Before I call the Minister, I invite the House to look at the Bill and to see that it concerns the Ulster Defence Regiment being brought more fully into the Army by being merged with the Royal Irish Rangers. This is a narrow debate which is not connected to general Army matters such as "Options for Change".
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill concerns the future of a major element of the security forces in Northern Ireland. The House is all too well aware, especially perhaps from recent events, why we need to maintain and deploy forces on the present scale in that part of our country.
Our forces are deployed there simply because we are totally and absolutely committed—I think that I speak for the whole House—to preserving the rule of law throughout the United Kingdom. There is no other reason. The rule of law in a democracy such as ours means that all citizens should be able to go about their lawful business peacefully and without fear of violence. It means that the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland about their future, democratically expressed, must prevail. No act of terrorist violence can be allowed to shake the commitment of Parliament to those principles. It is essential, therefore, that we continue to maintain and deploy sufficient forces to protect the vast majority of peaceful and law-abiding people in Northern Ireland against the continuing threat of terrorism, whether from republican or loyalist groups.
The violence which the security forces seek to prevent cuts at the whole community of law-abiding citizens of both traditions in Northern Ireland. It may, as we have surely seen in recent weeks and all too often in recent years, leave another passer-by maimed, another wife widowed or another child orphaned. It may wreck another hotel, factory or shop, destroying jobs and discouraging the investment that is needed. All such violence leaves in its wake only tragedy and suffering. It will achieve nothing for any cause which the perpetrators may espouse.
All the security forces in Northern Ireland have a vital role to play in countering terrorism. Acts of terrorist violence, whatever their alleged political motive, are crimes. They must be treated as such. It is for the police to take the lead in dealing with crime. Clearly, however, for all its dedication and skill, the Royal Ulster Constabulary needs major support from the armed forces in its efforts to ensure that the terrorists will not succeed. For over 20 years now successive British Governments have committed a major part of our armed forces to Northern Ireland to support the RUC. That support will of course continue for as long as it is needed.
The role of the security forces is to prevent terrorist crimes from taking place, as far as possible, and when crimes have been committed, to seek out the perpetrators and deal with them in accordance with the law. That task makes heavy demands on all members of the security forces day in and day out. The highest standards of training and personal conduct are required—so, too, is courage in dealing with people who are ruthless. I pay tribute to the bravery which all members of the security forces so regularly display in Northern Ireland, often in ways that do not come to public notice at all.
There are three main elements to the forces that support the RUC. There are six regular infantry battalions serving on long tours of 30 months, and four on short six-month tours. There are then the support and specialist units, including Royal Navy vessels and helicopter support from the Royal Air Force as well as from the Army. There are, of course, the 6,000 or so men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
The armed forces contribution amounts in total to about 17,000 service personnel actually deployed in Northern Ireland. The number of troops there is kept under constant review and we make adjustments to force levels as circumstances require. Since December 1990, we have deployed significant reinforcements on nine occasions, including the period running up to last Christmas, for example. Most recently, as the House will be aware, the second battalion of the Queen's Regiment has just been deployed to provide additional support to the existing forces.
The Ulster Defence Regiment continues to be a vital element in the security arrangements which I have just been describing. The House will recall that we announced last summer, in the Command Paper "Britain's Army for the 90s", our intention to bring the UDR more fully into the Army by merging it with the Royal Irish Rangers.
The Bill provides the necessary legal framework for that merger to take place. I should like to explain to the House something of our thinking about that merger. Several considerations led the Army to propose it, and the Government to endorse and support that proposal.
The UDR is the main focus of our attention today, but let me say a word first about the other partner to the merger. The conclusion was reached in the Army's restructuring exercise that, in the best interests of the Army as a whole, the Royal Irish Rangers would give up one of their two battalions. I do not suppose that that conclusion was particularly welcome to them, any more than similar conclusions were welcome to other regiments.
The considerations affecting the UDR were, of course, rather different. The international changes that have dictated reductions elsewhere in the Army do not apply to counter-terrorist efforts in Northern Ireland. So long as the terrorist threat persists at its present level, we shall continue to need the services of the men and women—more than 10 per cent. of the total—who currently serve in the UDR, both part-time and full-time.
We expect to continue to need all those people to perform the varied tasks that they undertake at present: foot patrols, vehicle patrols, as well as some helicopter-borne operations; the operation of vehicle check points; searches; static guard duties; and quick reaction operations following terrorist attacks. The RUC and the rest of the Army could not sustain their current effort without the continuing involvement of the UDR in all those activities.
UDR duties can often be routine and uneventful, but in many cases the UDR has saved lives by deterring or preventing terrorist attacks, finding and seizing terrorist weapons and arresting suspected terrorists.
Will the Minister of State assure the House that in no sense is there a hidden agenda, particularly with regard to the future of the part-time element of the Ulster Defence Regiment? Will he also assure us that nothing will be done to reduce the strength or to limit the role of that part-time element?
I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. There is no hidden agenda whatsoever for any of those moves. They are done for military reasons and to give us a more professional unit than we have had in the past. The number of UDR part-timers relative to the overall number in the UDR has been declining and it is likely that that decline will continue. It is not a sharp decline but the decline has been steady over the years. The ratio of permanent to part-time cadre will continue to change in favour of permanent cadre. We do not seek to get rid of UDR part-timers, as they are an important element of the security forces in Northern Ireland. They give us a reserve, because they can be called up for full-time activity, as happened following the recent terrorist outrages in central Belfast.
Will the Minister give a figure? He says that the number of part-timers is going down. To what degree is that happening? Does the right hon. Gentleman prophesy that their number will continue to decline? Does he agree with what his senior colleague, the Secretary of State for Defence, said to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and me—that eventually there may be no part-time UDR?
I acknowledge that there has been a decline in the number of part-timers in the UDR and we consider that the number will continue to decline. Nevertheless, if one extrapolates from the graph of the decline in the numbers of part-timers, one sees that it will take many years before we reach the point where there are no part-timers at all. We would be most concerned if we reached that point, because the part-time element of the UDR is an effective reserve that can be called up, as it was the other day, to provide a cushion and deal with surges in commitments.
Is the Minister aware that when his comments are read back in Northern Ireland they will cause real concern? They could be interpreted as a sign that the part-time element is being phased out completely. It is clear that, under the Government's control, a steady reduction has taken place in the part-time element of the UDR and the Minister has told us that that will continue. There will be great concern that the Bill is, in effect, part of that sad and cruel betrayal of a regiment that has stood in the front line of the battle against terrorism.
I hope that I can give every reassurance possible. I am simply saying that it would be unrealistic to say that the decline in the number of part-timers in the UDR would suddenly stop—I do not believe that it will. That slight but steady erosion will continue. We are committed to having a part-time UDR. We very much value it, and we have proved recently how extremely useful part-timers are in giving us a reserve capability when terrorist incidents such as those that we have seen recently occur. I sincerely hope that the part-time UDR will continue, but it is unrealistic to say that it will maintain its existing numbers, because there has been a decline in the past few years.
We constantly look for recruits for permanent and part-time cadres, and that will continue. I see no changes there. It would be unrealistic of me to pretend that we shall maintain the present number of part-timers, but we value them very much. They are an essential part of the UDR as it stands and the Bill caters for them.
I do not have that figure at my fingertips, but I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman a response when, with the leave of the House, I wind up the debate later this evening.
I cannot give an answer to that either, but I shall return to it in my winding-up speech, if that opportunity occurs.
In carrying out those tasks, which are often dangerous, UDR soldiers use the same skills and equipment as the rest of the Army. It is common practice for units of the UDR and of other Army regiments to be deployed together on the same operations. The vast majority of UDR operations, as for the rest of the Army, are carried out to meet specific RUC requirements. All operations need RUC approval and Army patrols are accompanied by the RUC whenever possible.
As we do not expect the nature of those military duties to change, it may well be asked, "Why change the UDR?" The regiment is, after all, well established now. It has served Northern Ireland for almost 22 years with distinction and courage. The bravery of the UDR has been second to none. We think of its casualties: 244 of its members or ex-members killed—"murdered" is the right word—many of them off-duty; and some hundreds seriously wounded. We think of the bravery and resilience of the families, and we think of the loyalty and affection that all officers, soldiers and their families feel for their regiment.
With those thoughts in mind, it would be wrong to make changes to the UDR's structure unless we genuinely believe—as we do—that they are in the best interests of all the men and women who come forward to serve in the regiment, and in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
The UDR has, of course, been changing and developing ever since its creation in 1970. As originally conceived, it was to have been an almost entirely part-time reserve, available for a limited range of emergency services. It is now much more professional and better trained than it was at the beginning.
Furthermore, the UDR has now been on continuous active service for a longer period than any other Army unit since the Napoleonic era. Although the total numbers have varied, the permanent cadre of the UDR has continued to grow over the years. It is now slightly over 50 per cent. of the total strength. Many of the UDR's soldiers have served previously in the Regular Army.
The UDR has, by virtue of its continuous deployment and the vital security role that it has played, certainly earned its place as an integral part of the British Army.
The Minister has given a glowing testimony to the men and women who have served in the Ulster Defence Regiment for so many years in the most appalling circumstances. Therefore, does he not think that it is a betrayal of all their service and dedication to take their name away—a name which, he has said, occupies an honoured position in the annals of military history? Is he aware that, for years, the IRA and its sympathisers have been seeking the destruction and obliteration of the UDR?
I have talked to a number of members of the UDR, both officers and those from other ranks, about the changes. I think that they welcome the opportunities that we are creating. I think that, unfortunately. UDR members have felt themselves to be the poor relations in the British Army in the past, but they now see themselves as being much more fully integrated into the Regular Army. That is a tribute to their professionalism and an acknowledgement of the fact that they are professional troops. I believe that they welcome the opportunity to serve in other areas—it is nice to have that opportunity. If someone originally joins the UDR on the basis that he was to live and serve in Northern Ireland, it is nice if he is then told that he can serve in a Regular Army unit and travel to places all over the world if he wants a break or a change in career. It is good that such opportunities, which were not previously open to members of the UDR, should be available now.
I hesitate to interrupt my right hon. Friend, as I know that he has much more to tell us. However, lest people listening to the debate should think that the five interventions that we have had are typical of what is felt on the issue, I should tell my right hon. Friend that not only has the colonel of the Royal Irish Rangers appeared before the Select Committee on Defence and warmly welcomed the changes, but so have—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—that is the impression that I have received. Clearly, not 100 per cent. of the people want change, but the same is true of many different elements of the results of "Options for Change". We know that some people do not want to amalgamate with other units—that is true across the whole of the British Army—but a substantial number of UDR members, both officers and other ranks, welcome the change and realise that it is in the best interests of both the regiments involved and the British Army as a whole and can only enhance the professional way in which terrorism is tackled in Northern Ireland.
However, the UDR is still to an extent separate, distinct and somewhat apart from the rest of the Army, which has often been to its disadvantage. Rightly or wrongly, some of its members have felt that they were perceived, and perhaps treated, as if they were in some sense "second class". Other developments have accentuated the UDR's difference with the rest of the Army. It has been labelled, to its great distress, as "sectarian"—despite the fact that its membership once included many Catholics, despite continuing efforts to recruit more Catholics and despite all the regiment's efforts to protect the entire community even-handedly.
The overwhelming concern since 1970 has been to serve the community, the whole community, of both religious traditions.
Is not the decline in the number of Roman Catholics in the UDR, from—I think—18 per cent. when the regiment was formed in 1969 to about 3 per cent. now, largely due to a campaign of murder, intimidation, pressure and harassment by the IRA and its sympathisers?
It is—we can largely attribute the decline to that. The oppressive campaign has picked on the Catholics. The difficulty of so many Catholics in the UDR is that they live in Catholic communities, where they are much more vulnerable to other members who live in a community that might do more to protect them. That has made life difficult for them, and it is most regrettable that such a change has taken place. We shall continue to do everything that we can to reverse that trend and ensure that more members of the Catholic community join the UDR. I am not saying that that will be easy, but one of our aims should remain to recruit more Catholics into the UDR, and I hope that the proposed changes will help us to achieve that. I am not saying that, as a result of the proposed amalgamation, there will be a dramatic change in the percentage of Catholics—although there will be an increase in the regiment as a whole, as the Royal Irish Rangers now have a much higher percentage of Catholics in their ranks. However, not all of them come from Northern Ireland; a number of them are recruited on the mainland of Great Britain.
The Ulster Defence Regiment members have no wish to be treated as some sort of political football. They want to get on with the job. They want to make the greatest possible contribution to the defeat of terrorism, whether from loyalist or republican groups. Against that background, we reached the conclusion that the UDR could only stand to benefit from closer integration with the Regular Army, by merging with the Royal Irish Rangers to form a new infantry regiment of the line.
The Royal Irish Rangers are uniquely well placed to help to bring the UDR more fully into the Army. They have close links with Northern Ireland, and a recruiting base throughout the British isles. The merger will provide an opportunity to enhance still further the professionalism and effectiveness that the UDR has already achieved. There will be an opportunity for a mutual exchange of experience and personnel between the two elements of the new regiment. The integration of training, and a common regimental approach, will improve the career and promotion prospects of members of the present UDR.
The proposal is to merge the two regiments on 1 July. The recommended name for the new regiment is the Royal Irish Regiment. That was the agreed recommendation of the two existing regiments. I know that some will regret the loss of the name "Ulster" from the title—the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) mentioned that—but the new regiment's title must reflect the composition, history and traditions of both partners to the merger.
The new regiment will initially have two "general service" battalions, ex-Rangers, with a worldwide role. The reduction from two to one battalion will take place next year. There will initially be seven home service battalions, formed from the existing UDR. That is the current number of UDR battalions. It reflects the recent amalgamation of four smaller battalions to form two large ones—without, however, any reduction in the total strength. The new home service battalions will have the same internal security role within Northern Ireland as the UDR does at present.
There will be a single regimental organisation and single headquarters. Training for the regiment as a whole will be centred on the new regiment's training depot. So far as possible, training for general service and home service soldiers will take place together. We have not yet made final decisions on the location of the headquarters or the training depot. Those important matters are being studied at the moment.
We believe that the merger will have positive benefits for all the members of both regiments. The Royal Irish Rangers will bring to the new regiment the traditions of 300 years of distinguished service by famous Irish regiments, and close association with Northern Ireland. The Royal Irish Rangers have recently been a part of British Army of the Rhine, from which they have undertaken tours of duty in Northern Ireland. We would expect the new general service battalion similarly to serve in the Province from time to time in the future. For the Rangers, the merger will also mean that they retain their base in Northern Ireland, and new recruits will be able to undertake their initial training in the Province—which should be a popular move for many of them.
The UDR will bring to the merged regiment the best features of its own unique tradition—the concept of military service to the local community. Part-time, voluntary service is a vital feature of the UDR which will be fully preserved in the new regiment. Closer association with the rest of the Army will mean in practice a cross-fertilisation between the general and home service elements of the Royal Irish Regiment. There will be opportunities for home service officers and soldiers to volunteer for general service training and tours of duty. Such opportunities will offer better prospects of career advancement and promotion for the former UDR officer and soldier.
Although some members of the UDR and the Royal Irish Rangers might prefer not to have to change, some change is inevitable, and should be of benefit to both. Achieving the benefits is a worthwhile challenge to both regiments. The Royal Irish Regiment will be unique in its intermingling of general and home service elements. The challenge is to create, in the new home service battalions, an even more professional, effective and flexible security force, operating in support of the RUC, and accepted and respected by the whole community of Northern Ireland, while the general service element plays a successful wider role.
It may be helpful to explain to the House why there is a need for a Bill at all. No legislation is required to achieve the other regimental mergers that are currently planned. Primary legislation is needed in this case because the UDR has a statutory basis, uniquely for a British Army regiment. Some right hon. and hon. Members will remember the passage through the House of the Bill that became the Ulster Defence Regiment Act 1969 and brought the UDR into being on 1 April 1970. That Act was consolidated into the Reserve Forces Act 1980.
In a nutshell, the Bill enables the UDR to be treated just like any other regiment and enables its members to become members of a regular regiment. They will no longer be members of a statute-based regiment. The Bill thus provides the framework for the merger to take place on 1 July.
The Bill does not itself bring into being the new Royal Irish Regiment. The naming and formation of regiments of the Regular Army, and the transfer of commissioned officers from one regiment to another on amalgamation, are not matters regulated by statute. They make no appearance, therefore, in our Bill.
Clause 1 provides that all members of the UDR will cease to be members of that regiment at the end of June. They will continue to be members of the armed forces and may be transferred to another corps or regiment. The effect of that provision is that commissioned officers could then be transferred to the Royal Irish Regiment by royal warrant, and soldiers could be transferred by administrative action.
Will my right hon. Friend say a word about the Greenfinches and how they fit into this structure? They are unique. If they are to become members of the Royal Irish Regiment, that will be the first infantry regiment in our history to include women members—or have I misunderstood?
That is absolutely right. The Greenfinches would then have the same role as now. We do not have women in front-line infantry regiments in the Regular Army, apart from assistant adjutants and a few other jobs of that sort, so there may be problems if Greenfinches transfer to general service battalions of the new regiment, but I suspect that not many of them want to do that in any case. If they did want to transfer, they would have opportunities in other positions occupied by women in the Regular Army, although possibly not in the new Royal Irish Regiment.
I am sorry for intervening again, but, as the Minister rightly said, the Bill refers to the Reserve Forces Act 1980, section 139 of which governs membership of the Ulster Defence Regiment; it also confers on members of the UDR the right to resign at one month's notice. Will that continue? If no provision for it to be continued is made in Committee, can that be done in regulations?
When the Defence Council proceeds to draw up the regulations, will it be possible for those of us with some little knowledge of these matters to assist in the process, bearing in mind that we advised the authorities last July that legislation would be required although they said that it was not? Will we be permitted to assist in drafting the regulations?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind offer, which I shall put to my officials when the regulations are being drawn up. Members of the UDR transferring will take their present terms and conditions with them. They are all at some stage of a three-year term of employment, and however much of that term is still to be worked through, they will serve. They will be entitled during that period of three years' service to leave at one month's notice—that will continue after the merger. Subsequently, we will give them an extended period of service with the new regiment; they will come under the same terms of service as all other members of the Regular Army and they will have to give a year's notice to leave.
Anxieties have been expressed to me to the effect that people who are, say, under threat of assassination might want to leave at much shorter notice than 12 months. That sort of case will be looked at sympathetically by the commanding officer. There would be no great change in such exceptional circumstances. Once members come under a 22-year engagement, however, they will be expected in the usual course of events to give a longer-period of notice than 30 days.
Most of the rest of the Bill is concerned with the terms and conditions of service of existing members of the UDR and of future members of the home service battalions. These are important matters for the individuals concerned and for the future success of their regiment.
Current members of the UDR may, as clause 1 provides, continue to serve in the new regiment on their existing terms and conditions until the expiry of their current terms of engagement. Their present terms of service are provided for in various sections of the Reserve Forces Act and in the UDR regulations made under that Act. These will continue to apply as necessary, with one exception relating to training obligations: we want to make training on the mainland possible—it is not possible now.
Clause 2 enables us to draw up new Army terms of service tailored to the needs of the home service battalions. Most of the members of the UDR who will form those battalions, and future recruits to them, will only be required—I stress the word "required"—to serve within Northern Ireland.
At present, section 2 of the Armed Forces Act 1966 does not give us the power to limit service geographically in that way. Clause 2(1) remedies that. It further enables us to limit the service that may be required to part-time service, on a call-out basis, as in the UDR at present. The regulations concerned would be laid before Parliament.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members and, indeed, members of the new regiment will be interested to know how their terms of service will be affected. UDR part-timers, like the permanent cadre, will be able to continue on their existing terms of service until the expiry of their current periods of enrolment. New terms of service, which the Bill enables us to draw up, have not yet been decided in detail. I can tell the House, however, that we do not envisage any significant changes so far as part-time service is concerned. That is to say that part-timers will continue to be subject to call-out, with a liability for full-time service when required, just as is the UDR at present. As an example of the current arrangements, we recently called upon several hundred part-timers to serve full-time in the Belfast area.
We believe that the part-time element, like its full-time colleagues, will benefit from full integration with a regular regiment. Part-timers will continue to provide a valuable and cost-effective service, but with better access to training and professional skills.
The details of the new terms of service for the full-time members of the home service battalions are still being worked out. I can tell the House in outline what we have in mind.
The terms of service will be more closely aligned with those for the rest of the Regular Army. The norm for the Regular Army is a 22-year engagement. That offers the potential advantage to the individual of a more secure career than the present UDR system, under which soldiers enrol, and may then re-enrol, for a maximum period of three years at a time. Transfer to the Regular Army open engagement would not make it impossible for certain individuals to serve more than 22 years, including earlier service with the UDR, if that was in the Army's interest; nor need the introduction of new terms prevent individuals from serving, as they may in the UDR at present, to a greater age than is customary in the rest of the Army. Each case will, of course, be considered on its merits and in the light of Army needs at the time.
We shall be considering very carefully the details of the new terms of service for the home service battalions, and how they will be introduced. Our principal concern must be the future effectiveness of the new regiment and its ability to do its job efficently. Any changes in terms of service that are needed for existing UDR personnel will be introduced sensitively and fairly and only if they are in the best interests of the new regiment. It is important to ensure for the part-timers, when they are called out, that the existing legal protections against the risk of loss of employment and certain other risks still apply. This is achieved by clauses 2(3) and 2(4) of the Bill. The remaining clauses of the Bill are largely consequential and need not detain the House today.
The Bill's provisions do not affect the total Army manpower requirement in Northern Ireland. That requirement may continue to vary in the future. The UDR does, however, make a most cost-effective contribution to our security effort at present. The home service battalions will continue to do so in future. We do not, therefore, expect any significant change in total costs to arise as a result of the Bill's provisions. I believe that the Bill will be widely welcomed in all parts of the House.
The Minister has not said anything about what will happen to the Ulster Defence Regiment benevolent fund. As I am sure he is aware, the people of Northern Ireland have given generously to that fund and I think that it stands at over £2 million. Those families who have lost UDR members in the battle are today asking what will happen to that fund.
That is a good point. In order to be exact, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to wait until my winding-up speech at the end of the debate. I suspect that the fund will be taken over and absorbed into the benevolent fund of the new regiment. That is what normally happens in amalgamations, and I should be surprised if anything different happened in this case. As I say, I shall give a more authoritative reply in my winding-up speech.
The merger that will take place as a result of the Bill's enactment will benefit both regiments. The new Royal Irish Regiment will be able to preserve and enhance the best features of both the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment. It is important for the morale of both regiments that the planning date of 1 July for the merger should be achieved by enactment of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Tragically, it is fitting that we should discuss the Bill today, because our debate occurs at a time when security in Northern Ireland is especially prominent in the minds of all hon. Members. The carnage of the past few weeks, which has left 27 people dead, reminds us all of our responsibility for ensuring that every appropriate forum and every appropriate measure is taken to protect our society, and particularly the troubled Province of Northern Ireland, from terrorism.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army, through their professionalism and dedication, continue to perform their duties with outstanding courage, but they cannot be expected to carry the burden alone. We as parliamentarians owe it to them and to all the citizens of Northern Ireland and Great Britain to provide the political leadership and the material resources that will allow terrorism to be defeated.
In particular, we must continue to uphold the principle that terrorists, whether republican or so-called loyalist, shall never prevail. We must make it absolutely clear to the gunmen that their atrocities may earn them contempt, rejection and ultimately incarceration, but that they will never earn them a place at the negotiating table. I echo the Minister's words, that we believe in the democratic ideal and the rule of law. Because of that belief, we have but one choice and are without equivocation, ambiguity or division in our approach to terrorism.
There can be no excuse or validity for terrorist action in a democracy. We in the Labour party and, I am sure, most hon. Members recognise that, although the defeat of terrorism is not a sufficient condition for a solution to the problems of the troubled Province of Northern Ireland, it is a necessary one.
I am pleased to say that the Labour party unreservedly supports the measures proposed by the Minister. The proposed merger of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Rangers is a bold and imaginative step which, if properly administered and carried through, will harness the unique qualities of both regiments and lead to the creation of an even more effective force. Because of what we are discussing, it is important and appropriate to reflect for a moment on the 22-year history of the Ulster Defence Regiment and to put on record our gratitude to the 48,000 men and women who have served in its ranks.
Throughout the recent troubles, the UDR, of all the regiments in the British Army, has remained the most vulnerable to terrorist attacks. It has been under more pressure, a more direct level of threat, than any other regiment, consistently over the past 22 years. Tragically, since the formation of the UDR in 1970, many of its full-time and part-time members have been callously murdered by terrorists. I am sure that it is a matter of deep regret to all hon. Members that those murders are now numbered not in tens but in hundreds. Like all their colleagues, those soldiers joined up to protect their community in full knowledge of the extra dangers that they faced, precisely because they were residents of Northern Ireland. They deserve our deepest respect.
The Bill gives the UDR the opportunity to carry those traditions of bravery and resoluteness into a new regiment and, through it, into the rest of the British Army. I have no doubt that it will do so with all the determination that we have come to expect from it. We should feel confident about the success of the merger because the other regiment, the Royal Irish Rangers, has an equally distinguished record of service in the British Army. That was mentioned by the Minister. It is the product of a merger in 1968 between the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Ulster Rifles and the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
The regiment's battle honours include Waterloo, the Somme and Normandy, to name only some, and they evoke many proud moments in the history of the British Army. Recently, the Royal Irish Rangers has seen service in Northern Ireland, and has also experienced the tragic loss of men.
The merger of those two regiments and the creation of the Royal Irish Regiment should be welcomed for a number of reasons. Not only will it provide the authorities in Northern Ireland with a new regiment which combines the best qualities of its two predecessors, but it will help to give the public greater confidence in the security forces, a matter to which I shall return. The formation of the Royal Irish Regiment will provide a useful opportunity to address one of the many difficult problems faced by the UDR—the religious imbalance in recruitment about which the Minister spoke.
When the UDR was established in 1970, approximately 18 per cent. of its recruits came from the Catholic community. In the 22 years since then, the IRA has made a particular point of waging a campaign of murder and intimidation against Catholics in the UDR, with the result that, today, Catholics make up only about 3 per cent. of the regiment's total strength. On a recent visit to Northern Ireland, I was extremely impressed—in fact, I was staggered—by the extent of the trouble, care, caution and expense that is required to protect that 3 per cent. of the UDR. They work under considerable pressures, perhaps much greater even than the other 97 per cent. of the UDR.
For whatever reason, the tragic fact is that only 3 per cent. of the UDR come from the Catholic community. We understand the reasons for that, and would not dream of making any cheap points about it. However, we would be naive to pretend that that fact has not increasingly been the cause of significant problems in the relationship between Catholics and the security forces. That is the reason for the IRA's intimidation in the first place. That is precisely why they wanted to reduce the number of Catholics inside the UDR.
However, as the imbalance in UDR manpower became more pronounced, many Catholics—including law-abiding Catholics—have felt less able to join the regiment, and relations between the regiment and the Catholic community have tragically deteriorated. Those tensions have seriously impeded the process of law enforcement, and attention should be given to overcoming them.
As about 30 per cent. of recruits to the Royal Irish Rangers are Catholic, we believe that the merger will create a regiment which will stand to benefit the security effort in Northern Ireland and also one which will more accurately reflect the religious composition of the community.
In a minute.
I do not for a minute pretend that that solves the problem, because, in 1970, 18 per cent. of the UDR were Catholic. We may again be at the beginning of a cycle of intimidation by the IRA to reduce the balance of Catholics inside the new regiment and to create in turn the same form of alienation. That is why the problem will not go away, but at least this merger gives us another chance to deal with it.
The hon. Gentleman rightly postponed my intervention, because he went on to answer most of my worries on the matter. We must be wary in our thinking on this issue. It would be quite mistaken to assume that the relatively high proportion of Catholic recruits in the Royal Irish Rangers will be perpetuated in the amalgamation. The hon. Gentleman has acknowledged the problem, and I thank him for his comments. I do not wish to introduce any element of confrontation between us. We must tackle this problem seriously, and we should continue to worry about it.
Absolutely: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Let us put on record the fact that intimidation does not happen by accident but is planned by terrorists to try to alienate further the security forces from the Catholic community. It will be a continuing problem: I accept that.
However, it is worth making the point that there is a great difference between those serving in a general service battalion and those in a home service battalion. On the whole, soldiers who are recruited from Northern Ireland to many different regiments in the British Army have no great difficulty if they are careful about returning to Northern Ireland on leave. It is very different for members of the UDR who return home regularly every night—if they are not being kept out by the UDR. That is a much more difficult relationship, and they are in greater danger.
So that Roman Catholics who wish to join the local home-based section of the new regiment do not feel isolated because of the intimidation that they would undoubtedly face, does the hon. Gentleman think that it would be helpful if all leaders of constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and Church leaders there encouraged them to join the local security forces and let them know that they are behind them?
Certainly that would be of assistance, but what would assist more than anything would be the creation of a political climate based on cohesion rather than division. That is a simple way to sum up several hundred years of problems—problems to which the House and many others applied their minds. Precisely for the reasons given by the Minister, it is difficult to maintain the present Catholic balance in the UDR. It may well be slightly easier to do so with a regiment which is more fully part of the general regimental system of the British Army, and which may assist elsewhere, not merely in the north of Ireland.
I was impressed by the nature and scale of the problem of maintaining Catholics inside the UDR when I went to Northern Ireland. Without wishing to go into too fine detail, the lengths to which the armed forces hierarchy has to go to protect the 3 per cent. of Catholics—by stationing them away from home and so on—is of proportions which can hardly be imagined by many Members of the House.
The amalgamation of the two regiments can only have a positive consequence by normalising the security situation. The more representative the security forces are in Northern Ireland, the greater will be their legitimacy. It will be easier for them to gain the trust and the co-operation of the public—encouraged, we hope, by democratic politicians of all persuasions and parties.
The reasons for the merger have been stated as military rather than political. Even so, I hope that the Government are sufficiently aware of the political benefits that may be derived from the merger to act wisely in its implementation. From what the Minister told the House, I am assured of that in these initial stages. I urge the Government to consider what steps could be taken to ensure that recruitment into the Royal Irish Regiment remains balanced.
The merger of the two regiments also offers us the prospect of an enhanced role for personnel serving in the UDR and the Royal Irish Rangers, which is a matter of some importance to their personal ambitions.
Through the general service battalion, members of the new regiment will have a chance to take advantage of the full range of opportunities offered by the British Army, including service in NATO's rapid reaction corps. Alternatively, by choosing to serve in Northern Ireland, recruits will develop their potential through some of the most challenging and demanding duties performed by any army in the world, not merely by the British Army.
The cross-fertilisation of different skills and experiences within the Royal Irish Regiment will improve its military effectiveness and allow it to make a unique and valued contribution to the British Army. Standards of professionalism should be considerably boosted by the merger, especially since clause 1 removes the current restrictions on training outside the Province of Northern Ireland.
The greater integration within the British Army which will result from the merger will be of great benefit for the Army and for those who choose to enlist in the new regiment. The Opposition urge the Government to continue to take measures to strengthen the full-time element of the merged regiment, since it will allow greater flexibility and operational effectiveness. We also hope that the Royal Irish Regiment will be able to guarantee greater security in its future recruitment.
Given the opportunities offered by the UDR, it was perhaps inevitable that terrorists would seek to infiltrate it to gain access to weapons and to training. Indeed, it is remarkable that such a relatively small number of gunmen have managed to evade the vetting procedures, with about 17 UDR members having been convicted of committing terrorist murders. That figure obviously worries all of us in the House, but, given the circumstances of Northern Ireland, it is perhaps surprising that it is so small. Appalling though that figure is—17 assassinations and murders—it has to be balanced against other figures. For example, the number of suicides among members of the UDR is several times that figure of 17, which gives some illustration of the pressures, strains and stresses under which those members of the UDR were working.
Nevertheless, the merger of the UDR with the Royal Irish Rangers will once again allow recruiting to be more selective, and, hopefully, will increase public confidence in Northern Ireland.
Sadly, the merger of the two regiments will lead to an estimated 750 redundancies—soldiers who have shown themselves willing to risk their lives for the public good. With unemployment in Northern Ireland standing at 14 per cent., even under the present system of assessing unemployment, it is five points higher than in the United Kingdom overall. Therefore, any redundancies in Northern Ireland are of considerable seriousness.
The prospects of the estimated 750 are even bleaker than those of service men and women who are being made redundant in other parts of the British Army. In implementing the cuts, I urge the Government to take proper and sympathetic account of the debt we owe to those who have served in the regiments and to respond accordingly in the light of the extremely difficult economic and employment circumstances of Northern Ireland.
I should like the Minister to outline the measures that will be taken to ensure that redundant personnel from either the Ulster Defence Regiment or the Royal Irish Rangers receive adequate help during the period of resettlement. As he did not do so in his opening speech, I hope that he will respond in his summation.
The Opposition are in no doubt that the merger of the two regiments will be a success. The British Army has many fine and distinguished regiments within its ranks which have been forged from previous mergers, including the Royal Irish Rangers. Like those other regiments, the Royal Irish Regiment will, we believe, be more than the sum of its parts. It will make a qualitative improvement, from which we shall all stand to gain.
The Bill should be greeted by all those who want peace and security in Northern Ireland. It will send yet another signal to the terrorist godfathers that we shall never be prepared to yield to force, that their efforts are futile. The Labour party will not be calling for a Division; and if a Division is called, we shall support the Government.
We firmly believe that, in years to come, the House will be able to look back and reflect upon the outstanding role played by the Royal Irish Regiment in helping to defeat terrorism and to establish the necessary condition for a political solution and in arriving at a peaceful and, God help us, prosperous Northern Ireland.
I express my appreciation of the patience displayed by the Minister of State in giving way so frequently to those who wished to intervene and providing clarification and some reassurances—more of which will be forthcoming, I am sure, when he replies to the debate. I express appreciation also for the presence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We know of his interest in the Bill, and he is aware of our views and interest.
Without wishing to embarrass the Opposition, let me say that I appreciate the balanced and fair-minded way in which their Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), set out their position. If we were not coming up to an election, I might be tempted to say that it was a refreshing change from some of the utterances that we have heard from time to time. I do not wish to create friction: I simply pay a genuine tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his deep understanding of the problems that confront the Ulster Defence Regiment and all of us who live in Northern Ireland.
The House will delude itself if it fails to take account of the suspicion in Northern Ireland that attends every reconstruction of the security forces. In the 1970s, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was reformed. It was disarmed and demoralised following the Hunt report. The constabulary was to become a police service, running advice centres at which tea and biscuits would be freely dispensed. Its reception centres were to be open to all comers. The Hunt report—this appears in paragraph 17 of the 1969 White Paper, and is a reference to the RUC reserve—stated:
Members of the Reserve will not be called upon to give armed support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and they will therefore not be issued with firearms.
That is an example of how far Governments can sometimes be removed from reality when dealing with crucial matters. Within a short time, the RUC reserve was armed to the teeth; it could not have survived otherwise.
The Hunt report and a subsequent report recommended the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Its crime was that it had a tendency to maintain stability, and by doing that it made life uncomfortable for law breakers, from whatever quarter they came.
In a lighter vein, I well remember one example of the even-handedness of the Ulster Special Constabulary. It was provided when a curfew was broken by the master of my local Orange lodge, who became engrossed in a friendly discussion with his Roman Catholic neighbour. As a result, both men were arrested by the constabulary. They had to continue their conversation in the cells in Antrim police station.
The disbandment of one force and the attempted emasculation of the other led to the state of lawlessness that has culminated in the savage butchery of recent weeks. The UDR was established by an Act of Parliament in 1969 and it was always clear to us, but apparently not to others, that its status could be altered only by an amending Act. There is a perception that the change in its status had its origins in the orchestrated campaign against the regiment. That campaign was a facsimile of earlier offensives against the Ulster Special Constabulary. The most vehement part of the campaign was that which followed the alleged leaking of photomontages of terrorist suspects. They were similar to the two that we see on the gate as we walk to the underground station on our way from the House.
Those who initiated the campaign—unfortunately, they are not present today—brought about what was known as the Stevens inquiry. As a result, they are directly responsible for the horrific increase in terrorist murders in recent months. The reckless behaviour of Deputy Chief Constable Stevens put at risk the lives of numerous families of UDR men.
Mr. Stevens chalked up yet another achievement. He swept into his net, intentionally or otherwise, the then leaders of the so-called loyalist paramilitary bodies, most of them for comparatively minor misdemeanours. I do not stand in their defence, but their places have been taken by younger, hardened and well-trained leaders, who are now building up striking forces, complete with hit men from abroad—outside the United Kingdom—with the object of matching the firepower of the Provisional IRA.
That is the achievement of those who set out to smear the UDR. I give them a friendly word of advice—that they would be well advised to refrain from similar campaigns, which might have even more disastrous throwbacks.
Is it not a fact that, because of certain caches of arms in the south of Ireland being transported across the border, the groups to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred have far more striking power now than ever before?
Yes, and that matter was raised on 12 December during Northern Ireland Questions, when the Secretary of State and I informed the House that we were aware of an accumulation of arms and munitions as far south as Limerick, for shipment to Belfast. Unfortunately, that occurred in the pre-Christmas period, with disastrous effects.
I fervently hope that the merger for which the Bill provides is for sounder reasons than those given when news of it was first leaked—for those set out in a document that I understand has been circulated to right hon. and hon. Members on the Benches opposite. At the time of the original leak, the main selling point was that the merged regiment would be more acceptable across the community by reason of its religious composition.
I am sure that my hon. Friends who sit on the Benches opposite agree that that is an entirely desirable objective. If it could be achieved, a balance would exist that roughly represented the religious composition of the Northern Ireland population. However, for reasons already touched upon, that is an unrealistic objective.
In its first few years, the Ulster Defence Regiment had the greatest ever proportion of Roman Catholics in its ranks. They accounted for about 20 per cent. of its membership, compared with about 2 per cent. today. The regiment also included a large proportion—as much as 50 per cent. in some battalions—of the much-maligned B Specials, yet we are told that the association of the Ulster Defence Regiment with the Ulster Special Constabulary is "unacceptable" to many Catholics.
Whatever other factors may have played a part in the rapid reduction in Catholic membership of the Ulster Defence Regiment and, sadly, in a virtual cessation of Catholic recruitment, it is undoubtedly the case that the fundamental cause of that change in the regiment's composition was that the IRA targeted Catholic members of the security forces even more viciously and relentlessly than it did Protestant members—and it still does.
On a personal note, it was a distressing experience in recent months to receive at my advice centre—separately, over a period of months—three young Catholic former members of the Ulster Defence Regiment whom I commended, and for whom I had supplied references in securing their enlistment. They quickly worked their way up to become commissioned officers, but eventually came to tell me, with broken hearts, that they were compelled to move house, and in two cases to resign their commissions and to leave the regiment, because the IRA would not allow them to remain in it. That is unsurprising, given the great ease with which the terrorists murder those who live in the same communities as they do.
At one time, two Catholic UDR men were being murdered for every Protestant member killed. The IRA realised, and still realises, that if the security forces in general and the localised Ulster Defence Regiment in particular could recruit successfully from the Catholic community, not only would its ability to operate be severely compromised, but its claim to represent the Catholic minority exposed as utterly fraudulent—which it is.
It is all too easy for those in the security forces—whether in the UDR, RUC, or Regular Army—to forget that even in so-called hard areas many are cowed into submission, and even into supporting the IRA, which uses the same terrorism there that is inflicted on the rest of us. It is difficult to see how cosmetic changes such as those proposed in the Bill will make any difference to Catholic recruitment—particularly in the border counties and other terrorist-infected areas, where such recruitment is most needed. Were it possible to recruit freely in those areas, there would be no need. We would have destroyed the bases of terrorism, and the UDR itself would become redundant.
From my limited, second-hand knowledge from a variety of sources—I am part-Irish, being a mixture of southern Irish Protestant, Northern Ireland Protestant, and English Catholic—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are entirely true. However, perhaps he ought not to reach such gloomy conclusions. A large number of Catholics currently serving in the Royal Irish Rangers were either recruited on the British mainland, where they were not subject to the same constraints, or from parts of southern Ireland, where the IRA does not have a presence comparable to that found in the tough Belfast housing estates and other areas to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, where intimidation is rife.
I do not dispute that, but a distinction must be made in respect of the Catholics—all honour to them—from southern Ireland or this island, who do not live in the frontier zones, where they would be completely isolated, and where it would be impossible to protect them effectively.
On another personal note, I remember having tea with the late Sir Norman Strong, whose son Jim served in the RUC Reserve. They were both murdered one evening, when their house went down around them. Jim entered the room and said, "Young John Smith has just joined the UDR part-time." Sir Norman replied, "My God, not another one." I said, "You misheard. He has joined the UDR—he has not been killed." Sir Norman told me, "It is all the same thing. He will be killed. I will show you where he lives." Sir Norman took me to the window and pointed to the home of that young recruit, which was 400 yards from the frontier. He said, "How can anyone, no matter how determined, protect him? He is as good as dead." That illustrates the extent of the danger that continues to exist not just in the frontier regions but in many other areas.
I am being not pessimistic but realistic when I say that it would be absurd to suppose that the new Royal Irish Regiment will be able to transfer to all its battalions the ability of the Royal Irish Rangers to recruit Catholics from north and south of the border. One fears that the opposite will be true, and that the majority of the members of that new regiment, in its anti-terrorist role, and even of the general service or ex-Ranger battalion, will suffer a serious reduction in Catholic recruitment.
That may be viewed as a pessimistic assessment, but I have taken the time of the House because I felt it necessary to explain that situation, so that, in time to come, the merged regiment will not be condemned for lacking sectarian or religious balance. I hope that others will express their views on that aspect, and that we can protect the new regiment well in advance, by being realistic and stating why it is not healthy—to put it mildly—for Roman Catholics to join it, particularly if, in a part-time capacity, they must live in dangerous or, as we call it, indian territory.
So what benefits can we expect from the amalgamation? It would be very welcome for the new regiment to be more fully accepted as part of the Regular Army than the UDR has been, but, if the price to be paid for this is the abandonment of the UDR's original role and purpose, we have to ask whether that price is worth paying. The UDR was formed as a kind of militia to be used purely in the internal security role in the area in which it was recruited, with the obvious very great advantages of local knowledge and continuity of experience that result from this. Field-Marshal Templer, commander of the only successful counter-insurgency campaign in modern military history, said that it was possible to defeat insurgency only with the assistance of locally recruited forces.
In spite of an unwelcome reduction in the part-time strength of the UDR over the years, and a welcome increase in full-time strength, efficiency and professionalism, the UDR has remained the same in essence until now, although the gradual decline in the number of part-timers has been a cause of concern.
Another matter of concern is the way in which the part-time element of the UDR. already under pressure in many ways, may be phased out altogether. I accept entirely what the Minister of State has said, that that is not his intention at the moment. However, it may be phased out not as a matter of overt policy but by the insensitive and counter-productive way in which it may be treated after the amalgamation.
Training requirements appear likely to be increased—that seems to be the intention—to a level which hardly any of the part-timers will be able to sustain, and this will leave them less and less time for operations. This in turn will eventually leave the Army able to claim that, although they are better trained, the part-timers are not cost-effective and should be done away with. Those of us who have served in the forces know how much rivalry there can be between the various arms of the services and even within the same service.
That would be a great tragedy, not only because of the symbolic importance of the part-timers, but because of the lessening of the UDR's local links, which have been of tremendous operational value, although all too often not fully utilised, and the great intelligence-gathering potential, also not fully utilised.
There would be the same sort of damage to both the morale and the operational effectiveness of the permanent Catholic element of the UDR if the officers and soldiers if the new regiment were increasingly posted further away from their home areas, as I understand is likely to be the case. I am talking about their being posted away from their own local battalion area to another area where they are complete strangers.
The position and the role of the part-timers are of supreme importance and simply must be maintained. No unreasonably high levels of training or other commitments should be allowed to force their numbers down even further and make them ineffective.
The full-time or permanent element of the UDR also must retain their localised recruiting and operational areas. Cross-posting between battalions should take place only when necessary, so as not to destroy the local knowledge value of the UDR. Similarly, officer and soldier training should remain tailored as far as possible to the internal security role. This should not mean, however, that former UDR personnel should continue to be treated as second-class soldiers or second-class citizens in terms of their careers within the regiment. They are internal security specialists and should be treated as such.
Ulster Defence Regiment officers and warrant officers should be given a fair share of appointments in the new regiment, even if they are not paper-qualified, because that is often irrelevant, and should have opportunities in the same way as their Regular counterparts.
The new regiment will mean that, gradually, all ex-UDR soldiers will be on Regular Army engagements and terms of service. It is absolutely vital that soldiers remain able to join their local battalions if they so wish and to remain with them, so far as manning requirements permit.
I will summarise the position of my party to this merger in this fashion. In the long term, it must also be ensured that soldiers may continue to specify that they wish to serve only in the Northern Ireland-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, without unfair prejudice to their careers, for as long as the present situation—that is, the troubles—continues.
It should also be noted that, at present, a UDR soldier can leave the regiment on 28 days' notice. The Minister of State has already conceded that, although this should not normally be encouraged, given the peculiar and difficult circumstances in which many UDR soldiers live, this option must remain open. I know that the Minister meant what he said, and I trust that ways and means will be found to give effect to this.
I thought that the Minister and I had it in common that we were talking mainly about the part-time element, because, as I understand it, we were talking about the reserve force and all that goes with it. The enlistment period for the full-timers would be broadly in line with that in the Regular Army. The Minister may like to come back to that point.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I think it best that I clarify this completely when I am winding up at the end of the debate.
I am grateful to the Minister.
In short, the amalgamation must not be allowed to reduce the undoubted worth of the existing Ulster Defence Regiment as a locally recruited force operating in what one might call its soldiers' home areas.
I trust that all these points will be taken up and adopted when we come to drafting the regulations. I trust that the House will join me in expressing gratitude, as the hon. Member for Motherwell, North and the Minister of State have already done, to past and present officers and men of the UDR and the Greenfinches, all of whom have served with great distinction the law-abiding people of our part of the United Kingdom.
This is a sad day for Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland are carrying a very heavy and tragic burden at the present time. I cannot think of a more insensitive Bill that could come before the House than the one now before us. I appreciate very deeply the realism that has been demonstrated both by the Minister of State and by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid).
I have sat in the House for 22 years. I have sat through debates in which the Ulster Special Constabulary has had its guts kicked on the Floor of the House and evil things have been said about it. There is not a right-thinking person who does not say that it is a pity that we did not keep the Ulster Special Constabulary; then we would not be in the mess that we are in today. I told the House that—and not with a few hon. Members present, as there are today. The House was crowded. Members were cheering, as if the House were doing a great thing. The House has not paid for that in the same measure as have the people I represent.
I first came to the House because of the issue of the abandonment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. The Official Unionist Member had one of the largest majorities in the House—some 40,000—but I toppled him. That showed that local people knew exactly what was happening. We know today what is happening, and we know to our cost what is going to happen.
This has been a planned effort on the part of those who want to destroy our Province, and to destroy its stability and the living conditions of its people. It flows directly from the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I have all the evidence before me today. I have, for instance, a statement issued by the then Taoiseach, in which he said that the agreement—he was glad that it had been signed—would
put forward Irish views and proposals for the progressive establishment of a new security system which would obviate a need for the UDR to be involved in local security. This will be pursued sensitively, carefully and firmly.
At every Irish conference meeting before the agreement took place, the now demised Foreign Minister made vicious, evil, unwarranted and lying attacks on the UDR. We have heard a eulogy of that regiment tonight, but we heard no such eulogy from the Foreign Minister. All that he did was kick the long-suffering people of Ulster in the teeth, including its widows and orphans.
More than once, I have told the Secretary of State before conference meetings that such attacks on the UDR drive at the very heart of the people of Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that at the meeting that I mentioned, Mr. Collins—who was to have brought up the issue and fought like a lion—never even mentioned the UDR. On television before the meeting, however, he expressed his anger, and his deep-seated hatred for the regiment.
It is interesting to note that we are not talking across the divide tonight, because those who represent the other side are conspicuous by their absence. We are told that we should be speaking to the other side, and we have come to the debating Chamber as elected Members; our opponents, however, have not come to take part in the democratic process. Here we have what the Taoiseach wanted.
Michael Noonan, the Irish Republic's Minister of Justice, commented on the Taoiseach's remarks. He said:
the first thing that they will do … is try to curb the paramilitary UDR."—[Official Report, 27 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 907.]
That was Garret FitzGerald's Justice Minister, describing the UDR as a paramilitary regiment.
In the House of Commons, I told the then Prime Minister—I wish that she were here tonight, because it was she who betrayed the people of Ulster—
It will come as no surprise to the right hon. Lady to hear that I shall not be commending this document of treachery and deceit to the House.
I was, of course, referring to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
As the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic arrived home from Hillsborough castle it was widely publicised on television, radio and in the press that he said:
'In future, the Ulster Defence Regiment will operate differently from the way in which it has operated for the last 12 years. That means that from now on the present position under which the Ulster Defence Regiment can stop people on the road, search them and question them will no longer operate …The question of how security should be organised in Northern Ireland is one for the new intergovernmental conference."'
In view of the fact that the people who live on the border in Northern Ireland get no defence from anybody but the Ulster Defence Regiment, what will they do in these circumstances, and why should a Prime Minister of a foreign republic have a say in the government and direction of a British Army regiment?"—[Official Report, 18 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 22.]
I received no answer.
It seems very strange that a foreign country and foreign Ministers should be able to make it their aim to destroy a regiment of the British Army.
Does my hon. Friend know what strength of protest was made by Her Majesty's Government in the House to the Government of the Irish Republic about those despicable remarks about the UDR?
The Prime Minister said that the Taoiseach could interpret the agreement in whatever way he wished. He could put his own interpretation on it. But we know—and the Leader of the Official Unionists made it clear—that people who are not here today joined in the campaigns with gusto. Let me say, with fervour, "Yes, we honour our Protestant co-religionists who join the UDR, but we honour even more the Roman Catholics who joined."
I know what I am talking about. A dastardly deed was done at a culvert in South Down. Four members of the UDR were killed and a Roman Catholic was among them. I visited the family home—I make no distinctions in my visits. The father of the household said to me, "Dr. Paisley, I take it hard, but I take it harder because of what happened 10 minutes ago." I asked, "What happened?" He said, "The undertaker called to tell me that he could not bury my son. He said that if a hearse was brought into the street, the IRA would deal with it." The family had to summon an undertaker from 25 miles away. The church authorities then said that they wanted to see no flag and none of the trappings of the UDR if the coffin was to be carried into the church. That man was a Roman Catholic, who had served in the British Army. His was an Army family, and he had wanted his sons to maintain its tradition.
The same has happened over and over again. I salute the Roman Catholic members of the police, including those in my constituency, but they cannot go home. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North admitted that he was amazed at the extent of the activity that has to be undertaken to safeguard such people. We should consider the case of a young man who cannot visit his parents in North Antrim; they have to go to a safe place to visit him. Those young men have been targeted, and driven out. The IRA has decided to get them out. For what purpose? To turn the propaganda, and to say that this is a sectarian force. The merger that we are discussing bows to that pressure, whether we accept it or not.
I shall encourage people to join the merged regiment. I do not want it, but I shall not stand against anyone who wants to join. Indeed, when men have approached me I have said, "Certainly you should join and do your bit" But I have never heard the hon. Members who are absent tonight or the Roman Catholic Church authorities tell people to join the security forces.
It is very important that a certain matter be put on record. Does my hon. Friend agree not only that the IRA carried out attacks to drive Roman Catholic members out of the security forces, but that those Roman Catholic members have been isolated in their own community by their political representatives, who in this House are regarded as constitutional politicians, and by their Church leaders? On the one hand, they are driven out by the IRA, but equally they are isolated by people of whom this House speaks well.
Until there is a clear statement from the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Northern Ireland and its political representatives in this House that people should join the security forces, there will be no change in recruitment. These people need to be backed up when they join the security forces. They need the strength of their community behind them. But that is not what they have been getting, and the House should take note of that.
History is repeating itself. We remember the Hunt report. Lord Hunt decided that we in Northern Ireland were a crowd of bitter bigots and that there were no bigger bigots than the members of the police force. Hunt asked why a police barracks—police stations were called barracks in those days—should have iron doors. "Take them off", the police were told. I saw the iron doors coming off the police stations. "Why do they have iron shutters?" Hunt asked. "They are not necessary, take them off." The next question was: "Why do the police wear leather belts?" So the leather belts came off. During one debate in the old Stormont Parliament I said that the police might as well be given gutties lest they stand on somebody's toes. Then the point was made that the police should be dressed differently, so their uniform was got rid of, and officers were put into semi-green uniforms. The attitude was that everything would be better if everything were different. In a police station I said to an officer, "How do you hide yourself from attack?" He replied, "We don't hide ourselves—we are just to be slaughtered."
Did the Roman Catholic population suddenly turn round and tell everybody to join the police? No—they said, "We need to get rid of the police." At that time the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said that what we needed was community police to which everyone could give allegiance. He said that it was necessary to press for a change in the identity of the RUC. We have been through all that and we have seen good men slaughtered, the best of men cut down. We attended their funerals, and we put our hands on the curly heads of little boys who would never see their fathers again. That went to the very depths of the people of Northern Ireland.
We thought that this Parliament was learning—that after all these years it would know that this is not the way to proceed—but today we have the same thing. As has been said, it is almost a replay, but in the years between we have suffered a lot. In many cases an UDR soldier is not a target but a victim. If he were a target he could fight back. I salute the UDR man who used his weapon on the border the other day. He got his man. If he had not got his man, he himself would have been taken.
Yes, the other three ran, and were found hiding under a bush in the safe territory of the Republic, from which they will not be extradicted for trial. That soldier typifies the spirit of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
As the hon. Member for Motherwell, North said, more than 200 have been killed. What is more, a person is not out of trouble even when he leaves the Ulster Defence Regiment, as is shown by the fact that 45 ex-members have been killed. The number of members who have been seriously wounded is 377—some of them on duty, some of them off duty. Those are the men and women whom the Government must not forget.
No one can question the gallantry and loyalty of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Motherwell, North refer to the 17 men who had been convicted of murder, but we must remember also the number of members of other regiments serving in Northern Ireland who have killed, and the number who have been convicted. Let it not be said that all members of all other regiments were perfect people who never committed a crime. Some were tried for atrocious killings—killings that I would not want to describe. Let us be clear about that. The Ulster Defence Regiment cannot be condemned because of those killings, and the SDLP has no right to condemn it. The members concerned were brought to court and tried. At present four are awaiting a re-hearing following examination of the evidence by the Secretary of State. We do not know what the result will be.
This condemnation of the UDR is disgraceful. It is a campaign of vilification and dishonesty against men who have given of their best. There is only one thing wrong with the Ulster Defence Regiment: it happens to be mainly Protestant. If it were a largely Roman Catholic regiment, we should not be discussing this Bill. We need to be clear about what the issues are.
There is no greater hardship than that which has been experienced by these gallant members of Her Majesty's security forces. They risk all to defend all, and they have been sacrificed by an inept security policy. The Ulster Defence Regiment has borne its burden and its share of the heartache. A regiment now consisting of 6,000 full-time and part-time soldiers has seen more than 200 of its members slaughtered by the IRA. I have referred to the four soldiers who were killed by an IRA culvert bomb near Dunpatrick. In July four UDR soldiers died when an IRA land mine exploded near Ballygawley, and in May 1991 three were killed in a massive lorry bomb attack at the Glenanne UDR base in south Armagh.
Before this House gives any credence to criticism of the regiment it ought to acknowledge the fact that in the last 21 years more than 40,000 civilians in Northern Ireland have passed through its ranks, and that in those 21 years only 17 members or ex-members have been convicted of murder or other terrorist-related offences in Northern Ireland. Of those 17, four are currently having their cases re-heard.
I must express my criticism of the Stevens inquiry—one of the worst things ever to have happened in Northern Ireland. The Stevens inquiry was unfair to innocent men. Mr. Stevens came over at a meeting and boasted, "I'll get men into the dock." That was his attitude. One Sunday he got the chief constable to identify members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who, in their various streets of Belfast, were not known to be members. He did not take these men in for questioning when they were on the UDR base. He could have had police officers at the gate, and the men could have been questioned on the base. Instead, he sent Land-Rovers, armoured cars and machine guns—the whole panoply—at 6 o'clock in the morning for innocent men, the vast majority of whom were proved to be innocent. After that they had to leave their homes. They had to pull out their furniture and their wives and children. The children had to be taken from school. That was done in the name of Mr. Stevens.
I am not an expert in spying, but if Mr. Nelson who is now in gaol was still doing his spy work, we would not have the groanings and crying over what happened in Ormeau road because, as his barrister said, he was a hero in saving people from being murdered. The House must recognise that. We can all be ethical at times and pass judgment but is the House helping us in the current situation to shoot people in the foot? That is what has happened and we must face the facts.
I shall go back to Northern Ireland to fight an election. The Labour party will not be fighting me because, for some reason, it does not believe in fighting elections in Northern Ireland.
The Tory candidate has taken sick and I do not know whether the Tories will find another one. I should welcome a Tory candidate—I would fight him on this issue alone. The resounding answer of the Protestants and Roman Catholics who vote for me will show what they think of this measure.
I hope that the House will some day recognise the issues and that it will face them. Like my hon. Friends, I am worried about the present impasse. I can tell the Secretary of State that it is a different impasse. So-called Protestant loyalists are determined to answer killing with killing, outrage with outrage, and violence with violence. They will not spare man, woman or child. It is a terrible situation. I have seen principles sacrificed in the House because it is said that if we did this or that it would alienate the minority, but the House is alienating the majority and it should be aware of that.
It is strange that every hon. Member who speaks in this debate will say the same thing that the leader of the Ulster Unionist party and I have said. There is no disunity among us on that, except that I take a harder line. I shall divide the House, even if there are only two or three of us. Like the spokesman for the Labour party who said that he hoped that he could look back with pleasure, I hope that I shall be proved wrong and that 20 years on people will say, "You made a mistake." I hope and pray for that, but I know from the past record that a tragedy will arise from the merger.
I am already worried about the response. The IRA has said, "It is only a change of name—it is still the old regiment." All the Opposition parties—including the SDLP—said that they would be prepared to give the measure a fair wind, but that was all. They then asked why we should have a militia at all. I have not heard the Cardinal saying, "Join this new regiment; after all, your co-religionists from Liverpool are in it and you should join because I understand that many of the 30 per cent. of Roman Catholics in it are from Liverpool, and some from the south of Ireland, too."
Another outrageous aspect is the suggestion that it will be a good thing if Orange and Green are together in an Irish regiment on the streets of Belfast. I do not understand that—it would be dangerous for both groups. Any regiment built on that structure would be dangerous. It should not matter who was the officer or the regimental sergeant major—he would be a member of the Army and his religion should not be a factor. We are approaching a quota system such as that which already exists under fair employment legislation in the Province.
Will the Minister tell us more about the review or the public relations exercise of which we were told today? A public relations body took a poll of the UDR. It is amazing that we did not hear of it, as I have a lot of contacts. An hon. Member said that a general told him what he thought, but a general visited me and told me the opposite: he hit me on the shoulder and said, "Big man, you are right in your opposition to this measure." Who was polled?
We were told that the results of the poll showed that the Royal Irish Rangers were sort of neutral, but that the vast majority of officers and members of the UDR are all for the measure. I have not heard that, although I know that some officers do favour the measure. One reason is that they want to be integrated so that they can have a career in the Army, but that is not what men joined the UDR to do. They joined it to get out of the Army as quickly as possible, to end the troubles, to defeat terrorists and to return to civilian life. They did not join to have a career in the Army.
Will the Minister tell us more about the poll because we are very interested? Which firm undertook the poll? How many men were questioned? What were their ranks? Apparently civilians were visited and they were also in favour. The most interesting fact to emerge today is that there was a poll. The fact that the poll took place proves that there was something wrong because if one knew that the Army favoured the merger, one would not carry out a public relations exercise with testings and soundings.
We also need to know about the people who will lose their jobs. How many of the UDR bases will be closed?
Will my hon. Friend join me in asking the Minister if he can perhaps help to dispel the rumour—I hope that it is only a rumour—about the UDR base in Ladas drive in my constituency? Locally there is considerable fear that the Government intend to close it. It is an important part of the local structure and there would be great concern if it were to close. I have a unique relationship with my hon. Friend—he is my constituent and I am his—and as resident in that area he will have the same concerns.
My hon. Friend did not mention the fact that I am also his proposer at the election, and a voter as well.
It would be far better for us to know the whole story now. How many bases will be closed? I would also like the Minister to tell us how many part timers there are and how the number compares with last year. Why is there a rundown in part-time recruitment? Is it not because current advertising is for full-time recruits? If one does not advertise for part-timers, one cannot expect them to offer themselves. One could destroy the part-time category of the force merely by not taking on anyone else or by not advertising.
We should be given the bitter facts and we should face them. I do not want a constituent to say to me in a few months' time that I told him our base was going to stay open but that it was then closed. Let us hear how many bases will be closed. Let us hear the full sad story of how many jobs will be lost, how many bases will be closed and what the overall effect will be.
I shall listen carefully to the Minister. I hope that he will take on board the points that we made at our meeting with him this morning. We wanted a guarantee that when the Bill has been passed it will not be an excuse for getting rid of people now in the regiment. They are entitled to be in the merged regiment and they need to have a guarantee of that. The Act says, "may" instead of "shall" in one place, but even if it is changed to "shall" it may not cover the point that I am trying to make. Every member of that regiment, so long as there is no disciplinary charge against him, who is entitled to remain in the current regiment should be guaranteed a place in the merged regiment. We need an absolute assurance on that.
The point about resigning is very important in the circumstances of security. If a man is threatened, he may have to resign and clear his family out of the area. The 30 days should be kept.
In many ways these proposals come at a very bad time for our Province. I thought that it was a very wise thing that, in the midst of a tit-for-tat uprising of violence in the Province, the Secretary of State called out the UDR, and they were very effective; we got over that particularly severe time of killings. I should have thought that the Government would concentrate on using the UDR more. We are told that it needs to be cost-effective, but it is the cheapest form of security, costing less in a year than the Royal Ulster Constabulary costs in a week. That is something that we need to face up to as well.
In large measure, in certain areas where the UDR now operates people will feel defenceless. This sends the wrong message to the IRA—the wrong message at the wrong time. The UDR has come of age and has proved its effectiveness. It has seen 21 years of continual service and has earned royal honour. To merge it now will bring ignominy to its members and be an insult to Her Majesty who came over and praised the four battalions and gave them their colours.
We have been told that the name of Ulster cannot be used to describe any British regiment in the future. The name of Ulster has a greater right to be part of the name of a British regiment today than ever before, because it is the only part of Ireland that is still in the United Kingdom. The name should remain in the regiments of our Army.
I desire to say only a few words on Second Reading because I have no substantial disagreement with what the Minister said in inviting the House to approve the Bill. In that respect, notwithstanding the passion and, I acknowledge, sincerity of the contribution of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I regret that I cannot accept what I understand to be his central thesis—that some kind of conspiracy is afoot, the purpose of which is to do some damage to either the reputation or the effectiveness of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I do not believe that such a thesis is justified in the light of the circumstances outlined by the Minister. I should have preferred this matter not to be pushed to a Division, but if one is called my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support the Government.
The issue to which we should address our minds is perhaps not the tradition of either of the regiments about which we are concerned but the effectiveness of the security arrangements which we will be able to achieve in Northern Ireland if this amalgamation proceeds. It is that and that alone that should be the justification for our decision.
I listened with some interest to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North when they said that the low percentage from the Roman Catholic community who serve in the Ulster Defence Regiment was, in essence, an aim and objective of the IRA. If it was such, it has been manifestly successful, but we must accept the reality that the consequence is that inevitably the Ulster Defence Regiment is more readily identified with one tradition in Northern Ireland than with the other. I do not doubt that the IRA, faced with an amalgamated regiment drawn from a much wider religious base, will endeavour to do the same again, but it will be the success and the strength of the amalgamated regiment that will be the best defence against that.
If the amalgamated regiment comes into being, subject to some qualifications here or some reservations there, its ability to provide the means by which the potential campaign of the IRA is to be defeated will be substantially prejudiced. There may be difficulties in creating a regiment which, for the foreseeable future, will be able to demand the support and confidence of the whole community, but that does not mean to say that we should not face up to these difficulties and endeavour to defeat them.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North commented on the fact that there are certain parts of the political life and of the religious life of the Province which had not yet been heard to say that, if it is desired to create a regiment which commands the support of the whole community, members from all sections of the community should join. I believe that they are wrong not to do that, but I also believe that they may be encouraged to do so in the future if they are satisfied that the regiment which is the subject of the Bill is one which, at least in the first instance, reflects a much wider religious base than does the UDR.
All those right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken have mentioned the bravery of those who serve in the Ulster Defence Regiment. A curious and dangerous feature of their service is that they are, uniquely, at risk all the time. They are at risk in their military role and they are equally at risk when they give up the military role and return to their communities. It might be said that in some respects they are more at risk in their own homes than when they are on patrol. That requires no ordinary soldiering but a very high level of individual responsibility and bravery.
Just as it is my proposition that the relatively narrow religious base from which the UDR is drawn reflects the extent to which the regiment enjoys the confidence of the whole community, so I accept freely that the bravery of those from the Roman Catholic tradition who join the Ulster Defence Regiment must be regarded as of an extraordinary order. They and their families, in particular, have been the subject of deliberate targeting by the forces of terrorism. I believe that the merger will more easily help those individuals, and others in the amalgamated regiment, to fulfil that degree of enhanced responsibility that soldiering in Northern Ireland necessitates.
In relation to the 17 people to whom reference has been made and to any others from British regiments who have been arrested or perhaps convicted of criminal acts in the course of their military service in Northern Ireland, I say: there is no place in the British Army for anyone whose standards and whose regard for the rule of law are other than the highest. Anyone, of whatever rank, who does not fulfil those responsibilities should be rooted out. I have no doubt that the Minister and I would be of one mind on that subject.
There are sound military justifications for what the Bill seeks to achieve. I believe that people from the UDR will be more effective if they are brought more fully into the British Army, and that the high professional standards of the British Army that will be available in the amalgamated regiment more readily than they have been in the UDR in the past are bound to enhance the capability of the members who previously served in the UDR.
With an amalgamated regiment, it must be right to provide a proper career structure for all who wish to take advantage of it. Surely it must be right, too, to provide a proper career structure and career opportunities for everyone in the new regiment who may have skills and ability that would entitle them to transfer to other Army units and detachments elsewhere in the United Kingdom forces.
We should not forget that the purpose of the Bill is to assist in the fight against terrorism, whatever motive the terrorist may have. All military means should be available to defeat terrorism. The House is united on that matter. The political consequences of the amalgamation will serve only to enhance the effectiveness of the military means at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has just told the House that he believes that the Bill is designed to defeat terrorism. Does he really think that if it were not for all the other changes being made in the armed forces the Bill would have been introduced anyway?
I cannot say. Amalgamations of mainland regiments have been controversial, too, but—with the exception of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland—I do not believe this amalgamation to be controversial at all. Even if the amalgamation had been suggested outwith the ambit of the "Options for Change", I should still have supported it because the central thrust on which it is based is valuable, and should be supported.
The House listens to a catalogue of horror of events in Northern Ireland. For me, at least, the repetition of such events increases rather than diminishes their effect, and it also increases my frustration. If that is true for me, how much more true must it be for the Secretary of State, who has been in the Chamber for most of the debate, but who is not here at the moment?
I imagine that that frustration is felt, too, by those who are democratically elected to represent Northern Ireland constituencies in the House. They live in the communities ravaged by the activities of terrorists. Their lives are subject to the inconvenience and the grief that terrorism brings.
The Bill will not resolve the current problems in Northern Ireland. If any of us had a simple solution I fancy that we should have found it long ago. But, especially in the light of the speech by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, I hope that the Bill will help to provide conditions in which the difficulties in Northern Ireland may more easily be tackled.
I shall support the Bill, but more in the hope that it will achieve its objectives than with any conviction that that will be the case.
I believe that I speak as the only Royal Irish Fusilier in the House of Commons. My regiment, with the Royal Ulster Rifles and the Royal Innniskilling Fusiliers, now forms part of the Royal Irish Rangers—a regiment which came into existence in 1968, and is, of course, one half of the regimental collaboration outlined in the Bill.
My regiment was the 87th/89th Regiment of Foot, raised in 1793. It had a proud and distinguished history. It captured the first Napoleonic eagle to be taken by a British regiment, at Barrossa, in the Peninsular war. It has had many battle honours, and its museum and regimental headquarters were at the old Gough barracks in Armagh.
Like any other proud regiment, I do not think that it found its subsumation into the Royal Irish Rangers the easiest of the many problems that it has had to overcome in its 175 years of existence. However, that amalgamation went better than anybody had dared believe it would, even if it meant a new name for the regiment, new brothers in arms and a new depot. I hope that the same will be true of the amalgamation that we are debating. Perhaps the word "Rangers", with its echo of the Connaught Rangers, made the Irish Fusiliers feel a certain kinship with other distinguished Irish regiments which now exist only in pages of military history.
So the Royal Irish Rangers became Northern Ireland's own regiment in 1968. But, as was the case when I was with the Fusiliers, it still drew a high percentage of its intake from south of the border. The Irish, whether they be Ulstermen or from south of the border, make good soldiers. They also make good field marshals. I have only to remind the House of Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Lord Alexander, Lord Montgomery and Sir Gerald Templer, to underline that point.
The Irish Fusiliers had both an Anglican and a Catholic padre because of the number of soldiers from both denominations serving in the regiment. If one wanted an example of the fact that both sides of the community can live and work together, there could be no better illustration. I cannot recall any incident involving sectarianism while I was serving with the regiment. Today, I understand that 30 per cent. of those serving in the Royal Irish Rangers are Catholics.
What is more, after all the years in which Irish regiments were kept out of Northern Ireland because of concern that their presence might cause friction between the two communities, the Irish Rangers completed two successful tours of duty in the Province, in 1990 and 1991.
I make those points to underline the fact that the three traditional Northern Ireland infantry regiments have already endured the tremendous upheaval of giving up their separate histories, identities, depots, and individual traditions to create the Royal Irish Rangers only 24 years ago. Having made that amalgamation work, they are now being asked not only to forgo one of their two regular battalions, but to accept the disappearance of the regiment into an entirely new unit, the Royal Irish Regiment, which its proposed make-up would seem to make unique in the Army.
That will mean much more than a name change, a new cap badge and a new regimental depot at Ballykinler. Effectively, it will involve the creation of a different kind of regimental structure, even if there will be increased possibilities of promotion for its members.
I recognise that some regiments which are disappearing altogether as a result of "Options for Change", and others which are undergoing huge changes, may consider that the Royal Irish Rangers are luckier than some; but I still believe that an amalgamation with the Ulster Defence Regiment is not the same as uniting two English line regiments into one.
The Rangers and the UDR have a very different pedigree. I make that statement with the memory of a conversation that I had in Northern Ireland in 1970 with Brigadier Ormerod, one of the first senior commanders of the UDR—as it happens, he was a former Irish Fusilier. I realised with what high hopes he viewed the new regiment, with its avowed intention of becoming a non-sectarian internal security force within Northern Ireland, a bit like the B Specials, but drawing its support from both sides of the community. A non-sectarian home guard seemed to be the ideal answer to the terrorist, and initial recruitment to the UDR seemed to bear out that hope. At the end of our conversation, I remember Brigadier Ormerod saying to me: "Now it's up to you politicians to get the politics right"—as if, with the UDR, the politics of internal security had been resolved.
In the early months of the UDR, it seemed as if the regiment would be able to recruit from both sides of the community, and at one time, as so many hon. Members have said, almost 20 per cent. of its members came from the Catholic section of the community. The regiment was not as large as it is today, so the figure of 20 per cent. can be misleading. In the past 20 years, that component has dwindled to the present figure of between 180 and 200 members from the minority community, in a regiment comprising 6,000 men. As everyone has said, they are very brave people, because they know with what studied ruthlessness the IRA has made off-duty Catholic members of the UDR its special target, both to intimidate those who might think of joining and to encourage the idea that the UDR is essentially a sectarian force.
Sadly, a small number of the regiment have added weight to that charge; as has been said today, 17 have been convicted of murdering 15 Catholics, although serious doubt remains about the culpability of those called the "UDR Four". Other members have been convicted of lesser offences, so much closer screening of applicants has now become standard practice.
As a result of the Bill, will those who join the Royal Irish Regiment have to go through the same screening process, or will it apply only to the home service battalions of that regiment? Will my right hon. Friend the Minister say something about that when he winds up? It would seem difficult to avoid that vetting procedure if we are not once again to find that charges are made against members of the force, yet I cannot see how, in an Army unit, it would be fair to have one rule for the home battalions and another for the regular one.
The regiment has taken more than 220 fatal casualties, and about 450 members have been wounded. Its 6,500 men and women provide 11 million man hours of military service every year, and the regiment has provided an essential element in the security set-up in the Province. At no time has that brave regiment deserved the statement made about it in a BBC "Panorama' programme:
This regiment of Protestants is part of the problem it was intended to solve.
Nor does the regiment deserve the equally dismissive remark by the previous Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Gerry Collins, who said on television:
The UDR has no role to play as presently constituted.
Mr. Collins was speaking as a Minister of a country that was a joint signatory to the Anglo-Irish Agreement,
which was designed to produce peace, stability and reconciliation, but which has yet to show that it can achieve even one of those objectives. I hope that the words of Mr. Collins have had no bearing on the changes that we are debating tonight. He spoke at a time when the Republic finds it difficult to mount a border police task force of more than 40 or 50 men. When one considers that it is a 300 mile-long border, that is wholly inadequate by anyone's standards. His words, like those of "Panorama", must have been sweet music to the IRA in its attempts to discredit the UDR. That brings me to my concern about the amalgamation.
The security problem in Northern Ireland has gone on for 22 years. From time to time, things seem to go better and terrorist incidents fall off. We hear that troop numbers are to be reduced. In the House, we pass improved criminal legislation. Police forces are strengthened. Then there is another upsurge in violence, as is happening at present, more troops are sent out to the Province; and so it goes on, year in and year out, but the terrorism always goes on at some level.
We now see the ugly development of tit-for-tat sectarian murders. I presume that those who carry them out belong to a generation different from those who were leading terrorism at the beginning of the troubles. Whatever the case, the sectarian killings mounted from the Protestant loyalist side of the community seem to carry an implication—a hint—that public confidence in the ability of the security forces working within the present constraints of the law to defeat terrorism is wearing thin.
These people take matters into their own hands on the basis, "If you kill one of us, we will kill one of you"—a sectarian lynch law. Such a development carries with it many dangers, including a greater escalation of violence. If it is to be stopped, public confidence must be restored, and that must mean a reappraisal of the present security policy and of the role of each of the services involved in it.
The UDR was raised and recruited to be an internal, non-sectarian security force. It began with a large part-time element, and even today that element is still more than 50 per cent. of the total strength. Now, instead of being an exceptional regiment for an exceptional task, the UDR will become part of a new northern Irish regiment—the Royal Irish Regiment—which itself will represent two traditions.
One tradition is that of the Royal Irish Rangers, a Regular Army regiment derived from the three long-established infantry regiments to which I have referred, serving on all fours with other infantry units in the Army. It goes abroad as they do, which may be one of the reasons why some cross the border to join it. That regiment and its traditions are now to be linked with the internal security force—the UDR.
The hope seems to be that the merger will give the new regiment the traditions of the Rangers and of the Northern Irish Brigade from which it sprang, and a new professionalism for its home service battalions because of its being part of a Regular Army formation. It is hoped that the Royal Irish Regiment will continue to be able to attract as high a percentage of recruits from the Catholic community as the Rangers did. All those objectives are admirable, and I hope that they will be achieved, but I wonder whether they are as easily attainable as the Minister would have us believe.
I presume that some consideration was given to those objectives and to a similar regimental structure when the UDR was first considered in 1970. I presume that the difficulties of creating an homogenous but hybrid regiment were considered at that time to be too difficult to resolve, especially as the two tasks of the regiment as it is now to be constitued are almost mutually exclusive. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether the regular battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment will also perform duties in Northern Ireland alongside the home service battalion or whether it will always be deployed outside the Province?
How easy will it be to create a single regiment to which everyone will feel the same loyalty when it will comprise four different categories of soldiers? There will be regulars designated for service all over the world; regulars confined to Northern Ireland; part-timers to serve in the Province; and Territorials. Although I hope that the amalgamation will produce the effects desired by the military planners, I have considerable misgivings that the new regiment will inevitably be tainted by the political climate of Northern Ireland, with its sectarian intimidation, in a way which did not happen to the Royal Irish Rangers and thus kept it out of the present troubles. I also fear that that may make the task of the home service battalions of the new Royal Irish Regiment if anything more difficult to achieve than was the case with the UDR.
It is entirely appropriate, when the UDR is being merged into a new regiment, that one should begin by paying tribute to the thousands of men who, over the past 20-odd years, have served the whole community excellently within that regiment. I shall not go into that tribute in great detail. Comments have been made by hon. Members of all parties and I know that the men will appreciate the sympathy and good will which have been expressed here this evening, and the recognition of the tremendous sacrifice that so many Ulster men have made in their service in that regiment.
Reference has been made also to the small percentage of the minority community in Northern Ireland still serving within the UDR. Some 18 per cent. was achieved when the regiment was first formed, with an enrolment figure at that time of some 4,000, but as a result of intimidation by the IRA, that percentage has now dropped to 2 to 3 per cent., or between 150 and 200 men.
I wish to say a special word about that small number of Roman Catholics from Northern Ireland who, despite all the pressures, continue to serve. Curiously, it is a smaller percentage than that within the Royal Ulster Constabulary, some 8 per cent. of which is Roman Catholic. As the RUC has a total strength of some 12,000 men, 8 per cent. means about 1,000 people. Therefore, some 1,200 Ulster Catholics actively serve in the security forces to defeat terrorism. That is many times more than the number of Roman Catholics in Ulster actively engaged in Republican terrorism, which is a sobering thought. There is no reason to doubt that the number of people actively involved in Republican terrorism at any one time is between 200 and 500, so they are outnumbered several times by the Ulster Catholics serving in the security forces.
I mention that balance not simply to pay tribute to Ulster Catholics serving in the security forces but to draw attention to the skewed concern expressed by Roman Catholic community leaders and politicians, who are constantly concerned to ensure that the security measures taken, legislation passed and action undertaken by the Government should not bear too hard on the poor terrorists. They do not express the same concern about the larger number of their community and flock who are actively engaged in the fight against terrorism and who, in many cases, pay a very high price. That contrast says much about the attitudes, loyalties and sympathies of the people who express that inappropriate concern.
A further question with which I should like the Minister to deal when he winds up the debate was sparked when I read the otherwise excellent brief prepared by the Library, which says:
The UDR does not patrol West Belfast Londonderry or the border area of South Armagh, nor does it engage in crowd or riot control.
Will there be any limitation or prohibition on the service of the new regiment? Will it be limited to certain geographic areas and told not to enter other areas which we refer to as "bandit country", which are virtually under the control of terrorist organisations, thus leaving those areas under terrorist control? Will there be certain forms of service or activity in which that regiment cannot engage? Restrictions such as those mentioned in the brief are not realistic and I hope that the assimilation of the UDR into the rest of the Regular Army will be accompanied by assimilation of the service that they undertake and the areas in which they undertake it.
As the Minister knows, my hon. Friends and I feel strongly, as does the wider community in Northern Ireland, about the name of the regiment. We bitterly regret the fact that the term "Ulster" will disappear and that the regiment will instead be called the Royal Irish Regiment. I appreciate that a certain cast of mind on this side of the Irish sea is unable to recognise the existence of Ulster and prefers simply to use the term "Irish" at every opportunity. It fails to recognise the culture and identity of those hon. Members who represent Ulster. The name may simply reflect that blindness to our identity and traditions, but it is particularly unfortunate because I understand that there used to be a Royal Irish Regiment that was recruited in the Dublin area. It was disbanded when the 26 counties seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922. To revive a title associated with Dublin and apply it to Ulster is particularly maladroit at present.
The Minister said that the new title reflects composition—I presume that he meant the composition of the Royal Irish Rangers—and reference has been made by several speakers to the composition of the Royal Irish Rangers. I regret to say that those references were not particularly accurate. Again, I refer to the Library's brief:
In contrast to the UDR, the Royal Irish Rangers present a more equal reflection of the Northern Ireland population. Around 30 per cent. of the regiment is Catholic, with approximately 15 per cent. coming from the Irish Republic".
That figure of 30 per cent. has been quoted by several hon. Members this evening, but I am sorry to say that it is not accurate. Way back in October, I tabled a question asking for a breakdown of the Royal Irish Rangers by nationality and religion. The holding answer appeared in Hansard. I then received a letter, which was a curious way to proceed. I am not sure why the letter could not have appeared as an answer in Hansard. It could then have been available to all hon. Members. Naturally, I circulated my letter to people who were interested.
It may be appropriate if I now put that answer on record so that everyone will know the precise breakdown of the Royal Irish Rangers, as given to me in the letter from the Earl of Arran. The information shows the position as at mid-October last year. It says that, of the officers, 63 come from Great Britain and 32 per cent. are Roman Catholics; 49 come from Northern Ireland and 12 per cent. are Roman Catholics; 13 come from the Republic of Ireland and 77 per cent. are Roman Catholics. Of the other ranks, 382 come from Great Britain and 38 per cent. are Roman Catholics; 836 come from Northern Ireland and 11 per cent. are Roman Catholic; 70 come from the Irish Republic and 94 per cent. are Roman Catholic.
I deduce from those figures that, in the regiment as a whole, 24 per cent. are Roman Catholics. Some people may say that the difference between 24 per cent. and 30 per cent. is not significant, so why quibble about it? But the number from the Republic of Ireland is not 15 per cent.; it is only 83 people, which is 5·9 per cent. There is quite a difference between 6 per cent. and 15 per cent.
I mention those points because so many hon. Members said earlier in the debate that they hoped that the mix within the Rangers would carry over to the UDR, into the new regiment, and somehow affect that. But when we consider the breakdown of the existing Rangers, we can compare the small percentage of persons from the Republic of Ireland with the small percentage of Catholics from Ireland. The great bulk of Catholics from the Rangers are from England. Although they may be of Irish descent, it still makes a difference, which hon. Members will appreciate.
Of the total number of people in the regiment, breaking them down by origin, 62·6 per cent. come from Ulster, 31·5 per cent. from Great Britain and 5·9 per cent. from the Republic of Ireland. The 1,400 men in the Rangers together with the 6,500 men presently in the UDR will form the total regiment. We are told that 750 of the 8,000 will drop out.
It is obvious that the bulk of the men in the new regiment will he men who are at present in the Ulster Defence Regiment. That offers the prospect of the new regiment reflecting more accurately the character of the existing UDR rather than the Royal Irish Rangers. I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) who feared that the Rangers, of whom he is justly proud, would be somewhat swamped—that is my word, not his—in the new regiment.
I underline my dislike of the title of the new regiment. To be told that the word "Irish" is used to reflect recruitment from the Republic of Ireland, when only about 5 per cent. of its smaller element will come from the Republic, is a vicious case of the tail wagging the dog. The title is not appropriate. As the Minister knows, we would have preferred the title of the new regiment to reflect its origins and its character, and be called the Royal Ulster Regiment, or something of that sort.
The Minister said that senior officers in the Royal Irish Rangers welcome the merger. I am sure that they do, and I am not surprised about that. Under the "Options for Change" review, it was inevitable that, even if nothing else happened—given the reductions and mergers in other regiments—the Rangers would drop from two battalions to one. The Royal Irish Rangers would probably have lost the depot in Ballymena and have had to share another depot on the mainland with other regiments. The Rangers would have lost their character and identity as a result. No doubt, the officers in the Rangers who welcome the merger see it as a way of keeping some of the regiment's identity in Ulster and enabling them to command a much bigger organisation than would have otherwise been the case. However, I believe that, within the UDR, there is much unease. Some people are opposed to the merger and some have been persuaded that it is a good idea on the grounds of the wider opportunities and so on that the Minister and others described. However, the best way to describe the views of the majority of men is that of unease, compounded by suspicions arising out of past changes and mergers.
We have been told that the merger is Army-driven, in the sense that the decision was largely influenced by the Army's views, but I do not think that the scheme can be divorced from the relentless political pressure that has come from the Republic of Ireland, from Irish nationalist politicians and from other community leaders in Northern Ireland who have attacked, particularly, the part-time element. That factor cannot be left out. In addition, the scheme cannot be divorced from the pressures generated by the "Options for Change" review. Those two factors point to a reduction in, if not a phasing out of, the part-time element. The Army is being reduced in size from about 50 battalions to 36 infantry battalions, leaving the Gurkhas out of the account. I am not sure why the Gurkhas are banned from coming to Northern Ireland—it is not because of our racism. They would be made welcome by my constituents. Unfortunately, the Army seems to regard it as impossible to deploy them, and that leaves 36 battalions.
Hon. Members will know that, under present arrangements, up to 20 battalions may have to serve in Northern Ireland in one year. That figure is made up of the six battalions that are on a two-year stay, up to a dozen battalions on four-month tours and one or two spearhead battalions on tour. In an army of 36 battalions, that load cannot be sustained. The only solutions are to reduce drastically the total deployment in, and commitment to, Northern Ireland—which it may not be possible to do if current levels of terrorism increase—and drastically to reduce the number of units that are on short four-month tours or find another source of full-time men to replace the existing Regular battalions. It is from there that the Army-led pressure to reduce the part-time element will come.
The figures for last July show 3,500 part-timers in the UDR, and that number may be reduced to 1,000 or 1,500. The Army has said that it has no intention of phasing out the part-time element completely, but enough statements have been made over the years to make it clear that there is a desire to see the part-time element diminish. If the figure goes down to 1,000 or 1,500, giving another 2,000 to 2,500 full-timers, that is equivalent to three full-time Regular battalions. That would reduce the need to rotate Regular battalions in Northern Ireland. That is the Army-led pressure to reduce the part-time element. There is always relentless political pressure from republican and nationalist sources, and it is particularly targeted on the part-timers. I believe that those two factors are influencing the Army's future.
Another factor underlines why I believe that the way in which the Army is progressing is not desirable. As a result of "Options for Change", the infantry section of the Regular Army will be significantly reduced. I have been told that there will be about 10,000 compulsory redundancies. Another 30,000 infantrymen may have to leave the Army if they are not re-engaged at the end of their service.
If up to 40,000 Regular soldiers had to leave their colours and there were opportunities within the full-time element of the new Northern Ireland-based full-time regiment, it would not be unreasonable to assume that a significant number of Regular soldiers who found themselves out of work or redundant would volunteer to join what would be the equivalent of a full-time UDR. There are already a significant number of Scotsmen and Englishmen serving in the UDR and, under the changes that I am envisaging, it is likely that that number will increase substantially.
I suspect that that move would be welcomed in some Army circles. There is anxiety about the reliability of the native Ulster troops not behaving themselves and doing something which is best left to others' imagination. It may be felt that the unit will be more reliable if it contains a higher percentage of Englishmen and Scotsmen. But is that wise?
The men who, on finding themselves no longer employed in the Regular Army, decide to come to serve in Northern Ireland in the equivalent of the UDR might not come out of the purest of motives. They may come because they have a score to settle. Reference has been made to the Stevens inquiry, which was sparked off by revelations about leakage of information from the security forces to loyalist terrorists which resulted in the targeting of republican terrorist suspects. One of the first such cases was that of Loughlin Maginn, a republican terrorist suspect who was murdered by loyalist terrorists. The information targeting Mr. Maginn was leaked from the UDR. Two UDR men, one of whom was an Englishman, were charged in connection with the offence.
It is ironic that the Irish Republic, which concentrates its fire on UDR men, likening them to the equivalent of the hated B Specials, may be about to create a new scenario involving the sons of the black and tans. I wonder if that is wise—I am sure that it is not. I have no desire to see people from England and Scotland excluded from serving with new regiments—indeed, many of them are welcome—but the danger is that they may be coming with scores to settle.
A rundown in the part-time element is in itself undesirable. Contrary to what some say, there is a need for a militia-type operation and organisation to deal with terrorism. A locally based security force with local knowledge is of great assistance. It would be undesirable to lose such local knowledge and the ability to share around local men. That is why I have grave reservations about the merger—it leads in the wrong direction.
There is a clear need, too, for welfare support. The UDR is under unique pressures because its members—and the men of the new regiment—serving in Northern Ireland will always be under threat, on duty, off duty, when trying to relax and even for years after they have retired. Consequently, there is a significant need to provide them with good welfare support so that, in the terrible event of men being killed or injured, their families can he supported. I know that the UDR does a considerable amount of valuable work in trying to support the families and widows of men who have lost their lives in the emergency.
I understand that the formal arrangements for welfare in the UDR go further than those made in the Regular Army. The families of soldiers who die in Northern Ireland and who served in the Regular Army find that they do not receive the same formal support from the Army. They may receive a certain amount of informal support from the regiment's trusts and benevolent associations. I hope that, with the UDR's greater assimilation into the Regular Army, its welfare arrangements will not be prejudiced.
Sometimes there is a little friction between UDR men and Regular officers, particularly officers who come into the UDR and do not appreciate the need for welfare. But it is needed, not just because of the desirability of looking after widows and the children of the bereaved but because a locally recruited regiment serving in a locality should not be seen to be less than caring for the families of those who have made sacrifices. If it were seen as less than caring, that would strike a real blow at recruitment and morale. We need to sustain and improve those welfare facilities and I trust that they will not be prejudiced by the UDR's assimilation into the Army.
Some hon. Members have already referred to the sad fact that, over the years, some members of the UDR have gone off the rails. We have been told the number of those who have been convicted of murder—unjustly, in a couple of cases—and of other offences. I do not want to suggest that the Army should be less than rigorous about checking whether men are improperly engaged in activities, detecting them and, if they are found to be involved in illegal activities, subjecting them to the full force of the law. I am, however, disturbed by a recent incident that took place in December not far from my constituency. Three members of the Cookstown company of the UDR were arrested and taken to Gough barracks, where they were interrogated under the prevention of terrorism legislation. They were suspected of involvement in the loyalist terrorist killings that have taken place in recent years in Mid-Ulster.
What was disturbing about the incident was that the fact that these men were being questioned in connection with these crimes was immediately publicised. I do not know who leaked that to the press. It is conceivable that the leak did not come from the Army or from the Northern Ireland Office; but, as the information was leaked to the press not only in Northern Ireland but in London, that suggests that it might have come from the Northern Ireland Office. Leaking the fact that those men had been arrested and questioned in connection with those crimes was as good as fingering them. It would be easy enough for republican sympathisers to discover which men had been arrested. I know for a fact that one of the men who was arrested and subsequently released was, within a matter of days, the target of a terrorist murder attempt.
There being no evidence against the men, they were released. They were entitled to the presumption of innocence, but they were immediately dismissed from the service. Only a few days after their release from Gough barracks, they were told that they had been dismissed and were given less than 24 hours to get their kit out. Thereafter they were for ever barred from entering the UDR base and prevented from joining the UDR ex-service men's association.
If the security forces had reason to believe that men in the service were engaged in terrorist activities, it was quite right to take action against them. I cannot tell whether those men were as pure as the driven snow, but they were entitled to the presumption of innocence. Two factors in the case were distasteful. First, these men had served the community at risk to their own lives—whatever else they had done. For that reason alone they are entitled to a little more consideration than they were given. Secondly, what was the source of the suspicion? I asked the men what they had been questioned about while in custody, thinking that that might provide a clue as to the source of the information. Such information as emerged was exceedingly vague. The suspicion in my mind is that the real source was the east Tyrone brigade of the IRA: the IRA decided to manufacture some suspicions and to feed them, directly or indirectly, through political representatives to the security forces—and then to sit back and laugh while those forces took out three men from the local company.
I should have mentioned earlier that the three men were a corporal, a sergeant and a colour sergeant. They were described to me by officers in the regiment as three of the best men in the company—the sort of men one would like at one's side when in a tight spot. I suspect that, having fed in the information, the IRA sat back laughing while the Army took out three of its best men, disposed of them and disrupted the morale of the unit.
I hope that there was an extremely good reason for doing that. Neither the Minister nor I can judge at the moment. One of the differences between the Regular Army and the UDR—it is noticed and felt by the men—is that when a Regular soldier gets into trouble his comrades and the officers of his regiment rally round and try to help him. If a UDR man gets into trouble, he is thrown out, forgotten about and will not be helped, no matter what his circumstances are. That is a sad contrast and I hope that it will not persist in the new regiment. I hope that the same consideration that is given to Army men will be shown to men serving in the Royal Irish Regiment.
Would my hon. Friend, with his legal experience, care to take this matter a bit further? Supposing one of these people were murdered by the IRA, would his family be able to claim compensation or would they be barred from claiming it on the ground that the man had been suspected of terrorism?
That would depend on the position that the Northern Ireland Office took with regard to the application. What my hon. Friend suggests is theoretically possible, but then one must remember that the Northern Ireland Office is ready to pay compensation not just to persons suspected of terrorism but to persons guilty of terrorism.
As can be seen from what I have said, we have considerable reservations about the merger. We will not divide the House on the issue, and if there is a Division we will vote neither for nor against the proposal so as to reflect our reservations and our desire that the proposal should succeed. We do not want to undermine the morale of a significant element of the security forces. The men feel uneasy and suspicious about the change, but I am sure that those same men will strive to make a good job of this, if they can. Her Majesty's soldiers have a distinguished record for rescuing the Army from bad plans and sometimes from poor generalship.
I rise to speak feeling sad at heart because I represent many gallant members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who have lived through the most tragic years in the history of our Province. They have operated in dangerous circumstances and continue to do so, facing the enemy daily.
The people of Northern Ireland owe the UDR a deep debt of gratitude. Its soldiers have acted with fortitude and courage and the regiment has earned its place alongside the greatest of British regiments. Its name is revered by every decent law-abiding citizen. Ulster applauds the gallantry, diligence and sacrifice of the UDR and gratefully acknowledges the contribution of all those men and women who have served or are serving in the regiment.
Unlike his counterparts in other British Army regiments, the UDR soldier faces attack not only when he is on duty but when he is at home or, if he is a part-timer, at work, and even during hours of recreation. He faces attack even after his term of service with the regiment ends. He lives within reach of his enemy and is known by the enemy. For the remainder of his life or the duration of the conflict he will be a target. Given that sober reality, people should judge not the UDR but those who denigrate its service. I shall return to that issue.
We must examine exactly why we have reached the present situation. I listened carefully to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), in which he expressed in detail his worries and concerns. Having done that, how can he sit on the sidelines and not vote on this important issue? That is a disservice to the UDR and to the men and women who have served in it over the past 22 years. Every Ulster Member should register the strongest possible protest at the removal of a distinguished regiment which has served the British people of Northern Ireland with great courage and distinction.
I trust that the House will wise up to what it is doing and will reject the proposal to remove the Ulster Defence Regiment from the streets of Northern Ireland. Other issues must he addressed. Hon. Members have paid glowing tributes to the Ulster Defence Regiment. I therefore cannot understand why we should rush to get rid of the regiment before the election. Why is there such undue haste to pass the legislation and ensure the removal of the UDR? Perhaps Her Majesty had an inkling of what the Government intended to do when she came to the Province and put her seal of approval on the UDR—firing a shot, as it were, across the Government's bows. Despite glowing tributes from Her Majesty and from hon. Members, however, we are saying goodbye to the UDR and saying that we do not want it.
Those who do not vote against the Bill are accepting the end of the regiment. If hon. Members believe the glowing tributes to the value of the UDR and believe that the sacrifice that it has made and is making is worth while, they should not allow their names to be associated with the removal of the regiment. It is significant that on the day the Bill was introduced we gathered in the House to hear a statement about the worst monthly figures for many years for murder and other atrocities in the Province. We were told about the atrocities at Teebane and on the Ormeau road. Yet the Government thought that that was a due and proper time to signal to all and sundry that the Ulster Defence Regiment was to cease to exist. The Government will live to regret that signal because the vast majority of those who serve in the regiment think that, once again, it was a signal showing that terrorism and those who parade black propaganda against the security forces in Northern Ireland can succeed. Northern Ireland has been well served by the gallant members of the UDR, and they could give equally gallant service in the future.
We are constantly told that the SDLP is the constitutional party of Northern Ireland. Its members are missing from the debate. They have no reason to come because their electorates are not bothered about the Bill. None of the people who vote for the SDLP or who choose to support it will be annoyed at the removal of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I suppose that SDLP Members are not here because they feel that others will do the dirty work for them and will put the knife in and betray. If the Bill passes into law it will be a gross betrayal of the UDR and those who serve in it. This is a sad day, because it marks the continuation of a policy of appeasement of the enemies of the United Kingdom. The Library reference sheet states:
The Army bill 1992 is in part a result of the reductions in the British Army undertaken under 'Options for Change'.
On 23 July 1991, the Secretary of State for Defence announced changes to the British Army structure and a number of amalgamations of regiments. He said:
we are taking the opportunity to bring the Ulster Defence Regiment more fully into the Army by merging it with the Royal Irish Rangers. The new regiment will comprise one battalion for worldwide service and up to seven battalions for service in Northern Ireland only".—[Official Report, 23 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 1034.]
In a moment I shall develop the first statement, which is to be found in the House of Commons Library sheet.
The Army Bill 1992 is "in part" a result of the reduction in the British Army. What is the other ingredient? We find an answer in the reference sheet and in another statement issued by Government sources. In 1970, the Ulster Defence Regiment came into existence. Those who can recollect the situation at that time will remember the vilification of the Ulster Special Constabulary and its betrayal by the Government of the day.
There are few hon. Members in the House who can understand the betrayal felt by the people of Northern Ireland when the Ulster Special Constabulary was removed from the streets of Northern Ireland. Until that time, the IRA was held at bay—it was defeated because of the excellent local intelligence and the mode of operations carried on by the local community special constabulary.
As a result of the effectiveness of the USC in deterring IRA operations, nationalist republican politicians and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church agitated against the USC. The Government of the time decided to buy the suggested appeasement policy. That day marked a retrograde step for the safety of my constituents and of the people of Northern Ireland.
We have paid. When I say "we", I mean that the people of Northern Ireland—British subjects in Ulster—have paid a tremendous price in their own blood for that folly, mistake and betrayal. Whether people like it or not, I must say that, had the Ulster Special Constabulary been on the roads now, we would not be standing here, 22 years on, with a worse catalogue of tragedy, murder and destruction than we had at the time.
Consider what happened immediately afterwards. A signal was given then. The IRA accepted the signal that the Government were not willing to take it on and defeat it, but would give in to the suggested appeasement. The IRA accepted that signal and its campaign of terror went into top gear.
If anyone needs to know what I am talking about, let him look at the statistics sheet that I have here. It is a graph which shows exactly what happened when the signal was given to the terrorists that the Government were not willing to take them on but bowed to pressure—the vilification and black propaganda used against the Ulster Special Constabulary. In this graph we notice that in 1970 there were 25 murders. Once the signal was given in 1971, there were 174 murders, and in 1972 there were 467 murders. Why? Because of the signal given by the useless Government of the time that they were not willing to take the terrorists on but that appeasement was the policy of the day.
One will never appease terrorists. One has to defeat terrorism and one can only do so with the expertise of local people who know terrorists and who know their hide-outs.
I have great respect for the young men in the other British regiments who come from across the water to Northern Ireland and I know many of them. When they come many of them do not know where they are. Two young men sadly experienced that on the Falls road. They did not know where they were and they went into a crowd of republican supporters. Tragically, they came to a sad and brutal end, as we all remember.
Therefore, it is a serious matter to give a signal to terrorists. That signal was given more than 20 years ago and the Ulster Special Constabulary was removed.
What happened as soon as the Ulster Defence Regiment was born? At the time we were told that the answer was a regiment which was more representative of the community. We were told that the Ulster Special Constabulary was the problem. Get rid of it and we would be well on the way to peace and everyone would accept the alternative. That was until the alternative came about.
So the Ulster Special Constabulary was moved aside and the UDR came in. No sooner was it formed than the agitation recommenced—this time against the UDR. It was no surprise to those of us who knew that appeasement does not pay—but it was a surprise to some—that the agitation came from exactly the same group who had put out black propaganda against the USC. Capitulation and appeasement encouraged greater demands, and agitation for the removal of the UDR started.
Just after that time, I remember driving down the road in my car, listening to an hon. Member of this House—who is missing tonight—on the radio. He had just campaigned for the removal of the USC, saying that it was the worst thing that had ever existed, that we needed a new regiment and that he promised to give it a fair wind. He has told the Minister and us the very same thing in the newspapers, although he is not telling us that today as he is not here. I heard the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) say that the UDR was even worse than the Ulster Special Constabulary. The Government accept that he is one of the "moderates" in a nationalist community. People who live in Ulster were not surprised by the agitation because they know that nationalists have never supported anything which supported Ulster within the United Kingdom.
Is it not a fact that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) carried out a continual campaign of vilification of the Ulster Defence Regiment? So much so that no Unionist in the Assembly would sit when he was in the House because, after those attacks, so many men were murdered. A lot of UDR men were murdered at that time.
I confirm to the House the truth of that statement. Often after the vilification of the UDR by the hon. Member for Newry and Amagh there was an IRA atrocity. The IRA jumped on the bandwagon of that vilification and used it as its excuse to murder Ulster Defence Regiment personnel. The only people who know exactly how hard the people of Ulster took that vilification and how angry they have been are people who have visited and talked to the families in their homes. That situation has carried on until tonight. There has been no let-up in the campaign against the Ulster Defence Regiment.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) who spoke a few moments ago from the Government Back Benches gave us a clear understanding of the vilification and how strong it was. The sad feature is that whenever right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies ask Ministers to condemn southern politicians for their meddling interference in the affairs of Northern Ireland, and especially those of the security forces, thus costing the lives of security force personnel, there is always a weak reply. It seems that no rebuke can clearly be given. I do not know what happens behind closed doors, but no encouragement is given to the community when foreign Ministers of a foreign country can vilify the forces of law and order of a part of the United Kingdom and United Kingdom Ministers cannot stand up for them, protest, and rebuke them to their face.
The oxygen for terrorist attacks was once again pumped out in republican propaganda against a body of men and women whose chief crime was to desire the defence of their home and hearth.
In a Library briefing—reference sheet 92/4, page 2, paragraph 4(a)—the UDR has been criticised by Catholics, it appears, for its alleged Protestant bias. These allegations have been supported by the Irish Government, who have called persistently for the UDR's disbandment. More than one third of the population of Northern Ireland is Catholic but Catholics represent only 3 per cent. of the UDR personnel. Surely that begs a question, and similarly it begs an answer. Were there no factors that gave rise to that representation? The answer is no; there are several relevant factors.
The new regiment was opposed from the beginning by the Social Democratic and Labour party. There was no fair wind. The Ulster Special Constabulary was out and a new bandwagon was rolling against the UDR. The Roman Catholic community has an 18 per cent. representation in the regiment and we have been told this evening that instead of a 30 per cent. representation in the Royal Irish Rangers the real figure is 24 per cent. That is close to the 18 per cent. who originally joined the UDR. What happened to reduce 18 per cent. to 3 per cent.? Did those people just disappear? Did they retire? Did they become weary of having to put on a uniform and go out? The answer is no to all those questions.
The truth is that members of the UDR who were Roman Catholics were harassed, harried, abused and ostracised. By whom? Let me answer the question. That was done by the constitutional nationists who sit in the House and by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, who never once to this very night have supported the UDR and who have never called upon the members of the community to face the terrorists.
It is all very well to sit on the sidelines and criticise. It is lovely to be an armchair general sitting by the fire and having the privilege of criticising everything that is done by the security forces. That is very easy provided that that person does not ask any of his supporters to join the fight and face the terrorists. The members of the Roman Catholic community who joined the UDR—the 18 per cent. of its membership—found themselves ostracised at their place of worship, at their place of work, and within their families. This might be unpalatable to some people but it is the truth. Anyone who does not believe what I am saying should leave his ivory tower.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) talked about the clerical gentlemen in the Province. They should leave their ivory towers and come and see what is actually happening. They should experience what others have gone through. There were Roman Catholic UDR men who could not return to their families. In some instances their families did not want them. That was because they happened to put on the UDR uniform.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) talked about a young Roman Catholic member of the UDR whom he knew well. The undertaker would not bury him. It was necessary to bring in an undertaker from 25 miles away. That young man had committed one sin: he happened to wear the uniform of the UDR. He was murdered by the IRA and he could not be carried in peace to his grave. He was ostracised to the very place of his burial. That is what the 18 per cent. experienced. It is sad that there are some who are not here this evening to answer for their crimes.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that that has happened in police families as well. A sergeant in the town of Newry was murdered by the IRA. What happened? His grave was desecrated. It was opened to receive his body. He could not be buried by the local Roman Catholic Church. He had to be taken to Banbridge. He was a voter in my constituency and I was at the funeral. It took place not in Newry, where the man lived and had his family, but in Banbridge. As I have said, his grave was desecrated.
I thank my hon. Friend for that information. It must be realised that the majority of those in the Roman Catholic community who put on the uniform of the UDR, or that of the RUC, have to move from their place of residence. They are permitted to return only on certain occasions if their families are happy for them to come home. Only rarely are they allowed to return home to see their families, and only on particular occasions.
The Roman Catholic members of the UDR were pilloried and ostracised by their politicians and their church officials. They discouraged them—and "discouraged" is the mildest word that I can use in the circumstances. The Dublin Government unrelentingly opposed the UDR and used every opportunity to accuse it of being a force of hate against the nationalist community. If they were really interested, some might ask whether the charge made by the Dublin Government and the nationalist representatives was justified. The answer lies in the real statistics.
Since 1970—that is 22 years ago—17 members of the UDR have been convicted of murder. It is right to say that that is 17 too many. It must he remembered, however, that it is being questioned whether four of the 17 were wrongfully convicted and sentenced. So we are down to 13, but 13 out of how many? There must be a proper perspective. The answer is 13 out of the 48,000 men and women who have passed through the ranks of the UDR.
There have been 13 bad apples. If a search was made of all the regiments of the British Army and of all ranks of the police forces throughout the United Kingdom, would there be a ratio equivalent to only 13:48,000? Did the 13 constitute a reason for a campaign of vilification? What did the hon. Member for Foyle say? In the midst of all this vilification and propaganda and Dublin saying that the UDR must be removed, the hon. Member for Foyle had to admit that only 0.28 per cent. of deaths in Northern Ireland troubles were attributable to the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is contrary to the black propaganda pumped out by some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues who are against the UDR. He added:
Republican terrorists have killed 250 times as many, but successive Governments are still unfortunately playing around with that bunch of terrorist rats that are responsible for those killings in our Province.
Given that a much higher percentage of deaths were attributed to the rest of the British Army and even to the RUC, why was there no agitation to disband those forces? It is because it would not get a hearing—it would not get a wind. But when black propaganda against the UDR is put out, many run to listen. Also in the official document to which I referred is the statement that "many hundreds" of UDR members have been convicted of lesser offences—but they include even car offences.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North reminded the House of the Stevens inquiry, and of how all the vans, armoured cars, and machine guns were rolled out to capture UDR men at 6 o'clock in the morning and to bring them in. He did not tell the House of the words of an assistant chief constable, who said that the crime of the few who were found guilty was one of which he, or any of his officers, could have been found guilty at any time during their years of active service in the RUC.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann spoke of an incident in my constituency where, in recent days, three members of the UDR were also treated in a despicable fashion. No charges were brought, but they were thrown out of the UDR and told that they would never again be allowed on a UDR base. Will the Minister explain how the arrest of those three men was reported by the media just a few moments after it occurred? No charges were made against those men, but they were dismissed, and they remain the subject of suspicion.
I will tell the House of an incident involving an IRA man who was returning from the funeral of one of his IRA colleagues. When he was stopped at a checkpoint, he told the soldier on duty, "If you want to know who murdered the man whose funeral I attended today, here are the names." He took a book from the soldier's hand and wrote down the names of those who he said were guilty, and told the soldier to go and get them. We are now seeing IRA evidence behind the movements of certain members of the security forces. Let us remember the 200 UDR men and women murdered by IRA terrorists. I could show right hon. and hon. Members a photograph taken at a wedding showing the bride, groom, best man, and a bridesmaid. The only one left alive today is the bride. The best man was murdered, the bridesmaid was murdered, and so was the groom. Of that wedding party, only one person remains alive. That is the kind of sacrifice made by people on the border whom the House has decided must go. They were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. They did not join to travel the world—if they had wanted that, they would have joined other regiments. They joined the UDR to defend their homes and their hearths.
The Minister and others say that the change is being made to improve the regiment's career structure. I assure the Minister that the people in my constituency who joined the UDR did not do so for the sake of their careers, but to allow their kids to enjoy a career—to protect Ulster, and to bring it back to peace and stability so that their children would not have to grow up in the nightmare of terrorism that my kids have known.
My eldest daughter is 18, and not one day of her life has gone by without her witnessing trouble, violence, or tragedy in our Province. UDR men and women put on a uniform, not to have a career themselves, but to ensure that their kids would have the possibility of a career in whatever sphere of life they saw as their vocation.
Two hundred UDR men and women and 44 ex-UDR members have been murdered, and 377 seriously wounded, by IRA terrorists. In a recent attack in my constituency, the headmaster of a school in Castlederg who is a part-time UDR officer was driving to work in the early hours of the morning when he noticed a man walking a dog. It all looked simple. In the providence of God, he happened to look in his rear view mirror, and saw the man with the dog putting a walkie-talkie to his mouth—for he was the IRA scout man. The headmaster, realising that he would probably come under attack, took evasive action—and four gunmen immediately appeared to do him to death. Tonight he is in hospital but, thank God, he survived that murderous attempt.
The UDR has demonstrated its unfailing commitment to the peace of Northern Ireland. Tonight, the sacrifice made by the men and women of the UDR is being thrown back in their faces. The courage of that body of Ulster men and women is beyond words of commendation; yet action is being taken to remove that gallant force, which is urgently needed at a time of one of the bloodiest onslaughts that our Province has ever faced. The decision to remove the UDR at this moment cannot be condemned strongly enough.
The Bill heralds the end not of an era, but of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Conservative party research department refers to "The End of the UDR," saying:
The Bill winds up the UDR at the end of June 1992".
I ask the Minister what happens if the Bill goes through. I trust that it is not a foregone conclusion, as it will not be if there are those who are willing to listen to the argument. But the Benches all around are empty. There is one hon. Member on the Benches of Her Majesty's Opposition for a Bill that could cost the lives of the people of Northern Ireland. That speaks volumes. When the vote comes—and it will come, the House will divide—hon. Members will come out of the woodwork. Why will they vote? Will they
vote because they have listened to the arguments or because they believe? No. They will vote because they are told to vote to take out the Ulster Defence Regiment. Talk about voting fodder!
Unfortunately, my constituents will pay the price. There is no doubt that very few of those who vote tonight will ever bother to meet a widow or to speak to a child who will suffer through their decision. It is just a routine, a very costly one.
There is money in the coffers of the UDR that was raised by the people of Ulster for the Ulster defence benevolent fund. It was raised for the UDR because of the sacrifice its members made, and for the widows and children who are left. What happens to that money? Does the UDR get it, or does it go to the new regiment?
We are told in the document that the merger has political advantage. That is the other part of it. It is political—it is a piece of political movement. It is a numbers game, so that the community can be told that it is a more representative regiment. Of course, it will be. There are two parts to the regiment: those who will be travelling the world and the others who will be staying. It will be most interesting to find out what percentage of those who join will be facing the terrorists in Northern Ireland and living in the community. This will be seen exactly. One can fool some of the people some of the time, but about the representatives who are facing the real brunt of this terrorism we shall not be fooled any of the time. Every action will be scrutinised.
Unfortunately, tonight the decision will be taken and it will mean the demise of one of the most gallant regiments that has ever faced a foe—a regiment which, had it been given the tools and the support, could already have finished the job on behalf of all the services of the United Kingdom.
The need to have local people involved in local security forces in a terrorist situation is admitted by anyone who has ever taken the most casual glance at the terrorist organisations that have been faced not only by our own armed forces but by many others throughout the world. I believe that it would also be accepted that it is those local forces that do the most necessary work of building confidence in the communities in which they live and move, rather than the regular armed forces of either the state in question or an outside state coming in to help.
I am glad to see that he indicates assent to my words, because it means that he recognises with great clarity that the UDR is an absolutely vital component if the IRA is to be defeated and peace restored.
It is because the Minister has given certain assurances about the new regiment that, while we are not overjoyed, to put it mildly, by the appearance of the Bill, we are unwilling to vote against it, for that would send a signal to many members of the UDR that would not be completely accurate. But we shall certainly be keeping a fairly close eye on the situation to see whether the assurances that have been given are fully honoured, not only in the immediate future, but in the long term.
The question has always been what sort of a force is needed to defeat a terrorist organisation and how it should be structured, trained and used. What is the job to be done by the UDR in Northern Ireland?
I am one of the few Members in this House who served in the Ulster Special Constabulary. I lived, and still live, in a nationalist area. Like the rest of that organisation, I was subject to a massive campaign of vilification, which had more to do with the vapours of Irish republicanism than with reality.
Unfortunately, it was not only the House that believed those stories. There was a weakness in the Stormont Parliament at that time, which allowed that force to be disbanded. There are those who say to me now that we could never have stopped the IRA at its present level, but the reality is that it was not at its present level at that time. I believe that, if that force had been used fully and comprehensively, the IRA would never have become the force that it is today.
I was proud to serve in that force. I recall very clearly even to this day the bitter resentment that I and many thousands of others who served felt—the resentment that I still feel and will carry to my grave. I will never forgive those who did that to the force of which I was a member. I am concerned this evening that there are those in the UDR who, if the assurances given are not honoured, will have the same feeling of bitterness against the Minister.
The UDR was raised initially to be locally based. It was supposed to be able to attract a large number of Roman Catholics. I do not want to rehearse all that has been said in this debate, but I hope that hon. Members who take a real interest in the security position in Northern Ireland and want to refresh their memories will read Hansard slowly and carefully.
We are told that, in the early days, the UDR was a representative force, but there are a great many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland who are simply Republicans, and there is no way that any Republican could ever join a force which was designed to maintain the union. It was therefore representative of the Unionist population of Northern Ireland in the widest sense rather than of Protestants and Roman Catholics. That should be borne in mind.
The force was immediately attacked by the enemies of the Union, and it has been attacked by them right up to the present day. The Stevens inquiry was another sign of weakness, and it was one of the most foolish episodes with which we have ever had to live. It is the Government's job to keep the activities of the armed forces of the Crown under control, but the Nelson case—that whole strange episode involving Army intelligence—has left more questions in its wake than have yet been answered.
Anyone who thinks that, in a climate of terrorism, an agent can be put into any terrorist organisation and expected to have clean hands and live is a fool of the highest order. It simply cannot be done. I hope that, with the ending of that case, the intelligence network that is used against terrorists in Northern Ireland will be sorted out once and for all—that in future it will be controlled comprehensively and centrally, and properly run.
In his opening speech, to which I listened very carefully, the Minister said that changes had taken place in the force since its formation. Those changes have, among other things, moved the force away from its former local character, which was one of the greatest strengths of the old B force. Slowly but surely, it was given more of a Regular Army structure. We had the part-timers; then we had the full-timers—the permanent cadre; now we have the nonsense about career prospects.
As the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) pointed out so clearly and forcefully, people do not join the UDR for a career; if they want a military career, they will go into the regular military forces. As soon as terrorism disappears, the UDR will shrink radically, and will probably disappear. The Minister knows that perfectly well. Most people who join the UDR join with the aim of defeating the terrorist organisation that is the source of the evil—the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
I listened with astonishment when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told the House last Thursday that some 40 to 50 per cent. of those who are now being charged have no previous terrorist trace—in other words, that intelligence has not traced them in such a connection, and they have not been picked up before. Knowing the right hon. Gentleman as I do, I have no doubt that that is perfectly true, but it is still a very misleading statement to make in the House.
The general public will have been given the impression that the intelligence organisations of the security forces know about only 40 to 50 per cent. of active IRA men. That is highly inaccurate. Most of those who are charged are very new members of the IRA; they have not been charged before, because they have only just come to the attention of the police, and, given the psychological pressures that can now be exerted in the course of cross-examination, greenhorns will break. When the police arrest a dedicated, experienced gunman, they keep him sitting there for seven days, and then he walks out of the door and waves goodbye—until he is next picked up. He does not break.
The vast majority of those who are charged with and convicted of IRA and other terrorist activities are relative newcomers. The truth is that police intelligence in regard to the IRA is very good: the police have a very clear idea of the identity of most of the leading players.
The proposed change in the UDR takes us further down the road to an apparently ideal situation in which we have—as the Minister told us—a more professional force. I shall return to that word "professional". In reality, however, the essential nature of the force will remain the same: it will be a locally recruited and locally used force.
The change is portrayed as an attempt to introduce more Roman Catholics into the force. That is nonsense. If the Government are trying to confuse people by bandying statistics, they can forget it. People in Northern Ireland are not that stupid: the Unionist population are not that stupid, and I can tell the Minister that the republican element—including the IRA—are not either. They know perfectly well, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) pointed out—they will read Hansard tomorrow, too—that 24 per cent. of the Regular Army who are members of the Royal Irish Rangers are Roman Catholics. When the merger takes place, that proportion will be a sight less.
As the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster pointed out, the proportion of Roman Catholics in the locally used and recruited force—those who will be active on the roads—will not rise very much, unless they are drafted in from the Regular Army; and the chances are that those who are now in the Regular Army did not join to spend their time on the roads of Northern Ireland. They joined to find a military career which would take them wherever the British Army went. Let us have a bit of honesty.
Let the Government not forget that the IRA says that it wants the British and their supporters out of Ireland. That was made clear to me again very recently. The same applies to Sinn Fein and its fellow travellers. In fact, I believe that members of Sinn Fein have to be members of the IRA, because, as it is the IRA army command that runs the outfit, their orders will not be taken if they are not members. The supporters to whom I refer include those sitting on these Benches, and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster. They include every Unionist who votes for the Union. The IRA is not interested in getting out British soldiers alone; it is interested in getting the British out, and the British are those who say that they are British—which means all of us.
The Minister said today that he wanted the part-timers retained. He said that they were an important element. They are more than that: they are the essential link—the living, vital link—with the local community from which they come. They are perhaps the most essential element in the whole structure. Without them, there is no UDR—no locally recruited and locally used force; there is a Regular Army force which is used in the area of recruitment, and that is a different animal.
There must be an easy way for UDR part-timers to join. There must be a relatively short-period of training, because they will lose their jobs if they stay away for too long. There must be no great change from the present conditions on which part-timers join, or they will not be there any more.
The Minister indicates assent. I am glad, because that means that he understands what we have been trying to say this evening.
These people should not be shifted from one end of the Province to the other; so far as is humanly possible, they should be used in their own immediate areas. That was the strength of the B force, and it is the real strength of the UDR part-timers—local men used among people they know.
I do not want to see part-timers brought into the force and then used for guard duties only. Men will not join to do guard duty. This time I do not see from the Government Front Bench assent to what I am saying, but I hope that, before I finish, that assent will be forthcoming. Those men need to be out on the road, and I hope that the Minister will be prepared to give me a guarantee that the part-timers will be used in that way. It is out on the road that they are most useful. People who know that they would not be used in that way simply will not join.
The Ulster Defence Regiment needs Northern Ireland officers—people born and brought up in Northern Ireland, people who know the local community, who know what has to be done, who know the sort of force they are dealing with. Any Regular Army officer who comes to the UDR must suffer a fair degree of cultural shock. UDR officers, as well as men on the ground, need training in anti-terrorist techniques. Combating terrorism is their main role in life. Such people do not expect ever to face a Russian armoured attack on the north German plain; they are expected to deal with a gunman with a hidden gun in a back street, or a man with a bomb lying behind a hedge. It is a different world and a different job. That is the kind of activity on which their training should have concentrated in the past. I hope it was, and I hope that it will be so concentrated in the future.
We need a close interface with the RUC. The concept of the RUC as the leading body in the fight against the IRA must be tied very tightly into the whole anti-terrorist structure. The hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson), as always when we are dealing with Northern Ireland affairs, made an excellent speech. I am sorry that he has left the Chamber, and I am far more sorry that in a few weeks' time he will cease to be a Member. He has been a steadfast friend of Ulster, and, in respect of Northern Ireland matters, one of the few sane voices among Great Britain Members.
In an excellent speech the hon. Gentleman drew attention to the unique position occupied by the Greenfinches in the UDR. The unique nature of the Greenfinches underlines the unique nature of the UDR. The regiment developed from highly suspicious beginnings. In my view, it was a sop to the Unionist community. It changed and developed to meet the developing situation, and the Greenfinches were part of the change and the development. The UDR exists only because, 22 or 23 years ago, the Government got the security needs of the security situation wrong. At that time, they did not give any weight to Unionist opinion. I hope that they will now start to give weight to that opinion.
There is a very real and dangerous job to be done. The structure of the forces must be right, and I hope that the Government are getting it right. The training too must be right, as must the interface with the police. I said earlier that I had listened intently to the Minister when he talked about a more professional military body. It is all very well to talk about a more professional military body if one is facing an enemy in the Gulf, as happened last year, or dealing with a Russian armoured attack on the north German plain—which, thank God, it seems we shall never now have to do. But here we are dealing with a different situation, and the UDR must be more than a professional military body.
It has to provide an interface with the people on the ground, with the terrorists and with the police. It has to act as a back-up for the police, and do all these other things. I have always thought that what we in Northern Ireland need is something more like a police force than an Army force locally recruited. However, the Government have chosen not to go down that road. For 20 years, they have gone down another road. If there is to be a change, I hope that it will take account of some of our criticisms.
I believe that the IRA can be defeated, and the people in the UDR believe that the IRA can be defeated. But the Government have a part to play in the defeat. The views of my party and of the Democratic Unionist party have been put fairly forcefully to the Prime Minister and to Northern Ireland Ministers—not least during the past few weeks. I hope that what we are saying will be taken on board. If it is clearly recognised that the UDR is a unique force, and that the job that must be done by the locally recruited security forces in Northern Ireland is a unique and vital component in the whole anti-terrorist operation, perhaps wisdom will prevail and we shall see the force steadily improve in its capacity to deal with terrorism.
I hope and pray that the Government have got it right. If not, the fair wind that everybody is trying to give the Government at present in respect of security will be to no avail, and we shall pay a very heavy price. It is always very difficult to reverse a mistake.
Any Bill designed to create a Royal Irish Regiment out of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment must start by paying a great compliment to those who have served in the two regiments. The sacrifice made by not only serving personnel but those who have retired from the regiments is very unusual. Such personnel find that their family, their social lives and everything they do in their business are affected by their membership of the regiment in which they have served. There is no doubt that those who have served have made a supreme commitment to the Union of Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
When we heard what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said about people who live on the border and the extent to which their lives were in jeopardy, we became aware of the sacrifices that they make, in that they are liable to be killed at any time and to have their families executed because of the way in which they have supported the Union.
When considering the problems, we must be clear about the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are being intimidated into staying away from the border areas. As many hon. Members as possible should visit Northern Ireland and stay for at least a weekend to experience some of the problems. I do not think that hon. Members fully understand and appreciate the problems that their colleagues in Northern Ireland have to face when visiting the homes of their constituents to commiserate with parents for the sacrifices made by sons and daughters on behalf of the Union.
The border areas come under much heavier pressure than any other area because terrorists seem determined to exclude any opposition in those areas so that they have free access back and forth across the border. If there is any limitation of that access, they feel threatened, as happened recently when a brave man was able, off duty, to use his weapon and to claim the life of one of the terrorists who was trying to take his life. Terrorists are trying completely to clear the area so that they have free access. When I was there, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting with a Northern Ireland colleague the family of someone who had been murdered the previous day. It is a very sobering experience to see what our colleagues with constituencies in Northern Ireland have to cope with.
We should compliment our colleagues because they are also in considerable danger whenever they are in Northern Ireland. They have to undertake an enormous amount of security discipline. Their own families are very much at risk. Some of our colleagues have been killed by terrorists—that is a real threat—so their advice bureaux and all the other constituency work that they undertake in the Province have that additional dimension. We must, therefore, respect and have special regard for what they say.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr.Ross). I have particular respect for him and for the knowledge that he acquired as a member of the Ulster special constabulary. Its members, with their very detailed knowledge of the ground that they covered and where the trouble points were likely to be, were able to keep a much closer eye on the people of the area than the security forces can do today. Even if members of the security forces are there for two years, they do not really get to know the people and the area in the same way as members of the special constabulary knew those with whom they went to school and grew up.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East was right when he went on to mention the need for anti-terrorist techniques and said that there is a special requirement for any force that operates in Northern Ireland. It is not the same technique that is required when one is preparing to defend the central plains of Europe. That does not mean to say that professional people are unable to acquire those skills, provided they have sufficient training to enable them to do so.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) thinks that the Bill is insensitive. I appreciate and understand his concern about the loss of the word "Ulster", but I point out to him that whenever one introduces a Bill of this sort it will be the wrong time and that whatever one tries to do there is bound to be some event in that period that makes it a bad time for such an announcement. We must grasp the nettle. If we believe that it is necessary to do something, the decision to do it must be taken.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) mentioned those who, having been made redundant, might be recruited from elsewhere in the British forces and he hoped that those who had old scores to settle would not take advantage of the opportunity to enter the Royal Irish Regiment. I think that his fears are unfounded, and I hope that a considerable number of people will be prepared to share some of their valuable experience by serving in this regiment.
Effectiveness of security arrangements and the rule of law are essential ingredients in what we are trying to achieve in this area. They must be extremely high on our list of priorities.
I welcome the Bill because I have found, from my experience as a member of the Select Committee on Defence and from meeting many members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, that members of the UDR are looking for a proper career structure. The Bill will give them that opportunity. It will give a variety of which they can take much greater advantage. When the Ulster Defence Regiment was first set up, it was believed that it would be on a part-time reserve basis; now, about 50 per cent. form part of a permanent cadre. So the situation has undoubtedly changed over the life of the regiment.
The regiment has performed extraordinarily well. I am not one of those who criticise it because of the number of bad apples that it has had—bad apples can be found in any group of people. Fourteen, even out of so many, is an unfortunate figure, but one has to accept it. The rest of the people play a very valuable and important role.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that there are other good reasons for changing the structure. The opportunity to introduce British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens for recruitment instead of just British citizens is important. As other hon. Members have said, we hope that that will provide an opportunity for greater Roman Catholic involvement. I know that fears have been expressed, and it has been said, that when the Ulster Defence Regiment was first set up, it had many more Roman Catholics, but some of those have now left. I hope that we can introduce a new impetus in that direction, although I realise that as the Irish Republic becomes more prosperous we may not find it quite so easy to obtain recruits from the south as we have done in the past. Undoubtedly, the European Community has a lot to do with that.
We need to bring the personnel of the UDR into the structure of the rest of the Army. The correct and proper way to do that is through the creation of a new regiment—the Royal Irish Regiment. I strongly support the Bill.
Yesterday I re-read the debates that we had in the House in 1969 on the establishment of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Committee stage of the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill was taken on the Floor of the House, and the Minister in charge was the present deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I was a spokesman for the Conservative Opposition.
A hostile amendment to cut the proposed strength of the regiment from 6,000 to 4,000 was moved by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), and 25 hon. Members supported it. The mover of the amendment became chairman of the parliamentary Labour party. Of the supporters of the amendment, one—the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot)—became leader of the Labour party; one—the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel)—became leader of the Liberal party; and one—the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—is now the principal official Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland.
During that long debate, which ran from 7 pm until 9.30 the following morning, the Conservative party and, of course, the Ulster Unionists, invariably supported the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook against the criticisms of the present principal Labour spokesman on Northern Ireland.
I recall that some Labour party rebels, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, argued that the new Ulster Defence Regiment was bound to become a replica of the B Specials. I then said:
It seems to me inconceivable that in the foreseeable future any Minister at the Department"—
the Ministry of Defence—
will not want the regiment to reflect a proper balance of the communities in Northern Ireland…If it is 100 per cent. sectarian, it can only be because one section of the community chooses not to come forward."—[Official Report, 1 December 1969; Vol. 792, c. 1149.]
As many hon. Members have reminded us, when the UDR was set up many Catholics came forward, and 18 per cent. of the regiment were Catholics. Their numbers soon dwindled for reasons forcefully pointed out to us by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). It is ironic that, in the debate on the setting up of the UDR, the attack on that regiment was led by the then hon. Member
for Mid-Ulster, Bernadette Devlin. I hope that she will read the forceful words of the present hon. Member for Mid-Ulster.
Catholic UDR members were attacked at home and Catholic recruitment could have been maintained only if the political leaders of the constitutional parties who drew their main strength from the Catholic community had issued an unequivocal call to young Catholic men and women to join the regiment. Sadly, that call never came.
When the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, I once again hoped that part of the price paid would be an unequivocal call from the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour party and from other leaders of the Catholic community for young men and women from that community to join the UDR and the security forces. One might have hoped that the leaders of the SDLP would be here and might have given a word of encouragement even at this late hour for members of their community to join the new regiment. Sadly, that has not happened and I now wonder whether it can ever happen.
We must all hope that the new regiment will play a leading role in protecting the whole population of Northern Ireland. I tend to agree with the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). The whole question of intelligence and of intelligence gathering is more important than regimental organisation. The key to success now, as it has been, is not increased patrols on the streets of Belfast, although that may help to relieve the fears of the public. If we really want to stop the terrorists, it means more tapped telephones, more electronic surveillance—or bugging, to put it more bluntly—more interrogation of suspects, and more use of informers and double agents. The intelligence world is bound to be untidy, but the recent trial in Belfast suggests that, at the least, co-ordination could be improved.
The disturbances and killings in recent weeks have underlined and strengthened the argument which some of us have put forward in recent months that "Options for Change" and the reduction of the strength of the infantry in the British Army has gone too far. I have consistently argued that the cuts in the infantry battalions are too deep and that the main threat that we face comes from the sort of low intensity operations in which we are embroiled on the streets of Belfast and in the villages of south Armagh.
The Conservative party's defence policy is infinitely superior to that put forward by our principal opponents. The upsurge of sectarian murders and the calls for yet more soldiers to be sent to the Province illustrate the problem of overstretch that we have all been discussing. There is a real danger of battalions having to go to Northern Ireland ever more frequently. I hope, therefore, that after the general election a new team of Conservative defence Ministers will look again at that argument.
I understand that in a few moments the House is to divide on the merger of the regiments, but I am sure that there is no division in the House on the debt that we owe to the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the brave way in which they have served the whole community of Northern Ireland in the past 22 years since we set up that regiment.
I shall be interested to know which way the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) intends to vote. He went to great lengths to show how he has supported the Ulster Defence Regiment over the years and also went out of his way to liken his strength of feeling with that expressed by Democratic Unionist Members. I shall be interested to know whether he will follow their suit if a Division is called and vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
We intend to do as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) said at the outset of the debate—to give the Government our full support on the Bill's Second Reading.
I have heard bits of all the speeches. I have left the Chamber from time to time, but I shall not fall into the trap, as an hon. Friend did last week, of giving the reasons why I had to do so. Suffice it to say that I have the full flavour of the debate. I shall respond to some of the points that have been raised.
First, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate with such clarity and for taking us through the Bill so closely. Although the Bill is not long, even the Ministry of Defence did not feel that a statutory basis was required to change the position of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Minister's speech shows how quickly he and his civil servants have learnt what all the clauses stand for and what the changes are likely to be.
The Minister has our total support on two of the points that he made. He says that the Government are absolutely committed to upholding the rule of law and police primacy in Northern Ireland. Clearly, there is a bipartisan position on that commitment. Perhaps he could have a word with the hon. Member for Beckenham, as there appeared to be some disagreement on that point.
I am pleased to hear that we agree on the word "clarity", if nothing else.
If we felt that the proposed amalgamation would undermine the fight against terrorism in the Province, we would not support the Bill. It is because the Labour party feels that the proposed amalgamation will strengthen the security forces in assisting the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the fight against terrorism that we shall vote for the Bill, if a Division takes place.
In his initial remarks, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) seemed to be trying to cause dissension and perhaps jealousy among spokespersons of the official Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North on his balanced representation of the official Opposition views on the Bill. I believe that, when the official Opposition speak on affairs affecting the Province, we always present a balanced view. Can the right hon. Gentleman name occasions and give examples when any official Opposition spokesperson speaking on Northern Ireland affairs has ever expressed anything other than a balanced view? The right hon. Gentleman may sometimes have disagreed with our views, but that does not mean that they were not presented in a fair and balanced way.
It is true that from time to time the views of the Labour party's Front-Bench spokesmen on Northern Ireland matters do not find a ready response from the Ulster Unionist party or the Democratic Unionist party. I was paying compliments to those on the Opposition Front Bench, but I hope that my comments will not damage their electoral prospects.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will not damage our prospects.
On a more serious point, the right hon. Gentleman expressed some pessimism as to whether the enrolment of Catholics in the new regiment would be at the same level as it now is in the Royal Irish Rangers. Although I accept that there are grounds for his pessimism, I hope that we share the feeling that more Catholics would think it worth while serving in the new regiment if we could provide the protection required to increase their ratio. Despite the right hon. Gentleman's pessimism, I hope that that is something that we both wish to see, and I hope that it will happen.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley also said that he hoped that amalgamation would not be used to weaken the contribution of locally recruited soldiers. I certainly agree with him on that, and I hope that the Minister will assure us on that point.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the House will not be surprised to hear that, once again, I totally disagree with everything that he said. He appeared to be advancing the view that the Bill was part of some grand conspiracy to undermine the Ulster Defence Regiment and to destabilise the security position in Northern Ireland. I totally disagree, and I am sure that the vast majority of hon. Members disagree too.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not like to leave the House with the idea that he had disagreed with my remarks about the gallantry of the Roman Catholic members of the UDR and the sorrow brought to the families to whom I referred.
I certainly do not disagree with those remarks. Later, if I have time, I shall add my praise and sorrow for those groups. But the hon. Gentleman's main political point was that the Bill is part of a grand conspiracy to undermine the UDR and further destabilise security in Northern Ireland. That is quite wrong, and the hon. Gentleman does a great disservice to everyone in Northern Ireland by continuing to advance that view.
The amalgamation cannot be interpreted as a sign of weakness. It does not amaze me that the hon. Member for Antrim, North should seek to introduce the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the debate. This measure cannot be interpreted as arising from the influence of the Irish Government. The need for amalgamation and reorganisation stems from the requirement to review the overall defence needs of the United Kingdom and to examine security requirements in the Province and the role of the Royal Irish Regiment in them.
I agreed with the opening remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who said that he and his party would judge the Bill by the effectiveness of security arrangements in the Province after amalgamation. I agree with that; I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his party concluded that they would not support the Bill if they had any doubts about the effectiveness of those arrangements after amalgamation. We take the same line.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) will be pleased to know that I agreed with at least two of his points. For perhaps the first time in the past 22 years, the point was made that more Ulster Catholics are involved in the fight against terrorism than are involved in terrorism. Without over-generalising, that at least shows that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the nationalist community who are just as determined as the majority community that terrorism is not the way to bring about political change.
After amalgamation, if there are proposed changes in the operational role of battalions based only in Northern Ireland, will the Minister give us some idea of what such changes might involve by comparison with the UDR's role today?
My old adversary, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), claimed that amalgamation is likely to besmirch the name of the UDR and in some way diminishes the valour of past and present members of it. I believe that I can carry the whole House with me by disagreeing with that. Members of all parties have paid tribute to the bravery and courage of the UDR, whose members will still have a leading part to play in the defence of the Province, in the fight against terrorism and as part of the new regiment.
I take offence when words like appeasement and betrayal are bandied about so freely in this House by an hon. Member. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the legislation does not appease terrorists. It does not betray the people of the Province or hand them to terrorists. We support it because it shows the terrorists that when change to the security forces is required we are prepared to support it so that the fight against terrorism can be carried on far better than it has been in the past. The hon. Gentleman should be a little more careful about his use of words such as appeasement and betrayal.
I am not at all surprised that some people feel like that. Perhaps it is because of their sense of identification with the Ulster Defence Regiment. Those feelings are misplaced and I cannot help feeling that they are engendered by some of the public remarks of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. [interruption.] We all wish to see a reduction in terrorist activity in the Province, and the majority of hon. Members agree that the Bill is a step forward in the fight against terrorists. Hopefully, it will lead to a reduction in terrorist activity.
I repeat that we recognise the courage, dedication and sense of duty that have led to so many people in the Province joining the Ulster Defence Regiment and assisting the RUC and other elements of the British Army in the fight against terrorism. We pay tribute to their bravery, and honour the hundreds of people who have died and those who have been injured in the fight against terrorism.
At a time of tremendous change in defence requirements, not just in the United Kingdom but throughout the world, it is inevitable that the UDR cannot stand isolated and immune from change. That does not indicate any weakening of our resolve to combat terrorism. On the contrary, I hope, and I think it is a shared hope, that the successor regiment to the UDR and the Royal Irish Rangers will be in the forefront in assisting the RUC in the continuing fight against terrorism from whichever quarter it springs.
The Bill is a step forward. We all recognise the difficulties that the UDR has faced in recruiting people from the minority community, and I do not wish to rehearse those arguments again. Whether one likes it or not, to some extent—I put it no higher than that—that has helped to alienate the UDR from the minority community. Our hope, which must be shared by all parties, is that the new regiment will be able to continue the tradition of the Royal Irish Rangers, which was able to recruit a much higher percentage of Catholics than the UDR. My view, and I think that of my party, is that if that were to happen the make-up of the new regiment would be more representative of the Province as a whole.
As the Minister said, the amalgamation will produce a less isolated, better trained and more professional force. I was pleased to hear that the Government intend to proceed with their earlier suggestion that individual soldiers will be switched between the general battalions and the home-based battalions. I hope that many hundreds of members of the new regiment will take advantage of that, because it offers great experience and will increase their professional opportunities.
The amalgamation must be genuine and not simply the absorption of one regiment by another. In forging a new identity it must absorb the best traditions of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment. We believe that it will and we wish it well.
With the leave of the House, I must say that this has been a spirited debate and I much appreciate the support that we have had from both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen.
The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) mentioned 750 redundancies in the regiment. He was referring to the amalgamation of the two regular battalions of the Royal Irish Rangers. He deduced from that that there would be 750 redundancies. Natural wastage will take place to some degree, so we would not expect that number. I would not want anyone to get the impression that the reductions in numbers in the Regular Army will affect the UDR. We do not envisage the members of the home service battalions being affected by that measure.
We are working on an enhanced resettlement package, which would read across to the Army and would be available to anyone who was made redundant. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to make an announcement about that in the not-too-distant future.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) told us about three of his constituents who were forced out of the UDR on the ground that they were Catholics and were coming under enormous pressure locally. He also went on to tell us about the great dangers for UDR recruits who live near the border with the Republic. I certainly accept that. I must admit that those who joined up showed enormous courage and it is a great tragedy that there is such a small percentage of Roman Catholics in the UDR. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the price of amalgamation was the abandonment of the UDR's role in Northern Ireland. I can say categorically that that is not the case. We are doing this because we value the role that the UDR plays in Northern Ireland and we want that role to continue.
However, we must constantly remind ourselves that the basic reasons for what we are doing are military. We are saying that we want a more professional, better trained number of people in the home service battalions. Once we start to go down the road of saying that the main reason is to recruit more Catholics or to provide a sop to the Dublin Government, we are all over the place. The main reasons are military. We believe that as a result we shall have more professional soldiers, who will have greater opportunities. It is important to remember that that is the rationale of what we are trying to do. If we go down the road of being concerned about other issues, we shall be badly diverted from the main point.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley was also worried that training would be increased to a level where part-timers would not be able to keep up. He had a reservation about that. Today the training of part-timers has to be dealt with with enormous sensitivity by commanding officers. We realise that some people are available and can take off blocks of days for training. Other part-timers in the UDR are not able to do so. It is not our intention to work some surreptitious scheme to get rid of part-timers. We very much value them. For those who can make the time available, there will be opportunities to train on the mainland. The general view is that the soldiers would enjoy the opportunity to go to the mainland—where they would have different training facilities—and that they will probably be safer while they are there than they would be in Northern Ireland. A soldier will also be able to choose to serve in Northern Ireland, without any prejudice to his career. I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that undertaking.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley is also concerned about the period of notice. I understand his concern about the possibility of changes to notice arrangements which currently apply to members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Under current plans, which we shall need to reflect in the new regulations, there wild be no change in the ability of a part-timer to give a month's notice of termination of service. That is important. Conditions of service covering the notice that a part-timer gives will remain as they are now.
As regards the permanent cadre, we have in mind that they should in future serve on engagements closer to those of the rest of the Army. That would involve a notice period of a year. As I said in my opening remarks, where there are special circumstances justifying a more rapid departure from the home service battalions, I would not expect there to be any problem in practice. These arrangements exist in the Regular Army and they will be used where necessary in the new regiment. If there are security reasons that mean that someone has to leave quickly, we shall be in a position to allow that to happen. In those circumstances, a commanding officer will not say, "No, we need a year's notice and you must stay in."
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley was concerned also about advertising for recruits and whether advertising for recruits was continuing. I can give him undertakings. In the financial year 1990–91, £110,000 was allocated and spent on UDR recruitment. There was advertising in newspapers and magazines, and occasionally on television. Recruitment is aimed generally at bringing in both full-time and part-time members, but on occasions it is directed specifically at either category. In the financial year 1991–92, £110,000 has again been allocated. Additional funds may be available to launch the new regiment. It is not possible to separate expenditure between that directed towards the permanent cadre and that which is aimed at part-time recruitment. Basically, it is normally aimed at both.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about members of home service battlions being forced to serve away from local areas and made a valuable point on local knowledge and its importance in the fight against terrorism. We greatly value the contribution of part-timers and the local knowledge that they can offer. The terms of service of part-timers remain substantially as they are now. There are no plans to post part-timers away from local areas.
The permanent cadre must be able to see a full and professional career for its members in service in the British Army. The military authorities will consider carefully the need for postings against the need to maintain local knowledge. There will be a balance to be struck. I do not expect any postings away from home battalions to be on a substantial scale, but they may take place occasionally if, for example, there is a need to make up for a recruiting shortfall in a particular area.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) told us a terrible story about an undertaker who would not bury a UDR Roman Catholic soldier who had been killed. He described the terrible feelings of the man's family and said that a hearse had to come from some 25 miles away. It was an awful story and indicative of the problems that so many brave young soldiers faced when they joined the UDR at the beginning. The hon. Gentleman asked for a guarantee that everyone who is in the UDR will be entitled to join the new regiment. I think that I can give him that. I think that I can say that anybody who is part of the UDR at the end of June will be offered a place in the new regiment. I believe that I have dealt with the opportunities to resign.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North asked about the closure of UDR bases. The bases and locations from which the security forces operate are, as the House knows, constantly reviewed. We are examining the locations from which the home service battalions will operate most effectively in future. Any changes will be designed to ensure the continuation of a strong security force presence throughout the Province. The bases are not free-standing locations but part of a central pattern of operating bases throughout the Province. We should not feel that the amalgamation will be a reason to start closing bases. As I have said, they are constantly under review. The hon. Gentleman will know that bases have been closed in the past and new ones opened.
The hon. Members for Antrim, North, for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) wanted to know what would happen to the UDR benevolent fund when the amalgamation has taken place. The fund is a registered charity which provides valuable support in the form of loans, grants and other welfare support to current and former members of the UDR and their families. It depends on voluntary contributions. Full arrangements for its administration after the merger have not been decided. I can confirm, however, that there are no plans for it to be wound up. It will continue to be available to provide assistance to those whom it helps now.
One of the problems that we have had throughout this debate is the briefing from the House of Commons Library. The Government are not responsible for that briefing, and it is made clear on the front of that document that it is independently produced. I do not think that all the information that it contains is quite accurate—including the percentage of Catholics in the Royal Irish Rangers. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking in respect of Ballykinler. Decisions are being made, but no conclusion has yet been reached.
As to help with housing, I do not see a substantial difference from the situation that the UDR enjoys today. Most of its members are not in the same position as those of the Regular Army, who have married quarters, and so on. Fundamentally, we will see much the same terms and conditions of employment as exist today.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members spoke of the gradual decline in the number of part-timers serving in the UDR. In recent years, increasing operational demands have been placed on the regiment and, as a result, the original part-time force has been transformed into one that is half part-time and half full-time, permanent cadre soldiers.
With the gradual increase in the permanent cadre, it appears that the community has increasingly seen the UDR's task as one for full-time, professional soldiers. Fewer part-time recruits have come forward, and there has been a gradual decrease in the strength of the UDR's part-time element. That has occurred through natural wastage over the years, and we expect that trend to continue. There is no policy to cut the number of part-time UDR soldiers.
The UDR's part-time element continues to fulfil an extremely valuable role in supporting the RUC in the fight against terrorism. There are no plans to disband the part-time UDR or to change its role. As I mentioned earlier, we are very grateful for the surge capability that it offers, when it comes to calling up the UDR's part-time element in extreme terrorist situations.
I thought that I had already dealt with that question. We have the same advertising budget as last year. It is aimed at recruiting permanent cadre and part-time UDR members, and will appear in newspapers and on television.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North that people did not join the UDR to become Regular soldiers. When the regiment was formed, its members thought that they were joining a reserve. At the beginning, the percentages were 10 per cent. permanent cadre and 90 per cent. part-timers. The part-timers thought that they would be called up only in an emergency, when the situation got out of hand.
As we know, the situation got out of hand the moment that they joined, and they have been called up ever since. Certainly, that is true of the permanent cadre. The regiment has changed as it has developed and has become more and more a professional body. The percentage of permanent cadre has risen, and as time has gone by, the attitude of UDR members has probably altered towards the whole business of being part of the British Army. For that reason, they will be extremely grateful for the opportunities to expand their careers in the British Army that the Bill will make available to them.
On the question of general service battalions serving in Northern Ireland—my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) raised this point—the new regiment will have its regular service battalions, which will serve alongside the home service battalions. There is no reason why this should not go on as in the past.
I very much commend the Bill to the House, and I hope that members of the Democratic Unionist party will find it possible to support it too.
|Division No. 81]||[10 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Amess, David||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Amos, Alan||Irvine, Michael|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Jack, Michael|
|Ashby, David||Janman, Tim|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Bellotti, David||Knapman, Roger|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Lamond, James|
|Boswell, Tim||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Bottomley, Peter||Latham, Michael|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Lewis, Terry|
|Brazier, Julian||Lightbown, David|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Livsey, Richard|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Lord, Michael|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Budgen, Nicholas||McCartney, Ian|
|Burt, Alistair||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Butterfill, John||Maclean, David|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Mans, Keith|
|Carrington, Matthew||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Chope, Christopher||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Cormack, Patrick||Mellor, Rt Hon David|
|Cran, James||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Cryer, Bob||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Mills, Iain|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Moate, Roger|
|Devlin, Tim||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Dixon, Don||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Norris, Steve|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Page, Richard|
|French, Douglas||Paice, James|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie||Reid, Dr John|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Riddick, Graham|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hardy, Peter||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Harris, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Hayes, Jerry||Skinner, Dennis|
|Haynes, Frank||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Snape, Peter|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Speller, Tony|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Stevens, Lewis||Warren, Kenneth|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Wells, Bowen|
|Summerson, Hugo||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)||Wilkinson, John|
|Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly)||Wilshire, David|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Thorne, Neil||Wood, Timothy|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Walker, Bill (T'side North)||Mr. Irvine Patnick and|
|Wardell, Gareth (Gower)||Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Kilfedder, James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Rev. William McCrea and|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Mr. Peter Robinson.|
|Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|