HL Deb 12 November 1969 vol 305 cc663-7

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I, too, should like to repeat a Statement, and at the same time I would apologise to the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, who is about to make her maiden speech. My Lords, the Statement, which concerns the Ulster Defence Regiment, is as follows:

"The House will recall that in the debate on Northern Ireland on October 13"—

and in a similar debate in your Lordships' House—

"the Government proposed to create within Northern Ireland a local reserve defence force. This force is the subject of a Bill which is to be presented to-day.

"The Bill has been drafted on the established pattern of Reserve Forces legislation and provides the statutory framework within which the new force can be raised. There are therefore a number of matters which do not fall within its scope but about which the House will wish to be informed. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is therefore publishing at the same time as the Bill is laid a White Paper which will set out the broad outline of the new force's function and constitution.

"The Hunt Committee recommended that the Royal Ulster Constabulary should be relieved of all military duties and that the Ulster Special Constabulary should be replaced by two separate forces—one a police reserve, the other a military force to assist the regular Armed Forces.

"The nature of the new military force will be governed by its operational task. That task will be to meet what the Hunt Committee called armed guerrilla-type attacks'. This calls for a force to guard key points and installations, to carry out patrols and to establish check points and road blocks.

"This force will be an integral part of the Army. It will be controlled by the Secretary of State for Defence, and will be under the command of the General Officer Commanding, Northern Ireland. Its immediate Commanding Officer will be a Brigadier of the Regular Army. The Regular Army will also supply administrative and training staff.

"The size of the force will be determined in the light of experience as the build-up proceeds, but will not ultimately exceed 6,000 officers and men. Of necessity the new force will draw substantially on the Ulster Special Constabulary for its initial recruitment, but there will be a campaign to enrol recruits from all sections of the Northern Ireland community. Apart from the formal qualifications of age, residence and nationality the sole criterion for acceptance will be suitability for service in a military force. There will be a strict security vetting.

"The force will be called The Ulster Defence Regiment.

"The power to call it out for local emergency will be vested by the Secretary of State for Defence in an officer of the Regular Armed Forces who may in turn delegate that power to other officers of the Regular Forces not below the rank of major. Members of the new force will be liable to be called out for service only in Northern Ireland.

"Officers of the new force will be subject to military law at all times; others will be so subject when on training or on duty.

"Members of the new force will be required to do one week's consecutive training, four other full days' training and 12 drills. This is, I believe, the minimum training required to produce an efficient force. In some special cases the requirement may be varied within this total amount.

"Members of the force will receive Regular Army emoluments for full days' training or duty in the same way as the T. & A.V.R. A non-taxable annual bounty will be paid to all members who complete the training obligation. "Although the defence of the United Kingdom is the sole responsibility of Her Majesty's Government here at Westminster, the tasks for which this new force will be raised are of the greatest importance to the Government of Northern Ireland. We therefore envisage that the G.O.C., Northern Ireland, will have the fullest possible consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland about the use of this force. This in no way diminishes the powers and responsibilities of the G.O.C.

"The success of this force is vitally important to the people of Northern Ireland. It must he representative of the community as a whole. Recruits must come forward from all sections. We are confident that they will. The Government will do all in their power to ensure the success of the Regiment."


My Lords, I would thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. In our debate a month ago I welcomed the decision to set up a force of this character, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, must be gratified that his recommendations not only have been accepted but are being acted on so speedily. I cannot refrain from expressing the earnest hope that Catholics as well as Protestants in Northern Ireland will volunteer freely for service in this force.

I have two questions to ask. I was expecting all the time to hear in the Statement that all the details in it had been endorsed by the Government of Northern Ireland. It seems to me extremely important that that should be the case, though the responsibility here lies on the United Kingdom Government at Westminster. I hope that we may have that assurance. Secondly, I cannot help wondering whether the training schedule set out in the Statement will be sufficient, at any rate in the initial period. I should have thought that if this force is to take over its new duties, which will be to oppose I.R.A.-type raids of all kinds, should they occur, it will be necessary for recruits, at any rate in the first year or two, to experience rather more extensive and intensive training than is set out here. The terms of the Statement seem to be giving a kind of assurance that nobody will ever be required to do more than this. I trust that, if the assessment of the position and the progress of the force require it, these periods of training here will not be treated as an absolute maximum.


My Lords, I should like to welcome this Statement and to congratulate the Government on the speed with which they have acted in producing this decision. I have only one question. There is reference in the Statement to strict security vetting. I would ask what body will be responsible for the strict security vetting, and who is going to lay the standards required of members of the force, bearing in mind the experience which we had with the "B" Specials and in view of the fact that, as I understand it, the initial recruits are likely to be drawn from that force.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their recognition of the part that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, played and of the speed with which we have been able to move on this. It is clearly of great importance that we should move quickly. A Bill is being introduced in another place, and we hope to have it and deal with it speedily in this House. The position about the Government of Northern Ireland is that they have been fully consulted on detailed matters, and I understand that they are in general agreement with the proposals. Of course, the responsibility for this force and its conditions rests solely with Her Majesty's Government. But I can frankly say from my own knowledge that there has been very full discussion with the Northern Ireland Government and that, although some changes have been discussed, they are content with what is proposed. However, I would not want to bind them totally. There may well be some points on which they might have liked something different.

On the training commitment, we are in somewhat of a dilemma, and this is an aspect with which the Northern Ireland Government themselves have been concerned. A number of the members of this force will be small-time farmers, who will probably find it difficult to fulfil the training requirement. Naturally the Army want the longest possible training, and I very much take the noble Lord's point. But we are satisfied that what is proposed will be satisfactory. Clearly we shall want to consider this further, and maybe we shall have an opportunity to do so when we discuss the Bill. But we arc satisfied that what is proposed is right for the particular purposes we have in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked about security. The vetting will be done in the same sort of way as for those men who join the Armed Forces. There is of course a special problem here, and vetting will be in the hands of the military authorities, who will no doubt make sufficient use of the specialised information we may be able to obtain. There is a danger either way. Do not let us assume that it is always from Ulster Protestants; there is also the possibility of I.R.A. members trying to join the force. It is important to ensure that there is complete confidence in the members of this force, and I am sure that in fact this will be achieved.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell me the answer to two points? First of all, will the unit of T. & A.V.R. 2 which still exists in Northern Ireland be incorporated into this force, and are the former soldiers of T. & A.V.R. 3 units going to be eligible for the new force?—because it seems likely that the A.V.R. 3 units have been disbanded. The other point is: are there enough drill halls in existence for the training of this force?


My Lords, may I give the noble Lord a quick answer, subject to further examination? I do not think that the question of incorporating T. & A.V.R. 2 arises. If my recollection is right, from our earlier debates, T. & A.V.R. 2 is organised in support of NATO and of the Regular forces. As for T. & A.V.R. 3, of course it will be open to anyone to volunteer for the new force, and clearly it is desirable in general that men from the Ulster Special Constabulary, and others with territorial or military experience should join the force. I should think that the noble Lord's question will be met in this way.