Police (Northern Ireland) Order 2001

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:15 pm on 23rd July 2001.

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Photo of Viscount Brookeborough Viscount Brookeborough Crossbench 11:15 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of this order. I realise that it is necessary. But sadly, it brings more uncertainty to the running of our police force and, therefore, leads to a reduction in its efficiency. That is for all the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and several other noble Lords.

I am not talking about local crime in my area, to which, no doubt, the Minister would tell me that we all have to put up with a certain amount of crime but that members of the police force do all they can. I wish to draw attention to the recent reduction in activities which the police used to carry out. That is due to a lack of manpower and finance and to the recent reforms in the police force, introduced by this Government. I am not talking about speeding and normal every-day crimes. I wish to talk about terrorist-related crime. Over the past 25 years, the police have been expected to carry out certain duties in that regard. They no longer find themselves capable of performing those duties, but those duties still require attention.

I must declare an interest because my brother-in-law is the Northern Ireland general manager of Securicor Cash Services, which I now use as an example. That company undertakes 85 per cent of all major cash movements in the Province. I am sure that noble Lords and the Minister will understand that the very fabric of business life, which is what has held Northern Ireland together for so long, relies on such a service. The company has 65 of those armoured blue vehicles that one sees around the streets operating every day from bank to bank, bank to business and in reverse. It provides a really important service. I am using it as an example, but it is not the only example. However, it is an example which should demonstrate to noble Lords that, in this case, I am not worried about County Fermanagh, since County Fermanagh is perhaps one of the poorer regions; I am interested in the fabric which holds Northern Ireland together at present.

In the calendar year 2000, there were 30 attacks or hits when the cash in those vehicles was stolen in the Belfast and larger Belfast area. This year, there have been 40 such attacks already. There were seven last week and three on Friday. The total amount of money that has been lost is £500,000 this year. The individual amounts of money being carried by those vehicles is important because below £100,000 per load, security firms are not insured. Therefore, all that money has been lost in loads below £100,000. In England or in London, that would be headline news: "Armed hijack of Securicor van in the Wandsworth Road" or--dare I say it?--"outside Westminster". The Minister should not dismiss that because it is taking place and it is tangible. I understand that the Minister is not a member of the Northern Ireland Office. However, representations have been made to the Security Minister in Northern Ireland in the last week or so. I understand that in the next couple of days the director of security for Securicor will make a representation to Mr Blunkett. So it is an important issue.

So far this year 15,000 sick days have been recorded among the 240 staff. They have had it. The official response from a member of the RUC has been, "We can give it only passing attention". The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, will understand that previously there was never a case of a Securicor van, or a van containing anything of value, travelling without an escort. This is not an additional task; this is not riot control. What has happened over the past 30 years has now ceased and that goes for many parts of Northern Ireland.

I do not ask for support for an uneconomical business. The business may become uneconomical, but I assure the House that no other business will take up that task if such an undertaking cannot be run economically. Normally somebody more efficient will take over; but no one will operate such a business in Northern Ireland. This is a crisis. I have not given that example because of my declared interest, but because it indicates what is really happening.

Recently, in another place, the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister said that whatever appropriate support the RUC required would be provided. I ask the Minister where is that support? Can he do something about it now?

One other issue is the morale of the RUC. Many people will no doubt say, "He's from Northern Ireland, from the basically unionist population and of course the morale of the police is low". Recently I have spoken to policemen in the street. Their morale has to be really bad for them to admit that outside their force. I have been a member of various organisations including the Ulster Defence Regiment--as it then was--and low morale hit us. We talked about it within the force, but we would never admit to someone outside the force that the morale was bad. The morale of the RUC is seriously low. The Minister's answer may be that the Northern Ireland people cannot agree, so where do we go? I accept that that is the situation, but the Government have to do what they can to maintain the security so that there can be a peace process with the result that society can live with itself.