My Lords, I am sure we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for giving us this opportunity to debate vitally important linked issues which are of great concern to the law-abiding citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom. We should all be grateful to the noble Lord for his detailed and thoughtful analysis.
I declare an interest as a council tax payer resident in London Monday to Friday. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I have been dismayed by the destruction of police morale throughout the United Kingdom and the consequent increase in violent crime. Despite what has been said by others, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is accurate in linking the two matters.
As a Londoner I offer two examples, one pre-Macpherson and the other post-Macpherson. Four years ago I encountered a young off-duty sergeant of the Metropolitan Police. After he had described his initial ambitions career wise, he began to recount how he became disillusioned and how his enthusiasm had been blunted by what he regarded as unnecessary obstructions. I shall never forget his words as we parted. He said, "When I accompany two of my constables on patrol and we see a crime being committed, we are tempted to look the other way and thus avoid the likelihood of ending up in the dock instead of the criminal".
The other example concerns a rather more personal experience at a London Underground station. Two sturdy, well built young ladies rampaged across the concourse screaming, laughing and hurling abuse at anyone within earshot. The first one shoulder charged an elderly lady immediately in front of me knocking her and her pathetic grocery bag to the floor. The second gave me the same treatment. I suppose that I should have been flattered by that. The two then joined forces and proceeded to charge the ticket collector who not unnaturally asked to see their tickets which they did not have. They butted him to the floor and charged through the now open gate on to the platforms.
A few good samaritans--I suspect that two or three of them were army officers in civilian clothes--offered their assistance to the rest of us and then went over in my presence, as one of the aggrieved parties, to sympathise with the ticket collector who was just recovering. They were prepared to offer their names and addresses to assist him in putting forward a claim. He declined their offer on the ground that some weeks previously one of his colleagues resisted the same two well built young ladies, was beaten up, complained and two weeks later was accused and found guilty of racism, and lost his job. Delicacy prevents me from mentioning the role of the Metropolitan Police in this context. That incident, of course, occurred post-Macpherson.
Yesterday your Lordships debated the Private Security Industry Bill. Today's debate is linked to the word "industry": the discipline industry, the inquiry industry and the complaints industry. The police always find themselves in the front line of attacks from all such bodies. By the nature of things the police are always on the defensive.
Noble Lords will remember that last year they voted through the Police (Northern Ireland) Act which included a provision for a police ombudsman--who now happens to be an ombudswoman; I do not complain about that--in place of what had been the independent commission for police complaints. The recent former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland explained that under the 1998 Act he had decided on a prescribed period for retrospective investigation. However, under the 2000 Act the retrospective period was two years for the first year of life of the new police service and one year for its second year of life.
Since then terrorist bodies have united--there are many of them in Northern Ireland of both shades--and are now pressing for retrospective investigation of many years (as far back as seven years) of complaints which they have unearthed, although all such complaints had been investigated by independent commissions and even in the courts.
In short, unless the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland adheres firmly to the stated intention of his predecessor, the new police service will be held responsible by terrorists (not by the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland) for allegations--they are no more than allegations--made against the Royal Ulster Constabulary which were proved groundless by those independent bodies over seven to 10 years.
I understand that terrorists have already supplied the new ombudswoman with over 300 complaints before the new police body takes over with the intention, obviously, of clogging up the system. We can rest assured that that virus--that industry, as I call it--will soon spread to Britain. We would all be wise to heed early warnings.
While there may be disagreement over police numbers in England, there can be no quarrel over numbers in Northern Ireland. The unholy alliance between the Patten report and the Northern Ireland Office had the intended effect of slashing police numbers through pressure, incitement and destruction of morale, as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, forecast, while the cream of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is as a result being lost. It is worth noting that those officers rejected by Patten on purely sectarian grounds are now being snapped up by constabularies such as Lothian and Borders, Suffolk, Tayside, Sussex, Strathclyde and Manchester. What is undoubtedly Ulster's loss will be Britain's gain.
When the police Bill was being processed by your Lordships' House last year, it was intended--noble Lords will remember the figures--that hundreds of police officers who were forced to leave would be replaced by Roman Catholic applicants to meet the 50:50 requirement. None of us, least of all myself--I was educated at a Roman Catholic school and, therefore, under the new guidelines would qualify as a Roman Catholic recruit if I did not have a sagging face and grey hair--made complaint of that. I supported it as a target and not a quota. It gives me no pleasure to report that what was made a quota is not working.
I shared your Lordships' hope and expectation that the 50:50 figure would be achieved voluntarily through co-operation with republicans, nationalists and, most of all, the Church. However, it is most regrettable that all three have in recent weeks publicly refused to encourage young Roman Catholics to enlist in the new force. It is heartbreaking to note that the excuse used to justify the refusal to advise young Catholics to join the force is that demilitarisation has not been achieved to the satisfaction of terrorists, nationalists and, very regrettably, the Church.
All three have explained exactly what they mean by "demilitarisation". It means the removal of all safeguards for law-abiding citizens--that is, the removal of all protection before all terrorist capacity to murder is demolished; no recommittal of the Army, as was necessary last year in the Protestant Shankill Road where civil war was raging; no more intelligence gathering which might abort a terrorist atrocity; no frontier surveillance which might hamper the Real IRA or the Continuity IRA in murderous attacks like the Omagh bomb; and no security force patrol or checkpoints which might impede the racketeering and drug-trafficking now carried out on a large scale by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries.
Some noble Lords may ask why they are permitted to carry out those activities in addition to increased murder by Protestant and republican terrorists. The answer was given at a parliamentary press briefing last Tuesday by a Northern Ireland Office spokesman. To the question, "Why do you not regard them now as terrorists who have broken the ceasefire?", the answer was, "That is simply paramilitary housekeeping. We will not be concerned as long as it does not cross the sectarian divide". Some hope for the future, my Lords!
The last requirement for demilitarisation--it is an extremely serious one--is the demolition of the watch-towers on the South Armagh frontier. I fear very much that chiefs of staff have been broken under political pressure to approve the removal of two of those towers. That may seem small beer, but military men know only too well that if one removes two links in an intelligence-gathering chain, as these towers are--they are not offensive but for intelligence gathering and surveillance--the entire structure becomes ineffective. Taking away two out of six of those towers will horrify any military man: it creates dead ground between all six which terrorists can exploit at will.
I plead with the authorities even at this late stage to think again on that issue and to face the fact that the watch-towers have the intended effect of deterring terrorism; otherwise why would terrorists be concentrating on their removal? Surely the Army cannot welcome the removal of what are inoffensive structures. With the Army now at full stretch with commitments in many parts of the world, it will have serious difficulty in supplying new formations to replace the watch-towers with foot patrols.
The sad part is this. Do we want to commit ground forces again in an area where casualties will be inevitable on that South Armagh frontier which is tailor-made for snipers? It has proved to be so in the past. I beg those who share a responsibility, at whatever level, for ensuring that loss of life is not again permitted, to please think again on that crucial decision.