Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour 6:00 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, I rise to oppose the amendment. In Committee I introduced several amendments which went in the Patten direction, but this amendment moves further away from Patten than even the Bill proposes.

I cannot claim to have lived or to have worked in an administrative capacity in Northern Ireland. However, for the past 50 years, since I was a small child in India, I have read about Ireland and Northern Ireland. We forget that the entire issue should be seen against a background history of 80 years, not just the past 30. It is strange that a majority community which has all the instruments of power at its disposal has, after 30 years in an embattled state, achieved a good agreement--call it "Belfast" or "Good Friday"--but it is a compromise between the Republic, the United Kingdom and various communities in Northern Ireland.

Having achieved such a delicate compromise, people want to return to the status quo. But the old status quo did not work. It is not a question of whether the Royal Ulster Constabulary was a brave force of law. It was and it made many sacrifices. But, as Patten said, if the new police service is identified with the centre of political argument of Northern Ireland, there will be two consequences: first, whatever people say, there will be problems with recruitment; and, secondly, the service will not command the free support and loyalty of everyone in Northern Ireland.

It is not merely a matter of recruitment; people have to like their police service. Like it or not, the truth is that a substantial minority does not approve of the police service. They will if we move away from the past and rename the service "Police Service of Northern Ireland". I do not like the compromise of incorporation but I can live with it. We must compromise; we cannot return to the old position because that got us into all this trouble.