Liabilities for Service and Training

Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 December 1969.

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Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone 12:00, 1 December 1969

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 3, line 6, at end insert: Provided that all arms under the authority of such officers shall be stored in armouries and not in the private houses of members of the force. I am moving this important Amendment in the light of the debate on Second Reading. Some of the main arguments will already be familiar to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but we hope that we will receive firm assurances that the Government will be prepared to move in our direction. An important principle is involved here, involving the success or failure of this whole enterprise.

As on Second Reading, I am particularly concerned about the large numbers of arms which are spread over Northern Ireland in so many homes. I refer not just to the B Specials but to the general conviction, which will be common ground in the Committee, and is certainly felt by many people in Northern Ireland, that there are too many arms about. That is the situation from which we should start the debate.

There is a feeling of uncertainty. Only a week ago the Army authorities had to publish a special statement assuring the people of Northern Ireland that they need not be alarmed, following reports of widespread gun running. The Army said that it had the posiiton under control. This is therefore an explosive and sensitive issue. In the past there have been complaints on many occasions about the attitude of B Specials when stopping vehicles. They may have been genuinely convinced that something wrong was taking place on that road—or they may have had no reason for such conviction; but, as it was put to me by one authority in Northern Ireland, some B Specials have pointed a gun through the window of the vehicle before even starting the inquiry.

There is no doubt that the fact that so many of these people had their arms stored at home was a contributory factor to others feeling intimidated by them. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Ryan), who has visited Northern Ireland several times in recent years, will confirm that.

The situation was evident to the military authorities in Northern Ireland after the disturbances. I said on Second Reading, and I repeat, that it was the opinion of competent British military authorities shortly after the disturbances that there were too many arms and that it was not desirable that people should keep their arms at home. That is normally the attitude of all General Officers and officers under their command. There is always a feeling in Army circles that arms should be kept in armouries and that people should not keep them at home. The control of arms is one of the most strictly enforced regulations in the Army. Never do the Army authorities take a light-hearted attitude to the storing of arms, and all members of an organised military force are made personally responsible for the arms which they might use.

The Government ought to accept the intention of the Amendment, for it does not involve any large-scale change in the administration of the force. It is an important but narrow point. There is common ground between the Government and the supporters of the Amendment that by and large most arms should be stored in armouries. The G.O.C., with the support of the Secretary of State, has announced that in the bigger towns and cities no arms should be kept at home, but it is precisely in the countryside that over the last 20 years there have been most complaints about the use of arms by people storing them at home.

No answer was given by the Government to the case made on Second Reading that if the members of the force are to carry out an operation it will be under the strict instructions of the G.O.C. and those under his command and that therefore the most sensible method is to have arms stored in an armoury and to have the local commander call on members of the force to go to the armoury to collect their arms and then to take such action as they are ordered to take.

Photo of Mr Henry Clark Mr Henry Clark , North Antrim

The hon. Gentleman is putting forward an interesting statement. What does he mean by "armoury"? How far does he imagine that an armoury would be, in average distance, from the homes of privates in the new regiment? What system of guarding such armouries does he propose?

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

When I was in Northern Ireland and discussing these matters, a number of detailed points were made and no difficulty was envisaged in arranging all the matters the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am not setting myself up as a military authority who is going to give instructions to the G.O.C. as to where the armouries are to be located or as to the distances within a certain circumference of a local unit at which the armouries should be placed. It would be absurd of me to try to do so. These are rhetorical questions and it would be wrong of me to engage in arguments as to where armouries should be placed.

In principle, however, I suggest that there would—as the G.O.C. has already ordered—be central armouries in the major cities and towns and that it would not be beyond the wit of man to provide secure places in the areas into which the force is to be divided—such places being, in the normal tradition of the Army, secret and protected. The hon. Gentleman's adventurist view, that the country is filled with people trying to invade and steal from armouries, is absurd. It has been under cover of such alarmist and adventurist attitudes that intimidation by the B Specials of the minority has been carried on for so many years. I do not accept the alarmist and adventurist phrases of the hon. Member's rhetorical questions.

This is a narrow but important point. I hope the Government will say that they see the sense in the Amendment and will introduce regulations that will cut out the provision whereby arms may be kept in private homes by members of the new force. This would go a long way to reassuring those of us with grave doubts about the agreement between the Government and Stormont, and would remove some of the other suspicions in our minds. I hope we shall receive a positive response.

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

The Minister of Defence for Administration outlined on Second Reading the circumstances in which it would be necessary for arms to be kept at home, particularly in country areas. In the country, where distances are big and the members of the new force are spread over a wide area, there would be great practical problems in organising armouries. They would be very small, to start with. They would be vulnerable to attack. It could be argued that, in certain circumstances, arms might be kept at police stations and this might satisfy the hon. Members opposite to some extent.

7.30 a.m.

The record of the U.S.C. in looking after their arms has been outstanding. I took the trouble to look up the figures, and they may be of interest to hon. Members. The procedure is that there is a regular inspection of the arms and ammunition of every man in the force. Since 1936 the force has gone from 8,000 to more than 20,000 men, and during that time 15 Lee Enfield rifles, two Sterling sub-machine guns, one Sten gun and five revolvers have been lost, a remarkable achievement in just over a quarter of a century.

It should be remembered that there are dangers in keeping arms in armouries. I do not want to criticise, but it should be remembered that in the raid on Gough Barracks the I.R.A. in 1954–55 stole more arms in one raid—and they were very useful to the I.R.A. in the subsequent campaign—than were stolen in the whole of the 30-year period when men of the Ulster Special Constabulary kept their arms at home. It is worth recording their remarkable achievement in taking care of their arms and ensuring their security.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I support the Amendment, which is important. I am sure that the Minister will recognise that this is not only a military but an emotional subject. The fact that men of the former B Specials, now to be the new regiment, have kept their arms at home has been bad because by definition it has led to a distinction between "them" and "us". I had the unfortunate experience of seeing the B Specials in operation in Northern Ireland on 14th August in Derry.

I am glad that the unit is to be reorganised, but the Minister will understand that as our main Amendments have not been accepted we still have serious reservations and we must ensure that the Bill is absolutely clear.

The argument about country areas has been advanced consistently, but until such time as arrangements can be made for the disposal of the arms in special areas, responsibility for the immediate guarding of installations, if that is necessary, must rest with the Army. If the new regiment is to be part of the British Army, it should be subject to the same rules as the rest of the British Army. On Second Reading I asked the Minister in what other countries arms were kept at home, and I was told Switzerland and Denmark. Those examples are not apposite in this connection. The tradition in this part of the United Kingdom of keeping arms at home must be broken if we are to gain the support of those whose support we seek. To do so would remove one of the causes for genuine concern in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr John Maginnis Mr John Maginnis , County Armagh

I would like to reinforce the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) about the remarkable record of the Ulster Special Constabulary over many years in the keeping of its arms. A great deal of emotion has crept into the argument about keeping arms at home.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Epping

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the major argument for many of us is not whether or not arms have been lost or whether or not the statistics are correct? The point is that even while those arms have been in the hands of those issued with them they may at various times have been misused. The statistics prove nothing. I remember bullet marks I saw in the walls in Belfast, which proved that too many arms were in hands that they should not be in.

Photo of Mr John Maginnis Mr John Maginnis , County Armagh

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but the point we are discussing is not what happened to the arms when they were in the possession of the U.S.C. but what will happen when they are in the possession of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I remind hon. Members that paragraph 14 of the White Paper says: In order that the force can react effectively to 'guerilla-type attacks' it may be necessary to authorise some members of the force in certain circumstances"— I emphasise those words— to draw arms and ammunition and keep them at home. The safeguard is in the following words: When this happens such members will be subject to military law while arms and ammunition are in their charge. That states unequivocally that anyone in the new Ulster Defence Regiment who has been authorised to keep his arms at home will be under strict military control. I accept that, and I am sure that hon. Members can visualise that the arms will be authorised to be kept at home only in very exceptional circumstances. With that safeguard, that they are under strict military law, we should not worry too much about the keeping of arms at home.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

I want to speak on this issue because I was in Northern Ireland, where I usually go for my holidays, when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his visit. I was in the village of Carnlough, Co. Antrim. I well remember that at his Press conference his very first words were to the effect that his first impression on going around Northern Ireland was that there were far too many arms knocking about for comfort and safety. The provision that in exceptional circumstances people can retain arms at home has never been justified. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) raised this question on Second Reading, and the countries mentioned in reply as examples of places where this sort of thing happens are no analogy with the circumstances which prevail in Northern Ireland, with a divided community.

It is said that with great courage the police have gone around unarmed as a move to help create better feeling between the communities and them and to have them more accepted. I recognise that psychologically this must have been a serious matter for the police, but they now say that they are better off going around unarmed.

A Clause which will allow people to keep arms at home under exceptional circumstances will not dispel the feeling that exists in Northern Ireland that some people are privileged. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to remember the statement of the Home Secretary about there being too many arms knocking around, and that it was the Government's job to see that possession was much reduced and that nobody should draw arms to keep at home.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) has said, it is not a question of how many arms were lost. It may be that the figures are correct. It is a question rather of abuse of those that were not lost that were not handed in. There was no check, I believe, on how many rounds were fired. This kind of Clause is not conducive to better relations in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government will see the sense of what I am saying and accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Henry Clark Mr Henry Clark , North Antrim

I feel that the hon. Member is making a baseless assertion. He says that there may have been abuses. He says that ammunition was not checked. It is very carefully checked in the Ulster Special Constabulary. Has the hon. Member any evidence to suggest that there were abuses? Even if there were abuses, we have the figures from the Secretary of State for Defence on Second Reading. He pointed out that during the last period of tension with the I.R.A. some 3 million separate patrols were carried out by the U.S.C. Is the hon. Member prepared to say that any reasonable proportion of those patrols led to complaints or abuse of arms?

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

As I have said, I go to Northern Ireland for my holidays. While I am not as conversant as the hon. Member with what goes on in Northern Ireland, nevertheless I do not have the same biased view as he does. When one talks to ordinary people, they certainly associate with the B Specials abuse of the firearms they carry. They do not accept that there were never abuses.

I am not blackening these men indiscriminately, but I shall not allow the hon. Member to whitewash them. A tribunal is sitting, and we will wait for its results. Enough evidence has emerged so far to say that there was abuse.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Epping

Does my hon. Friend recall that on 14th and 15th November, in Belfast, a number of shooting incidents occurred in which a number of people were killed as a result of being struck by bullets? A lot of people whom I and my colleagues met when we were in Belfast made the accusation that some of those bullets may have been fired by B Specials. I am not saying whether they were or not, but I ask my hon. Friend whether he does not think that this substantiates the point he has made in quoting the Home Secretary when he said that there were too many guns about.

Photo of Mr Alfred Broughton Mr Alfred Broughton , Batley and Morley

Order. Hon. Members should not use interventions for the purpose of making speeches.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

I said that there was reasonable evidence to assume that not always had the men who had those rifles and guns used them properly. There was sufficient evidence, not yet fully proved, to justify my point of view that there was abuse.

I said that I am not going to blacken those men indiscriminately, but I am not allowing the hon. Member to whitewash them. A tribunal is sitting. When the results are published, we will be able to debate the matter fully.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

Before we leave the Amendment, I would like to endorse the very proper tribute paid to the Ulster Special Constabulary by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) for its remarkable record in the protection of arms during the last 33 years. According to the figures that my hon. Friend has given to the Committee, the Ulster Special Constabulary has lost less than one rifle every two years, one sub-machine gun every ten years and one revolve every six years. That is a remarkable record which compares favourably with that of any British regiment in peacetime.

7.45 a.m.

Much has been said about indiscriminate firing, but, as hon. Members know, a very careful check is kept on ammunition. Figures show that ammunition lost, misled or fired indiscriminately amounts to one round per month over the last 30 years, which is a remarkable record. We all agree that the proper place for storage of military weapons in normal circumstances is a well guarded, well controlled armoury, but there is a built-in safeguard in the Bill. Clause 1 (2,b,ii) says that a member of the regiment will be subject to military law whenever he keeps weapons at home. He may have some claim to be paid for each day that he keeps a weapon at home. If that is so, I cannot see the Treasury agreeing to a man keeping weapons at home unless that is absolutely necessary.

We all hope that service in the Ulster Defence Regiment will not prove dangerous for those who volunteer to protect the community, but it may prove dangerous. The efficiency of the force and the safety of some of its members might be put at risk if the Government accepted this Amendment.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

It is particularly unfortunate that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) has allowed himself to be used to defend the situation which has existed in Northern Ireland by which Specials were allowed to carry arms and take them home. Many hon. Members, particularly those opposite, are unaware of the circumstances which existed in Northern Ireland. They had heard that the B Specials were not liked because they did not behave in a British and a fair way. If the hon. Member knew of these circumstances, he would have condemned the situation as vehemently as have my hon. Friends.

I support the Amendment. If many hon. Members opposite had been present to hear what was said in the debate, they would have supported it. There has been a private army in Northern Ireland used to bolster up the Unionist Party since the inception of the State in 1920. No other part of the United Kingdom has had such a force. I admire the British sense of fair play. British people seek to give fair play to each and every citizen, but in Northern Ireland that has not been the case. The B Specials have been used to bolster up a political system which should be abolished. We recognise that the Government are bringing about a force which will be divorced from that of the B Specials.

Throughout these debates from yesterday evening, fears have been expressed from this side of the Committee that, although we may have a different system and safeguards, we have not the safeguards which we asked for and there will still be the same personnel in the force. The leopard does not change its spots. Under the Bill members of the force in certain circumstances will still be allowed to carry arms home.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) explained that during a recent visit to Northern Ireland there were many arms in evidence. I agree with him that a stable and secure society cannot exist with such a state of affairs. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) had the nerve to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) if he had evidence to prove that arms had been wrongly used. Everybody in Northern Ireland is aware of the voluminous evidence that has existed for years about the illegal use of arms.

In Armagh last November, when the Paisley organisation took over the town, there was a riot—it was a mini-riot by Northern Ireland standards—five men who were arrested were found to be B Specials off duty, but they all carried guns. A shot was fired at a Press photographer at a civil rights demonstration in Dungannon. The bullet hit the camera and a man aged over 60 was arrested. He, too, was found to be a B Special. Although he had not been mobolised for the occasion, he had arms with him. It was miraculous that the photographer, who was only doing his job, was not killed.

There followed a change of Government in Northern Ireland, and, under the present Prime Minister, an amnesty was declared. Foolishly, we welcomed it—I was at Stormont when the amnesty was announced—because as the facts began to emerge we realised that the amnesty was called not to protect the people but to let off the hook many members of the B Specials who had been using arms illegally. During recent disturbances in the City of Belfast——

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting wide of the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

We do not want members of the new force to take their arms home. Since it has been pointed out time and again that the new regiment will be comprised of former B Specials, it is right that I should point out the character of the B Specials.

A member of the B Specials, who will probably be admitted to the new regiment, was at the time of which I have been speaking a member of the bodyguard of the then Minister of Home Affairs. It was said to have been an accident, but that man killed his wife or child. It seems that that man will be entitled to be a member of the new force and be allowed to take his arms home. He does not live in an outlying part.

The Hunt Report said that an attack on the constitution or on the border was not evisaged. I therefore cannot see why members of the new regiment should be allowed to take their arms home. We have had far too many arms in Northern Ireland for too many years, and there have been far too many accidents and fatalities. I suggest that this is the appropriate time for the Minister to ensure that in no circumstances will arms be permitted to be kept in an individual's household.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I hope my hon. Friends gathered from what I said on Second Reading that I have the greatest sympathy with the point which they put forward. Having said something which I hope they will find encouraging, let me take the bull by the horns and say first what is less encouraging.

I believe that there will be a few circumstances, limited by the criteria I outlined on Second Reading, when it will be for some time necessary for a number of members of the new regiment to keep their arms at home. I cannot be pressed to give an estimate of what that number will be, but I specify the conditions under which the necessity will arise as these. They are certainly members of the force who live in isolated areas and who may be called out at very short notice and could not conceivably collect their arms from a central depot. They are members of the force who genuinely believe—and I do not try to estimate how accurate is their belief—that they are under a personal threat if they are not allowed legitimately to keep arms at home. I believe that for them there must be a permanent—by that I mean perhaps two or three years——

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the past two or three years, since my election to the House of Commons, I have been inundated with threatening telephone calls and letters, and this is still going on whilst I am over here? I believe that I am being personally threatened. Would my hon. Friend concede that I should have the right to carry arms at home to defend myself?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I would not concede it in this context for a minute, because I am speaking of the rural context. I hope that the authorities of Northern Ireland and certainly the Army, for which I have some responsibility, are able to provide protection for my hon. Friend in towns, and in towns it is entirely inappropriate for arms to be kept at home.

I am talking about men, who may be not so rational about these things as my hon. Friend, and who live, for instance, on the tip of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. They genuinely believe that their lives are at stake, and can quote incursions from the south six years ago and will show lists of their friends and relatives who died in border raids. They have a genuine fear.

This group of persons is not large in number, but I would be less than honest to my hon. Friend and less responsible about the force if I did not say that for some time in the future this group— I hesitate to call it a small group—of officers and men of the force will possibly need to be given permission by an officer of the British Army to keep their arms at home.

To put the situation in its proper context, we began to talk again this morning, as we did in the week before last, as if the provisions we are now discussing are likely to increase the number of arms kept at home, or at least not decrease them. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) said, quite rightly, that the G.O.C. was anxious to reduce the number of arms at home. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) spoke of the Home Secretary rightly saying that there are too many arms about at this moment. Despite both those convictions, which I absolutely share, there are substantial numbers of arms legitimately held by special constables in their own homes, because the reduction of arms held at home has basically taken place only in the two major cities.

We expect and require now that the process shall continue, and that many more men who have up to now been given arms at home shall have them centralised. I promise that from now on there will be a reduction in numbers.

The front page lead story of the Daily Express, Northern Ireland edition, which began by saying that the new force would result in B Specials keeping arms at home, in a way they had previously not been able to do was not only wrong but diametrically wrong. The numbers will go down from now on, but they will go down in these special conditions.

I make it clear that nobody will be allowed to keep arms at home either for prestige or for convenience. Nobody will be able to say "I do not want to make a detour to the armoury to pick up my rifle, which is time-consuming and embarrassing". But what will be possible is for us to say, what it will be necessary for us to say, that until armouries are built it is probably better to have individual rifles in individual houses than large groups of rifles and substantial quantities of arms and ammunition in a centralised place which is inadequately guarded and is an inevitable target for extremists of all sorts who hope to steal, and who in the past have been successful in stealing, arms in large numbers.

8.0 a.m.

We are instituting immediately a programme of armoury building. I will tell the Committee what that means. We are now trying to decide—so far as we are allowed to decide before the Bill becomes law—on the organisation of the force, and where each company and each platoon ought to be located. When those decisions have been taken, we will start immediately to build armouries at the places where the companies and platoons meet. When secure armouries are provided, sometimes by building new structures, sometimes by adapting old ones, we will then be able to centralise arms in large numbers and be sure that they are under lock and key, so that they are not a temptation to marauders of one sort or another. They will remain there neither provoking the population nor tempting arms runners. That is our policy, a policy that will go on gradually between now and 1st April and will accelerate after that date.

Having said that, and having assured my hon. Friends that this will mean a spectacular reduction in four or five months of the number of arms kept in individual homes, I reiterate that I cannot possibly promise that there will not be some occasion on which arms will be kept at home. But I can assure the Committee that they will not be characteristic of the force as a whole and will be a dwindling number from now on.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

While these people have these arms in their possession, can the Minister say what are the restraints at the moment and in what sorts of conditions arms are allowed to be kept at home? Do they need any sort of permission? In the new force, for example, will they need to have written permission? These matters need to be spelt out.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

At the moment they need the permission of the officer commanding their unit. That permission is tacitly given if they are not in the two areas where arms have been called in. If they are not in Belfast or Londonderry, they are by the nature of the present operation committing no offence if they take their arms home. When the new force comes into operation, specific permission to keep arms at home will be given by an officer of the British Army of the rank of major or above, because it is consistent with and related to the powers that he will exercise in calling out the force. That permission will depend on the availability of armouries and the location of the men in question.

In regard to sanctions, the sanctions which will apply to men in the new force if while keeping arms at home they behave in an unfortunate way will be appreciably greater than they are at present. At present the men are subject to the normal law. In the new regiment they will be subject to military law on all occasions that arms and ammunition are in their possession. Therefore there will be substantial sanctions against a man who loses his rifle, or a man who uses his rifle in a way that is not consistent with his honourable membership of the Regiment.

Photo of Mr John Ryan Mr John Ryan , Uxbridge

My hon. Friend has described a situation in which certain people, for some reason which he does not describe, feel that they require arms, and he points to a historical situation as evidence for it. It seems to me that these people are potentially dangerous, and certain things emerge.

Are the people whom my hon. Friend wants to encourage into the force those who, in his view, are irrational, who live near the border, and who, for some mystical or prestige reason, think that they should have weapons? If that is so, he will not create much confidence among those in Bogside who have no ability to possess weapons and have fears about being attacked—fears based on reality.

We would all like to see a tightening up on the possession of weapons. We would like to see the Firearms Act applied as strictly in Northern Ireland as it is here where it is difficult to possess weapons without a legitimate purpose. We are amazed that the Minister should concede to irrationality. Surely the proper course would be to put a complete ban on the carrying of weapons home by the force, apart from the temporary situation, which is adequate, and then, in two or three years, in the light of the operations of the force, to see whether it was necessary to revert to the previous position. This would be a real step forward, instead of the unsatisfactory step which is being taken. Will my hon. Friend accept the invitation to go into more detail about these irrational people living near the border who, by his decision, can keep weapons at home?

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

This is a matter of great principle. The Minister has gone some way towards satisfying some of the proposals that we have made, but he has honestly said that for some months there can be no radical change. He has also mentioned a category of people who have provided special reasons why they ought to be allowed to keep arms at home. I do not believe that it can be the views of individual members of an organised force, particularly a newly created military force, should have any influence on my right hon. Friend's decision whether they should be allowed to keep weapons at home. My right hon. Friend must make this decision regardless of the views of the individuals concerned. If a decision is made concerning individuals on one side, then others might feel insecure living next to such people and they may seek ways and means of keeping arms at home.

This is a matter on which we have grave fears. Therefore, I must ask my hon. Friends to support the Amendment in the Division Lobbies.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

8.15 a.m.

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

I apologise to the Committee for keeping it, but it will be for no more than a few sentences. The White Paper says that members of the new force will have to go to training camp for 12 days, which will mean a week's training and then another separate weekend's training. I remind the Minister that many people in this force are ordinary working men, small business men and small farmers. I hope that it will be possible to exercise a certain amount of flexibility in fixing the weekend camp to which an individual goes, and that it will not be said that there will be no alternative date if his commitments warrant a change. I agree that he must do his proper training.

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 99.

I also say that the people of Northern Ireland had a fine war record, and to cast this kind of slur on a gallant body of men such as the Specials is unworthy of the hon. Lady.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

Subsection (1) of the Clause provides that the Secretary of State may grant authority in writing to call out the force for emergency service in Northern Ireland to any designated officer of the regular forces within the meaning of the Army Act 1955 of a rank not lower than major … As I understand it, commanding officers of battalions will not be regular force officers seconded from the British Army, but I believe that in character they will by Regular officers within the meaning of the Army Act, 1955. I should like confirmation from the Minister that battalion commanders will have the power to call out their men, and that this power will not reside in their second-in-commands, because it would be anomalous for the second-in-command and not the commanding officer to be able to call out the men.

Secondly, in Clause 2(2), which sets out the powers to call out the force or any part of it for emergency service in Northern Ireland, I note that there is no necessity to inform Parliament at any point that the force has been called out.

Now if Parliament is not informed that any part of this force has been called out, it will, I think, be the first time in modern history that reserves have been called out without any reference at all to this House. I wonder whether the Government have any procedure in mind for informing the House at regular intervals of what is happening, or are we meant solely to discover this through Parliamentary Questions? I think some procedure would be desirable.

Photo of Mr Ivor Richard Mr Ivor Richard , Barons Court

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) for his two points, but may I first deal with the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills). I think I can go some way in dealing with the point he has raised. Very briefly, the Government's attitude is that any member of this force must accept a basic training obligation, and we recognise that the training obligations for the new force are going to be considerably more onerous than those hitherto demanded of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

Therefore, if an individual is in a situation in which he cannot in honour accept that obligation, he may feel he ought not to attempt to join the force. But if it really is a question whether a man should go to camp in the first or the third week in June, and there are good reasons why he should change from the one on which he was going to come to another week, I think I can give the assurance that we would be reasonable and flexible in applying the rule. But the basic obligation to accept a period of in-camp training has to remain.

Photo of Mr John Maginnis Mr John Maginnis , County Armagh

May I point out that the question of training on Sundays will be extremely difficult for many of the new force living in the country with no help at all, and to others who, because of their conscience, will not wish to train on Sunday except in special circumstances?

Photo of Mr Ivor Richard Mr Ivor Richard , Barons Court

I cannot say anything at all on that point which would assist the hon. Member. So far as the precise days of the week on which training has to take place is concerned, that must be a matter for the G.O.C. to decide when the force is set up.

I am sure the G.O.C. is aware of the views the hon. Member has expressed and will try to take account of them.

So far as the first point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham is concerned, it is certainly not the intention of the Government that battalion commanders who are merely members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and not members of the regular forces of the Crown should have the power to call out under Section 2(1).

The whole object of this call-out procedure is that the power to call out the force is to be exercised only by officers of the regular forces who have been so designated specifically by the Secretary of State. In the first instance, I suppose there would be a general designation to the G.O.C, Northern Ireland, and there may thereafter be other regular officers to whom the power is also designated, but they would be regular officers and not persons who would come within that category merely by virtue of their membership of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

I realise that this may cause some anomalies but nevertheless I think it is very important, when setting up a basically unique force of this sort, that the power to call out should be strictly limited and exercised only by officers of the Regular Army authorised in that respect by the Secretary of State.

It is the Government's intention, if the whole of the force were to be called out, that Parliament should be informed. I find it almost impossible to envisage a situation in which the regiment were in action, or had been called out for action as an entity and the House of Commons had not been informed. On the other hand, I can well envisage a situation in which part of the force were guarding some key points in rural areas and had been called out for that purpose, and in respect of such a comparatively small scale operation the Secretary of State might well feel that it was not the sort of issue upon which Parliament needed to be informed.

The important fact is that this force is now accountable to the House of Commons through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He is therefore available to be questioned and challenged in the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

The last point raised by the Minister is very important, because it emphasises the fact that the force will have unique powers. In the case of all other United Kingdom forces there is a requirement that the House of Commons shall be informed and, indeed, that its authority shall be obtained before action is taken. I have tabled an Amendment, which has not been selected, to remove subsection (2) precisely so that we should have some clarification from the Government. The clarification given does not go far enough.

The Bill will now go to the Lords. I do not like transacting any business in the Lords, but as it is the last stage at which anything can be done—as the Government have voted down every Amendment here there can be no Report stage—the Government should consider tabling an Amendment in the Lords to write into the Bill a further safeguard, namely that there shall be a report to the House of Commons.

It may be said that it is inconvenient to have to report to the House in cases where only a few men are being called out. I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on this question and stress that qua this unique force we are making a departure which has been found unacceptable in all our dealings with the Army throughout three centuries. This underlines the special facilities which are being accorded even under the Bill, in which this Parliament takes power over Northern Ireland, which we have not had before. It underlines the fact that the new force will exercise rights which have not been accorded to anybody else.

If the Government were to accede to my request and to write such a provision into the Bill, it would ensure that the House of Commons would not have to go through the procedure which the hon. Member for Beckenham mentioned of the matter being raised in a roundabout fashion. It is not satisfactory for a unique power such as this to be governed solely by the discretion of the Secretary of State. I hope that it will never occur, but it is conceivable that there will be a different kind of Government in control, one whose views accord entirely with those of the Government at Stormont and who will wish to act in complete conformity with that Government.

Therefore, the Government must write into the Bill the provisions and protections which every previous Parliament has thought it necessary to write into any Measure dealing with the calling up of the Army Reserve. I would even like the noble Lords in another place to examine this matter. For example, Lord Wigg——

8.30 a.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Gourlay Mr Harry Gourlay , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

Order. Perhaps I have been rather lenient with the hon. Gentleman, but it is not in order to suggest Amendments to the Clause at this stage or in another place.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I should have thought, Mr. Gourlay, that it was possible to suggest reasons why my support of the Clause is qualified—because it contains this novel provision to which attention was drawn at an early stage in our debate. The question of parliamentary control of the calling out of the reserves is of paramount importance in British history. We are now being asked to accept a Clause which provides for the calling up of reserves with none of the protections which have normally been demanded.

The only way in which we can remedy the situation and translate the Government's good intentions into legislative form is to appeal for some action from another place. Bitter though it is for me to make any such appeal, I still think that that remedy is desirable. I should prefer the Government to put in that Clause than for others in the Lords to be interested in this matter, but, knowing the interest of my noble Friend, Lord Wigg, in parliamentary control over the Army, I would hesitate to think that such a matter had been overlooked by him.

Even if I cannot appeal to the Government's own good nature to include this provision, perhaps they might do so to anticipate the activities of Lord Wigg.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

The information which my hon. Friend elicited from the Minister compels me to reinforce the argument of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Food) for the existence of the House of Lords. It will be necessary for us to look, between now and a further stage of the Bill, if there be one, at what is said about the extraordinary anomaly which he has disclosed, that a battalion commander in the new regiment will not have the power to call out even a small portion of the reserve forces to deal with something comparatively small, whereas his second-in-command will. This is a strange situation. I agree with the Minister that this is the only construction to be put on the Bill as it now stands, and this is unsatisfactory.

I am prepared to let the Clause go, but I have the same qualification as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. We are both pleading the virtues of bicarmeral Government: we are hoping for the Lords to come to our rescue.

Photo of Mr Will Howie Mr Will Howie , Luton

I should like to get as far away from the House of Lords as possible and remain there for the remainder of these and other debates, but there is one part of the Clause which I do not fully understand. I accept that, at 8.30 in the morning, there is probably a great deal that I do not understand, but I notice that subsection (5) says that members of the force are required to undergo training subject to Regulations under subsection (6), which apparently relaxes these rules for … persons of such descriptions as may be prescribed … I wonder who are exempted from these demands.

Photo of Mr James Ramsden Mr James Ramsden , Harrogate

The Clause provides for the making of regulations and there are later provisions that these shall be laid before Parliament. May I seek an assurance that Parliament will have ample opportunity to debate the regulations, which are likely to be more detailed and lengthy than is usually the case? I do not think that the Bill specifies whether it will be the affirmative or the negative procedure. The House will need plenty of time to consider the Regulations and we should welcome information from the Minister on how the debate will take place.

Photo of Mr Ivor Richard Mr Ivor Richard , Barons Court

I am sorry to have raised the constitutional ire of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), but since the Reserve Forces in Northern Ireland has been totally unaccountable to the House for the whole of its existence, it is faintly ungracious of my hon. Friend, when the Government deliberately go out of their way to make it accountable, to say that we are not making it sufficiently accountable.

I can help my hon. Friend in one respect. I undertake to see whether machinery can be devised to enable reports to be made on what the force has been doing, but I cannot give an assurance that when part of the force—a few men in a rural area in Northern Ireland—is required to react rapidly and to be called out quickly, the Secretary of State will have to ask the House for authority before it is called out for action.

But in circumstances in which the whole of the force is to be called out to meet some specific emergency, it should be possible to devise some machinery to enable the House to debate the matter. That will not allay all my hon. Friend's fears, but I hope that to a certain extent it helps him to realise that the Government want to make themselves as accountable to the House and to Parliament as possible.

The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Capt. Orr) asked about the call-out provisions. I am sorry to disappoint him, but this was not a slip by the Government. It is the Government's deliberate intention that the call-out powers for part of the force shall be confined to members of the Regular Forces, and that means that someone who holds a Commission merely by virtue of his membership of the Ulster Defence Regiment will not be one of those persons authorised within the meaning of the Clause.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

The battalion commanders in the first instance may well be retired Regular officers. Will they come within the meaning of the word "designated"?

Photo of Mr Ivor Richard Mr Ivor Richard , Barons Court

The important word is "designated". They would not be persons designated by the Secretary of State to exercise the call-out power. It is the Government's intention that that power shall be reserved to those persons whom the Secretary of State has specifically authorised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) raised the point as to who would be exempt under the provisions of subsection 6. That regulation and the relief expressed in subsection (6) cover the sort of situation which the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) referred to—the individual who says that he is having great difficulty in going to camp this year for some wholly exceptional reason, or who wants to change from one week to another. Without such provision, one would not have the power to make that sort of exemption.

Subsection (6) empowers the Secretary of State to make orders and regulations governing the administration and duties of the force. It is the Government's intention—"hope" is perhaps the better expression—that these regulations will come into force as soon after 1st January next as possible so that recruiting can begin. I can certainly give an undertaking that the regulations will be laid before the House of Commons, but I cannot give an assurance that there will be time to debate them before 1st January, which is the date on which it is hoped the new force will come into effect.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.