Ken Livingstone – 1987 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Ken Livingstone in the House of Commons on 7 July 1987.

I shall start by praising my predecessor, Mr. Reg Freeson. There are some who may he surprised at that. Our differences were political and I do not think that anyone would suggest that he did not serve his constituency as well and as excellently as any other hon. Member. Therefore, I praise his record in this place, although I played some part in ending his presence here. Given how bad the post is currently, I cannot report that I have had a letter of congratulations from him yet. I shall notify the House when t do. I would not urge right hon. and hon. Members to hold their breath.

I want to thank all the officials of the House, including the police, for their assistance. I cannot recall anywhere that I have been where there is such a degree of helpfulness, general good humour and pleasantness. I am certain that other new Members think the same. I do not know why that should be. Perhaps close proximity to 649 fellow politicians induces this state of good humour, or perhaps there are those who have a private joke that they are not telling the rest of us.

I wish to start by making clear my position on violence. I condemn without equivocation all acts of violence, but I am not prepared to be uneven-handed. I do not believe that we should condemn the violence of the IRA and produce a less strident condemnation of the violence of other extra-legal organisations. Nor do I believe that we should be any the less outraged when those who operate on behalf of the British state and security forces go beyond the law or the conventions of decency, as has occasionally happened. Either we condemn all violence or we are not placed to condemn any of it.

Like many others, I do not believe that direct rule is a workable option for Ireland. I believe that nothing short of a united Ireland will bring about an end to the troubles that have assailed our involvement with that island over hundreds of years, with an especial viciousness over the past two decades. Throughout my parliamentary career I shall continue to press at every opportunity for a withdrawal of Britain from Ireland and the opening to a united Ireland in which the Irish people can decide how best to govern themselves.

There are many inevitable contradictions—I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members will not share this view—in what I perceive as a colonial situation. As in the past, it is inevitable that problems will arise when one power occupies wholly or in part another nation with a separate culture and identity. With the best intentions in the world, the occupying power is led into abuse of its authority, and in so doing alienates key sections of the community.
I should imagine that much the most effective method of recruitment into the IRA has been the consistent abuse of power over decades by those who held the whip hand while Stormont existed through 50 years of misrule. The only thing that is remarkable is that it took 50 years before the present violence erupted. That suggests a degree of patience and tolerance on the part of the minority of Northern Ireland that I do not think many other peoples around the world would necessarily have been prepared to equal.

There have been many instances when the present Government’s policies and their agents have been ideal recruiting agents for the IRA. The attitude of the Government towards the hunger strike did more to boost support for those pursuing a violent solution for Northern Ireland than anything that they could have done themselves.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had a shoot-to-kill policy. That has been successfully covered up, but it came close to exposure when Mr. John Stalker was set to investigate it. When it became clear that he was not prepared to be corrupt and that he would not do a whitewash job to let the RUC off the hook, the British establishment, through all its usual means, ensured that he was removed from his task. I wish that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would pursue the inquiry with the same vigour that he condemns the terrorists and ensure that the results of it are brought to the Floor of the House as rapidly as possible as a matter of public debate. As long as the minority in Northern Ireland believes that there is one law and one tone of condemnation of violence for one section of the community but not the other, we shall not be able to achieve any real progress towards peace.

Representatives of the unionist parties have talked about double standards, and these cannot be denied. We have heard since the Gracious Speech that the British Government intend to continue with the policies that they have been pursuing in the north and possibly to sharpen them to end discrimination against the minority in employment. I welcome that, but if it is good enough for Northern Ireland, why do the British Government do everything possible to prevent Labour councils in Britain that wish to adopt similar policies from ending discrimination against minorities in Britain? We shall not be able to unite the people of Northern Ireland while we have a policy stance for them that is different from that for the rest of the United Kingdom. That makes a mockery of the idea that this is a united kingdom.

One of the greatest problems to arise during the present troubles has been the backlash against the Irish community in Britain, which my constituents in Brent have suffered. Far too many innocent people are subject to harassment by the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It has been used in a way which was never intended. Still today not 1 per cent. of those detained and harassed by the security forces—I am talking about individual ​ Irish women and men making their way backwards and forwards between the two countries—is ever convicted of any form of crime. The Prevention of Terrorism Act is being used by agents of the British state to harass those who actively campaign for a united Ireland. Every time they do it a nail is driven further into the concept of our remaining with any hold in Ireland.

As many other nations have found—for example, the French in Algeria—it is inevitable that if we set out to hold a nation against its will, however good our intentions, abuses of power will occur. I wish to draw attention to that by referring to one specific instance.

During my election campaign in Brent, East, there was an unusual public meeting. An individual was invited to it who has never been a Socialist, who will never be prepared to vote Labour and who thinks that the Tory party is the natural governing party of Britain. He was invited to share a platform with myself and some of the relatives of those who have been subject to miscarriages of justice by the British courts over issues of bombing here in Britain. We invited Mr. Fred Holroyd. For those who do not know, Mr. Holroyd served in Northern Ireland with distinction. As I said, he is no Socialist. He comes from a military family. He went to a Yorkshire grammar school. His whole objective in life was to serve in the British Army. He believed in it totally. He enlisted as a private in the gunners, and three years later he was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Transport. He volunteered for the Special Military Intelligence unit in Northern Ireland when the present troubles began, and he was trained at the Joint Services School of Intelligence. Once his training was finished, he was stationed in Portadown, where, for two and a half years, he ran a series of intelligence operations. I quote him so that there can be no suspicion that he might be a secret member of the Militant Tendency or a secret republican. At the public meeting, his words were that he believed that the Army officers and men with whom he worked were
“genuinely honest men trying to do the best job in the circumstances. They were in a no-win situation.”

When he was recruited as an M16 officer, he said of them that they were not disagreeable; their ethics were reasonable; they were seeking a political solution. His complaint, which eventually led to his removal from the Army and an attempt to discredit him, which has been largely successful, was made when the M16 operation was taken over by M15 in 1975—by many of the same people who are dealt with in Peter Wright’s book, and many of the same people who are alleged to have been practising treason against the elected Labour Government of the time. He said that once the M15 took over the reasonable ethics of M16 were pushed aside by operatives in the intelligence world who supported the views of Mr. Kitson and the policies and tactics of subverting the subverters. I recommend Brigadier Kitson’s words to those who are not aware of them. His attitude was to create a counter-terror group, to have agents provocateur, to infiltrate, and to run a dirty tricks campaign in an attempt to discredit the IRA.

Mr. Holroyd continued to believe that what he was doing was in the best interests of the British state until early in 1975, when Captain Robert Nairac, who, as many hon. Members will know, was later murdered by the IRA, went into his office, fresh from a cross-border operation ​ —something that of course is completely illegal—and showed him the colour photographs that had been taken by Captain Nairac’s team. Captain Nairac had crossed the border with some volunteers from the UDF. He had assassinated John Francis Green, an active member of the IRA who was living south of the border. As an agent of the British Government operating across the border as an assassin he had brought back photographs as proof of that operation. When Captain Nairac showed the photographs, Mr. Holroyd started to object, not because he objected to an active member of the IRA being assassinated in a highly illegal cross-border raid but because he realised that once the British state started to perpetrate such methods there was no way that eventually Britain would not alienate vast sections of the community and eventually lose the struggle for the hearts and minds of the Irish people.

Holroyd then started to object to the use of such illegal methods by M15 officers. He was immediately shuffled to one side by the expedient method of being taken to a mental hospital and being declared basically unfit for duty. During the month that he spent in the British mental hospital, the three tests that were administered to him were completely successfully passed. Certainly, over a decade later, having met him, I can see no evidence whatsoever that he was in some sense mentally unbalanced. He was a spy who realised that the operations of the British Government were counter-productive. He started to object, and was pushed to one side for his pains.

I raise the link with Captain Robert Nairac because, as I said, Fred Holroyd had qualms about this but was not particularly shocked; these things happen in a war. The matter needs to be investigated. I cannot prove the claims but allegations are being made extensively here in Britain, in republican circles and on Irish radio and television. A particularly horrifying incident that many hon. Members will remember was the murder of three members of the Miami showband—completely innocent musicians with no political affiliations whatsoever. It took place in the midst of the ceasefire that had been negotiated by the then Labour Government and the IRA. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) pushed it through and sustained it, although there was considerable opposition from within the security services and within many political parties. The Labour Government did everything possible to make the ceasefire work, but it was not wholly accepted within the apparatus of M15—our operatives who allegedly were working on behalf of the British state in Northern Ireland.

What is particularly disturbing is that what looked at the time like a random act of maniacal violence and sectarian killing now begins to take on a much more sinister stance. It has begun to emerge that Captain Robert Nairac is quite likely to have been the person who organised the killing of the three Miami showband musicians. The evidence for that allegation is forensic and members of the UDF are prepared to say that they were aware of the dealings between members of the UDF gang who actually undertook the murder of the Miami showband musicians. The evidence is quite clear. The same gun that was used by Captain Nairac on his cross-border trip to assassinate John Francis Green was used in the Miami showband massacre.

Earlier this year, the radio and television service of southern Ireland, RTE, showed a documentary in which the makers—not myself; no one could accuse RTE of ​ being pro-IRA—that allege they have now had contacts with members of the UDF in that area who say that Captain Nairac passed the explosives and the guns to the UDF and set up the killing of the Miami showband musicians. If that is true, it needs to be investigated. The allegation was made on the broadcasting networks of southern Ireland. It is supported by men who served on behalf of Britain as spies in the area at the time. It needs to be investigated and disproved, or the people behind it rooted out. If one wanted to find a way of ending the ceasefire that had been negotiated between the Labour Government and the IRA, what better way to do so than to encourage random sectarian killings? I believe that that was happening.

It is likely that many of the officers mentioned in Peter Wright’s book who were practising treason against the British Government at home were also practising treason against the British Government in Ireland. If the allegations are true, they were prepared to murder innocent Catholics to start a wave of sectarian killing which would bring to an end the truce that the Labour Government had negotiated with the IRA. No democratic society can allow that sort of allegation to go uninvestigated. It is made by people who served on our behalf as intelligence officers in the area.

We saw in last Sunday’s edition of The Observer that another intelligence officer, Colin Wallace, who was closely linked with Fred Holroyd in a campaign to expose what was going on, has been dismissed as irrelevant by the British Government. We see now that The Observer, using forensic tests, has been able to demonstrate that the notes that he wrote were not written in the past couple of years by somebody who is embittered and is trying to cash in on what has started to come out. A clear analysis of the ink that was used in the notes shows that they were written in the early 1970s. Slowly, it all begins to pull together.

The interesting thing about the Peter Wright case is that in his defence in court he said that he was a loyal servant of Britain, and that he sought only to expose corruption and spies in Britain and an establishment that covered them up. One of the arguments by which he demonstrated his loyalty to Britain was when he said in his book that he did not deal with what he knew about operations in Ireland because that could still be damaging to the British Government.

One needs to take together the accusations of Wallace and Holroyd and link them clearly to what is being said by Peter Wright. There was not just treason by some M15 officers in Britain. Treason was also taking place in Ireland. Those employed by the British state are alleged to have been responsible for killing innocent civilians in order to end a ceasefire with which they disagreed because their political objectives were different from those of the Labour Government of the day. That is a most horrifying crime.

Wallace and Holroyd are making these quite specific allegations. They are now drafting a book that will expose much more, and we need to ask why the British Government take no action to stop them or to silence them. They pursue Peter Wright, but they are terrified that if they take Wallace and Holroyd to court they will expose in court things that will shake the Government to its foundations.

A stupid thing happened when the British Army decided to get Holroyd out and discredit him. The officer put in as his replacement, and who was unaware of what had been going on, arrived in the office and assembled all ​ of Holroyd’s papers into a large container and dispatched them to his home. Before the British Government start rubbishing Holroyd too flamboyantly, they should be warned that he retains almost all the case papers that were in his control. They deal with his operations and his work and they are safely out of this country and beyond the reach of the Government.

We must have a full investigation. Before I could happily vote for this extension of direct rule, I want to see some evidence that the Government are prepared to ensure that these abuses are exposed. I want them to guarantee that similar abuses are not continuing. The whole series of events about which I have spoken must be investigated. Very soon we must have the full evidence about the shoot-to-kill policy of the RUC because I have no doubt that that is being covered up. It would have been most useful if John Stalker had been able to conclude his inquiry after the attempt to discredit him had been exposed and overturned by the local police authority.

We have to examine other allegations made on RTE that M15 officers were engaged in undermining the power sharing Executive set up by the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). We have to look again at the allegations by Colin Wallace about the Kincora boys’ home scandal. It has been suggested that young boys in a home effectively controlled by M15 were buggered so that Protestant politicians could be blackmailed and silenced by M15. ‘That allegation cannot continue to drift around. It must be investigated and the truth exposed. The longer the British Government cover up and deny all this and refuse to investigate, the more the impression will be created that they know full well what has been going on and that far too many members of the Government are the beneficiaries of these acts of treason by M15 officers in Britain and abroad.
I do not believe for a minute that these things could have been going on without members of the Conservative party being kept informed in the generality if not in specific details. It looks increasingly likely that Mr. Airey Neave was in touch with some of these officers, and it is certainly the case that Airey Neave delivered a speech that had been——

Mr. Gow On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is with very great reluctance that I intervene during the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), but will you please make it clear to him, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that references to Airey Neave of the kind that we have heard are deeply offensive?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) Order. Hon. Members making their first speech in the House are usually heard without interruption. So far I have heard nothing in the speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) that is out of order.

Mr. Livingstone May I make it clear to the House that I am reporting allegations that hon. Members have read in newspapers and that are reported on radio and television both here and abroad. They are made by intelligence officers who served at the time in Ireland on behalf of the British Government. It may well be that the allegations are all a tissue of lies, but can we imagine any other Western Government who would allow such damaging allegations to circulate month after month and year after year and not move to lance the boil? They would either deal with the allegations or demonstrate that they ​ were untrue. The Prime Minister’s day-by-day refusal to investigate what was happening in M15 at that time can only lead a large number of reasonable people both here and abroad to believe that there is some element of truth in the allegations now circulating.

If Conservative Members are shocked that allegations are made about Airey Neave, they should join me in demanding a full investigation so that Airey Neave’s name can be cleared. Why just Airey Neave? The allegations that I have outlined to the House about Captain Robert Nairac should also be investigated, as should the allegations about the Kincora boys’ home. They should be investigated by a Committee of the House so that we can know the truth. As long as the Prime Minister continues to resist this, and as long as it is quite obvious that she was the main beneficiary of the work of these traitorous officers in M15, many reasonable people cannot avoid the conclusion that she was kept informed to some degree via Airey Neave who had close links with the intelligence services. He made a speech for which false information was provided by Colin Wallace, and Colin Wallace now admits that.

There is something rotten at the heart of the British security services, and we will not have a safe democracy until it is exposed in its entirety and dealt with.