Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Laird Lord Laird Crossbench 10:00 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I am conscious that events have moved on with regard to RUC widows. I have brought this issue to your Lordships' notice on many occasions. I had a sympathetic hearing from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who has been helpful in dealing with the issue. As a result of representations made on behalf of the widows, Mr John Steele, a very distinguished retired Northern Ireland civil servant, was asked to look into what could be done for the two categories of RUC widows: those who were widowed prior to 1982 and those who were widowed after 1982. Mr Steele has produced a report which I shall be looking to the Government to implement in full. In fact, I shall be looking to the Government to enhance what is proposed.

While it seems on the surface that the payments to the widows are generous, I would have to put them into context. I have mentioned in the House on two separate occasions that one RUC widow has been widowed for 30 years. After 30 years' inflation, her pension is £134 a month. That is a shame and a scandal. It is an emotive issue. It has become a major theme of the Belfast Telegraph, a Belfast evening newspaper, and has now been picked up by one of the morning papers, the News Letter. Under Mr Steele's proposals, that widow would receive £1,000 per year for every year since her husband died. That is £30,000. That is £20 a week for the loss of her husband in most cruel and dreadful circumstances.

On a night like this we debate matters of extreme importance. Those of us who live in Northern Ireland sometimes become a little frustrated with noble Lords who do not have the considerable benefit of living in Northern Ireland and therefore have not seen the work of the RUC and have not had their relations and next door neighbours--in my case, my boss at work--shot dead. In some cases they were mistaken for RUC men and in other cases they were RUC men. My next-door neighbour was one of the finest men I have ever met. He was shot by the IRA. Despite what has been said in this Chamber by Liberal noble Lords--I know personally the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and I know that he means well--I must stress that my next-door neighbour's only crime was that he was a member of the Roman Catholic faith.

We owe an awful debt. I owe my life to the RUC, the police service which has looked after me. I feel morally bound to be on the side of the widow and on the side of the injured policemen, of whom there are many, far too many. There are men with no legs, men with only one arm, blind, deafened or mentally impaired. We owe them a debt which no one in this Chamber, in Northern Ireland or anywhere else could adequately express. It makes me emotional to consider just what we owe these people.

I am grateful for the help given to us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, through the John Steele review. However, my amendment seeks to take that help one step further. Clause 70 covers the establishment of a foundation to be known as the,

"Royal Ulster Constabulary [George Cross] Foundation for the purpose of marking the sacrifices and honouring the achievements of the Royal Ulster Constabulary".

My amendment seeks to add a subsection which would require that foundation to make provision to support the development of a widows' association and a benevolent fund. It would also make provision for,

"injured police officers, retired officers and their families".

My colleagues and I happen to be Cross Benchers, but we are also members of the Ulster Unionist Party. We are people who live in Northern Ireland. So far we have received only thin gruel as this Bill has passed through its stages. I should like this amendment to be considered seriously as a method of recognising the good people--the widows and the injured policemen--back home. We should demonstrate the kind of esteem in which this House holds that tragic but gallant section of the population, whose sacrifice cannot be measured. I strongly recommend this amendment to the House. I beg to move.