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 Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative 6:15 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, I am a great believer in the letter of the law and what governments officially say. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that in the Belfast agreement it was agreed that,

"it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people".

It then went on to say that,

"the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality".

What we are looking at is partiality; the tyranny of the minority; and the effort to give one more sop to terrorists.

I should like to quote also from the security statement in the Northern Ireland Office Departmental Report. It states that the objective is to,

"keep security policy ... under continuous review in the light of changes in the level of threat from terrorism".

There have indeed been changes--for the worse. Therefore, to make this move and to ignore the feelings of the majority of the people and of the experienced officers of the RUC is very dangerous.

I remind the House that, pragmatically, we on this side of the water need an efficient and effective police force. Although the officers of the RUC are loyal and highly intelligent and wish largely to get on with their jobs, nevertheless this issue matters greatly to them. It matters also to the Catholics among them who are not deterred from joining and who wanted to join, as has been mentioned, in the face of intimidation. It is wrong that, for reasons of political correctness and to please the IRA--that is what it is--we are trying to do something but are once more ignoring another important aspect of the Belfast agreement with which we are so often inflicted. It states:

"All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need ... to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division. Arrangements will be made to monitor this issue".

We are looking at a symbol which really matters to the people who are serving in the RUC. Even if this change goes ahead and the force is required to have a 50 per cent quota of Catholics, there is no certainty that the IRA will allow anyone to join the RUC. One will therefore see a drain of highly efficient and experienced officers, who will feel that they have been totally rejected and their interests set aside in favour of a very, very doubtful quota which may or may not come in, and, if it has Catholics at all, may well contain "sleepers" who are there for reasons which will not be helpful to security.

I remind the House that Gerry Adams has said many times that whatever is done to the RUC he and his supporters will not recognise it and will not support it. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, also made that point. If they will not support it and continue to make it extremely dangerous to join, except with special permission, I cannot see the point of hurting and insulting indeed the majority in favour of a tiny minority which is utterly convinced that it will not co-operate. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment.