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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"But in rising to the challenge, the RUC has inevitably, if unfairly, become identified more with one side of the community than the other. It finds it hard to recruit from the nationalist community and--with 88 per cent of its members Protestant and only 8 per cent Catholic--is not representative of all sides of the community.
"This is not a desirable state of affairs. The RUC itself is forward-looking and accepts the need for change. It is eager to police a normal society in a normal professional way, but it is held back by the burden of history.
'a police service that can enjoy widespread support from, and is seen to be an integral part of, the community as a whole.'
"The decisions which I am announcing today will be reflected in legislation which we will bring forward later in this Session. In reaching them, I have been driven by, and have tried to keep in balance, three distinct but interdependent considerations: representativeness; effectiveness; and respect for the sacrifices of the past. I say 'interdependent', because only a police service that is accepted and draws members from both traditions and is therefore accepted across the community can hope to be fully effective. And it is only by recognising the sacrifices of the past that we can move forward together to meet the challenges of the future. I am determined that the police in Northern Ireland should be modern, representative and effective, and no longer the fulcrum of antagonistic debate.
'depend to a greater or lesser degree on how the security situation develops'
"The Government accept Patten's recommendation for the creation of a new policing board, composed, as the report recommends, to replace the current police authority. The new policing board will be responsible for securing the maintenance of an efficient and effective police service and holding the Chief Constable and the police service to account.
"I am sure the House will wish to join with me in paying tribute to the work of the police authority over the last 30 years. Many have served with distinction on the authority and were prepared to come forward even when there was a direct terrorist threat against them. Two members of the authority were murdered by terrorists. The contribution of the authority, members and staff, will not be forgotten.
"The report recommends clarifying the roles of the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the policing board. The broad thrust of the recommendations is that the policing board should play a more developed role--setting objectives, priorities and performance targets while leaving operational control and direction of the police firmly in the Chief Constable's hands.
"'should be empowered and equipped to scrutinise the performance of the police effectively'".
"Progress of the style of policing and the size of the police service will be critically dependent on the Chief Constable's assessment of the security threat and the public order situation. There will be no question of rushing forward with changes in the absence of a stable security environment. Subject to that overall proviso, in line with the report the Chief Constable has decided to reorganise the police service into district commands based on district council areas and geared towards policing in partnership with the community. District commanders will have much higher levels of devolved authority under the overall command of the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable intends that this structural reorganisation will be under way by November this year.
"The Chief Constable will also reorganise police headquarters to produce a slimmer structure. Headquarters will in future take a more strategic approach to management and Special Branch and CID will both be retained and placed under a single assistant chief constable, as the Chief Constable believes is desirable, when the security situation permits.
"The Government accept Patten's recommendations on the future size of the police service--that is, a regular complement of 7,500 full-time officers-- provided, as the report says, that the security situation does not deteriorate significantly. We accept Patten's recommendation for the enlargement of the part-time reserve and the discontinuation of the full-time reserve--again, subject to the security situation.
"The severance arrangements to enable serving police officers, whether regular or reservist, to leave the police service will be generous and sympathetic. The Government are committed to finding the necessary resources. Negotiations with the police staff associations are currently in progress. I hope that these discussions will help all sides to agree arrangements which will address the concern which officers understandably have about their future.
"I attach particular importance to Patten's recommendations for action to transform the composition of the police service, which are essential to gaining widespread acceptability. I endorse the proposal for 50/50 recruitment of Protestants and Catholics from a pool of candidates all of whom--I stress--will have qualified on merit. We propose that the requirement for this special measure should be kept under review on a triennial basis, with rigorous safeguards to ensure that the, rightly,
"The issue here is not whether the name of the RUC is wrong or something not to be proud of. I understand exactly why serving and former officers, their families and indeed widows are proud of the RUC and its name. The issue is whether a change in name, underlining a new start, is a necessary and indispensable part of attracting balance in recruits. Of course, it is not the only barrier to recruitment. There has been at times disgraceful intimidation of nationalists who wished to join the RUC. But a change of name was, in Patten's view, essential, and I agree.
"That change is needed to signal the new beginning which will, in particular, be symbolised by the arrival in the new training environment of the first recruits entering through the new independent procedures and selected on the new balanced basis. That point will come in the autumn of next year. At that point too, I will therefore bring into force the new title, which will be the Police Service of Northern Ireland, a name which I believe is preferable to that proposed by Patten.
"At the same time, a service badge incorporating this title will be introduced, after the new policing board has had a chance to address the issue. In this context, the RUC will wish to consider how best permanently to record the award to it of the George Cross last autumn. And, finally, existing police memorials will remain as they are, and the colour of the uniform will not change.
"The Government also accept Patten's important recommendation for IT improvements to put the police in Northern Ireland at the forefront of communications and information technology, and for police training. I am also delighted to tell the House that we have accepted the case for a new police college, and appropriate resources will be provided. These are in addition to a range of other forward-looking recommendations on practical policing issues, which I will not detain the House by detailing here, which we will also be implementing.
"Finally, Patten recommends the appointment of an oversight commissioner to monitor the implementation of those changes agreed by the Government. This appointment will not in any way cut across the responsibilities of either the new policing board or the Chief Constable, and the accountability which I and my colleagues have to this House on policing issues will not diminish as a result. The oversight commissioner will help create a first-rate police service for the future.
"For those in the unionist community who have fears, I urge them to accept the need for significant change to create a police service in which all can feel they belong and with which all can identify. To nationalists, who have for so long withheld their support from the police in Northern Ireland, I would ask them to reflect on the transformation that is planned and to reconsider their position. It is now time for them to support this programme of change; unambiguously to support the police; and to encourage young men and women from their community to join the police. The prize is a modern, effective police service drawing support and strength from all parts of the community. It is within our grasp. The proposals I have announced today should enable us to achieve it."
Before going further, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is in his place, for all the work that he has done and for his communication with us in this House over the past few years. The Northern Ireland problem is not over and it is sad that the Government do not see fit to have a territorial Minister in your Lordships' House.
I should like also to pay a serious and great tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, GC, for the wonderful work that it has done over the past 30 years. It has protected us not only at home in Northern Ireland but in the Kingdom as a whole from the terrible outrages of the most sophisticated terrorism that the world has yet known. It has done a wonderful job and we should never forget it. I should point out--I hope the Minister agrees--that, while the Patten Report is a professional piece of work, it totally fails to pay adequate tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
We welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has listened to representations and is not implementing Patten en bloc and unedited. However, there are a number of areas where we disagree with the Government's approach. The Secretary of State, while accepting the need for a name change, has put back the change of name by approximately one year. Does the Minister accept that politically it will make no difference? Does she further accept that a survey of the Police Federation found that a change of name for the police force would have little impact on recruitment, would find little favour with the nationalist community but would cause considerable offence in the Protestant community?
As regards recruitment, does not the Minister agree that the ratio of Protestant and Catholic recruits would change overnight if the SDLP and Sinn Fein were to encourage their constituents and the nationalist community as a whole to join the police force? I suggest that the name of the RUC is not a deterrent to recruitment. It is well understood, and was mentioned by the Secretary of State in his Statement, that the deterrent to the nationalist community joining the RUC is nothing other than intimidation by the IRA and Sinn Fein. It is worth noting that the IRA has no intention whatever of changing its name. We on these Benches believe that a compromise solution should be found to allow the highly respected name Royal Ulster Constabulary, GC, to remain.
The Secretary of State refers to measures which are security sensitive. Under this heading, I must ask the Government for an undertaking that the police force in Northern Ireland will always be maintained and equipped at a level to allow it to combat both the threat of terrorism--which has not by any means gone away; there has not been any decommissioning yet from any terrorist group--and the rapidly increasing level of violent non-terrorist crime and disorder which is currently taking place. I think your Lordships know to what I am referring.
Does not the Minister agree that one of the objectives of Patten was to take the politics out of Northern Ireland policing once and for all? Surely making one of the first jobs of the new policing board that of agreeing the design of the new cap badge--which I understand is the Secretary of State's intention--is throwing politics into that boardroom before the board has yet sat.
Surely setting up the district policing partnership boards, which are likely to have terrorists among their numbers--let us not mess about with words; that is what will happen--is a recipe for disaster and will maintain the politics of the past in the police at local level. We welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has thought better of allowing rates to be raised in order to employ what would have been vigilantes.
Finally, despite these few criticisms of a huge report which will do a number of great things--and it is worth saying that much of the report was lifted from the Chief Constable's own review--I wish to make it clear that on these Benches we share the Government's objective of changing the policing environment. I hope that the Minister can agree that the only way to achieve that is for the terrorists on all sides to sign up to decommissioning.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place earlier today, we on these Benches broadly support the Government's intention to implement most of the proposals made in the Patten Report.
The report was an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement and, significantly, its proposals, taken together, are to be seen as a consistent and integrated programme to bring about the changes it perceived as necessary.
I am sure that the Minister will readily agree that effecting those changes will not be easy. First, there is the problem of timing: the momentum gathered from the formation of the Executive must be maintained, but without jeopardising the police function in Northern Ireland. Liberal Democrats reject those who call for a disbanding of all present arrangements, but we recognise the need for fundamental change of the kind that Patten proposes.
Secondly, there are the enormous human resource problems associated with the recruitment, retention and severance of the future force. Police forces across the United Kingdom have experienced great difficulty in attracting applicants from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Although less diverse, Northern Ireland is not unique in this respect--although the task is monumental if the proportion of nearly 90 per cent recruitment from only one side of the population is to be brought into a better balance. As Patten states, it will require concentrated and sustained appeals from both sides of the community to encourage much wider Catholic participation in the police service. Rigid 50/50 quotas introduced at this stage may be counter-productive. I ask the Government to look again at that particular issue.
Confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the police will be greatly enhanced by the provisions being made for greater local accountability and engagement. Of course, how this is introduced is fraught with difficulties. Great care must be taken to prevent any usurpation by paramilitary organisations. I am assured that in his Statement the Secretary of State showed that he is fully seized of these difficulties.
But these difficulties cannot be used to delay developments designed to foster a widespread degree of accountability and community ownership of the police. By the same token, the proposed independent commission on policing will need quickly to establish a close working relationship with local authorities and community-based organisations. Indeed, one of the great advantages that Northern Ireland enjoys is the strength of its largely non-sectarian voluntary sector.
There are other reasons for cautious optimism. I am sure that the Minister will concur that the RUC is one of the most efficient forces in the UK, having had some of the hardest tasks to tackle. It is fully capable of adapting to the changes recommended in Patten and now largely endorsed by the Government. Introducing the skills and competencies that are called for, shifting the focus towards community and neighbourhood policing and emphasising the concern for human rights are considerable challenges, but, again, they are not unique to Northern Ireland. Police forces in all the western democracies are having to face these and similar challenges. In Sir Ronnie Flanagan, it has a chief constable fully equipped to provide the
In endorsing the agenda outlined by the Secretary of State, we also endorse his acknowledgement of the dedication, courage and resourcefulness displayed by most members of the RUC and not least to those who were injured or murdered in the course of their duties. Nothing detracts from that tribute in saying that the situation now needs to move on if more normal, peaceful conditions are to be allowed to develop.
Symbol and rhetoric perhaps play a larger role in the life of Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK. They are the outward and visible signs of the communal divide that has existed for far too long. They should not, of course, be exorcised, even if that were possible, but they do need to be placed in the proper perspective of a wider, inclusive sense of citizenship, which I believe the steps announced by the Government today will help to achieve.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I begin by joining the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in his tribute to my noble friend Lord Dubs. All I can say to the noble Lord is that the department for which my noble friend was responsible is, of course, the department which is now--to his satisfaction and I know to the satisfaction of the whole House--part of the devolution settlement for Northern Ireland. However, I join with the noble Lord in paying tribute to my noble friend and I know that his work and commitment are widely respected right across the community.
I should also like to join both the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, in paying tribute both to the Chief Constable and members of the RUC for the contribution and sacrifice they have made over the past 30 years. I agree--as I know my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed--that, on reflection, perhaps the Patten Report pays an ineffective and inadequate tribute to their role and work.
A number of questions have been raised, but those questions have been asked in the context of an overall agreement with the main thrust of the Government's policy in this area. I welcome that most warmly. I believe that it is extremely important that we move ahead together on this issue.
I shall now turn to some of the particular issues that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, asked about the 50:50 recruitment policy. Patten said that change in this area is critical. I shall quote from the report:
I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that IRA intimidation is a feature and a cause of Catholic under-representation. However, while I do not think that they are mutually exclusive, another factor to be taken into account is the lack of identification with the RUC within the nationalist community. As my right honourable friend made clear in his Statement in the other place, the Government are calling on nationalists who have long withheld true support for the police service to encourage young men and women from their community now to join the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, raised the issue of vetting people who will become involved. His specific point related to those who would be serving on the local organisations. Perhaps I may assure him that not only will we continue to maintain strict security safeguards, but we will continue vetting recruits to the police service.
The Government recognise the issue of timing. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, pointed out, I accept that change cannot take place overnight. That is quite clear. However, we wish to move forward as quickly as possible.
As regards the issue of the change of name, following a survey from PANI, we believe that the Catholic community would support a renamed police service. Furthermore, in that survey the Catholic community revealed that they wanted equal recruitment, a factor that also received wide support within the Protestant community. A question was also raised about the need to judge the timing for the proposed change of name. As my right honourable friend said in his Statement, the change is needed to signal the new beginning. For that reason we believe that, with the first recruits entering through the new recruitment procedures and selected on the new balanced basis, autumn of next year would be the appropriate time to undertake the change.
An extremely difficult issue relates to symbols, badges and the respect that is rightly due to the history and contribution of the RUC. The question has been raised as to whether it is appropriate to give the task of considering this issue to the new policing board. However difficult this may be, the Government believe that it is important to move ahead with support. Therefore it is essential that a consensus is achieved by the people of Northern Ireland, and in particular those on the policing boards who will need to take the project forward.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, convention requires that my contribution should mainly take the form of questions. However, I feel somewhat reluctant to interrogate the Minister, for whom I have great respect--just as I respect and, I am sure, does the whole House, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whom I am glad to see is in his place in support of his colleague in this difficult task. I am also reassured by the presence on the Front Bench of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General who has a good deal of experience of the problems in Northern Ireland.
It has been said that there is nothing novel about today's events. As an old hand, I believe this to be merely a kind of re-run of many similar statements and events over the past 30 years, stretching back to 1969. There is nothing terribly new about the matter. However, despite my reservations about questioning the noble Baroness, will she concede that various side issues have been employed in the Patten Report--reflected to some extent in today's Statement by the Secretary of State--to conceal the true objective; namely, neutralising the Royal Ulster Constabulary as an effective counter-terrorist force? After all, that was the reason why the Patten Report was foreshadowed in the Good Friday agreement. At that time the matter was included in that glorious paragraph headed, "Reconciliation". I shall not be tempted to go further on that.
Is the Minister aware that the agreement was and will continue to be a blue-print for British withdrawal? We should remember that only last week Mr Adams announced that Irish unity--that is, complete British withdrawal--would be achieved before 2016. He chose that date because it is the anniversary of the Easter Rising.
I am reluctant to ask the Minister the next question because it may be difficult to answer. Can she confirm that British planners, not necessarily in the Cabinet, originally aimed for a withdrawal date of 2023, but that the timetable is shrinking rapidly? The principle of consent originally looked convincing, but it was greatly eroded by falsehoods and deceptions which influenced the outcome of the last referendum. We can take it for granted that all the same techniques will be wheeled out and used in any future test of opinion. I fear that we are on a slippery slope and there is no stopping place.
Finally, should anyone doubt the existence of that master plan, the proof lies in the acceleration of concessions to all the terrorist groups--Protestant and Roman Catholic, Protestant and Republican--concessions, mark you, on behalf of the law-abiding people of all religions, but no reciprocity whatever for many of the terrorist groups. It also lies in the planned fudge on decommissioning which is shortly to be unveiled; for example, we can predict with a fair degree of certainty the use of the phrase "putting weapons beyond use". Beyond use for how long and for what
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