. Frank Haynes.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.