Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Minister of State, Cabinet Office 6:45 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, all the amendments in the group that we are now discussing relate to the name of the police in Northern Ireland. All the amendments would change the current provision in Clause 1. I should remind the House that the clause that is sought to be amended was tabled by the Ulster Unionist Party in another place and was accepted by the Government.

All these amendments would mean that the police service would be known, for at least some purposes, by a dual name: the Royal Ulster Constabulary--Police Service of Northern Ireland. Much as I understand the feelings that lie behind that proposal, the Government do not believe that it is either a workable or the right solution. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has stated on a number of occasions the Government's view that introducing a dual name would not be good for the cohesion and unity and, therefore, the effectiveness of the police service. As I observed previously on 23rd October, I understand that that view is shared within the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Moreover, it would not be consistent with the recommendation in the Patten report.

However, perhaps I may emphasise that I fully understand the conviction with which many noble Lords have spoken on this subject. The Government fully recognise that this is a deeply contentious issue and one that involves, for many, a painful change. The Patten report recognised that encouraging Catholic recruits to join the police service was not as simple as removing the Royal prefix or changing the name. Of course we accept that paramilitary intimidation has undoubtedly been an important reason for Catholics not coming forward to join the police. Those who have done so in the past have paid a disproportionately high price in attacks on themselves and their families. I salute their courage.

However, intimidation is not the only reason. There are certainly other causes. They include lack of identity with the police; fear of loss of contact with family and friends; and lack of support and encouragement within the nationalist community. That is why it is so important that the opportunity is seized to create a more representative police force, and one that commands broad support across the whole community. Let us be clear about the prize. It is demonstrated by the words--important words--used in Committee in another place by Seamus Mallon on 6th June. He said that,

"we do not yet have a police service that can belong to all the people. That is what I and my party want to achieve, and we have striven to achieve that not in the comfort of debate or theory, but in places such as Derry, the Bogside, south Armagh, south Down and west Belfast ... if we get the Bill right, I will go into the hardest parts of Northern Ireland and I will ask people to join the police service and to support it".--[Official Report, Commons, 6/6/00; col. 196.]

Those words illustrate the prize, which will be in jeopardy if we do not implement Patten on this issue.

Noble Lords have pointed to surveys that suggest that the Royal prefix in the current title is not a major deterrent. Like noble Lords, I accept that intimidation has played its part. But Patten said that symbols associated with one side of the constitutional debate inevitably went some way to inhibiting the wholehearted participation in policing of the other side. It is important to understand his conclusions. He did not recommend either no change or a complete change. What he did say was that the name should change, but that continuity should be recognised. That is what Clause 1 of the Bill now represents--continuity and change. It spells out that the RUC shall continue as the "Police Service of Northern Ireland".

Some noble Lords have suggested that that approach dishonours the proud tradition of the RUC, or that it belittles the sacrifice that the police and all associated with them have made over the past 30 years. I want to assure the House that this is neither the Government's intention nor their view. Only yesterday the Government published the report by John Steele on the proposal for a new police fund. The Government made a very positive response. In welcoming the report, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said that he hoped Mr Steele's recommendations would go some way towards recognising the profound debt that we owe to these courageous men and women, and their families.

I referred earlier to continuity and change. The continuity comes from ensuring that the RUC is clearly incorporated into the new service in its founding legislation. That is what Clause 1(1) and (3) achieve. The name of the RUC will also be evidenced in the RUC GC Foundation, provided for in Clause 70 of the Bill. Clause 1(2) and (4) provide the clear basis for change. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has stated frequently, the new name--the Police Service of Northern Ireland--will be used for all operational and working purposes, including whenever and in whatever circumstances the police interface with the public. Lest there be any doubt, I want to emphasise that police officers recruited following the passage of this legislation will be joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The Government have had many discussions with a wide range of representatives since the Patten report was published. In all its consultations with the SDLP, the Catholic Church and other representatives of the nationalist community, one point has consistently been made to us: the name must change if we are to succeed in the task of achieving a more representative and effective police service. Doing that means creating a service capable of commanding the support of the whole community, and one which Catholics are prepared to join. That is the goal that the Government are working so hard to achieve. It is a goal shared by many--indeed, if not all--in the House tonight. In the Government's judgment, the amendments that have been proposed run directly counter to that objective. Although I respect the conviction with which they have been advanced, I would ask the House to reject this amendment.