Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour 6:15 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, I want to support the Government's position on the Bill and to speak against this group of amendments.

I have spent much time over the past few years in Northern Ireland. It is a place I have learned to enjoy and its people are a people whose bravery I much admire. All my contact with the new generation of parliamentarians has shown me a generation of able politicians committed to making a real change. I have learned two things about the politics of Northern Ireland: first, things are rarely as they seem; and, secondly, there are no absolutes.

There is little we can do here to move the peace forward, but there is much we can do to undermine the process. If we load the Bill with unintended, unnegotiated amendments, we shall only upset this fragile process. We all share the outrage, anger and loathing at what sometimes goes on in the name of peace. But this peace process is just that--a process--and there are still important steps to take.

The Bill is a further important step. It has been brought before us to implement the recommendations of the Patten commission. That commission was designed to bring forward proposals which would produce a police service capable of gaining sustained support across all communities in Northern Ireland. The Bill is important and complex. It sets out a whole series of changes which will transform the nature and culture of the police service in Northern Ireland; none more so than this change of name.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place said that while he was committed to implementing the full recommendations of the Patten report, he was willing to listen to any constructive comments on the Bill itself. He would make changes where constructive comments were made. I welcome the fact that he and the Government chose to accept the new clause moved by Ken McGuinness. Clause 1 provides that,

"the Royal Ulster Constabulary shall continue in being as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary)".

But also allows that it,

"shall be styled for operational purposes the 'Police Service of Northern Ireland'".

The amended Bill now offers a less than perfect way forward, but none the less it is a way forward. The new name of the "Police Service" signals, one hopes, a new start, a new beginning. Yet the full name which will be in the title deeds of the service keeps a link with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and all those who fell in service during the Troubles.

I have said that we here at Westminster can do little practically to speed the peace process. In a very real sense it is the people's future and it is for them to make that future for themselves. However, tonight we have an opportunity to assist them in moving forward with a solution. We are--if noble Lords will pardon the expression--caught between a rock and a hard place. I am sure that all involved in the peace process will examine our comments and read Hansard with care. By the end of today we shall have put our advice and counsel on record. I believe that we shall have done our bit.

This may not be a perfect Bill. It may not even be a perfect peace. But we do not live in a perfect world. I urge noble Lords to support the speedy passage of the Bill and to leave it unencumbered so that those who are in the business of negotiating peace have all that they need to move forward. I wish them Godspeed in their endeavours.