My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 to 4.
We listened carefully to the concerns expressed about Clause 12 on accounts and audit. We are extremely grateful for the assistance given to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, in working through these arrangements and for the detailed correspondence we exchanged. In response, government Amendments Nos. 1 to 4 make changes to subsection (1) of Clause 12, which requires the board, rather than the Chief Constable as Clause 12 is presently drafted, to keep accounts in respect of funds to put at the Chief Constable's disposal by the board. Subsection (2) of Clause 12 is amended to require the board's duty to keep accounts in respect of police funds to be exercised by the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable will still be required to submit his accounts to the board under subsection (4) of Clause 12.
The Chief Constable will be the accounting officer for the police grant as he remains responsible for the day-to-day police expenditure as recommended by Patten. As the report said that,
"the Board should be responsible for negotiating the annual policing budget with the NIO ... It should then allocate ... [it] to the Chief Constable".
Recommendation 43 of the Patten report specifically recommended that the Chief Constable be the accounting officer for the police grant.
But these amendments recognise that Patten also said that the Chief Constable should remain financially accountable to the board and that the board should have a strong audit department to enable it to exercise its responsibilities in this area. We would not want the changes we are making to meet Patten's recommendation to be taken as implying that the Chief Constable is other than accountable to the board.
The Government's view is that the amendments help to make it clear that the Chief Constable is exercising a delegated function and that the money and accounts "belong" to the board. The amendment shows that the Chief Constable's financial accountability lies to the board and that its oversight of the accounts is unconstrained.
I hope noble Lords will accept the efforts we have made to address concerns about the board's financial accountability role. I beg to move.
My Lords, I believe we can all agree that this Bill represents one of the most significant pieces of legislation we have had before us in this busy Session. It seeks a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland, as Patten envisaged.
We fully supported the Government in their aim to implement the Patten report. Our concern throughout has been to ensure that, in giving policing that fresh start, we take the best of what worked, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, and adapt it to meet local needs. What is crucially important is that we get the delicate balance of police governance right.
The new police service must be and must be seen to be the impartial servant of all the community. That is fundamental to our system of policing by consent. That means getting the right level of checks and balances in the roles of the Secretary of State, the new policing board and the Chief Constable for securing that transparency. The Government have gone a considerable way towards achieving that. I welcome the government amendments. They may not have gone quite as far as we would have liked. But I am reassured by the statements made by the Government that the board will be able to exercise close and expert scrutiny of the Chief Constable's use of resources; that there will be a code of financial management as robust as the present one; and that the board will need a strong internal audit department. The practical workings of this part and the relationship between the three parties will need to be clarified. I do not intend to press the matter further.
My Lords, perhaps I may go further and congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Minister on responding to the concerns expressed by many of us about what seemed to be a most untidy arrangement. I am sure that the manner in which the problem has been resolved will meet with the approval of the board and theChief Constable.
My Lords, we discussed these matters in Committee and on Report. At the Report stage the Minister, politely but firmly, rejected amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, which were not dissimilar to these. Therefore, one wonders what has happened to change his mind.
Yesterday, in respect of the Freedom of Information Bill, we saw a remarkable Lab/Lib deal and one wonders whether we are seeing another today. However, the important point is that the relationships will be clearer as a result of the amendments. For that reason, we do not object to them.
My Lords, I am concerned. I cannot see how anyone can take on a financial responsibility and properly carry out his duties in overseeing the way in which money is spent without asking many questions about what it is being spent on. To me, it is like putting the Kray brothers in charge of the Met because the Government have put such responsibility into the hands of people who are likely to have been convicted of terrorism--certainly those people nominated by Sinn Fein/IRA from the Assembly. They certainly claim to have no regard for British justice or the police. I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand how the proposal will work.
I am anxious that the Secretary of State shall have the maximum power because he represents all interests. I am happy to support any proposal which works in the direction of the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable having powers to withhold all information which should not be in the hands of some of the people who will be asking for it. I do not know how it can be done but that is my concern. I should like the Minister to reassure me that that what I fear will not be possible.
My Lords, I welcome the general support for the amendments from around the House, with the possible exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. In particular, I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.
The amendments require the board, not the Chief Constable, to keep accounts. Clause 12(2) will require the board's duty to keep accounts in respect of police funds to be exercised by the Chief Constable. We believe that those arrangements are appropriate and provide the appropriate degree of protection.
moved Amendments Nos. 2 to 4:
Page 7, line 8, leave out ("his") and insert ("the Chief Constable's").
Page 7, line 13, leave out ("Chief Constable") and insert ("Board").
Page 7, line 14, at end insert ("by the Chief Constable").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 14 [Establishment of district policing partnerships]:
My Lords, during the Report stage, concerns were raised that the Bill allows the Secretary of State too much interference in the policing plan because Clause 26(2)(b) allows him to set out in regulations what must be included in the plan. Amendment No. 6 requires the Secretary of State to consult the board before issuing any regulations prescribing the contents of the policing plan.
It should be stressed that these regulations prescribe only the minimum contents of the plan. They will say that the plan must include performance indicators, for example, but not what they should be. That will be a matter for the board. The amendment makes it clear that the Secretary of State cannot make regulations without taking into account the views of the board and the Chief Constable. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 13, line 23, leave out ("act together with him") and insert ("involve him in the making of those arrangements").
My Lords, I am grateful for the constructive way in which these provisions have been debated. Again, I thank the noble Baroness for her contribution. I believe that noble Lords are agreed in substance on the best value provisions but the noble Baroness expressed concern about the wording of Clause 28(3).
Amendment No. 7 changes the current wording of subsection (3). It deletes the requirement for the board to act together with the Chief Constable in making best value arrangements in respect of police functions and substitutes a requirement for the board to involve the Chief Constable in making best value arrangements for policing. This gives assurances that the board will lead in making best value arrangements but preserve the position whereby the board and the Chief Constable must work together to achieve best value.
The Government believe that the Bill now strikes the correct balance. I beg to move.
My Lords, one of the most important new ingredients in the Bill is the creation of the new policing board. It will have a heavy burden on its shoulders and will need quickly to win the confidence and support of all the people of Northern Ireland. It will be able to do that only if it has the credibility and respect of all the diverse communities. That is why, throughout our debates, I have sought to ensure that the Bill gives the board real powers and responsibilities equivalent to those of police authorities elsewhere. It deserves no less.
I hope that my own small knowledge in this area has been of some assistance to the Government in teasing out where we should strike the balance. I have greatly appreciated the very generous comments the Government have made about that. I also greatly welcome the considerable improvements which they have made to their original proposals on best value and their recognition of the board's primacy in this area.
Achieving best value must be the product of close partnership working between the board and the Chief Constable. A best value review which did not involve the Chief Constable would be of no value at all. I am delighted therefore that the Government have listened to the Liberal Democrat amendments and made appropriate changes in order to meet both our concerns and the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.
Perhaps I may beg indulgence for a moment. I said that the new board would have a difficult job. Indeed, it will. I would therefore like to pay particular tribute to the existing Police Authority for Northern Ireland. Its chairman, Pat Armstrong, and all its members and staff have always striven in very difficult circumstances to help to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland get the best from their policing service. Their commitment and dedication have often gone unremarked and unnoticed, but it is they who have created the climate for a new, open and accountable policing board to be put in place. I should like to place on record an acknowledgement of their fine work. I am also grateful to Fionnuala Gill of the Association of Police Authorities and Elizabeth Hanna of the Whips' Office, who have helped me enormously throughout this Bill.
I conclude by offering to the Government and the new board the support and assistance of the Association of Police Authorities. The board will need a great deal of help to make a success of this venture. Recently, we underwent a similar experience with the creation of the new Metropolitan Police Authority. We are very happy to place all that expertise at the disposal of the new board. I wish it well.
My Lords, we all support the tribute to the Police Authority for Northern Ireland for its work over a very long period. I refer not only to the existing authority but its chairmen and members over a large number of years. Alongside the RUC they have had to face the most appalling conditions and difficulties with terrorism and all the rest of it. For a long period a large number of people have worked extremely hard and valiantly to achieve those aims.
As to the detail of the amendment, I tried to find out the legal difference between "act together" and "involve with", which is quite a nuance. It will come to the crunch only if there is a disagreement between the board and the Chief Constable about the arrangements which are covered by the clause. Essentially, the amendment provides that, if there is a disagreement, the Chief Constable's position will be weaker, although not much. Frankly, there is a good deal of difference in the wording. That was my understanding from the noble and learned Lord's introduction. I am slightly cautious about it.
As I said at an earlier stage of our debates, the Government have failed to change the incorrect wording. Under this provision, the arrangements seek economy, efficiency and effectiveness, whereas one should seek effectiveness, efficiency and economy. This police force, and the board which is to be in charge of it, will have a much more difficult job than any other police force in the United Kingdom, if not the world.
My Lords, I join in the tributes to the police authority for its splendid work over many years. I hope that in years to come it will have influence and that there will be a smooth transition from the present structure to the new one. I agree with what has been said. Nothing could have been more disastrous for Northern Ireland than to have the three main elements of the security situation pulling in opposite directions. In my time in the Armed Forces we did not have what is now called "jointry" and it was not uncommon for forces to act contrary to each other, sometimes with disastrous results. I welcome this clause and the preceding one.
My Lords, I join in the tributes which have been paid to both the existing police authority and its past members. I deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The aim of the change is to give an assurance that the board will lead in making best value arrangements. But also it is intended to preserve the position whereby the board and the Chief Constable, with the board in the lead, work together to achieve best value. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggests that "effectiveness" should come first as a recognition of the very difficult circumstances in which the police force operates. I readily acknowledge those difficulties. I am not sure that there is any disagreement between us on the three aims which we seek to achieve.
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, will he respond to the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux? The noble Lord feared that the board would be composed of people with diametrically opposite views and, therefore, counsels would be divided. I believe that the noble Lord made a very serious point. The noble and learned Lord has not touched on that matter and I believe that he should.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for not dealing with it. It is plain from the terms of the amendment, which deals with best value, that its aim is that the Chief Constable and board should work together. The noble Lord is much better aware than I of the position in Northern Ireland, but I do not believe any of us doubts that the objective is that the board and the Chief Constable should work together.
moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 21, line 30, leave out from ("for") to end of line 43 and insert ("measures to be taken to ensure that the composition of the police service is representative of the population of Northern Ireland.
(5A) For the purposes of subsection (5) targets shall be set and schemes shall be put in place with the aim of encouraging applications from persons who are under-represented in the police service.
(5B) Before devising any schemes under subsection (5A) the Chief Constable shall consult--
(a) the Board;
(b) the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland; and
(c) the Police Association.
(5C) The Chief Constable shall report annually to the Secretary of State on the progress being made in the fulfilment of the aim of subsection (5A).").
My Lords, Amendment No. 8 and the others in the group would remove the discriminatory 50:50 system of recruitment and replace it with measures to target and encourage applications from the under-represented sections of society in Northern Ireland. I am within the minority that could potentially benefit from this measure. For the purposes of this Bill, which takes guidance from the Fair Employment Agency, having been educated at a Roman Catholic school, I am, in the words of the Bill, perceived to be a Roman Catholic. In my leisure moments I wonder whether, with my RAF added years, I can possibly benefit from the provisions to do with what may be called lateral entry.
However, I am opposed to so-called 50:50 recruitment for the straightforward reason that I am against discrimination in general. Positive discrimination may be all very well but it is still discrimination. In another place Mr Lembit Opik on behalf of the Liberal Democrats vigorously opposed this measure on the same grounds. Although in this House the Liberal Democrats have to an extent acquiesced in the discrimination provisions thus far, I am sure that they will welcome the opportunity afforded by today's debate to refute the kindly suggestion at Report stage by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that their actions were limited because they were "in bed with Blair", by voting against this discriminatory measure in the Lobbies.
Given that human rights are so central to Liberal philosophy, they will be aware of the consequences of permitting the discrimination genie to escape from the bottle. Once it is established that discrimination anywhere is acceptable, it is only a matter of time before statutory discrimination is extended beyond police service recruitment in Northern Ireland to what may be called "others". Those who support statutory discrimination for police recruitment in Northern Ireland must ask themselves why they support this measure. The answer is that there is under-representation of Catholics in the police service in Northern Ireland. No credit is awarded for correctly identifying the problem if one fails to question the causes of that problem.
It is important to remember that there has never been inequality of opportunity at any time in recruitment to the police service in Northern Ireland and that the under-representation of Catholics is a consequence of insufficient Catholic applicants to the police. Perhaps later the Minister can explain exactly how positive discrimination addresses the problem of insufficient Catholic applications to the police service. Surely encouraging applications from under-represented sections of society--all under-represented sections of society--is the only effective means of addressing the problems of under-representation to achieve the prize of a police service that reflects the society that it polices.
For noble Lords not familiar with the precise system of discrimination proposed by the Bill, perhaps I may highlight one or two aspects. As I mentioned earlier, I would be classed as a Catholic for the purposes of this discrimination. The system proposes that 50 per cent of recruits be Catholic and 50 per cent be "others" or non-Catholics. All sections of Northern Ireland society which did not attend Catholic schools will be discriminated against. Young Catholics who do not attend Catholic schools will be perceived as "others" and discriminated against if they apply to serve in the police.
But the people of Northern Ireland are more than just Catholic and Protestant. Although young Protestants will be discriminated against if they apply to serve in the police force, so will young Muslims, young Jews, young Sikhs and young Hindus who do not attend Catholic schools. On an earlier occasion I reported that the ethnic groupings in Northern Ireland, despite our track record of terrorism, have increased probably at a faster rate than any other community in Northern Ireland.
In order to ensure that noble Lords are completely aware of how this discrimination will actually happen, I shall refer briefly to the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, at Second Reading. The noble Lord gave an example of one of many discriminatory scenarios created by the Bill. In this scenario the police have 100 vacancies for recruits. Using the current application ratios, this would assume that 150 "others" apply and there are 50 Catholic applicants. The 50:50 recruitment system dictates that if all 100 vacancies are to be filled, 50 must be from Catholic applicants and 50 from "other" applicants; that is, Protestants and the various ethnic groupings that I have mentioned. Logically, there would be a standard for a successful application. Therefore, we could assume that both 60 per cent of the "other" grouping and 60 per cent of the Catholic grouping make that standard.
As a consequence, we now have 120 applicants who make the grade for 100 vacancies. With positive discrimination, 30 of the 50 Catholic applicants, being 60 per cent, would have made the grade, but although we have 90 applicants from the "other" group who have made the grade, only 30 can be employed. The police require 100 recruits. So does one either accept an under-strength force by lowering the standard for applicants to permit all 50 Catholic applicants to be recruited, thereby corrupting what I would call the merit-based system, or proceed with insufficient recruits?
As the Government have indicated that they do not wish to lower the standard for applicants--we would all agree--the Bill has been furnished with subsections (2) and (3)(b) of Clause 46. The Secretary of State may, by order, vary the percentage of 50:50 under Clause 46(2) so that the police do not become too ridiculously under-strength, an implicit admission that the system is seriously flawed. However, if the Secretary of State makes one or more of what should be termed "his desperate need for recruit orders" in the "previous three years", under Clause 46(3)(b) he can vary the 50:50 system to redress the imbalance.
Therefore, if a prolonged shortfall in Catholic applicants continues for a period, and the Secretary of State makes orders so that more "others" can be recruited to maintain police strength, in a few years it could be 75 per cent perceived as Catholic recruits and 25 per cent perceived as "others".
It is apparent that discrimination in recruitment is immoral. It is unfortunate that the measure, which will be illegal elsewhere in Europe on 31st December 2002, will be legal in Northern Ireland because of the disgraceful express exception from the equal treatment directive that the Government appear to have negotiated for Northern Ireland policing recruitment.
A legal challenge to statutory discrimination in Northern Ireland may still be an option. Will the Minister, who has given much thought to the Human Rights Act declaration of compatibility for the Bill, indicate whether he has considered the following issue? Article 9.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act, states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance".
Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides a general prohibition on all forms of discrimination in relation to convention rights. It states:
"The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status".
Although Article 14 cannot stand alone, it is--I quote from one of the linked organisations--
"an integral part of each of the Articles laying down rights and freedoms".
The 50:50 recruitment system as provided for in Clause 46 infringes Article 14 when coupled with Article 9 of the convention, regardless of whether the 50:50 principle infringes the Article 9 right to freedom of religion standing alone.
In the first article of the European Convention on Human Rights it is clearly stated that the rights and freedoms contained in the convention,
"shall be secured to everyone within their jurisdiction".
Therefore, I question whether the Government can legally discriminate between police recruits within the jurisdiction; that is to say, police recruits in Northern Ireland and police recruits elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I accept that differences in treatment are permissible in exercising a right of freedom as laid down in the convention. However, only in two definite circumstances are differences in treatment permissible. This particular difference in treatment has,
"No objective and reasonable justification", or any,
"reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim sought to be realised".
Quotas based on religion are surely correctly described in the directive as "excessive and disproportionate" to the objective of boosting Catholic recruitment to the police. It is at this point that one returns to the key point that the Government have chosen to ignore. The 50:50 recruitment system will not itself increase Catholic applications to the police service. Indeed, the latest census statistics indicate that, on a demographic basis, there are approximately equal numbers of young Catholics and Protestants in the 17 to 23 age range, which is the very grouping with which we ought to be concerned. If intimidation were to be removed from the equation, targets not quotas would produce the desired objective of Catholic recruitment.
Discrimination in society is unacceptable and discrimination in police recruitment is unacceptable. Senior RUC sources are extremely concerned that this measure will, if brought into practice, either corrupt the merit-based system or leave the police short of manpower. That is too horrible to contemplate given that, whatever may be said, the reality is that terrorism is still a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, though, these sources are unable vocally to oppose discrimination because Patten, in taking,
"politics out of policing", has managed to silence police officers by making the police such a political issue. Then again this is the same Patten who, in,
"putting Human Rights at the Heart of Policing", has managed to place statutory discrimination at the very heart of policing. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak to and support Amendment No. 8. However, we on this side of the House do not support Amendment No. 9. Amendment No. 8 is tabled in practical terms. On today of all days, as we move towards the end of the proceedings on the Bill, it is important to ensure that what is on the face of the Bill leads to practical solutions on the ground in Northern Ireland.
I understand that there are political issues, balancing acts and many imponderable and insoluble problems. I say again that we support a large percentage of the Bill and disagree with small parts, all of which will be highlighted today. Amendment No. 8 is a practical amendment. It does all that we should be required to do in moving as fast as possible towards a police force which directly reflects the composition of the population of Northern Ireland.
With regard to the 50:50 provisions for acceptance into the police force, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has argued the case extremely logically in relation to discrimination and human rights and probably in relation to the practical effects. If, as I have said umpteen times during the proceedings on the Bill, the republicans, the nationalists and the Roman Catholic Church support what comes out of the Bill and support the new police force, we shall not have to worry about the 50:50 business because there are many very good young men and women who would like to join the RUC or the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as it is about to be. I am certain that we can get the balance right--by "right" I mean in relation to reflecting the population--within the force in a short space of time.
I do not think that the Bill as it stands will help in any way to do that. As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said, it leaves political items at the heart of the policing service. We do not want that and I know that the Government do not want it. I believe that an amendment on the lines of Amendment No. 8, an amendment that does not fly in the face of European human rights legislation, should be accepted. I am sad that I have not heard a view on the human rights aspects from the Liberal Democrats. I hope that I shall hear one in a few moments. I am sorry to see a Bill being passed which flies in the face of human rights legislation and which inevitably at some stage must cause problems.
I support the amendment. The business of 50:50 recruitment and of reaching the right balance in reflecting the population is necessary, but there is a better way of doing it than the way proposed in the Bill. I hope that the Government will be able to find a way and not be stuck with something that is rather meaningless. As I have said, once we get open season for the nationalist population to join the RUC, we are home and dry.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment No. 8. I fully support the intention of gaining the 50:50 balance or at least of ensuring that Roman Catholics and other groups are correctly and proportionately represented within the police. I would point out that the system being discussed is also applicable, under Clause 46(5), to the police support staff. They should all come under the same provisions. However, the arguments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Glentoran, have covered all there is to be said about our disgust for discrimination and, as it appears to us, the dodgy way in which it is proposed to be dealt with. It would not be necessary if the right atmosphere and the right support from various quarters were present.
In Committee, the Minister stopped me in my tracks by saying me that I was going round and round in circles when I was talking about how the provisions would work in practice. It is worth looking at how the system works at the moment. There are successive competitions for people who wish to join the police force. There are plenty of applicants but, sadly, very few Roman Catholics. There are up to 4,000 applicants in each of those competitions. Each competition normally provides at least enough potential recruits to supply up to three or four cadres of recruits of about 90 each. Quite a number of people pass. They reach a mark--be it of literacy, competence or future ability--and they are graded, because the police force in Northern Ireland needs, as does any other police force, to take the best available recruits.
Many people pass--I think sometimes in their thousands; the noble and learned Lord may have a more accurate figure--and are placed in the pool. But the Chief Constable does not leave them in the pool, shut his eyes and pluck out 90 for this cadre and 90 for that cadre. He selects people in an order of merit and offers them a chance to join the force. This enables him to achieve a police force which is worthy of the name and worthy to carry out its functions in society to the best of its ability.
What the Minister is insisting on here--this is where the noble and learned Lord said that I was going round and round in circles--is a pool containing lots of people. When the Chief Constable wants another cadre, he will come along one day and simply take out another 90 names. That will happen even without the discrimination that we do not like, which will distort the selection system even more.
Such a situation is virtually impossible to work. I felt that the Minister rather glossed over it and said "Do not worry. The NIO and the RUC will sort it out". I have tried to break out of that circle. I have approached extremely senior representatives of the RUC, and they say categorically that they have asked the Northern Ireland Office--and, through it, the Government--how on earth they can work such a system. They have been to recruiting agents and outside consultants, not one of whom has heard of anyone recruiting in such a way.
What would happen if a recruit who had a degree in criminology and was an extremely good leader passed the qualification test? He may be suitable to become a future chief constable but, because the names will be plucked out of the pool without any order of merit, he will be lucky to be chosen.
This will have two effects. First, how long will somebody who has the kind abilities that we want for the police force sit around and wait on the off chance that someone will pick his name out of the hat? I would guess not very long. The police force is a well paid and professional body. The people who go into it are not fools; they want a well paid and professional job. If they see that they cannot get it on their merits, they will not be there to take it. Perhaps the Minister can say how this will work. I want--we all want--the best police force we can have.
The second effect is this. Having got people from a lower grade through, and having distorted selection to correct the imbalance--perhaps by enlisting Roman Catholics who did not achieve the grade but who are necessary to meet the 50:50 requirement--what happens on promotion? If the Government are capable of sorting it out at constable level, what do we do thereafter? Logically, not everyone will be in line for promotion--and promotion will be on merit; it has to be.
For those reasons I support the gist of these amendments, in particular Amendment No. 8.
My Lords, I have not taken part in the debates on the Bill, largely because I did not think that there was anything helpful I could say. Having reached the present stage, it is not easy to see an alternative step to that represented by the Bill. It is one more lesson that, if you appease violence, you are almost certainly going to have to take one step after another which you would not take had you had a chance to look at them ab initio.
You also have to face the fact that you have given notice to the people who have relied on violence--and who have got their way by using it--that they cannot lose. You find yourself in this kind of desperate situation where there is no happy solution. No one could have listened today to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, without great sympathy and great sadness. It was the speech of a brave man who has been through very difficult times.
While I do not suppose the noble Lord will wish to divide the House--I do not know--on the three amendments which seek to leave out Clauses 45, 46 and 47, he was nevertheless right to challenge them. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of what the clauses cover. They cover recruitment arrangements, the question of discrimination in making appointments and the temporary provisions. One accepts that all three are necessary.
My difficulty--I have only one substantial point to put to the noble and learned Lord--is that all those provisions are workable only with trust. As far as I can see, there is no sign of there being any sudden, dramatic change of heart by men who have never hesitated to use violence and who have never yet made any concession. When it comes to sitting round a table and discussing quite difficult issues, one wonders whether there will be any will to give at all. There has not been in the past. I do not know how those who have really suffered will be able to find any confidence in working together, quite suddenly, to build a new society. I find it difficult to believe that it will come about. Right throughout, the whole thing is stitched through with wishful thinking.
My Lords, I, too, support Amendment No. 8. The fact that the amendment had to be moved in this House highlights the total difference that exists between the RUC in Northern Ireland and any other police force in the United Kingdom. We certainly would not have to talk about Roman Catholics and Protestants in any other police force in England, Scotland and Wales. We may have to talk about ethnic minorities, coloured people and different groups, but we would not have to talk about religion. The issue is specific to Northern Ireland.
The amendment seeks clarification of how the new police force will be constructed. I remember that in 1976, in another part of this building, when we were legislating for fair employment we met with great opposition from the Tories. Many Northern Ireland Unionists were also opposed to it. For some 24 years afterwards--until it was replaced this year by the Equality Commission--the legislation highlighted the tremendous difficulties in Northern Ireland. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act was not restricted to the RUC--it covered all employment--and yet we saw the tremendous difficulties we had there.
I have asked before in the House and I shall ask again--we will have to see what happens when the Bill becomes law in Northern Ireland--how do you pick a Catholic who is suitable to join the RUC? Does he have to have academic qualifications? Does he have to have religious qualifications to the extent that he went to a Catholic school and lived in a Catholic district? Will they be sufficient qualifications? I know many members of the RUC who do not have academic qualifications. Many members of the Metropolitan Police in London do not have academic qualifications. It is the same throughout all the other police forces in the United Kingdom. You do not have to have the qualifications of a brain surgeon to join the police in this country.
So what will the criteria be in Northern Ireland? However one may approach this Bill, there are many practical problems in relation to the police in Northern Ireland. Catholics who join the RUC at present cannot live in their own towns and villages. Many have had to give up all contact with their families because they have joined the police force. They are unable to go home to the villages where they lived. I refer especially to Crossmaglen and other areas.
I recall a time before 1969 when there were policemen living in Catholic districts in Northern Ireland. They lived in an area adjacent to Turf Lodge and there was one in Andersonstown; indeed, I can think of a dozen of them. Once the Troubles broke out those policemen were either killed or maimed. They had to leave those areas. That led to the situation where the only safe place for a policeman to live was in a Protestant district. That is where they live now. You do not get any policemen living in Catholic areas. If they do, they cannot live there with their relatives. They have to give up their relatives. Sometimes, indeed, Protestant areas are not very safe for the police. Once can recall last year, and the year before, when the RUC was called upon to deal with riotous situations in Drumcree. Many of the rioters there pointed their fingers at the RUC men--we saw it on television reports--saying "We know where you live". In fact, in Carrickfergus, where many RUC men had decided to live, houses were wrecked because they had dealt with a loyalist mob at Drumcree.
Therefore, to attract Catholics, we shall have to look into all sorts of other ramifications; for example, where the potential recruit will live. Will he be allowed to live in a Catholic area? Is he prepared to give up his family for the sake of taking the job? In the final analysis it will not be this House or the other place that decides. It may be the Chief Constable who is given the onerous responsibility of enlisting recruits but the people who, to great extent, will decide the composition of the force as far as concerns Catholics--and I deeply regret having to say this--will be the paramilitaries.
Can we imagine a policeman living in Turf Lodge, in Ballymurphy or in Andersonstown? I know those areas street by street, district by district. I know them; I represented that area for 18 years. Those areas are completely in the grip of the different IRAs--the Provisional IRA, now the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. They are in the grip of paramilitaries. Can anyone put his hand on his heart and say that some young man living in those areas will want to become a policeman in the new Northern Ireland police service? I think it highly unlikely.
I should be delighted if I were proved wrong. However, in the years that lie ahead, I can see that the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland will dictate events. Sinn Fein will want to see the police service built up to its specifications. There is absolutely no doubt about that. As we saw in the Shankill Road riots just a few weeks ago, those particular people, whether loyalists or paramilitaries, have no great admiration for the RUC when it appears that it is not acquiescent to their demands.
However, the biggest question at the back of my mind is: how do we determine whether someone is a Catholic? Is it because he went to a certain school? Is it because he goes to Mass? I was speaking to an RUC friend of mind just recently--believe it or not, I still have some friends in the force, both Catholics and Protestants--who said, "A whole lot of my colleagues here in the RUC are agnostics. They do not pay any regard to any particular religion. But they are put into the category of being Protestants; and they don't like it. In fact, I have suggested to them that we get a whole gang of them all lined up and go down to Clonard monastery in the middle of the Falls Road, which is run by the Redemptorists, and get them all to become Catholics. That will save many of them from the threat of redundancy that they now face".
The amendment before us is a reasonable one. It says that before appointments are confirmed reference should be made to the Chief Constable, the Equality Commission and the "Police Association"--I take that to be the federation that represents some of them. Who could possibly object to that? I believe that to be a most reasonable set of words. It states that, before recruits are taken on, reference should be made to those three bodies. I do not suppose that the Minister will accept the responsibility for telling us what his ideas are on recruitment; indeed, I think that he has enough problems already without getting involved in that respect. However, we should be given some indication.
In my lifetime in politics there have been occasions in Northern Ireland when I was able to refer to a speech that was made in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords in defence of someone I was representing. So probably what is said in this Chamber will become part of the scenario, the culture, of the newly-created police force. As I say, we should be given some indication of how the Government, the Chief Constable and the authorities intend to persuade young Catholics to join the new force.
I was speaking to someone only yesterday in Belfast. He observed that the Catholic Church had not said very much about the police. Many bitterly regret that fact. But someone suggested that young Catholic boys who attend St Mallacy's College in Belfast, or some of the other academic institutions, would want to join the RUC. We must disabuse our minds of that thinking: there is no pool of young Catholics who want to join any police force. Indeed, there are not that many people in this country who want to become policemen. Sometimes it can be a very nasty and dangerous job, particularly in Northern Ireland. I cannot see any of the academic institutions in Northern Ireland pushing all their Catholics into the newly created police service. There are tremendous difficulties to be faced. I believe that Amendment No. 8 attempts to deal with them by making reference to the fact that the Chief constable should consult the "Police Association" and the Equality Commission on the issue. This will be the stone--the brick--on which the whole police force is built in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I should just like to remind the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that there are quite a number of police officers from Northern Ireland serving in the Metropolitan Police. Indeed, one of them used to stand on duty by the door of your Lordships' House for many years. He came from County Down. On a lighter note, I should like to see the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, leading a mass baptism at Clonard monastery. I remind the noble Lord that you do not necessarily have to be a priest to conduct baptism: in emergencies it can be a layman.
I turn now to this group of amendments. I am doubtful about a series that tries to compress four clauses of the Bill into a very few words in Amendment No. 8. I am a little surprised that the amendment should have received support from the Official Opposition who, I notice, have not added their name to the sponsors.
I have mentioned my next point to various chief constables and Ministers. I refer to the possibility of recruiting in to the new police service of Northern Ireland Roman Catholics from outside that jurisdiction. I ask the Minister whether I am right in thinking that as many as 12 per cent of the adult population of Northern Ireland do not consider themselves to be either Protestant or Roman Catholic? The figure may be as high as 12 per cent if one takes into account people who have attended integrated schools, members of other faiths, agnostics--who have already been mentioned--and people who have been born outside Northern Ireland. If the figure is anything like as high as I have indicated, that opens the possibility of having 44:44 recruitment rather than 50:50. That might make things a lot easier.
My Lords, in speaking to this batch of amendments it will be recalled that on Second Reading I suggested substituting quotas for targets. This would have kept Northern Ireland in line with the rest of UK practice with regard to, for example, ethnic recruitment to the police. In the ordinary course of events, targets would have been preferable. However, the situation in Northern Ireland is very different. As I said in Committee, in the intervening period it had been put to me by the Equality Commission that the RUC has for many years been given targets to improve Catholic recruitment which it has failed to meet. Targets, then, have not been a credible solution in the context of Northern Ireland. They are a "busted flush". It may be, in the event, that quotas will not be fully realised, but the pressure will be on Church leaders and the nationalist and republican political leaders to encourage Catholics to apply for the new police service. They, like Patten, seek quotas and it behoves them therefore to help quotas to be achieved in the medium term. In the light of that, we on these Benches oppose these amendments.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, why does he imagine that young Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland, any more than young Roman Catholics in the Province of Quebec, in France, Spain, Portugal, or Italy today, as opposed to 30 or 40 years ago, will do what their priests tell them to do? They do not do that any longer.
My Lords, nevertheless it behoves those leaders who want quotas to be inserted in the Bill to encourage their co-religionists to apply for the new police service.
My Lords, the outcome that I am sure the whole House seeks is the creation of a police service that has the confidence of all the people in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, it is the delivery of the service and the people's confidence in it that matter.
I hope that the Minister can respond to my next point. There seems to be a distinction in the Bill between the clauses which deal with the formation of the police service and the schedules which deal with the formation of the board. As regards the exercise of the Secretary of State's powers in the schedule, the Bill refers to his duty to ensure that the body is representative. I wonder why the schedules deal with the matter in one way and the clauses in another. I am sure the whole House recognises that we have a difficulty; namely, how we change the culture that surrounds policing in Northern Ireland. Perhaps we might be helped if the Minister gave us some indication of the strategy that the Government are pursuing in the clauses. There may be some justification for imposing the measures in the clauses for a period of time if they result in a more balanced arrangement in terms of the formation of the service. I should be interested to know why the Government have chosen to move in one direction with regard to the formation of the board and in another with regard to the formation of the service.
My Lords, I commence my remarks from a different starting point from that of many of the previous speakers in that I support the amendment. I do so not because of arithmetic or established quotas but simply because of the experience I have, and continue to have, in Northern Ireland.
The other day I spoke to a colleague in the Roman Catholic Church who occupies an extremely senior position. Not unnaturally, the conversation turned to the role of the Churches in the police debate. We discussed some of the details that are before your Lordships' House this afternoon. He said something which I believe that noble Lords should hear. He referred particularly to 50:50 representation in relation to recruitment and service. He said that no provision of the Bill is a greater judgment on the history of the Province of Northern Ireland than that it is necessary to talk in terms of the two communities. I entirely endorse the sentiments behind my colleague's words. It is a judgment on what some of us have allowed to fester, albeit we inherited that from previous generations. But the point is the following. A shudder goes through many of us when the word "discrimination" is mentioned, whether it be constructive discrimination or that corrosive discrimination which has, unfortunately, bedevilled the history of my homeland.
When I read the clauses in the Bill which concern the question of recruitment and 50:50 proportions I know exactly what Her Majesty's Government are attempting to do. I have no problem with that and entirely understand it. However, right across the House and, I dare to say, without a single exception, we all want the best possible police service for all the people of our divided community. Where we may differ is in emphasis or methodology. In this instance what we must look forward to is a situation where young, qualified Roman Catholics--despite some of the comments made on a previous occasion in this House, they exist in great numbers and deserve the same opportunities as their Protestant fellow citizens--can progress in any profession. They need to be viewed as wanting a police career not to make up some quota but because they want to serve the new community that is emerging. I hope that is the vision noble Lords have, not just for the police service but also for the people of Northern Ireland. I suggest that as the Bill is drafted at present with regard to recruitment and 50:50 ratios, the wrong message will be sent out to those who most need to hear the right message.
I have spent the past two days fulfilling my duties on the Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan border. As noble Lords know, a major atrocity could have occurred there recently but for the vigilance of the security forces in the area. During the past 48 hours I have talked to clergy and people in the area and have many reflections on those conversations, only one of which I shall relate. I refer to an isolated farmer on the border living miles away from his neighbours. Noble Lords may judge his religious designation from what I am about to say. That farmer said, "Is not this the argument? The fact is that this atrocity could have taken innumerable lives, but for its discovery. Is not this the real argument for why we need a police service in which people want to serve in it because there is a better future for all our young people?".
I earnestly believe that if we are stuck with a definitive quota such as this, it will send out the wrong message. I want to see a police service supported right across our community, effective because of its professionalism and its integrity. However, I believe that the way to achieve that will not be enhanced by this part of the Bill as it stands
Perhaps I may say a final word. From time to time, references have been made to Church leaders who encourage members of their flocks to join the police service. Noble Lords will forgive me if I say that I entertain a slight private smile when I hear statements of that kind. I have no illusions as to who would listen to me. I have no illusions as to what would be the private thoughts of Anglicans in Northern Ireland, were I to say, "Do this, do that and do the other". I have a feeling that ecumenism might well go out the window and their thoughts could turn to the Vatican. Indeed, I should like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in front of the whole House that I am very encouraged to hear that, as a member of my flock, he is taking his ecumenism so far.
However, we are debating here an extremely serious issue, of which this is an extremely important part. I want to make a plea that we engender in this Bill the encouragement that Northern Ireland needs to recognise that people in a new police service will be respected because they want to serve the community. They want to be regarded as guardians of the law in a new era. I beg to suggest that the present wording would not enhance that view.
My Lords, in an ideal world, we would have no quotas for gender, ethnic minorities, Catholics or Protestants. But if we are to reach that ideal world from one that is currently far from ideal, we need to do more than simply hope that the world will become a better place. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, spoke truly: it is an indictment of all of us--not only of those who live in Northern Ireland--that a 50:50 split has to be considered. That is because people on the mainland have tolerated so much of what has happened and, for many years, have not done anything about it. That is an indictment, but that is not to say that it is a false indictment. It represents the true crisis of Northern Ireland.
Whenever proposals for positive discrimination are put forward, a certain set of arguments is always employed; namely, that people will get in, not because they want to get in, but because it will be easy to get in. Promotion will take place not on merit, but on grounds of colour, gender or religion. Alternatively, the quality of whichever professional body is concerned will be downgraded. Those arguments make two assumptions. First, that the present force--which is based, after all, on corrosive discrimination--has within it people who are all fully qualified and merit their success. That cannot be true. Secondly, around the world, a great deal of experience has been gained of positive discrimination. We are not the first to have tried it. In the early 1960s, I was a young student in the United States. The problem of integration in police forces was then prevalent. I heard all the arguments: there were no qualified black people who could possibly join the police force; they would be corrupt; they would not be able to hold down the job and so forth.
In our debates discussing the provisions of Clause 1 on Second Reading, in Committee and, on Report, it has been stated that there are a great many well-qualified Catholics who would join the force. However, they cannot join because of paramilitary threats. We are told that there is a pool of talented Catholics and that what is required is for Sinn Fein/IRA to remove its sanctions. I feel that part of the removal of those sanctions requires a 50:50 recruitment to be put on to the face of the Bill.
We may differ on this view. Indeed, it is a moot point whether it would violate the Human Rights Act. I am sure that my noble and learned friend will respond to that. However, we should be under no illusion that, unless a dramatic gesture is made here--a gesture made in the full knowledge that it should be removed as soon as possible, because under any circumstances it is somewhat invidious--we shall not give a clear signal of our serious intention to reverse the decades of corrosive discrimination which has existed in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I should like to say briefly that this Government, along with other governments before them, have sent signal after signal and made confidence-building gesture after confidence-building gesture, but have never received anything in return. Have the Government asked Sinn Fein/IRA and the SDLP to make a public declaration that they do not oppose the existence of the RUC and that they do not oppose the entry of Catholics into the RUC? That is the central issue here and those are very simple questions which could be answered simply and quickly.
I do not understand how anyone could be expected to watch those people serve on the board of the new police authority if they are not prepared to make a statement now--that is, before the Bill is passed. At any rate, that must be done before any steps can be taken towards changing the quality and nature of recruitment. It is a very simple bargain. We have always negotiated with these people in exactly the way in which they wish the negotiations to move: we offer; they take and give nothing in return. All they need to do is to make a public statement of support to their supporters. That has never been done.
My Lords, the collective effect of Amendments Nos. 8, 10 and 11 would be to remove the so-called 50:50 recruitment provisions and to replace them with a provision to require the implementation of affirmative action measures to bring the composition of the police service into line with that of the Northern Ireland population. This is a critical part of the Bill and these provisions--rightly--have been fully debated on a number of occasions both in another place and here in your Lordships' House.
The starting point of this debate is always the same place, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Eames. Perhaps I may begin by quoting from the Equality Commission, which has stated that:
"The creation of a police service which is representative of the community is essential both to the effectiveness of the police service and to the establishment of a peaceful Northern Ireland ... a police service which has the confidence of the entire community is an essential element of the new society ... which was envisaged by the Agreement".
The issue is how to set about achieving this.
The Patten report fully recognised, as do the Government, the significance of affirmative action methods in bringing about compositional change. At paragraph 15.2 of the Patten report, it states that,
"The key to making [the] police service representative of those communities--indeed the key to the successful implementation of nearly everything in this report--is that the leaders of those communities now actively encourage their young people to join the police service".
The report contained a range of specific recommendations to that effect. For instance, in relation to the role of community leaders, the establishment of links between schools and universities and the police service and advertising strategies. Patten's clear view, which is shared by the Government, is that the imbalance between Catholic/nationalist and Protestant/unionist is so extreme that exceptional measures are justified. As the Equality Commission has highlighted, the proportion of Catholics in the police has increased by just over 1 per cent--from 7.3 to 8.4 per cent--in the past 10 years. This is in spite of the fact that the proportion of Catholics in the population has been on the increase, and in spite of the various affirmative action measures which have been implemented by the RUC. The commission has expressed the view that,
"goals and timetables and affirmative action measures ... are unlikely to produce the necessary change in the composition of the police for a considerable period".
Fifty:fifty recruitment is an exceptional means of addressing an exceptional problem. Because it is exceptional it will remain subject to regular review and renewal, on the basis of the impact it is producing. Most importantly, the merit principle will be preserved, in that candidates will still be required to meet the qualifying standard for entry to the police.
The Government went some way in Committee to address concerns in relation to the 50:50 provisions by placing a ceiling on the Secretary of State's power to aggregate the quota at 75 per cent. This will ensure that no fewer than 25 per cent of either community background group must be appointed. It is therefore explicit in the Government's position that this exceptional measure is required to achieve the aim of a police service which is representative of the community as a whole.
I shall now deal with some of the points made during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made the point that intimidation is a reason for low Roman Catholic recruitment. The Government accept that intimidation has been a major reason why Roman Catholics have not come forward. But there are also other reasons. We do not say that 50:50 recruitment on its own can solve matters. Indeed, Patten recognises that Roman Catholic community leaders and Roman Catholic political leaders need to encourage Catholics to join the police service. However, we believe that 50:50 recruitment will lead to that process being reached much more quickly.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord. He will have noticed, as will the rest of the House, that the leaders of the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein are saying that the Bill is inadequate for their purposes. If they maintain that position, is it likely that intimidation will cease in the way that he describes?
My Lords, we believe that all community leaders should, first, denounce intimidation and, secondly, encourage young people from their communities to join the police service. We believe that the exceptional measure of 50:50 recruitment will bring closer the day when the police service has cross-community support.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked me to explain how positive discrimination could deal with a situation where there was an insufficient number of applications to the RUC from the Roman Catholic community. The recruitment provisions in the Bill are designed to deal with appointment. They cannot on their own make Roman Catholic applicants come forward. However, the Government hope that the measures will engender confidence. As I keep saying, on their own these measures cannot do it; other measures are required as well.
The noble Lord then gave a particular example of numbers in relation to applications. I repeat: all candidates must achieve a single standard of merit, as provided for in Clause 44(5). If that standard of merit is not reached, the individual applicant may not become a member of the police service. I shall come later to the detailed questions asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked also about human rights compatibility. The issue of human rights has been considered carefully in relation to the compatibility of this provision with the Human Rights Act and the human rights convention. The clear view is that it is compatible with the human rights convention because the effect of the Bill is not to give anyone a vested right to a job; therefore, it does not engage the human rights convention.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also asked about the human rights convention, and I have dealt with the point. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, raised a number of questions about how the provision will work in practice. He said that senior sources in the RUC say that this approach will not work. The Government have worked closely with the RUC and the police authority to work out the details.
My Lords, I responded to what I thought the noble Viscount had said. The Government have been working closely with the RUC and the police authority to work out the details of how the recruitment process will work. I have set out in general terms how it will work; obviously, I cannot go into the precise details. Candidates will apply and will be selected to join a merit pool, and will obviously have to meet the qualifying standard. From the pool, an equal number of Catholics and non-Catholics will be selected, as required by Clause 46(1).
The noble Viscount answered his own question in relation to promotion. This does not affect promotion, because 50:50 measures do not apply in relation to promotion. I hope that that answers the point.
My Lords, the point is that, having got candidates for the pool, there will be a variation in the ability and aptitude of those people. The numbers will be greater than required--I do not mean in terms of Catholics or Protestants. It would be a fool who did not then choose people out of the pool according to their merits, in terms of either ability, aptitude or some form of qualification.
My Lords, I am not sure that I follow the noble Viscount's point. Of course, all the candidates must satisfy the qualifying standard. The effect of discrimination in favour of a particular group will inevitably mean that some people, who would not perhaps have got in, get in because of the discrimination provision.
My Lords, I am not talking about discrimination; I am merely saying that once these people are in the pool, there will be more people than are required and one must still, presumably, take the best of them first. Some people will have just scraped in according to the required level. A few others, however, may make wonderful chief constables by one's estimation. Does it mean that such a person will remain in the pool until he is required and until someone may pluck him out of it--remembering that there will be more people than are actually required?
My Lords, obviously, the best people will be selected, but subject as well to the provisions in relation to discrimination.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, raised the question of redundancy in respect of existing officers. These provisions do not apply to existing officers; they apply only in relation to people who apply to join.
The noble Lord also asked how someone's religion will be decided. The basis for monitoring community background is based on existing regulations: the fair employment monitoring regulations, which have been in place for a decade. The view of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is that these procedures work well and provide an accurate assessment of perceived community background.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, then asked, as it were, the vital question: how do you get Roman Catholics to join the police force? We believe that it will be by implementing Patten's vision of a new beginning to policing by selecting an external recruitment agency of human resource professionals to carry out the recruitment. The Chief Constable hopes to make the appointments next month. The recruitment agency and the Chief Constable will work together to prepare an advertising and recruitment strategy. They will build on existing efforts, such as visits to schools and police recruiting sergeants.
My Lords, will the Minister give way? This matter is of tremendous importance. It has already been referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who I believe alluded to my remarks. I said that the IRA on the one hand--the Catholic paramilitaries--and the loyalists on the other will determine whether anyone will be accepted into the RUC from the districts that they presently control. The noble Viscount said that Gerry Adams said only today that the Bill as presently constructed is totally unacceptable to Sinn Fein, and therefore to the IRA. That means that they will not permit or call upon any Catholic to join the newly-constructed police service. How do you get over that difficulty?
My Lords, we have repeatedly encouraged all parties and community leaders to encourage their members to support the new arrangements, and it is very much hoped that they will do so. However, the fact that not every single leader in the community is prepared to endorse them is not a valid reason for failing to take steps to create a fair police force.
My Lords, we will not regard their failure to do what the noble Lord suggests as a veto or a reason for not going forward with sensible steps to seek to achieve a fair and representative police force.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. He has been most generous. However, with great respect to him, that really will not do. Would he agree that the present position of the SDLP in Roman Catholic areas is being eroded by Sinn Fein/IRA to the point of disappearance; that they increasingly control, by all sorts of extremely reprehensible methods, the streets and areas that were formerly controlled by the SDLP; and that his fond hope--I think we must describe it as such--will not be borne out by the reality on the ground? It is all very well to say that the Government encourage people to take these desirable steps, but the truth of the matter is that their writ does not run there.
My Lords, by moving this Bill through Parliament, the Government are setting up a situation which they believe will promote the creation of a representative police force. On 6th June, in another place, Seamus Mallon said:
"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.]
That is the prize for which we are aiming. Although it is an incredibly difficult issue, the Government believe that they have got the Bill right. Noble Lords are right to point out that some terrorist and other groups do not encourage people to join the police force. However, that is not a reason for not proceeding with the Bill, which we believe promotes the aim for which we all strive.
My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord give way? As I understand it, in order to create the room for the 50 per cent quota, a number of existing officers will have to retire. I know that this will not come about for another two years. Nevertheless, a number of senior needed officers are retiring because space has to be made. Can we now afford to have that space made in pursuit of an aim which is generally suggested in the House to be pie in the sky?
My Lords, as I understand the position, the issue is about recruitment, not about existing officers. I shall write to the noble Baroness about whether or not there is any compulsory redundancy. I am not aware that that is the position.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised a question with regard to those parts of the population that are neither Roman Catholic or Protestant. About four per cent of the RUC is categorised as neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic. I do not know the percentage figures with regard to the community as a whole, and I shall write to him about that.
The Right Reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford drew a comparison between the board, referred to in Schedule 1, and the make up of the police force. Dealing with the board, the Schedule sets out a very small number--19 or fewer public appointees, not employees. Patten called for the appointments to be representative. In addition, 10 members of the board are appointed by d'Hondt, a democratic process. Patten recommended the recruitment of about 400 police officers at each go, which is a totally different approach.
Finally, I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Eames. He has expressed the same objective as the Government have. With regard to the particular provision that is sought to be removed, the Equality Commission commented as follows:
"The Commission places great emphasis on the importance of the provisions of Clause 46, which allow for equal numbers of Roman Catholics and others to be recruited from a pool of qualified applicants. In Northern Ireland, a society coming out of conflict, a police service which has the confidence of the entire community is essential. That means that it is vital that change in the community composition of the police is rapidly effected. The Commission would therefore urge you to support this exceptional measure".
I agree that not every part of the community yet supports these measures, but surely the introduction of this Bill must be a step in the right direction. I therefore invite noble Lords to reject Amendment No. 8 and those that follow.
I deal briefly with Amendment No. 9, which I understand is not supported by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Amendment No. 9 removes Clause 45, which deals with the encouragement of lateral entry, as it has become known. Clause 45 would give effect to Patten's recommendations 127 and 128. The Clause will enable only the appointment of suitably qualified external candidates who have to compete in open competition against internal candidates. In this respect, Clause 45 is unlike the other 50:50 recruitment provisions. It deals merely with encouraging such applications. I accordingly ask the noble Lord not to move that amendment when the time comes.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord to clarify one point before he sits down. If as many as 12 per cent of the population of the Province are atheist or agnostic, as my noble friend Lord Hylton has suggested and as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, seemed to confirm, and if at least one per cent are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or whatever, is it not the case that only 37 per cent of new recruits can be Protestant, as Clause 46 is presently drafted?
My Lords, the provision is for 50:50 because it seems a simple approach. I quite understand the arithmetic that the noble Lord has outlined. However, even having regard to the non-Roman Catholic and non-Protestant aspects, the 50:50 approach recommended by Patten is sensible.
My Lords, I wish to thank sincerely all who have contributed to this debate, which has to a great extent broken new ground as far as the affairs of Northern Ireland are concerned. Although I understand the difficulties that confront the Minister, this is not necessarily the final word between now and Prorogation. In my view, the other place should be given another opportunity to compensate for the very limited amount of time that they were given in July. While I have listened very carefully and with great appreciation to the words of the Minister, I have to seek the opinion of the House on Amendment No. 8.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Clause 45 [Recruitment arrangements: other ranks]:
[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]
Clause 46 [Discrimination in appointments]:
[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]
Clause 47 [Expiry, renewal and repeal of temporary provisions]:
[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]
Clause 54 [Regulations as to emblems and flags]:
moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 28, line 36, leave out from ("may") to the end of line 38 and insert ("--
(a) within three months of the passing of this Act make regulations altering the name in the emblem in use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the time of the passing of this Act to any new name of the force adopted under this Act; and
(b) make regulations concerning the use of the emblem--").
My Lords, once again we come to an amendment which has been debated thoroughly several times in your Lordships' House. However, it concerns a subject that I believe is closely associated with practical, effective policing.
In order to put the matter into context, as I attempted to do on Report, I believe that we need to consider what is happening on the ground. In Northern Ireland is developing probably the most serious situation in the kingdom. According to the Belfast Telegraph of the night of the 13th:
"Crisis looming as crime rises by 10 per cent".
That followed a report a week earlier which stated:
"RUC in disarray as levels of sick leave reach peak".
Although I shall not go into them, there are articles which give details supporting both those headlines, as noble Lords would expect.
Why is that important? It is important because the matter should be put into context. As I said previously when debating this subject, it is vital that we have a professional, fit, high-morale police force. The police force needs to have courage. It takes guts and courage to go out on to the streets of Belfast and elsewhere. It requires camaraderie. Everyone in the RUC would certainly welcome more colleagues from the nationalist areas. Interestingly, according to crime statistics, the area with the biggest increase in reported crime is--surprise, surprise--West Belfast. That is an area where people will not join the police force and where it is almost impossible for the police force to go. Therefore, the situation is difficult.
We have agreed that the name of the police force will be changed. However, perhaps even more deeply felt by the members of the force but much less noticed by the population is the matter of hat badges. As has been said before, people are remarkably unaware of them. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith telephoned various constabularies in this country to find out about their hat badges. I must tell your Lordships that every police force in this country has the Crown on its hat badge. That has been the case virtually since Peel.
It is hoped that we shall be setting up a new police force based on the present one which is efficient and proficient. Therefore, why do we want to remove that Crown? Northern Ireland, as agreed in the Good Friday/Belfast agreements, is still totally and completely a sovereign part of the United Kingdom. There was nothing in the Good Friday agreement which said or suggested that sovereignty should be fudged, that there should be joint sovereignty or that there should be non-British sovereignty.
I suggest that when the people who serve in that force bravely go out on the streets, they should have the right to know that they are guarding the Queen's peace as members of her sovereign state. That is their authority. The badge gives them that authority and no other will do the same. For years it has been a shared and bipartisan badge with, as I said before, the harp and the shamrock.
I shall not go over the arguments which I have placed before this House and which noble Lords have heard umpteen times over. However, I say simply that this is a police force which operates within the United Kingdom. Why should it be any different? I suggest that the Secretary of State has a dilemma and I have much sympathy for him. In his report, Patten said extremely unwisely that the new police force should have a badge which is basically representative of no one and of nothing. It is vitally important for any regiment or corps to have an insignia to rally round, to have on their flag and to wear on their uniforms, and so on. I believe that Patten made a serious mistake. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to the amendment in support of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I, too, support the retention of the cap badge and the insignia of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Some noble Lords and, indeed, some political commentators have stated that it is only a crest. They say that it should not matter what insignia forms the crest of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. However, as anyone who has ever served in or belonged to an organisation well knows, some crests are more important than others.
People have died in the service of the RUC. Others have been cruelly and horribly maimed. The crest has meant enough to the remaining officers to risk death and injury day in and day out throughout the past 30 years. I believe that it still means a lot to the families of the 302 officers who have been murdered in the service of the police in Northern Ireland. The families were justifiably proud of those men and women. And we, as a community, in Ulster are justifiably proud of them. That is the reason why we are fighting so hard to retain the badge and name.
The families of those who were murdered knew and believed that their sons and daughters were defending society and, indeed, keeping Ulster from anarchy. The name was good enough for their sons and daughters to die in the service of all the people of Northern Ireland. The crest is on their headstones in cemeteries the length and breadth of Ulster. Not even the Patten report and this cowardly Government can remove it from there. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I do not believe that I need to repeat what I said at earlier stages of the passage of the Bill about the importance of symbols and flags. Noble Lords will have noticed the support from all parts of the House for what the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said.
Others also agree with the noble Lord about the importance of symbols. Why, otherwise, do commercial organisations spend so much time and money on their own symbols? An enormous amount of publicity has been given to BP-Amoco, which appears to have spent vast quantities of its shareholders' money in trying to get its logo right. There is a reason for that. The symbols attached to an organisation surely embody the traditions and aspirations of that organisation and they matter very much to all those who work in it.
Of course, if it applies to commercial organisations, I suggest that it applies dramatically more to members of organisations which must go out and face the sort of mayhem which the police force in Northern Ireland still has to face. If they are to do that and to show the extraordinary esprit de corps and morale that they have shown over the past 30 years under appallingly difficult circumstances, I suggest that the continuity of the symbol is at least as important now as ever it has been.
Those noble Lords who think that the words "Royal" or "the Crown" will put off anybody whose allegiance is to the Republic of Ireland need only travel to the capital of the Republic of Ireland, where 78 years--if my mathematics is right--have elapsed since independence was declared and 51 years since the Republic left the Commonwealth, to see that the words "Royal" and "the Crown" are not so repugnant to the citizens and government of the Republic as to make them disappear from everyday national life South of the Border.
The second point that I make is a point made by my noble friend Lord Glentoran when he talked about the role of the Crown. I was much reassured that during the course of the debate on another piece of rather curious legislation that the Government are trying to push through at the moment--the Disqualifications Bill--the Minister who was replying for the Government assured me with some vigour that there was absolutely no question that the Province of Northern Ireland would leave the United Kingdom without the majority support of its inhabitants for doing so. Of course, that has been a mantra which governments of both persuasions have reiterated during the course of the entire peace process.
If that is so, then is it not equally so that a part of the United Kingdom, whether or not all of its inhabitants wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, should, for its own institutions, be happy to see the Crown, which is the principal symbol of the United Kingdom, remain part of the badge of the most important law enforcement agency in the Province?
A number of us have felt increasingly on this issue, as well as many others--perhaps our relationship with our great European home may be another case in point--that Ministers are rather prone to maintain that there is no question of what a number of us fear ever happening and that such a suggestion is absurd. That has been true over the entire Northern Irish peace process. We have been assured that the Northern Irish people will remain part of the United Kingdom no matter how much pressure is put on the British Government until those people wish that situation to change.
Yet we are all too well aware that a number--I put it no higher than this--of the actions of the British Government and the agreements they have reached have made it at least apparent, particularly to a number of people who live in the Province, that perhaps there is something of a gap between what is claimed and what actually happens. For example, it is becoming clear that the Republic is developing a fairly effective veto, first through the Maryfield Secretariat and through other means, on any policy initiative which is taken in Northern Ireland.
If we are to be reassured as much as we should like to be by the efforts of Ministers from that Dispatch Box to give us that reassurance, then keeping the badge of the RUC, or whatever may turn out to be the name of its successor police force--the police force of Northern Ireland, I presume--would be an enormous reassurance, not only to those of us in this Chamber who are worried that there is an extraordinary hollowing-out in the assurances about the Province remaining part of the United Kingdom which the Government give us but, more importantly, to those people who are very much in the majority in the Province.
I believe that the Government have an opportunity to keep a badge which is extremely important to the morale and effectiveness of the new police force because of what it represents. I believe also, in a broader context, that they have an important opportunity to give a wider reassurance, not only to this Chamber but, more importantly, to those who live in the Province that the Government intend to keep their promises and that, under the surface, they are not moving to a condominium or a united Ireland.
My Lords, this is an important issue. The noble Viscount is quite right to say that symbols are extremely important and this is a very important symbol. Therefore, it is right that the House should vote on the matter, and I hope that it will vote on it fairly soon.
It is right too that we should reach finality in this House on this particular issue. After all, this is about the fifth time that we have had this debate. We had it on Second Reading, quite extensively in Committee and on Report. In my view, it would not be right for us now to go over the same ground, very frequently with the same words uttered by the same people to the same effect. We all know what the issue is and, with great respect, it is more important that the House should now take a decision rather than having another debate.
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment. There are many on the government Benches and on the Liberal Democrat Benches who seem to disagree with us on this issue this evening. Those noble Lords may feel that it is inappropriate for the badge of the RUC to be retained by the new police force. But your Lordships must look at the harp and the shamrock for a moment. They are both older than the divisions in Ireland. The harp is used on the emblems of provinces in the Republic of Ireland. It is not on the emblem of Northern Ireland, which has the red hand. The shamrock, likewise, is used.
When I was at a small school in the North of England, there were children from Ireland who were always given shamrock on St Patrick's Day. That was before the Troubles.
More recently, the nationalists hijacked the shamrock and Protestants were almost ashamed to wear that shamrock. So it is more of a nationalist emblem in the North of Ireland. Noble Lords may say that I would say that, but it is true and if noble Lords went over there, they would see it. The shamrock is more of a nationalist emblem than a Protestant one at the moment. St Patrick's Day is reasserting itself, as it should, as a national day for Protestants, for Catholics and for all the people of Ireland.
Do not let us criticise the shamrock and the harp for being Ulster, being Protestant, being the RUC. That is complete and absolute rubbish. They are serious Irish emblems, more so for the Republic than for the north. I ask noble Lords who have listened to the debate this evening to give the matter that consideration and support. Ultimately, there has to be a badge that is inclusive. Those emblems are inclusive.
My Lords, on more than one occasion I was saved from death by the RUC, but that has nothing to do with my views on this amendment. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, it is symbolic. Most things in Northern Ireland are symbolic and this is perhaps one of the more crucial, yet at the same time, one of the smallest issues.
Over the past three years, during the course of these debates, I have felt it to be my duty, whenever possible, to support the Government in the policy they have put forward, and I still do that. However, I believe that the symbolism of this matter for the RUC and for the Protestant community is of enormous importance. Too often, in our desire to try to reach and maintain a peaceful settlement, we have under-estimated the enormous sacrifice that we have asked of the Protestant and the unionist side in the negotiations. I say that from a position that in many ways is regarded by the Protestants as being too much in favour of the nationalist view.
From the point of view of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and from the point of view of the symbolism of this matter to the unionist community, the Government should consider the situation extremely carefully before going ahead with it. Recently in this House we have been round this point five or six times--although I have not taken part on those occasions--but more and more I have felt that this is an issue on which it is right to ask the Government to think again. If it is a small issue, it should not be too much for the nationalist community to understand it, and if it is too much for them, the prospects for long-term peace are small indeed.
My Lords, I support the amendment of my noble friend. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that I have not spoken on the subject before so I shall not be repeating anything I have already said. Yesterday I had the joy of hearing the chairman of English Heritage speak about the fact that our past is part of our future and both are part of our present. The Crown on the cap badge of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is part of the past as it sits on their tombstones. It is part of the future as it is carried in our hearts and it should be part of the present on the badges.
My Lords, all noble Lords know that the Patten report, which the Government are implementing, recommended that the Northern Ireland police service adopt a new badge and symbols entirely free of any association with either British or Irish states. That is behind the Government's reasoning.
Before the Patten report was produced, how many Members of this House knew the design of the badge of the RUC? I see raised hands, but I wonder. I have talked to many people and I do not believe that it was particularly obvious. I believe that interest in this matter has increased because of the politics associated with implementing the Patten report recommendations rather than because of any knowledge about the design of the badge.
It is clear to me that quite a number of police officers in Northern Ireland are much more relaxed about this issue than are the politicians who allegedly speak on their behalf. Many police officers are much more concerned about the integrity of policing, the way in which they enforce law and order and the support they receive from their community than in endless arguments about the badge which simply maintains the policing of Northern Ireland at the centre of party politics. That is exactly what the police do not want. I believe that the traditions of the RUC, the way in which they have suffered and the enormous bravery that they have shown will last for many hundreds of year, long after arguments relating to the badge and the name are forgotten.
My Lords, I regret the reference to the Patten report as though it were an infallible document. It is one person's view. Although I launched Mr Patten on his career when I appointed him my PPS when Leader of the other place, I certainly believe that in this instance he was wrong. I associated myself with my noble friend Lord Prior when says that the badge is dear to the unionist community; I add the footnote, dear to the unionist community, both Protestant and Catholic.
My Lords, the case for the retention of the badge and the emblem have been well made. If the Government do not appreciate that, and if the amendment should be rejected, the people of Northern Ireland will draw one conclusion: that this Government will do anything to please the Sinn Fein/IRA. Unfortunately, they do not know enough about Sinn Fein/IRA to know that to change the badge and emblem to please them will not make one bit of difference and it will not encourage anyone to join the police.
My Lords, the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, seek to require the Secretary of State to make regulations on the RUC emblem within three months of Royal Assent and to prescribe the nature of the emblem. The amendments, in effect, propose that the House should decide now on the substance of the emblem rather than, as the Government propose, that in the first instance we should seek consensus in the community in Northern Ireland as to what should be on the badge. In default of consensus being reached, the Secretary of State will produce regulations that can be debated by both Houses of Parliament. That is the choice that the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, place before the House today.
We have debated this issue before and it has been debated in another place. I make no complaint whatever about that, but it is plainly a significant issue. The Government recognise and understand the strength of feeling of noble Lords on this matter. However, it is equally clear that while they and many others cherish the emblem of the RUC, there are many others who do not. Perhaps I may quote the remarks of the honourable Member for South Down in another place:
"If the new police service is to be accepted, there needs to be a satisfactory resolution of the issue of emblems and flags. The cultural proposals in the Patten report are both symbolically and structurally important. They are an expression of the new beginning to which I have referred. Much more importantly, they are and will continue to be an invitation to all sections of our community to accept and join the new service".
All noble Lords agree that we seek a police service that members of all communities in Northern Ireland would want to join. I quote that passage at length because it gives a clear indication of the views of the nationalists. In a sense, the Government are caught in the middle. They are asked by noble Lords to provide clarity--that noble Lords should decide now--and to retain the elements of the existing emblem. But there is an opposing view. It is against that background and the recommendation of the whole of the Patten commission that the Government concluded and continue to believe that the police board, which should be representative of Northern Ireland society and which will have a majority of members drawn from the elected Assembly, should be involved in the decision-making process.
As we have said before, we would rather not have to make changes that will hurt some in the RUC family, but, like all Members of this House, we want to achieve a new beginning to policing with a service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole. We believe that our approach will do that. I earnestly ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords for taking part in this crucial and critical debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Richard, with whom I agree that we need a decision and we need it now. I have said before that I have every sympathy with the Secretary of State for the position in which he finds himself with the Patten recommendation to remove the hat badge and hence the signs of sovereignty. I suggest it is our duty in this House to pass the message that the Secretary of State does not have Parliament's authority to do that and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, in Committee it looked as though "personal" might be a printing error, but we learnt that it was in fact intentional. Amendment No. 15 is therefore an amendment of principle and not just one of drafting.
The Patten commission recommended that requests for reports of sensitive personnel information relating to individuals might be referred by the Chief Constable to the Secretary of State. There can be little doubt about that. I understand "personnel" in that context to refer to police personnel. Substituting "personal" as the Bill does, greatly widens the scope. It broadens it to include sensitive personal matters affecting any member of the general public. That, in my view, goes too wide and unnecessarily limits the board in relation to the Chief Constable.
We are dealing with the board's right to full information on policing matters. We should remember that we are talking not about published reports, but about reports that are internal to the board, which might well be confidential or have some higher security classification.
The Government's reply in Committee was not exactly convincing. The noble and learned Lord said that "personal" has been inserted so as to be consistent with the Data Protection Act. That may not be a pure red herring, but it hardly seems to compare like with like. We are not in this case discussing data protection, but rather policing and how to make the board effective and to keep it informed about operational matters over which it has some responsibility but no direct control. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope that the Government do not fall for the blandishments of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on this occasion, ingenious as he has been in putting the amendment forward. There will be some information about other people--not policemen or members of the civilian police staff--which is likely to be contained in such reports. It should not be spread around, particularly if the board includes people in close touch with terrorists and others, as may well be the case.
A later amendment attempts to avoid that--at least to some degree--but even if it were passed it is likely that there will be some people on the board to whom it would not be sensible to release personal information.
My Lords, Clause 59(3) sets out the grounds on which the Chief Constable may refer a board's request for a report on a policing matter to the Secretary of State because he believes that the information should not be disclosed. Clause 59(3)(b) provides that one such ground is,
"because a matter relates to an individual and is of a sensitive personal nature".
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, wants to change the word "personal" to "personnel". We believe that that would be wrong for two reasons. First, there is a clear definition in the Data Protection Act. Secondly, when, as here, we are here dealing with matters which should not be disclosed "personal" is a more appropriate word, dealing with the private affairs of individuals, both employed and not employed, rather than "personnel", which is limited to matters of employment. Therefore, we believe that the draft is correct as it stands.
moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 37, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) shall enable the foundation to undertake joint initiatives with the Royal Ulster Constabulary Widows Association, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Disabled Police Officers Association or any other organisation or person within the Royal Ulster Constabulary family, as may be appropriate in matters of common interest;").
My Lords, Amendment No. 16 is very important. It proposes that the foundation shall,
"undertake joint initiatives with the Royal Ulster Constabulary Widows Association, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Disable Police Officers Association or any other organisation or person within the Royal Ulster Constabulary family, as may be appropriate in matters of common interest".
It is easy to sit in this place and talk about the brave men and women of the RUC, of a thin green line which has protected us from anarchy. Words come cheap. It is easy to mouth platitudes and the Government have done plenty of that in both Houses. However, I want to focus for a moment on the reality behind the phrases; the reality as it affects the RUC family.
The current strength of the RUC constabulary is 8,500 full-time officers and 3,000 reservists. Throughout what we have euphemistically called "the troubles", many thousands of men have stepped forward to put on the bottle green uniform of the RUC. The RUC family extends far beyond the men and women who served in the force. The mothers and fathers of those officers, their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins and in-laws could be said to make up the RUC family--and with good reason. Every time a loved one went out on duty those left at home lived with the worry and fear that whenever they saw or heard a news bulletin, or heard the telephone ring, or heard a knock at the door they would learn that he or she had been killed or injured.
The family of every police officer in the United Kingdom must live with the possibility that harm might befall the officer in the course of his or her duty. Thank God that such men and women exist in our society. But not every officer in the UK faced--and, as the events of the past few days have shown, still faces--the additional risk run by the men and women of the RUC. They were at risk on duty and off. On duty they had to respond to telephone calls for assistance, in many instances knowing that they were being lured into certain areas in order to be attacked by stones and petrol bombs, by gunmen, booby-trapped bombs or landmines. There was no respite off duty. Many officers were murdered while shopping; some were even killed on their way to or from church on Sundays. It takes a very special individual to run risks like these on behalf of others.
It took very special people, Protestants and Roman Catholics, to wear the uniform, and their families are justifiably proud of them. And the families of the 302 murdered officers and the many thousands who were injured share that pride. As my noble friend Lord Rogan said, that is the reason why we fight so hard to retain the badge and name. The families of those who were murdered rightly believe that their sons and daughters defended society.
I have already spoken of the terrible injuries suffered by many officers. Young men and women have been blinded; others have lost limbs and must go through life with terrible wounds. One must never forget the families who have endured that pain and suffering with them. That is why the sacrifice and service to the force means so much to the families and to anyone who respects law and order. Any attack, physical or verbal, on the RUC is an attack on the memory of those killed or injured in the service of the force.
We are all indebted to the RUC, and it is a debt that money can never repay. Many people have been hailed for their contribution to the peace process, but if there is one group which deserves credit it is the RUC. That was the force which held the line between two communities and stopped Northern Ireland slipping into anarchy. I do not believe that I stretch a point if I say that civilisation in Northern Ireland was saved by the RUC. The force protected everyone in these islands. There are people alive today who are unaware that they owe their lives to the RUC. The RUC stopped loyalist bombs reaching Dublin and IRA bombs reaching the mainland, and all the while it undertook normal police duties.
This amendment proposes to recognise the sacrifice and service of the men and women of the RUC. Words are cheap. I know that money can never replace a loved one or take away pain and suffering, but support can demonstrate that this House cares enough about the sacrifice of the RUC to do something tangible rather than just talk about it. I urge noble Lords to support the amendment.
"to undertake joint initiatives with the Royal Ulster Constabulary Widows Association, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Disabled Police Officers Association or any other organisation or person within the Royal Ulster Constabulary family".
The Bill sets up the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC Foundation for the purpose of marking the sacrifices and honouring the achievements of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We support both the sentiment and wording of the amendment and, therefore, when the time comes we shall agree to it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for agreeing to the amendment, which I intended to support. I simply add, although in a sense it is superfluous because the Government at least agree with it, that we are not concerned simply with atrocities committed years ago. Over the past few days while we have debated the Bill another police officer has been disabled. He had his leg blown off by a bomb in Castlewellan. That is one more statistic but a tragedy for that officer and his family. At this time we think of that officer as well as the more than 300 who have been killed and others. I am very glad that the Government propose to accept the amendment.
My Lords, at previous stages of this Bill I have consistently voted with the Government and followed all of this with deep personal interest, not least because of my family connections in both the north and south of Ireland. At an earlier stage I intervened to express the wish, which I know would be shared by all of my relatives and ancestors and my wife's relatives, that we put the past behind us as far as we can and see what can be done to move to a more peaceful future. It is my belief that the efforts of the present Government at least have a chance of success. For that reason, we have consistently supported the Government in the Division Lobby. In the case of this particular amendment, had it gone to a Division I would have voted against the Government. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Laird, expresses a very reasonable point, and I am delighted that the Minister intends to accept it.
My Lords, it will not surprise the House that I too greatly welcome the indication by the Minister. Some months ago I had occasion to thank him for a similar gesture towards those who had suffered most. I make one slight plea to the Minister as he considers the way in which this will be implemented. We owe a tremendous debt for past service and sacrifice, but we are moving towards a new police service and, it is hoped, a new era in Northern Ireland. I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should try to view this particular part of the Bill in a continuing sense; in other words, they should concentrate on whatever sacrifice is to be made by those from--please God--both communities who serve in the new police service. Their sacrifice will not be dented simply because it is not a historic fact. Theirs is a continuing sacrifice on behalf of the law-abiding community in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I do not think that it is generally appreciated this side of the water, certainly not in metropolitan circles, that the number of RUC men and women murdered over the past 30 years equates, in proportionate terms, to 10,500 police officers in England, Scotland and Wales being killed over the same period. For that reason, I am very glad that the Government intend to accept the amendment.
My Lords, I rise to thank all those who have spoken to this amendment, and I thank the Minister for accepting it on behalf of the Government. This may not appear to be very important to some people, but it is to us. On a number of occasions in this House I have said that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has been extremely compassionate and helpful on the question of widows and the disabled. Once again, I pay tribute to him for helping us tonight. I have received support from many people, a number of whom are in your Lordships' House tonight. It is perhaps wrong to single out those who have been of particular assistance. Having said that, over the past week I have much valued the encouragement and help provided by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield in developing the amendment. I very much appreciate what the Government have done today.
My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, the Bill was first brought before this House on 13th July of this year. As noble Lords are also aware, Northern Ireland has yet to be in an era of peace and all terrorism has yet to end. Paramilitaries have continued to ignore the clear message that the people of Northern Ireland sent to them at the time of the referendum on the Belfast agreement. That message was that the people of Northern Ireland do not want violence.
Yet since 13th July of this year we have had loyalists killing loyalists and republicans killing republicans. We have had bomb attacks at Armagh barracks, at Magilligan army camp and at Stewartstown. We have had a grenade launcher attack on the MI6 building here in London. We have had explosive finds, at Hannahstown for a bomb which was destined for England, detonator finds and weapon finds. On many occasions we have had incendiary devices. But because of the conscientiousness and diligence with which the RUC carries out its duty, we have had numerous foiled attacks.
The incident on 10th August in Londonderry which led to the large explosives find in Donegal is but only one example of this conscientiousness and diligence. With such a high number of attempted operations, it was as inevitable as it was tragic that two weeks ago--as the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, mentioned--we witnessed the attack on the Castlewellan police station where a police officer lost his leg. Unfortunately, some people at home would term such a despicable act "a success". But where is the success in leaving a husband and a father maimed for life? That so-called "success" is insufficient for the terrorists. Only last week we had the attempted so-called "barrack buster" attack in County Fermanagh, planned to take place on Remembrance Sunday--as if people in Northern Ireland have forgotten or could ever forget the horror of the last Remembrance Sunday attack in County Fermanagh.
What do we get from Sinn Fein? We have a return to "the refusal to condemn" such acts. Instead, it offers a mere acknowledgement that such an attack would "not help anyone".
Sinn Fein/IRA started condemning republican and dissident attacks after the Omagh tragedy, and yet how quickly they have forgotten Omagh, a horror that is permanently etched in the minds of the people of Northern Ireland and so deeply etched in the minds of the citizens of Omagh.
The Patten report stems from the Belfast agreement. That agreement was designed to provide for, as well as bring about, a peaceful Northern Ireland and an end to all terrorism. The Patten report is largely based on the Chief Constable's fundamental review which provided for policing in Northern Ireland in a terrorist-free environment. Unfortunately, at this time, the police are not operating in a terrorist-free environment and all terrorism has not ended.
The terrorism we have experienced in Northern Ireland over the past few months, and the terrorism we are experiencing at the moment, are not the residue of over 30 years of terrorism. We are not witnessing the death of the ideology of terrorism in Northern Ireland. What we have in Northern Ireland is a steady level of attack from operational so-called loyalist and republican terrorists.
The police in Northern Ireland require the capability to deal with this terrorist activity. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, the police will not have the capability to counter the continuing terrorist threat.
Several aspects of the Bill in particular will have an adverse effect on the morale of the police service and on its ability to counter terrorism, especially, in the light of the welcome decreasing army presence and the dismantling of many military installations. The Bill provides for the downsizing of numbers of police officers and the phasing out of the police reserve. To compound the effect of the downsizing, the police will now experience recruitment problems as a consequence of the discriminatory recruitment system referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead.
Therefore, we shall have a smaller police force continuing to combat terrorist and non-terrorist crime. Yet it was reported only last Monday in the Belfast Telegraph that Northern Ireland is about to experience a crime crisis. Unfortunately, crime figures in Northern Ireland show an increase in reported crime. However, in the previous financial year it was reported that downsizing will proceed. The police would still require a large number of officers to combat non-terrorist crime, even if all terrorism did indeed come to an end. The police authority recently reported a £15 million shortage in police funding with respect to its ability to deal with crime.
The morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is at an all-time low. Pushing forward aspects of the Bill, such as the removal of the title "Royal Ulster Constabulary" for operational purposes and the changing of the cap badge could push depressingly low morale to critical levels.
It has been reported that the Royal Ulster Constabulary currently has 1,200 or so officers off sick. That is approximately 10 per cent of its total manpower. That leaves the police with 10 per cent fewer effective officers to respond to 10 per cent more crime. If the Bill is enacted immediately, consider how many more officers will be sick--sick at the name change, the badge reforms, and the downsizing in the light of the continuing terrorist threat.
A moratorium on Patten is essential in order to salvage morale within the ranks of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and in order to have a police force capable of combating the continued threat of terrorism and the spiralling crime rates in Northern Ireland, especially in the city of Belfast.
The amendment would pause these police reforms until such time as Northern Ireland makes the change into an era of peace, when bombs have stopped exploding and lives have stopped being lost through terrorism. The Mafia sub-culture in Northern Ireland will embrace the Bill with open arms as one that weakens police effectiveness when terrorism continues to exist as a sponge to so many police hours.
The sense of hurt and sadness which is felt by those in Northern Ireland who respect law and order has been eloquently expressed, if not always understood, throughout the passage of the Bill.
"Nothing the Government say or do can dishonour the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the officers who have served in it, but they can dishonour and are dishonouring themselves".
Bearing in mind the Bill, I completely agree with that statement.
The demand for a moratorium on police reform until all terrorism has ended is not a demand based on the honour of the RUC, as the Government have demonstrated that they have no respect for the honour of the RUC. The demand for the moratorium on policing is based on the necessity for an effective police service in Northern Ireland. I commend the amendment to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in moving his amendment. The leitmotiv behind the Government's rhetoric as they have pushed the Bill through both Houses of Parliament has been clear. They have assumed that peace is on the way. Indeed, as part of the almost inevitable success of the peace process, the Bill has to be passed pretty well unamended if the conditions precedent to the achievement of that eventual peace are to be fulfilled.
I have to say, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, that that assumption is, to put it at its lowest, a heroic one. I shall not weary the House by repeating what has been said many times during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, but we know that peace in the Province is at best illusory. Furthermore, it is clear from the rhetoric of Sinn Fein/IRA that those on that wing of terrorism, as opposed to the so-called loyalist wing, think that the Bill does not fulfil their understanding of the peace agreement and they reject it. Therefore, it is at least questionable for the Government to say that the Bill will nail down an important part of the peace process. If one of the principal terrorist organisations does not accept its provisions, I think that the Government seem to have taken leave of reality to a degree remarkable even by their own very high standards in that respect.
I also shall not weary the House by quoting verbatim from the statement issued by my right honourable friend Mr Patten shortly after the publication of his report. As your Lordships know, I quoted it in extenso at Second Reading. At the very least, my old and right honourable friend seemed to be saying that the implementation of the full provisions of his report should perhaps be delayed until peace had actually been established in the Province. I have endeavoured to make sure from my right honourable friend that he actually meant that, but so far there has been no public elucidation on his part as to whether he did or not. However, it must be said, as noble Lords will have noted if they were unfortunate enough to listen to what I had to say at Second Reading, that what he said could at least be easily interpreted in that way. If that is so, I have to agree with my right honourable friend that it would be most unwise of the Government--and not only because of what Sinn Fein/IRA are saying--to implement the provisions of the Bill until peace had been established.
It is also worth reminding ourselves, not only for reasons of the peace process itself but also for straightforward policing reasons, that it is most unwise at this juncture to reduce the anti-terrorist capability of the RUC. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, shakes his head. I hope that he is not shot or has a missile sent at him as a direct result of reducing that anti-terrorist capability.
My Lords, I am not quite sure what the noble Viscount is getting at. All I was trying to say with that shake of my head was that that is not the Government's intention. The Government are as determined to defeat terrorism as they ever have been.
My Lords, I am sure that the Government are determined to do it; in which case I am very sorry that their determination is not translated into practicality. It seems to me that throughout the passage of the Bill endless examples have been given of how that anti-terrorist capability is being undermined. Some of them were given by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, a few moments ago. If a police force is set up to police a peaceable community, which by and large some of our communities still are in Great Britain, it is at least sensible for that police force not to gear itself up, as a primary objective of its activities, for anti-terrorist operations. But it seems foolish for it not to do so in the present circumstances in the Province.
The people who will suffer are primarily the law-abiding inhabitants of the Province from both sides of the sectarian divide. Terrorists are active not only because they are members either of 32 Counties Real IRA or Sinn Fein/IRA but also as, sadly, people who destroy the honourable name of loyalist by their own terrorist activities on the Protestant side of the divide. It is clear that the people of the Province will suffer if the provisions of the Bill are brought into operation before real peace breaks out. But other people will suffer too. It is all of us on this side of the water. It is entirely thanks to the RUC that we have not faced at least one "spectacular" in the past week. Who is to know whether there is not another spectacular in preparation as a kind of Christmas present from the Real IRA for those of us who might be tempted to shop anywhere but Harrods, but at least somewhere in London.
Back in May of this year I was privileged to accompany a delegation to Dublin. It consisted of the very associations which the noble Lord, Lord Laird, made the subject of his amendment and which the Government rightly and so generously accepted. We were delighted to be received by the Taoiseach, who gave us a great deal of his time. He spoke at a party I ventured to throw at Buswell's Hotel in Kildare Street and endorsed the courage of the RUC. It is perfectly plain that in practical terms the republic itself regards the RUC as one of its first lines of defence against terrorism.
If we undermine the anti-terrorist capability of the RUC by implementing the provisions of the Bill fully and before true peace has broken out in the Province, we will make ourselves more vulnerable not only in the Province but in the rest of the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the island of Ireland. If that is so, I have no hesitation in saying that the House should be clear who to blame--and that is the Government. After all, it is the Government's primary duty to ensure that Her Majesty's subjects are at least safe when going about their ordinary business. It is not up to the Government to make that less likely. The reverse should be the case.
If we are to have an RUC--a police force--that is capable, it should not only enjoy the kind of morale that will follow from keeping the cap badge, but in practical terms its real capability should not be undermined until peace has broken out and it can become a police force more like the police forces that operate in my home county of Dorset and elsewhere.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment. What we have really been discussing in relation to the Bill is operational reforms and, to a certain extent, operational reforms which are intended to act as a carrot to the other side; namely, to the terrorists, both loyalist and republican. Quite frankly, we have been told that if we give up the present composition of our police force--relinquish its emblems and so forth--and give up any claims on prisoners, then we shall get something in return. However, it is quite clear that the SDLP and Sinn Fein, along with all the others, have stated that there shall be no return on this. Therefore, the process is not working.
I should like to clarify two points. First, it is assumed that the present terrorist violence taking place is all the work of dissident groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA. But that accounts only for the recent overt bombing campaigns from which we have lately suffered. I am entitled to mention the bombings again because I live 10 miles away from the "barracks buster" that was found two days ago. Although these groups are referred to as so-called "splinter groups", at what point do the splinters become larger than the remaining groups? This is becoming a realistic notion. Noble Lords may comment that, "Of course he would say that", but it is a realistic point. Those groups are much more powerful than is commonly thought and I am extremely proud that last week our police force stopped that bomb from coming to London.
Secondly, I shall refer to the kind of violence of which not much is seen or discussed because fewer statistics are produced on it. I shall not go over the details, but noble Lords will know that such violence takes place all the time. That violence comprises the intimidation, beatings, fraud and other violent acts being committed by both sides--loyalist as well as republican. I should make that clear. While the bombs seem to be emanating from the Real IRA or Continuity IRA and thus are probably republican, the kind of violence to which I now refer is being perpetrated by both sides. Indeed, it may be even worse on the Protestant/loyalist side. However, on the republican side, the people involved in this level of criminal activity may not necessarily form part of the Real IRA or Continuity IRA. An FBI report recently pointed out that the vast proportion of criminal acts of a very serious nature--I do not refer here to domestic wife beating and so forth--committed in urban areas are being carried out by organisations and by people who still form part of the Provisional IRA, the UVF and the UDA. Let us not think that all we suffer is a little violence emanating from splinter groups. Outsiders only have to consider the bombings, which engender publicity. For those who live in Northern Ireland, violence is endemic and its perpetrators have not ceased to carry out their criminal acts.
If the Chief Constable is happy with the operational changes being proposed in the Bill, then why not--for once--say that the terrorists will get the cosmetic side only when and if the remainder of such activity stops?
Perhaps I may begin with a simple observation. No government Minister in any western liberal democracy could certify that all terrorism has been exorcised from his or her country. One of the reasons why we have the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998 is precisely because that guarantee cannot be given, so there is a basic and in-built absurdity in the amendment.
Arguments can be advanced in support of both sides of the debate on this issue. As the unionists say, the current peace is too fragile to implement these far-reaching reforms. But, as Patten and the Government say, one reason for the fragility is precisely the lack of policing by consent. Progress towards implementing Patten is one of the keys to creating a more robust peace. Of course there are no guarantees that the proposals contained in this Bill will result either in quick or complete success, but delay is definitely not an option. On the contrary, it would be likely to fracture the existing fragile situation. For that reason alone, I oppose this group of amendments.
My Lords, I shall be brief. It was reported in yesterday's press that Sinn Fein insists that any IRA re-engagement with de Chastelain will be contingent on the implementation of Patten on police reform, substantial demilitarisation and an amnesty for members of the IRA on the run. The only time that the IRA has ever made any kind of gesture in our direction was when the current Secretary of State had the courage and intelligence to call its bluff and stand up to it on the issue of disarmament in the Assembly. I feel that this is another such moment: the bluff should be called. Members of the IRA should be made to see that they cannot issue threats.
"The people of Northern Ireland should not be asked to accept a position that would be unacceptable to the people of the Republic; namely, the participation of Sinn Fein in government without a clear commitment to follow an exclusively democratic path. There would have to be disconnection between Sinn Fein and government and the IRA. We must not be prepared to advocate for the people of Northern Ireland a position which we would not accept ourselves".
My Lords, I, too, shall be brief. I should like to echo the words used by my noble friend Lord Cranborne as regards the assumption that peace is on the way. So far, the Government, in their pursuit of peace--which is what everyone wishes to see--have travelled a long way and have given in to people who have not, in return, conceded anything at all. Those people have not hesitated to use the bomb and the bullet and they have shown their total contempt for the ballot box.
I should like to explore the Government's mind on one point. In order to justify our continuing journey down this road, can the noble and learned Lord rise to his feet and say that he is truly confident that, given the measure which we are now about to pass, there is a real prospect of peace in Northern Ireland? Furthermore, can he confirm that those who so far have made a success out of using the bomb, the bullet and every other form of violence, will be content to lay aside their weapons and live in peace in a way that so far they have not even attempted?
My Lords, from this Dispatch Box, my noble friend and I have said constantly that this Bill contains important reforms which we support, as well as certain aspects which we have not supported. However, the questions of when and how these reforms are to be implemented are matters of crucial importance. That is why we support these amendments.
The Belfast agreement reached on Good Friday in 1998 promised a way out of the conflicts in Northern Ireland. That promise still exists, but it has not yet been fulfilled. Whatever my right honourable friend Chris Patten may have said personally, the Patten report constantly discusses matters such as "looking forward" to policing in a peaceful society. As we have heard once again during the past few minutes, we have not yet attained that peaceful society.
Page 1 of the Patten report expresses the essence of that agreement; in the words of Abraham Lincoln, as,
"a spirit of mutual compromise".
Since that time, the Government have consistently compromised, but the terrorists have not. We have not seen any mutual compromise. The terrorists retain their full capacity for terror--the main organisations as well as the so-called splinter groups. Furthermore, they are continuing to use terror in support of brutal criminal rackets which are a great source of concern. While that is the case, then it is at the very least dangerous to blunt the efficiency of the police.
But there is also the politics of the situation. The amendment would make the Bill a promise to the terrorists and others of things to come when they lay down their arms and accept the democratic authorities. That way it would be a positive encouragement to peace, whereas weakness encourages violence.
I should at once make the point that this is not about unionists and nationalists, Protestants and Catholics. The police, the RUC--or whatever they are called in the future--have shown an exceptional even-handedness over the years, as I know personally from when I saw them at close quarters. They have had to stand up--and still have to stand up--to so-called "loyalist" violence as well as to republican violence, particularly in the past few years.
I referred earlier to the bomb at Castlewellan. I understand that forensic tests show that it is thought to be a loyalist bomb that blew off the leg of a policeman the other day. A little earlier, the latest policeman to be killed was killed also by a loyalist bomb. But, of course, the threat is just as great from the other side.
This is not only about the politics but, as I said, it is also about the rackets. At the moment, the rackets worry me quite as much as the political inspiration of violence. The RUC is not alone in the fight against the rackets. Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue and the Department of Social Security among government organisations, and many others, need to be, and are, directly involved. But the RUC is, quite properly, in the lead in the fight against rackets, and is crucial to it.
It is interesting that the Patten commission visited quite a few overseas police forces, but did not visit the Italian police or the authorities there. They have had considerable success against the Mafia in recent years--by no means total, of course--and make a highly relevant comparison. We should never forget that the Mafia started as a political organisation--the Sicilian Independence Movement--but it has long been involved in criminal rackets. The organisations in Northern Ireland have gone down the same road.
The basic point is that in politics, and in all kinds of negotiation, timing is all important. These reforms should be timed to encourage the move towards a peaceful society. It is that timing which the amendments seek to ensure.
My Lords, the amendments would make the commencement of the Bill dependent on a declaration by the Secretary of State that all terrorism in Northern Ireland had ended.
Before dealing with the substance of the amendments, I want to record the Government's acknowledgement of the work of the RUC in, for example, intercepting the mortar at the weekend. It continues selflessly to protect the community. The Government are indebted to it, and to the army in support. We will not take chances with the lives of its members or those of the community as a whole.
These amendments are not necessary. If they were accepted, they would block changes which the Good Friday agreement, the Independent Commission on Policing, the Government, the police and all political parties--including those of the noble Lords who have tabled the amendment--see as welcome and positive. The amendments also ignore the fact that already certain aspects of Patten implementation--and that does not only include aspects in the Bill--are security dependent.
The Good Friday agreement, in the section on policing and justice, makes it clear that the policing structures and arrangements,
"must be capable of maintaining law and order including responding effectively to crime and to any terrorist threat and to public order problems. A police service which cannot do so will fail to win public confidence and acceptance".
So it envisaged change taking account of the security situation, but it did not say that there should be no change until the threat had disappeared.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, mentioned, Patten in turn recognised the need to take account of the security situation. In the first chapter of his report, for example, he said:
"Organised terrorism and threats to public order have limited what the police have been able to do and have felt themselves able to do in partnership with the community. Even after the Agreement is--we hope--fully implemented, those factors will continue for some time to cast a shadow on policing".
In chapter 7.1 Patten stated:
"others [recommendations] will depend to a greater or lesser degree on how the security situation develops, and judgments will need to be made over the next few years as to when they should be introduced, or whether some should only be introduced in selected areas".
The Government are clear, and have always been clear, that there are a number of Patten recommendations which are dependent on the security situation. We made that clear in the Government's implementation plan published in June. Perhaps I may give some examples of the security-dependent provisions: phasing-out of the full-time reserve; amalgamation of Special Branch and Crime Branch; progress towards an unarmed police service; changes to police buildings and vehicles; repeal of emergency powers; and the need for Army support.
These amendments, however, would block any change for as long as there is terrorism of any kind. While, therefore, I am sure that it is a shared aim of every one of your Lordships that there should be--that there must be--an end to terrorism in Northern Ireland, I cannot accept that we should prevent non-security-dependent changes to policing, changes which the Good Friday agreement called for.
The amendments would, therefore, undermine the value that the changes in the Bill and implementation of Patten generally would bring for policing. For example, the Chief Constable has said that,
"the vast bulk of the recommendations are simply about good and effective policing--they should be proceeded with as soon as possible".
The chairman of the Police Federation, Les Rodgers, has said:
"because it is mainly based on the 1995 RUC Fundamental Review, and incorporates most of our own recommendations to Patten, there is much to find favour with in Patten".
"the great majority of the recommendations should be implemented straight away but others should be implemented only when there was no longer a security threat".--[Official Report, Commons, 6/6/00; col. 187.]
Furthermore, the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said only yesterday:
"we support about 90-95 per cent of the changes that are required under the Police Bill".
I ask the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, to consider those points and not to press his amendment to a Division. The Government have made it clear that they will continue to move on implementation only as the security situation permits. Changes which are not dependent on security should not be stalled.
My Lords, government Amendment No. 20 commences on Royal Assent the provisions enabling the appointment of the shadow policing board. Given that the process is under way, rather than make a separate commencement order shortly after Royal Assent, the Government think it sensible to alter the Bill in this way. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 46, line 49, at end insert--
("(d) he has at any time been convicted of a scheduled offence under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 or Part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000;
(e) he has at any time been convicted in Northern Ireland or elsewhere of any offence and has had passed on him a sentence of imprisonment (whether suspended or not);
(f) the political party of which he is a member is linked to any organisation which has failed to begin the decommissioning of arms and explosives in a manner verified by the Commission referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997;
(g) he is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; or
(h) the political party of which he is a member is linked to an organisation that has failed to satisfy any of the four factors set out in section 3(9)(a), (b), (c) and (d) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998").
My Lords, before introducing the amendment, I crave the indulgence of the House. This is the last amendment at Third Reading save for remaining government amendments. As spokesman for the Opposition, and as an inhabitant of Northern Ireland, I should like to take this opportunity to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for the way in which this "very Northern Ireland" debate has been conducted--for the passion, the patience, the intellect and the goodwill that has been generated almost all round the House. I should like to say a big thank you to all noble Lords.
In moving the amendment, I should like also to link it to Amendment No. 25. Once again, I return to practicalities and safeguards, and to reality. These two amendments seek to increase the disqualification conditions for membership of either the police board or the DPPs.
We have heard an enormous amount in these debates about policing in Northern Ireland. We have heard about the levels of crime and terrorism. A single police force has to cope with smuggling, terrorism from two different factions, a rapidly increasing drugs problem: it must cope with "baronies" and in-fighting between various gangs, to say nothing of in-fighting between paramilitaries. It is well recorded that the task of any Northern Ireland police force is really most daunting.
Members of the police force are doing a wonderful job. I know that all of us in this House wish them every success in achieving that aim in the future. However, their management is through the police board. At this stage in their life, and in the life of Northern Ireland, it seems to me that we should take every precaution reasonably possible, regardless of politics and of virtually everything, to ensure the integrity of the people who will carry out the management and the supervision of that police force.
Perhaps I may refer, first, to the board, which has a lot of power. It has to be closely integrated with the Chief Constable and his senior officers. Inevitably, it will be party to classified information of one sort or another. Someone on that board could have a serious police record. Equally, someone serving on it could have no serious police record, but because it is very hard to get convictions in Northern Ireland--indeed, it has been so for years--he or she could be known to be part of an east Belfast gang, sympathetic to it, a Godfather of it, or whatever.
Alternatively, that person could be part of a west Belfast gang, a Ballymena drugs racket, and so on. We all know that there are many such people running about loose in Ireland, especially in Northern Ireland, who, because of the paramilitary situation and various other matters, have not been brought to court and have not been convicted. We owe it to the new police force to make sure that every single precaution is put in place so that we ensure that there is no possible risk, be he or she political or apolitical, that a member of the board could be anything other than whiter than white.
I turn to Amendment No. 25, which relates to DPPs and addresses a similar argument. If they are to work properly, the DPPs will need to be much nearer the ground. We did not move the relevant amendment, but we should bear in mind the way that Belfast will be broken up. The four sections of Belfast really make little sense I suspect, when it comes, to policing--but I am not a professional policeman, so I cannot comment on that--and certainly to DPPs (or the subsidiary level of them). Again, those people will be very close to the policing process. It is highly possible that those people will be very close to the criminal elements in the west and east of Belfast. I should not differentiate, they will probably be close to criminal elements in all parts.
I do not believe that the Bill is strong enough at present to ensure that our new police force, which, after the Bill is passed, will become the police service of Northern Ireland, will be protected from having anyone who could be referred to as "a hood", "a criminal", "a crook", or whatever, on either a DPP or the board by dint of being an elected representative, or not, or being a political member. I think that I have made it pretty clear. Noble Lords have heard my arguments before. I beg to move.
My Lords, I broadly support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Both he and I have been involved in public life in a part of the United Kingdom. We know that, just as on this side of the Channel, all appointees there at whatever level must be whiter than white; otherwise, not only will they bring discredit on the body on which they are serving but they may also have the effect of destroying confidence in the ranks of the general public. They may also destroy the faith and the respect for the body to which they perhaps wrongly belonged.
On a previous occasion I referred to what I call the "Ulster Contingent". On their behalf--my colleagues sitting beside me--I should like to express our appreciation and indebtedness to the government Ministers, not least the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and his colleagues, for their infinite patience. I know that they will take heed of what we have said today. Perhaps in some form or another, we shall find that some of our respectful advice has been implemented at some stage.
I should also like to thank Her Majesty's Opposition for their co-operation and for assisting us with their advice. When we embarked upon this rather trying spell after the Summer Recess, we probably did not realise all that lay ahead of us. However, I believe it is right to say that, collectively, we have survived the test.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, seems to preface each introduction to an amendment by referring to the practicalities of the situation. It seems to me that this amendment, as presented, is not exactly practical. Let us take, for example, paragraph (e), which refers to someone who,
"has at any time been convicted ... of any offence".
That appears to me to fly straight in the face of the rehabilitation of offenders order, to which I believe I referred on Second Reading. Most of us seek to achieve the reintegration of people who have offended in the past, into the community.
Paragraphs (f) and (h) of the amendment refer to,
"the political party of which he is a member".
Could not that stipulation be very easily got round simply by the person resigning from the political party? Paragraph (g) contains the proviso that,
"he is not committed to non-violence".
Who decides that? In some cases it will be an entirely subjective decision. I hope that the noble Lord will not press this amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment. As regards one issue just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I accept that we want reintegration in society of people who have recently been released from custody. However, what we are talking about here is those who have been released very recently. We are not just talking about reintegration into the local society so that people help them to adjust. We are talking about putting them in a position of responsibility almost immediately after their release. That seems to me to be going too far at this stage.
I shall not repeat what I said at the previous stage, but I believe that my sentiments are shared by many people in Northern Ireland. It is intended that the DPPs and the board will gain people's respect. It is intended that they will gain the respect of law-abiding people on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, outside of which we are all agreed that the people involved in terrorism and the other activities we are discussing constitute a small proportion. How can we honestly pretend that the DPPs will gain the respect of law-abiding people in those communities who are the victims of the crimes we are discussing? It seems rather ridiculous to hope for that.
The future of Northern Ireland lies with the young, as noble Lords on all sides of the House have said on many occasions. Will those young people look up to people whose criminal records have been disregarded and who will be appointed to positions of, supposedly, some stature? If we include in the provision too many who may have committed crimes, whether terrorist or other crimes, they will not have the necessary stature for young people to look up to. Also people will believe that they can commit small criminal acts and progress to more serious ones later in life. Those people will not gain the necessary respect and they will not form the kind of bodies that we wish to see formed in the communities.
My Lords, I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Hylton with regard to the proposed paragraph (e) in Amendment No. 21, as I said at an earlier stage of the Bill. However, that matter can easily be rectified in another place when the Bill returns there. The rest of the amendment is commendable. The fact that paragraph (e) probably goes too far is no reason for not passing the amendment tonight, if we can. As I say, any defects can be rectified in another place.
My Lords, across the world in every country of the British Empire which has been given independence terrorists have become Prime Ministers. They do not have to be, dare I say, whiter than white? They do not even have to be purer than pure. They just have to have standing in a community. Whatever we may say, some of these people have standing in the community.
My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in expressing my gratitude for the way in which the debates on this extremely controversial Bill have been conducted at all stages. I thank what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, described as the Ulster contingent in relation to the tolerant and understanding way in which they have dealt with a Minister who has little experience of the issues we are discussing.
The underlying purpose of Amendment No. 21 has been debated on a number of previous occasions, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, acknowledged. The proposers of the amendment continue to seek to impose disqualifications from membership of the policing board in a way that neither Patten, nor indeed the Good Friday agreement, envisaged.
Not only does the Good Friday agreement state that,
"structures and arrangements should be capable of delivering a policing service, in constructive and inclusive partnerships with the community at all levels", but it also specifically includes in the terms of reference for the Patten commission a requirement to make proposals designed to ensure that,
"there are clearly established arrangements enabling local people, and their political representatives, to articulate their views and concerns about policing and to establish publicly policing priorities and influence policing policies".
Against this background the Government believe that they have put in place effective and appropriate safeguards for both independent and political members.
I set out the Government's position as it is reflected in the Bill. Political members may be appointed to the board as of right by virtue of being elected to the Assembly. They have a democratic mandate; the same mandate that enables them to be appointed to the Northern Ireland Executive. But having been appointed, the Bill has clear removal provisions. So if a political member is convicted of a criminal offence, or is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means--the test in the Northern Ireland Act 1998--or if they are otherwise unfit to discharge their functions, the Secretary of State may remove him or her from office.
For independents, the Government have made it clear that there will be character checks which is standard practice for public appointments. The application form for the ongoing appointment process requires criminal records to be disclosed. In addition, on top of the removal criteria for political members, independents may be removed from office if they do not disclose a conviction when appointed or if they do not comply with their terms of appointment. The Bill has those safeguards to set against the provisions of the Good Friday agreement. I thought it important to repeat them. In the light of those provisions I ask the noble Lord not to press Amendment No. 21.
As with Amendment No. 21 to Schedule 1 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Cope, Amendment No. 25 seeks to tighten the disqualification provisions for DPPs. As I did with the board, I should like to set the DPPs in context. First, their role is explanatory and consultative--nothing like that of the board. Secondly, to repeat an important point made at earlier stages of the Bill, the DPPs do not impinge on operational independence; their role is in accountability. It is also important to put on the record again the safeguards on appointments which are in place.
For councillors--as I have mentioned, the Good Friday agreement and Patten saw the need for political representatives to be involved at local level--there are criminal record disqualifications which apply before an individual can become a councillor. They would be disqualified if imprisoned for three months or more, whether suspended or not, until their sentence and then a five-year period had elapsed. They, of course, have a democratic mandate.
Independents on the DPPs are subject to stricter disqualification criteria. If they have a sentence of imprisonment, whether suspended or not, there is an automatic bar in the Bill. Furthermore, independents and councillors are both subject to removal provisions if they are convicted or fail to comply with their terms of appointment.
There are other safeguards. The Secretary of State will issue a code on appointments which will be required to be on merit, and this will cover advertisement, interview, involvement of an independent and appointment by the board. There is also a default provision in Clause 15 which enables the Secretary of State to act if appointments are not made in accordance with the Bill. He may direct the council to remedy the fault and, if it fails to do so, empower the board to act.
I ask noble Lords to consider the powers of these bodies, the requirements of the Good Friday agreement--which the Government want to see implemented in all its aspects--and the safeguards the Government have built in. We think that the Bill gets the balance right. I ask the noble Lord not to move Amendment No. 25.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 22 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 26 which are all technical drafting amendments.
Government Amendments Nos. 22 and 24 remove superfluous references to the policing board. Government Amendment No. 23 corrects an inconsistent reference to the "police staff" of the authority. It should read "police service staff", as elsewhere in the Bill.
Government Amendment No. 26 deals with references to the RUC and PANI in the Freedom of Information Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.