Ulster Defence Regiment (Advertisements)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1969.

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Photo of Miss Bernadette Devlin Miss Bernadette Devlin , Mid-Ulster 12:00 am, 17th November 1969

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the conduct of the Minister of Defence for Administration in agreeing with the Government of Northern Ireland in television and newspaper advertisements, issued by the Government of Northern Ireland, describing in terms of established fact the strength, organisation and recruitment policy of the proposed new military defence force for Northern Ireland although the first discussion of these proposals will not take place in this House until Wednesday, 19th November ". I should like to ask that the Minister be instructed to arrange that such advertisement be discontinued until such time as this Parliament has had an opportunity to discuss and decide this matter. I have just returned from my constituency. A succession of advertisements is now appearing on Northern Ireland television and in newspapers circulating in the area purporting to describe the strength, organisation and recruitment policy of the new military defence force. These advertisements are issued and paid for by the Government of Northern Ireland. Purported factual descriptions of this defence force contained in the advertisements are not qualified by mention of the fact that a Bill containing proposals for the establishment of this force is to be debated in this House later this week.

The presentation and content of the advertisements seriously impinge upon the activities of this House. By anticipating our parliamentary decisions, the Government of Northern Ireland are endeavouring to bind in advance this House to the proposals set out in the Bill. Further, it is quite clear that the advertisements are not conceived primarily as sources of information to the public, but rather form the basis of a campaign to obtain recruits for the new force.

I have, in a letter from the Minister of Defence for Administration, a statement that this was passed through his office on Friday. By Friday evening, at the closing of the television station, this advertisement had appeared no less than three times. Over the past three days, it has appeared seven times. The tendency of the advertisements is to encourage recruitment from an identifiable section of the population and to discourage others.

The Government of Northern Ireland have no responsibility for recruitment of the Armed Forces of the Crown. Indeed, such powers are wholly reserved to this Parliament under the Government of Ireland Act.

The matter is made more serious by the participation of a senior British Army officer in a televised advertisement, an officer holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel. This officer states as a matter of fact that up to 6,000 men will be placed in the proposed military force. The Bill, as published, to be laid before this House specifically reserves to Members of this Parliament the right to stipulate from time to time the maximum number of men allowed to serve.

The White Paper, Command 4188, clearly indicates that the control of Armed Forces in Northern Ireland will remain with the Westminster Government. I assume that the arrogant assumption of the function of this Parliament by the Northern Ireland Government was totally their responsibility.

I have with me a letter from the Minister of Defence for Administration stating how the precise contents of the television advertisement were passed and approved by him—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. With respect, the hon. Lady must not debate the merits of what she seeks to debate.

Photo of Miss Bernadette Devlin Miss Bernadette Devlin , Mid-Ulster

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I therefore ask leave to move, That the Minister be asked to refrain from further commitments to matters not yet discussed by this House and that this matter be now discussed by the Members of this House.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) indicated this morning that she might seek this afternoon to raise an application under Standing Order No. 9.

The hon. Lady seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that she thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the conduct of the Minister of Defence for Administration in agreeing with the Government of Northern Ireland in television and newspaper advertisements, issued by the Government of Northern Ireland, describing in terms of established fact the strength, organisation and recruitment policy of the proposed new military defence force for Northern Ireland although the first discussion of these proposals will not take place in this House until Wednesday, 19th November. As the House knows, under the revised Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reasons for my decision. I have given careful consideration to the representations which the hon. Member has made, but I have to rule that the hon. Lady's submission does not fall within the provisions of the revised Standing Order No. 9 and that, therefore, I cannot submit her application to the House.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

On a point of order. The House accepts your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but may I ask the Leader of the House whether he will look into this matter and ask the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House tomorrow or deal with it when the Bill comes before the House on Wednesday?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

Yes, I give that assurance.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

Further to the point of order. While what the Leader of the Opposition has asked for is essential, even more urgent, I submit, Mr. Speaker, is that no action should be taken before Wednesday, before the House has an opportunity to have the debate on the Bill.

It has always been held that although there might be doubts on many other matters, where legislation is concerned the legislature, and the House of Commons in particular, is the only body responsible for legislation. In protecting the rights of Members of this House in the specific matter of legislation, Mr. Speaker, will you see to it that the Government take no action in implementing these advertisements and plans, which at present are only plans and have no legal validity, until such time as this House has made its decision?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I have given my Ruling on the application under Standing Order No. 9. I abide by my Ruling.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

Further to the point of Order. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that in the Bill, or accompanying it, there is a Money Resolution permitting moneys to be spent for the purposes set out in the Bill. Can you tell me what remedy this House has if the Minister of Defence for Administration, or any other Minister, has spent money without the authority of Parliament and before the Money Resolution has been passed?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

This matter can be raised when the Money Resolution is discussed. If the House disapproves of what the Minister has done, it can vote against the Money Resolution.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

May I, with your consent, Mr. Speaker, ask the Leader of the House to ensure that any advertisement which is contemplated by the Ministry of Defence is cancelled at once?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I am not responsible for advertisements, etc., but I have given an assurance to the Leader of the Opposition that I will ask my right hon. Friend to look into the matter quickly and make a statement.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

May I raise a different point of order, Mr. Speaker? You have given your Ruling on the application under Standing Order No. 9, but the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) has made a number of charges and allegations and has said that she has written evidence to substantiate them. If what I heard was only 1 per cent. true, it would appear that there is—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We can debate neither Mr. Speaker's Ruling on the application under Standing Order No. 9 nor the submission made by the hon. Lady when making her application.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

Then may I raise the matter in a different way, Mr. Speaker? As announcements have been made and actions have been taken by persons purporting to act with the authority of the Minister and of this House before the House has had an opportunity of debating this issue, is this not prima facie a case of breach of privilege? People are trying to take away the rights and authority of this House.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to be good enough to consider this matter. No person, whether a Minister of the Crown, an hon. Member of this House or a lieutenant-colonel, is allowed to take action which purports to have the authority of the House when the House has never given that authority.

I raise this matter at the first possible opportunity—that is, now—and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider it and rule on it as a possible breach of privilege.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am in a little difficulty, because the hon. Member asks me to rule as a matter of privilege on a statement made by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster which, he said, was partly inaccurate. If the hon. Member wishes to make a formal submission of breach of privilege, perhaps he will do so in writing and let me know, and I will rule on it in the usual way after 24 hours.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

I understand that one has to do this immediately, Mr. Speaker, and that I have done. I will now take the opportunity of putting it in writing, because I believe that the action in question is something to which you should give consideration.

Photo of Mr Paul Rose Mr Paul Rose , Manchester, Blackley

On a point of order. Although it seems strange, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the Opposition has evinced a sudden interest in Northern Ireland after his remarks last week—[Interruption.]

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Whether it is strange or not is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Paul Rose Mr Paul Rose , Manchester, Blackley

Nevertheless it was true.

May I, very respectfully, make two points? First, as to the urgency, I think that in view of the fact—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member is out of order. He is attempting to submit again under Standing Order No. 9 an application which I have refused.

Photo of Mr Paul Rose Mr Paul Rose , Manchester, Blackley

I was not intending to do that, Mr. Speaker. This is further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that on Wednesday there should be an adequate statement, because this has already appeared, and is appearing, in print.

Perhaps it may be relevant to this matter to point out that this is not the first time this has happened. It happened over the question of the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner. It is a very dangerous precedent that these things happen before Parliament has time to pronounce upon them.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

Further to the point of order. Would it not be appropriate, Mr. Speaker, for you to draw the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I take note of what the hon. Member has said.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

Further to the point of order by my hon. Friend. Could the Leader of the House make representations to his right hon. Friend that when, tomorrow, he is explaining to the House the actual position he will tell us the exact circumstances in which a senior member of the British military forces seems to have usurped the rights of this Parliament?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I think that exactitude will help the whole House.