HL Deb 15 December 1969 vol 306 cc836-44

3.55 p.m.

Report stage resumed.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, put forward a similar Amendment during the Committee stage I undertook to see how far we could go to meet the substance of his proposal, short of a statutory commitment. The noble Lord said then that he would not be satisfied with anything else. I respect the force of his views, which I conveyed to my right honourable friend, but for the reasons which I gave during the Committee stage we do not think that a statutory duty to report to Parliament, even at stated intervals, is appropriate to the employment of the force on emergency service. I said at the time that we hoped that the emergency would not be prolonged into the indefinite future. But if it will help the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is prepared to make figures available quarterly to both Houses giving details of the employment of the force on the lines the noble Lord suggested. I hope that this undertaking, which I make on behalf of my right honourable friend, will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and my noble friend Lord Brockway.


My Lords, I cannot speak for the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in this matter; but he asked in his Amendment for periodical reports. not on a particular emergency. and so far as I am concerned I would therefore withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Short title and commencement]:


My Lords, before moving Amendment No. 4 I should like to raise a point of order. I do not quite know how to raise it. Amendment No. 4 was consequential to Amendment No. 1. I was associated with Amendment No. 1 and ready to participate in the debate upon it. I was in the Guest Room and I heard the loudspeaker announce that we were discussing the Judicial Standing Orders. After that, apparently, the loudspeaker arrangement did not operate, and therefore I came into the Chamber too late to speak to Amendment No. 1. The point of order I wish to raise is this: shall I be in order in moving Amendment No. 4 with a view, if necessary, to putting forward an Amendment in writing on Third Reading which would revert to the proposal in Amendment No. 1?


My Lords, I would, if I may, seek to deal with the point of order which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has raised. First, I understand that it is contrary to the Rules of the House to move manuscript Amendments on Third Reading. On behalf of the House as a whole I apologise that our lines of communication were not working and that therefore the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, was unable to participate in the discussion on Amendment No. 1 to which he had his name. There was a full debate, and at the end the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, withdrew the Amendment.

Technically, it would be perfectly in order for the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. to move and to speak to Amendment No. 4 since it is in his name, and it is the custom of this House to call all Amendments on the Order Paper. I speak subject to correction, but it seems to me that there would be little point in the noble Lord so doing, other than to be able to make his views clear to the House, and that I think he has done on a previous occasion. Amendment No. 4, I understand, would be consequential to Amendment No. 1 which has been withdrawn. I fear that it is quite contrary to the Rules of the House to move manuscript Amendments at Third Reading.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that statement. I can assure him that I am not concerned just to state my own views to the House. He will remember that during the Committee stage this Amendment was defeated by only one vote, and that thirteen of those who voted against the Amendment—


My Lords, perhaps I ought to bring the House into order. I thought that the noble Lord. Lord Brockway, was still dealing with the point of order that he raised. If he wishes to speak in substance, I think that he should keep within the Rules of the House by moving Amendment No. 4. briefly, and then perhaps withdrawing it.


Which I shall be doing, my Lords. Surely I was in order in commenting on what my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House had said in explaining why I should proceed, despite the ruling he had given. I was not seeking to do more than that. I will proceed to move the Amendment which is in my name. I appreciate the liberty given me on this occasion and the tolerance of the whole House.

First, I want to repeat, in case there is any misunderstanding, my great appreciation of what the Home Secretary has achieved in the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland. I know that he has not only immensely lessened the intensification but he is still dedicated to that purpose. In a letter which I have received from him to-day, he indicates that that is the case. He says: You will know that the Hunt Report considered that some regulations made under the Special Powers Act might not be necessary but could be covered by ordinary legislation, and I shall discuss the whole question with the Northern Ireland Minister of Affairs with a view to embodying in permanent legislation those elements of the Special Powers Act which need to he dealt with in that way. And he adds: The Northern Ireland Government themselves have said on more than one occasion that the provisions of the Special Powers Act should be made permanent or removed. Therefore, in pressing this Amendment, I have no criticism to make at all of the actions of the Home Secretary in this very delicate matter. As I indicated in my previous speech, I think that the Report shows great appreciation of what the Army did in Northern Ireland in this crisis.

My Lords, I do not think that I have ever felt the tragedy of what has happened in Northern Ireland, more than I did yesterday evening when I listened to "Songs of Praise" on B.B.C. 1. Girls' choirs from Northern Ireland were singing Christmas carols. I am not sure whether they were Protestant choirs or Catholic choirs, but it did not matter. They were children of Northern Ireland. They were singing not hackneyed carols, but carols from all over the world, both Protestant and Catholic. It seems to me that as we approach this issue what should be in our minds more than anything else is a realisation of the need that the children of Northern Ireland and the younger generation shall be liberated from the antagonisms and the conflicts of the past fifty years. It is entirely in that spirit that I am moving this Amendment.

I acknowledge that the proposed title, "Northern Ireland Defence Regiment", is something of a compromise; but we want to compromise. We want to find a basis on which those of different views may find some solution to this problem. This proposal of the title of, "Northern Ireland Defence Regiment" was made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, Chairman of the Commission that made the recommendations which the Government have accepted and to which the proposal for an Ulster Defence Regiment is an appendix. Some of us did not like the title because of the use of the word "Defence". The great issue here is whether the term "Ulster" shall be used in the title.

I should not have thought that there was any doubt at all that the use of the term "Ulster" will make it less likely that members of the minority Catholic community in Northern Ireland will join this force. To them, "Ulster" has disagreeable connotations. It has been associated with the Orange Order and the subsidiary institutions associated with that Order, and the very use of that title is going to make it less likely that they will join the Force. I was interested to read (and I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench may note this point) that in another place Mr. Hattersley, speaking for the Ministry of Defence, said that if it should be a choice between a large regiment and a regiment of imbalance, Her Majesty's Government would decide in favour of a small regiment, if balance could be secured. My fear is that if this choice of title is retained, and if the regiment is to be balanced, it will have to be a very small force indeed.

There is no one in this House who really believes that the inclusion in this title of the term "Ulster" will not have a dissuading effect upon the Catholic minority. I developed this point in some detail in my speech during Committee stage, I am not going to flatter myself that noble Lords have read that speech, and I do not want to take advantage of the House to repeat what I said in detail. But I will make three more points briefly. The first is that this is the first occasion on which the Government of this country have used the term "Ulster" in an Act of Parliament. This is the first occasion on which it has ever been used in a constitutional Instrument.


My Lords, I think that this is unsatisfactory. My noble friend was not here at the time, but we did deal with this point. I dealt with it especially. I must say that my noble friend is creating great embarrassment to the House. I have great sympathy with him in not knowing that this matter was on, but we have disposed of this question and I must say that I find this situation quite unprecedented.


My Lords, quite honestly I want to meet the wishes of the House. I intended to be here in time for the discussion on the first Amendment. It was not my fault that I was not here.


My Lords, if I may say so, it was not the fault of the House that the noble Lord was not in his place. It is always an obligation on a noble Lord—whether or not the mechanical arrangements break down—that he should be here. Good notice was given on Friday; a Notice went out, and we have debated this point. The House has disposed of it. I beg noble Lords not to reopen questions which were fully discussed earlier this afternoon on an identical Amendment. If we do this we shall run into very serious difficulties. I am sorry about this, but the noble Lord will of course have an opportunity to make a speech on Third Reading.

We have already covered this point very fully. There was quite a lengthy debate; a number of noble Lords were here and have now left the House under the impression that the matter has been disposed of. I think the noble Lord will lose sympathy if he pursues this Amendment very much further, particularly on the points which have been debated.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might support what the Leader of the House has just said. If I could help the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I can tell him—and I am sure I am not alone in this—that I have read and studied with great care what he said last Thursday at the Committee stage.


My Lords, I think the House knows that I want to act in sympathy with its general desire. I regret the tone in which the Leader of the House has just raised this matter. I do not think he was in the House when I first raised it and when I had a reply from the Deputy Leader on these points. I am speaking now only because I understood that it was in order. But if there is this feeling in the House—and I have a tremendous sense of association with the House in these matters—I am prepared to conclude this speech on the understanding that I shall have an opportunity on the Motion for Third Reading to raise the matter again. I know that it was not the fault of the House; it was the fault of mechanical arrangements. But I do not think it was my fault that I was not here when the debate was called. In all these circumstances, I now withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.12 p.m.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of December 4):


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. I think it would be appropriate for me to pay tribute to the spirit of care and concern for the future of Northern Ireland which has informed our debates on this subject. The Government's proposals have found their critics in your Lordships' House, as they have done in another place; and the length of our discussions reflects the force and fervour with which those criticisms have been pressed. But I believe that, with one or two exceptions, noble Lords in all parts of the House accept the need for this force and, in the words of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, they wish it well.

It is significant—and I hope that my noble friend Lord Brockway will note this point—that out of 16 hours spent in Committee on this Bill, both in your Lordships' House and in another place, more than five hours have been devoted to the title of the force. I make no complaint about that, and I shall relieve your Lordships' apprehensions by saying that I have no intention of re-embarking on that difficult topic. I think that my noble friend the Leader of the House on both occasions when he wound up our discussions made the position of the Government clear, and I believe convinced the majority of noble Lords that the retention of the present title was correct. I would only remark that the depth of conviction that has characterised discussion of that question, the fertility of argument, the pervasiveness of objections and the difficulty of compromise typify both the intractability of these matters and the importance that we all attach to their solution. So it has been with every major point about this force—its recruitment, composition, tasks, training and organisation. On each of these matters the Government have had to make judgments without the support of precedent, with the certainty of convinced criticism, and in the knowledge that the vindication of our judgment is not in our hands. For it is not by this Bill alone, my Lords, that life and meaning will be given to the Ulster Defence Regiment. Parliament may provide the authority, the Government establish the framework; but it is the people of Northern Ireland themselves who must bring this Regiment to life. They alone can make it, as I am confident every one of your Lordships desires, truly part of the British Army: a symbol of resistance to extremism of communal harmony in Northern Ireland, and of the wider unity of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Winterbottom.)


My Lords, before putting the Question, may I say that in the Report stage I omitted to call Amendment No. 5, because I took it that the noble Lord was not moving it.


My Lords, I do not propose to accept the invitation to speak at this moment. I want to express my very great fear that this Bill under its present Title will not have the result of bringing harmony between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to speak on Third Reading. I am no doubt entirely to blame for the fact that I was not here during the Report stage. I, like a number of other noble Lords, did not receive the information. Nobody is to blame for that, but it seems to me none the less disastrous, because there are a number of noble Lords who are not in the House now, of whom I am the least effective speaker, who believe the title to be of vital importance to this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said, we all agree that what we wish in this House is for the people of Northern Ireland to make a success of this Bill, whatever it is called. They can do that only if it results in a balanced force, and there are those of us who put up arguments—and they seem to me strong ones—that it is making it almost impossible (I do not want to be too pessimistic) to have a balanced force with this title.

The only other comment I should like to make is this. The noble Lord said that the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, convinced a majority of your Lordships at the Committee stage that this title was the right one, but I should like to be allowed to point out that it was a narrow majority—in fact, a majority of one. I do not know if it is indiscreet to say this, but I suggested on the Second Reading of the Bill that there seemed to be a cleavage of opinion between the Front Bench and the Back Bench Peers on this subject. I have not analysed the voting, but I am quite sure that most of the 30 Members who voted against the Amendment were Front Bench Members and were not convinced by any speech made in this House. They knew about the issues, made up their minds, and voted accordingly. It is a little misleading to say that they were convinced by the speech of the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, which, if I may say so, was a most admirable attempt to do the impossible and to suggest that there was some logical reason for retaining the title; which nobody who listened to the debate could possibly suppose. It is therefore tragic that circumstances have prevented other Peers from speaking on this Bill at the Report stage. I apologise, my Lords, for speaking on Third Reading, which I have never done before and, I hope, all being well, will never do again.


My Lords, I should just like to say that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said quite truly when he spoke that I was opposed in principle to the setting up of this force. Now it it going to be set up, and in a moment this Bill will be passed. Before it is passed I want to say that as the Bill is going to be enacted I wish it well. I hope, with all my heart, it will act in the way that the Government expect of it.


My Lords, while I cannot associate myself with everything the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has said, I should very much like to associate myself with his last words. I happen always to have favoured the Bill and the principle behind it. But I think that now we all, whatever our original or our basic standpoint may have been, can echo his sentiment: that we wish the Bill to be enacted without delay and we wish the new Regiment every success. Certainly we on these Benches will do everything we can to help that process.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government, I am sure, are most grateful to noble Lords for the good wishes sent, at the end of this debate, to the new Regiment which we are setting up.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendment, and passed, and returned to the Commons.