Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Ackner: My Lords, we are seeking to perform totally unnecessary gymnastics which convince no one who is prepared to consider the terms of the report that we are doing anything except passing the report.

I respectfully submit that all that is necessary is to bring back the matter tomorrow with paragraph 5 redrawn. Then we shall see precisely what we are voting for and the gymnastics that are going on will be entirely unnecessary. I suggest that it is a thoroughly bad precedent to pass a clear resolution with secret or collateral provisos.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I understand the noble and learned Lord's point. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to trouble your Lordships by bringing back the matter tomorrow. If the Motion for the approval of the report is put to the House with the deletion of the words I have quoted, and for complete clarity I again quote the words to be deleted,

that will meet what I believe to be the requirements of your Lordships. Accordingly, I commend the Motion with the deletion of those words.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords--

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, with the deletion of the words as stated by the Chairman of Committees, the Question is that this Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the Contents have it. Clear the Bar.

Division called.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 635

I have to advise the House that Tellers for the Not-Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 53. Therefore a Division cannot take place, and I declare the "Contents" have it.

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

6.30 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill comes from the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which has its basis in the Good Friday agreement. The Government have committed themselves to the implementation of the Good Friday agreement--

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we are beginning the debate of an extremely important Bill. I would ask noble Lords who wish to converse with each other to leave the Chamber.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Bill comes from the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which has its basis in the Good Friday agreement. The Government have committed themselves to the implementation of the Good Friday agreement in all its aspects. One of these, and an extremely important one, is a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland.

In this context, it would be helpful to remind the House of what the agreement says on this issue. It is important because the agreement gives the Government and should give all democrats in Northern Ireland, a message of what is expected of us.

The agreement states:

    "We should recognise the sacrifices that have been made, including by the RUC, GC. This Government does recognise all the sacrifices, but in particular when considering a Bill dealing with policing I would like to pay tribute to the work and courage of the RUC in defending democracy, to the 302 men and women who lost their lives and the many thousands injured".

The Government recognise the trauma and suffering caused to individual officers and their families as well as police widows. The Patten report drew further attention to that and the Government accept the case for a substantial fund to help police widows, injured officers, injured retired officers and their families. That matter has been raised in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, who has asked oral Questions about the matter and who has bombarded me with Written Questions because of his particular concern in relation to the issue. It is time for progress to be made.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State appointed the former senior civil servant, the director of security and policing in the Northern Ireland Office, John Steele, OBE, to conduct a review into Patten's recommendation for a substantial fund to be set up to help injured police officers, injured retired officers and their families as well as police widows. He was

27 Jul 2000 : Column 636

appointed yesterday, 26th July, with the aim of presenting a report to the Government by the end of October. This should make recommendations on the purpose and administration of such a fund. This is a means of making progress on an issue which the noble Lord has pressed for a considerable time.

The Good Friday agreement also recognises that policing is a highly emotive subject. No one who knows anything about Northern Ireland could deny that. But there is an opportunity for a new beginning to policing. An opportunity which I know the police want to embrace. They are ready and willing to change and have already begun the process of doing so. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in recognising their positive approach.

In the context of the agreement, what does a new beginning mean? It means an opportunity to create a police service which is representative and, to quote from the agreement,

    "capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole".

Perhaps I may dwell on two parts of that for a moment or two. The first is a call for a new beginning. We all have an opportunity to contribute to that and I know we will act accordingly. Indeed, the people of Northern Ireland have overwhelmingly told us to do so.

The second point is on the support of the community as a whole. There is no doubt that in looking at the recommendations in the Patten report the Government have faced very real challenges when measuring the proposals against this test. The debate on the name and symbols of the police service exemplifies this. But the Government believe that they have sought to deal with this issue in a sensitive manner; in a way that recognises the linkage between the RUC and the new police service that we want to see and in a way which should command the support of all.

Furthermore, we should not lose sight of the fact, as the Chief Constable has said, that,

    "the vast bulk of the recommendations in the Patten report are about good and effective policing".

The police want to move forward. They want to become more representative of the community they serve. They want to be able to modernise and normalise their approach to policing.

I note in this context the very helpful comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, when he said in this place in response to the Government's Statement on the Patten report, that while he had a

    "few criticisms of a huge report ... it is worth saying that much of the report was lifted from the Chief Constable's own review",

and that his party,

    "share the Government's objective of changing the policing environment".--[Official Report, 19/1/00; col. 1168.]

On that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, said,

    "we recognise the need for fundamental change of the kind that Patten proposes".--[Official Report, 19/1/00; col. 1169.]

27 Jul 2000 : Column 637

I look forward to hearing and responding to the views of noble Lords, but would ask them to consider what the Government are hoping to achieve and what they are looking for in the new policing service for the people of Northern Ireland. The key elements are, first, a police service which is effective and efficient. It should be one capable of dealing with the public order situation and with terrorism, which we are sadly still facing, as well as dealing with what are known as "normal policing functions". I want to emphasise that the Government recognise the significance of the security environment. They have made clear, as indeed did Patten, that certain recommendations--for example, on phasing out the reserve--are security dependent. I can assure noble Lords that they will not gamble with the lives of people or officers.

The second element is a police service which is accountable to the community it serves and responsive to its needs. The Bill has considerable focus on this. The third is a police service which is representative of the community. As the Chief Constable said in April, the RUC is,

    "greatly under-representative and anything which can put right that under-representation is to be welcomed".

Fourthly, we also want a service which is focused on a human rights based approach. The Human Rights Act, which applies to the police, comes into force in October. Fifthly, we want a service to be delivered in constructive and inclusive partnerships.

All of those issues are found in the Good Friday agreement. The Bill before your Lordships lays the foundations for this approach.

When the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill was introduced in another place on 16th May, the Government acknowledged that it would need some changes, some adjustment. They said that they would readily accept changes if they added to the aims of the Bill and the Good Friday agreement but not otherwise.

My right honourable friend in another place repeated the point at Third Reading on 11th July. He said that the Government remained,

    "open to argument, to further debate and change, which no doubt will take place ... That is because I recognise the historic importance of this opportunity and of this legislation".--[Official Report, Commons, 11/7/00; col. 819.]

I can tell noble Lords, therefore, that while the Government believe that the Bill meets the key elements or objectives that I have set out--it will modernise and enhance policing in the interests of all in Northern Ireland--we remain open to persuasion and prepared to consider constructive changes.

Perhaps I may touch briefly on the detailed provisions in the Bill. Part I, which I hope will not obscure our vision of the Bill as a whole, deals with the name. The Government thought long and hard on the name and have established a link between the RUC and the new police service.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 638

As my right honourable friend said in the other place at Third Reading on 11th July,

    "The body of constables known as the RUC will form part of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and it will be incorporated in the new police service. At the same time we have introduced a new name--the Police Service of Northern Ireland ... [This] will be used for all operational and working purposes, wherever and in whatever circumstances when the police interface with the public".--[Official Report, Commons, 11/7/00; col. 818.]

The Bill has very many other important measures. Part II creates the Northern Ireland policing board in place of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland and sets out its general functions. Schedule 1 sets out the arrangements for appointments to the board. Part III provides for district policing partnerships and other local consultative arrangements, with Schedule 3 governing appointments to district policing partnerships.

Part IV provides for the police planning process. Part V introduces measures to require the policing board and the Chief Constable to secure continuous improvement in the efficient and effective exercise of their functions. Part VI sets out the general duty of members of the police and the duties of the Chief Constable. It deals with recruitment and severance arrangements. It also covers the new declaration, the registration of interests of police officers, the code of ethics, a regulation-making power on police flags and emblems and arrangements for co-operation with the Garda Siochana.

Part VII sets out the policing board's power to request reports from the chief constable on any aspect of policing and to cause inquiries to be held. Safeguards are set out in the part, although the Government propose to make further changes to those in Committee. Part IX provides for the appointment of a commissioner to oversee the implementation of changes in policing in Northern Ireland and enables the Secretary of State to establish a Royal Ulster Constabulary GC foundation to mark the services and sacrifices of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The Government are committed and determined to create a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland and one in which we all have a stake. They want to see reciprocation from others through support of the new arrangements. As my right honourable friend said in another place on 6th June, the Bill sets out,

    "a radical vision of modern civic policing that is rooted in the whole community--and will draw its legitimacy and strength from its support in all parts of the community".--[Official Report, Commons, 6/6/00; col. 177.]

I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.-- (Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

6.41 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the measures in this important Bill. For the past 30 years the RUC has stood as the thin green line between the rule of law and the descent into anarchy and, in doing so, has borne the brunt of the most wicked and vile acts of cowardly terrorism.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 639

Without the RUC, the opportunities for a lasting peace created by the Belfast agreement would, quite simply, not exist. It is largely thanks to the RUC, supported by the Armed Forces, that we can be confident that the future of Northern Ireland will be determined only by democracy and never by violence.

The RUC has responded to that violence with the highest standards of discipline and professionalism, and I utterly reject the claims of those who describe it as a sectarian force. In our view, the RUC has more than demonstrated its even-handedness and impartiality. Most recently, it stood literally in the middle between loyalists and nationalists at Drumcree. All of us should be profoundly grateful for the way in which the RUC has policed the situation at Drumcree in the past few weeks, often in the face of the most appalling provocation.

The contribution of the RUC has been apparent not only in Northern Ireland itself; it has stood as the first line of defence against terrorism here in mainland Great Britain and in the Republic, where it has thwarted many potential loyalist atrocities.

The sacrifice of the RUC is without equal. That is why the award of the George Cross by Her Majesty in a deeply moving ceremony at Hillsborough in April was so richly deserved. No one is more deserving of our praise and no one stands to gain more from the establishment of a lasting peace. It has been a real force for stability in Northern Ireland. The RUC is a police force that after 30 years can truly walk with its head held high.

This Bill, of course, gives effect to the recommendations contained in the Patten report on policing in Northern Ireland. One of the most serious deficiencies of the report is its failure to give all but the most cursory recognition of the achievements and sacrifice of the RUC. Overall, the bulk of the Patten proposals formed a useful basis for what policing in Northern Ireland could be like when the main terrorist threat is finally over. However, there are other areas, such as the scrapping of the RUC's royal title, to which we are implacably opposed, and those such as the security-sensitive recommendations that should be considered only when there is a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Much of the Patten report was foreshadowed in the Chief Constable's fundamental review of policing, initiated following the first IRA cessation in 1994. That review was predicated on three scenarios: first, a continuing high level of terrorist activity; secondly, an end to bombings and killings, but with the terrorist organisations remaining fully armed and engaging in shootings, beatings, mutilations and racketeering; and, thirdly, an end to terrorism, with the terrorist organisations dismantling and decommissioning their weapons. Only in that scenario was it envisaged that there should be a fundamental change to policing and, importantly, significant reductions in the size of the RUC.

Regrettably, we are still a long way from scenario three. Despite the re-establishment of the Executive and the Assembly, coupled with the offer of the IRA

27 Jul 2000 : Column 640

to put its weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use" and to engage in a confidence-building measure, there has been no decommissioning and the main terrorist threat remains. Even in the event of a permanent end to violence by the main terrorist organisations, the threat from the dissidents--especially on the republican side--will remain potent. We know that they are currently recruiting members; that they have access to more sophisticated weaponry; and that it is only through the skill of the police and the Army that recent attacks have not resulted in more serious damage and loss of life.

While any of those groups remain active and retain their capability, it would be absolute madness to introduce any of the controversial security-sensitive measures recommended by Patten. That is why we do not believe that the time is right to make cuts in the strength and capability of the police, or at this stage to begin phasing out the full-time reserve; nor do we believe that it is right to tamper with Special Branch in a way that could undermine its intelligence efforts and effectiveness.

Above all, no changes must be made for political reasons; changes must be made only with the full support of the Chief Constable. Nothing must be done that in any way undermines the ability of the RUC to uphold the rule of law and to protect the people of Northern Ireland. We believe emphatically that the continued operational independence of the Chief Constable is vital. Operational independence remains the single most important feature of policing in the United Kingdom. The Chief Constable must be allowed to run the police service without interference from any politician or group of politicians. That goes, too, for the new policing board that the Bill sets up to replace the existing Police Authority.

The new policing board will consist of a majority of politicians from parties represented in the Executive. As we said in our submission to Patten:

    "We do not in principle set ourselves against the greater representation of locally elected politicians on the Police Authority, though with safeguards".

However, we have grave anxieties about the scope for political interference by the board that could result from Patten's recommendations, especially when we consider that they will include parties which even now cannot bring themselves to support the police. The problems will be even more acute on the district policing partnerships (DPPs), especially in areas where one political party or tradition might be dominant. Rather than satisfying Patten's aim of taking the politics out of policing, they could have had exactly the opposite effect and politicised the police to a greater extent than at any time since before 1970.

We remain totally opposed to the inclusion on the policing board of members of political parties who remain inextricably linked with terrorist organisations that have not even begun to decommission their illegally held arms and explosives. We find it completely unacceptable that the Bill will not provide explicitly for the disqualification from the board of political or independent members who have been convicted of terrorist offences.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 641

Similarly, we are concerned about the district policing partnerships to be established by the Bill, which mirror the reorganisation of the police into districts based on the existing local government boundaries. We welcome the fact that they will have only a consultative role, but we remain concerned that they will still seek to interfere in the operational decisions of a district commander. We oppose the Secretary of State's decision to leave open the option of increasing their powers, including the possibility of giving them the ability to raise money to buy in additional policing services.

We believe that it is wrong for any party--loyalist or republican--to be represented on the DPPs if their paramilitary associates have not decommissioned a single gun or an ounce of Semtex. The provision to disqualify any person from sitting as an independent member if they have been convicted of a scheduled offence should also apply explicitly to any political members with previous terrorist convictions.

Patten's proposals to rid the RUC of its proud name and cap badge are, of course, the most controversial aspects of the report. They have caused significant hurt and anger, and are wholly without justification. We profoundly disagree with the assertion that the police service should be free of any association with the symbols of the state, particularly as acceptance of the Belfast agreement means acceptance of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's constitutional status.

On the cap badge, I can only repeat what has been said many times before: it would be difficult to come up with anything that better encompasses the British and Irish traditions than the current one.

In Committee, the Secretary of State accepted a Unionist amendment that incorporates the name of the RUC in the so-called title deeds of the new police service. That amendment went on to say that for operational purposes the name used would be the "Police Service of Northern Ireland". That goes some way to addressing our concerns about the royal title being lost, although we should have preferred it to have gone further and established a dual title--the "Police Service of Northern Ireland-Royal Ulster Constabulary".

On Report in the other place, the Secretary of State proposed a further amendment that defined operational purposes in such a way as to make it impossible ever to use the name RUC again. That amendment was not moved. If the Government seek to bring it back in Committee here, we shall implacably oppose it.

We all agree that there has to be change in the RUC. The RUC, under Sir Ronnie Flanagan's fine leadership, recognises that. It is wrong that the force is so overwhelmingly Protestant. The RUC has for many years sought to recruit more Catholics. But let us be clear; the biggest single disincentive to Catholic recruitment remains intimidation and the threat of murder. Anybody who doubts that should recall how

27 Jul 2000 : Column 642

the number of Catholic applicants to the RUC doubled after the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, only to fall back again when the ceasefire broke down.

The situation has not been helped by the refusal of nationalist politicians and members of the Catholic clergy to recommend that young Catholic men and women join the police force. I very much hope that will change. There can be no justification for it.

We all share the objective of seeing the composition of the police more accurately reflect the make-up of the community in Northern Ireland. We all want the RUC to be routinely unarmed, with no need for flak jackets and armoured vehicles, and able to patrol all parts of Northern Ireland without the need for the support of the Army.

The biggest single contribution to that, and to transforming the policing environment in Northern Ireland, would be for the paramilitaries--republican and so-called loyalist--to end terrorism for good, dismantle their organisations, and begin to decommission their illegal weapons. When that happens, it should fall to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, with its proud name and symbols preserved, to rise to the challenge of policing the peace just as valiantly as it has policed Northern Ireland throughout the darkest days of terror. The RUC deserves our support. The Bill, without amendment, does not.

6.54 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I associate myself with the Minister's remarks about the casualties sustained by the police service over the past three decades. The RUC has made an enormous sacrifice by any standards.

This is a significant Bill that will have a profound influence on future developments in Northern Ireland, so it is important that we get it as right as we can. The Liberal Democrats strongly support the broad thrust of the Bill. It is in accordance with the Belfast agreement and implements most of the Patten report.

The Bill is a compromise between the concerns of the nationalist and Unionist communities. As such, it will attract criticism from the more extreme elements on both sides. Compromises are a hallmark of democratic politics. That is why, as devolved government gets under way in Northern Ireland, the arrangements in the Bill will gather increasing support from the majority of its citizens. The key to that lies in the provisions for community co-operation and involvement and in the checks and balances, including the ombudsman and the commissioner.

While we welcome the Bill and broadly support it, the Liberal Democrats still have some concerns. If they could be satisfactorily addressed, the Bill could be further improved. We shall move amendments on those issues in Committee, when I shall be greatly assisted by my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond, who has considerable experience of police matters.

The major worry that I shall concentrate on is the issue of recruitment quotas, as detailed in Clause 45. The provisions now in the Bill are worse than when it

27 Jul 2000 : Column 643

was first introduced in another place. Originally, the quota provisions had to be renewed every three years, together with a sunset condition under which quotas would cease to operate after 10 years. That sunset clause has now been removed. That means that unless the triennial orders renewing the provisions are defeated in Parliament, quotas can be employed indefinitely. That would be a matter for despair.

I should explain why the Liberal Democrats strongly oppose quotas per se. We fully understand the Government's motives, which are highly commendable. They want to achieve an equal balance in the police between the two communities. Well before the Patten report, the Opsahl commission observed in 1993 that,

    "As with political structures, the key question about policing is how to ensure its acceptance by the nationalist community".

The use of quotas is one of the confidence-building measures aimed at ensuring that acceptance. However, we do not believe that they are the best way to go about it. Indeed, they could well be counter-productive. While I fully understand the symbolic significance of a 50:50 quota, I query its practicality. What would be the consequences at the triennial review if recruitment fell below the designated 50 per cent Roman Catholic enrolment? We may well be storing up trouble for the future, which could be avoided if targets were substituted for quotas.

The Home Secretary has laid down targets for the recruitment of ethnic minorities for constabularies throughout England and Wales. He specifically ruled out quotas in a speech on 14th April 1999 to the national conference for recruitment, retention and progression of black and Asian officers. He said:

    "But let me be clear about what I am not doing. I am not setting quotas and saying that you have to take somebody on because of the colour of their skin. I am setting targets to enable the police service to more fairly represent the community you serve".

The advantage of targets over quotas is that they allow for greater flexibility in monitoring the new recruitment process. High targets can be set--even 50 per cent--but any shortfall in reaching a set target is much less damaging than a failure to achieve a rigid quota. I fully appreciate why the Secretary of State adheres so strongly to the quota option at this point in the legislative process, but the crunch will come at the first triennial review when, if the recruitment quota has not been fulfilled, it will be a major problem for whoever is the Secretary of State at that time. Although we all hope that an equal balance in recruitment will have been achieved, we shall need to anticipate the situation if it has not. Targets will help us to aim for success. Quotas are more likely, albeit inadvertently, to prove a recipe for failure.

We also have other concerns. In view of the time and the many speakers to follow, I shall refer only briefly to them. They will be taken up by my noble friend. We have a number of concerns regarding the relationship between the board, the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State. The Patten report expressed the hope that the new police board would be considerably stronger than the police authority that it replaced. However, the Police Bill assigns many powers to the

27 Jul 2000 : Column 644

Secretary of State and the Chief Constable rather than to the board. We do not, however, question the need for a role for the Secretary of State in policing. What we are concerned about is that the relationship between the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the board is out of balance in favour of the Secretary of State.

With the exception of these reservations, which we will address further at the Committee stage, we strongly support this Bill. The Liberal Democrats believe that the Bill aims to preserve the best of the old, while addressing the imperatives of the new.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, few people can produce any real justification for the Patten report and this Bill. It is rather as though in 1940 Churchill had decided to set up a commission to recommend drastic changes in the composition and structures of Royal Air Force Fighter Command and investigate the political and religious views of the pilots who won the battle. I wonder whether we can assume that Churchill would then have appointed Oswald Mosley to that board to ensure a fair balance and arranged for the Luftwaffe itself to be represented, perhaps even by Herman Goering, if he could have spared the time, so that allegations of undue force used by the spitfire and hurricane pilots could have been thoroughly investigated. Had there been a Northern Ireland Office in those days, of course, it would have been only too happy to organise the release and repatriation of the German pilots. After all, the Northern Ireland Office has doubly excelled itself today by releasing the Docklands bomber and making concessions and promises in other ways as well.

Some contributors give the impression that they are thinking of a body akin to traffic wardens. Regrettably, we in the United Kingdom cannot afford that kind of luxury. When the Patten report was being shaped well over a year ago, there was a belief that because 70 per cent of the electorate voted for peace, there would be peace. There was an innocent belief in the assurances of Her Majesty's Government, and particularly those of the Prime Minister, in the campaign to secure a "yes" vote in the referendum. There was an expectation that the published Patten report would ensure that nationalist and republican leaders would encourage Roman Catholic recruits to enlist in the police force and thus achieve a sectarian balance.

I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, about the hideous danger of quotas as opposed to targets. Unfortunately, that all-important aim was recently dashed by both elements following the passage of this Bill through another place. They have made it quite clear that they will not encourage Catholic recruits to join even the restructured force. Those four Patten assumptions have simply disappeared and are no more valid than the excessive spin doctoring that has damaged faith in democratic government in the minds of the United Kingdom electorate in general.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 645

I realise that most Bills evolve over a period of consultation and discussion and that inevitably the situation could be transformed by the time any given Bill receives Royal Assent. However, in the case of the Patten conclusions not only has the landscape already changed but the very foundations have simply disappeared. One of the causes was the blatant and naked pressure applied by America to secure acceptance, of a sort, of the Good Friday agreement. People have now had their eyes opened.

I frequently expressed grave reservations many years ago about the intolerable pressure used when Israeli and Palestinian representatives were shipped across the Atlantic, were given the pressure cooker treatment and starved of sleep until, in desperation, they accepted what was termed an "agreement", which endured until they returned home to face their respective hostile people. Now President Clinton has this very week washed his hands of a situation made worse by his dazzling high wire acts.

On this side of the Atlantic, the British and Irish Governments imported the very same devices and methods and, with highly questionable means, achieved an illusion of success. But when the conjuring tricks were revealed, great was the disillusionment on the part of tens of thousands of people who now bitterly resent being deceived. They have resolved never to be conned a second time, which creates a very difficult situation for anyone engaged in future experiments. A few weeks ago the Irish Foreign Minister mocked the victims of deception by revealing that the entire process is designed to eliminate all traces of Britishness from Northern Ireland. That was an eye opener to all who had placed their trust in princes and politicians.

Therefore, like the innocents who were told that they were voting for peace, your Lordships will rightly resent having been invited to join in that conspiracy, directed against what I have always termed "the greater number of all faiths and none", who have one simple desire--to remain within the same kingdom. We can be certain that in the next two months until your Lordships return to the consideration of this Bill, the terrorists will have been granted still further concessions, because it is an unstoppable flow, and many more traces of Britishness will have been removed before we return in October. In like measure, resentment in the minds of that betrayed "greater number" will have increased.

In October that greater number, Protestants, Roman Catholics, other faiths and none, will be listening to your Lordships focus on those clauses in the Bill that are designed to eliminate Britishness and certainly not intended to improve the quality of policing in a part of the United Kingdom. It will therefore be the task of your Lordships to disregard all the threats of all shades of terrorists and their allies in drug dealing and protection rackets. Our duty will be to make a splendid police force even better.

There are those who would seek to mutilate and dismember the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which has protected the greater number of citizens to which I

27 Jul 2000 : Column 646

have already referred. Your Lordships' role will be the opposite. As has been said, we shall need to look at crucial points such as the title of the force, the command structure, political oversight, retention of the necessary equipment and financial accounting and budgeting.

I am sorry that because a commotion was caused by those doing their best to obstruct our proceedings this evening, the noble and learned Lord had difficulty in making himself heard. But if I heard him aright, he suggested that the Bill had a certain parentage because it was a recommendation of the Belfast agreement. I do not think that I am misquoting him. That was the gist of what he said. But he will realise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, that we are not there yet. Page 23 of the Belfast agreement said about the setting up of the Patten commission that it should include,

    "proposals on any necessary arrangements for the transition to policing in a normal peaceful society".

That was what it was commissioned to do. It was not to disarm the police; to change the name of the police force; to mutilate its whole structures and make them impotent. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, we are not there yet and that is the problem. So the Bill gets the wording wrong because it starts the wrong way round. We are not in a normal peaceful society as yet. We all hope that we shall be. At that time, many of us would be prepared to support some other features which are currently objectionable. But I repeat that we may have a long way to go before it is possible to implement those provisions. Fortunately, our two months of Recess provide your Lordships and the Government with ample opportunity to examine the Bill; to remove the numerous flaws which there are because of the timetabling which the Bill suffered in the other place; and to introduce constructive amendments, it is hoped in co-operation with the Government--and we all look forward to that. Most importantly, we must do nothing to weaken the capacity of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to play its part in protecting the nation from the various active terrorist units prepared to strike at will. The Provisional IRA remains in possession of its arsenal, which arsenal is constantly updated and reinforced. Parliament and your Lordships' House have an overriding responsibility to secure that counter-terrorist capacity of the police is in no way impaired.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I regret that due to the lateness of the proceedings, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, could not take part in this debate. I should have liked to hear his remarks.

First, I quote to your Lordships what the Good Friday agreement said about policing. It stated:

    "The participants [in the negotiations] believe it essential that policing structures and arrangements are such that the police service is professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves; representative

27 Jul 2000 : Column 647

    of the society it polices, and operates within a coherent and cooperative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms".

The same paragraph goes on to say that any structures and arrangements should be,

    "capable of delivering a policing service, in constructive and inclusive partnerships with the community at all levels, and with the maximum delegation of authority and responsibility consistent with the foregoing principles. These arrangements should be based on principles of protection of human rights and professional integrity and should be unambiguously accepted and actively supported by the entire community".

I say that because it is very important to remember--I have said this before in this House--that the Good Friday agreement was an international agreement. It was signed not just by the UK Government but also by the Government of the Republic of Ireland and with the active support and presence of the Government of the United States.

That is very important because it was in pursuance of that paragraph in the agreement that the Patten commission was appointed. It is something of a paradox that someone who was a former chairman of the Conservative Party is certainly unpopular in ways that I would not have anticipated.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Fitt is more qualified to speak on this than I am, but the basic problem, as we know, is that Northern Ireland is a divided community. It has been divided for not just the past 30 years but for the past 80 years. We must not forget that background.

Perhaps I may quote from the evidence which the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland gave to the Patten commission. Two remarks were made which reflect that division. On the one hand, it was said about the RUC that there was "a deep legacy of distrust" and on the other hand that there was,

    "the deep sense of possession of the police force by the Unionist community".

I join those noble Lords who have paid tribute to the RUC for its gallantry and bravery. It is a very uncomfortable position to be caught in the middle of a divided political society and to have to defend not just the people but very often yourself under difficult circumstances.

The Patten report stated that,

    "the issue of policing is at the heart of many of the problems that politicians have been unable to resolve in Northern Ireland".

If we are to tackle that problem head-on, and not just for the next two, three or four years but permanently, we must do so in the spirit in which the police force becomes a policing service. Of course, it must be effective, efficient and accountable. It must be accountable not only to a certain formal body but in ways that are transparent so that it becomes accountable to the entire community.

I do not want to speak on the issue of targets versus quotas or anything like that. But in that respect, it is extremely important to say that even the composition does not matter so much as winning the confidence of the community. That is an extremely important point. Permanent peace will come when that is achieved.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 648

I want to say something about accountability. Paragraph 1.15 of the Patten report refers to,

    "effective and democratically based oversight of policing".

"Democratically based oversight" does not necessarily mean "politically interfered with oversight". It means that the community's involvement through democratic procedures and processes is taken into account so that people feel that the police belong to them. That is the sort of policing that we have been able to achieve here on the mainland and I do not see any reason why that should not be our goal for Northern Ireland.

I do not want to go into the details of the Patten proposals and so on. If I thought that the Bill did not follow Patten, my direction would be exactly the opposite to that of some noble Lords who have already spoken. So I shall not go into those details. But it is extremely important that the issue of human rights should be addressed absolutely head-on, not only because the European Convention on Human Rights is about to come into operation in the UK, but also because the issue of human rights embodies many of the fundamental concerns which any policing force must address in a modern society. It is in a difficult situation like this--I agree that it is a difficult situation because peace has not come yet--that human rights are most likely to be violated. We must be vigilant. If the community does not see the policing service as its policing service, operating in its interest, we shall not be able to achieve the peace and prosperity that we want for Northern Ireland.

7.20 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, at the start I should declare an interest as the recipient of hospitality in Dublin a few weeks ago. I acted as host for the Police Federation of Northern Ireland at a deeply moving occasion when a number of those who were widowed and a number who were crippled as policemen during the past 30 years were received with great kindness and imagination by the Taoiseach, the entire political establishment in Dublin, as well as a goodly proportion of the Irish press.

It is a great pleasure to have the privilege of following the noble Lord, Lord Desai. It is some years since I have had that privilege in your Lordships' House. He always presents a case that is difficult to answer. In this instance, I wholly agree with what he said about the need for transparency. However, I draw his attention to chapter 4 of the Patten report which, among other things, deals with views throughout the nationalist community of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong, but a remarkable phenomenon was noted by my right honourable friend Mr Patten in which it was generally accepted by a large majority in the nationalist community that the RUC was biased against them. But in every community a clear majority felt that that was the case in the whole Province but that it did not apply to the RUC in their particular area.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 649

My right honourable friend concluded differently from me, that that meant that perhaps there was a bias. I concluded that from their own experience they felt that there was not one, but that they had been told that there was a bias in the community as a whole and they accepted that general view. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, may feel that that may be worth some consideration.

Turning to the Bill, your Lordships will agree that we consider this Bill at a time when explosions and attacks on security forces have, thankfully, declined dramatically in Northern Ireland. The Province seems to us, and to most of its inhabitants, to be more nearly at peace than at any time in the past 30 years. Countless lives have, therefore, been saved and in many parts of the Province prosperity has either returned or has made an appearance for the first time, particularly in the western part of the Province.

On this side of the water, both press and public take that impression at face value and, as we all are, they are grateful that the threat of explosion and assassination seems, for the moment, to have all but disappeared here as well. Although as my noble friend Lady Seccombe pointed out, and as those of us who unfortunately have professional relations with the Special Branch know, that is more because of the efficiency of the security forces in protecting us than because the threat has disappeared.

In the context of this Bill I ask whether this apparently happy state of affairs is real, or is it a delusion. Of course, we long for it to be real and we long for the terrorists to long for it to be real. Indeed, it seems to me that the whole peace process has been based on the expectation that the terrorists can be seduced into surrendering the uncomfortable politics of the Armalite in exchange for the comfortable politics of the ballot box and the ministerial limousine.

What is the reality on the ground in Northern Ireland? The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is in a better position than most to tell us about this and we greatly look forward to hearing what he has to say on the subject. My Northern Irish friends tell me that the reality in many parts of the Province is still extremely grim. It seems that increasingly the poorer areas are becoming ghettos. Many areas have always been ghettos, whether loyalist or republican, but the mixed areas are becoming fewer. I use the word "republican" rather than "nationalist" deliberately because, as I understand it, the SDLP is now too soft to count for much any more in the mean streets or in bandit country.

These ghettos are ruled by terrorist organisations. They exact total obedience through brutality and the fear of brutality. Like all terrorist organisations, both loyalist and republican, they have become indistinguishable from organised criminals. Some, of course, continue to finance a portion of their operations from the donations of deluded romantics in the United States of America, but increasingly both sides finance themselves by becoming mobsters. Their rackets are drugs, extortion, protection, prostitution,

27 Jul 2000 : Column 650

taxi services and all the paraphernalia of organised banditry which we associate more with 1930s Chicago than with a modern United Kingdom. Genuine peace and the rule of law will seriously damage those bandits' financial health and luckily for them, but not for us, we have not yet achieved genuine peace.

The Government, through the RUC, have to provide us with statistics and if noble Lords visit the website of the RUC, they will find that in the year so far to 2nd July there have been no fewer than 125 paramilitary-style attacks, compared with 136 in the comparable period last year. In parenthesis, it is interesting to note that both for last year and this there was a higher recorded incidence of loyalist attacks than republican attacks. That is perhaps because the republicans are less divided on the ground, have greater control over their own people and do not need to intimidate them. In the four years to December 1999 recorded paramilitary attacks--we know about the recorded ones only--fell from 326 in 1996 to 196 in 1998, but they rose again to 206 in 1999. I believe that many of those incidents reflect the fact that the godfathers intimidate their own communities rather than attack the other side.

Your Lordships can only imagine how that regime restricts the liberties that we fondly imagine every citizen of the United Kingdom enjoys. Just in case we consider that for the police and security forces the situation has returned to normal, the RUC's website is equally instructive. It is true that, thank God, in 1999 and so far during the current year, no security force deaths have been attributed to terrorism. However, between 1st and 15th July this year alone, there have been 332 attacks on the security forces, including 13 shootings; 88 RUC officers and six soldiers have been injured. There have also been 313 petrol bombing incidents and 611 incidents of criminal damage of various kinds.

Clearly, from those statistics alone one can see that large areas of the Province are still controlled by terrorists. I fear that that is hardly surprising. This is where I begin to become rather controversial. It is a province whose newly devolved government contains representatives of terrorist organisations whose very presence there has been engineered by the threat of a return to full-scale terrorist war.

For anyone who doubts that, noble Lords have only to contrast the public statements of the British and Irish Governments with the contents of an internal Provisional IRA document known in the trade as "TUAS" and circulated before the first ceasefire referred to by my noble friend Lady Seccombe. TUAS is an acronym that stands for "tactical use of armed struggle" and boils down to one thing: if the British Government do not give way, threaten a resumption of the bombing campaign and then they will. Contrast that with British and Irish Government pronouncements, which seem to me to reflect all too clearly the success of TUAS.

27 Jul 2000 : Column 651

In the Dail, on the day that the Downing Street declaration was promulgated what now seems many years ago, Mr Spring, the then Republican Foreign Minister, said,

    "We are talking about the handing in of arms and are insisting that it would not be simply a temporary cessation of violence to secure what the political process offers. There can be no equivocation in relation to the determination of both governments in that regard".

Yet in spite of those admirable sentiments, in the wake of a resumption of violence followed by,

    "a complete cessation of military operations"--

a declaration in which the word "permanent" was conspicuously absent--the government of whom I was a member decided to assume as a "working assumption" that the ceasefire was indeed permanent. The retreat from our insistence on an unequivocal surrender of the Armalite in favour of the ballot box has continued since then, accelerating rapidly since May 1997.

I shall not weary your Lordships with a repetition of the various formulations which have been drawn to our attention during the ensuing years and months. But your Lordships will know that, as a result, Sinn Fein was able to enter talks without handing over a single weapon, and then enter the Executive itself.

We are all aware of how, in order to preserve the ceasefire, the Government have failed to stick to any of their demands that weapons should be surrendered before the peace process began. TUAS has worked; and seeing that it works, the loyalists are gearing themselves up to be able to respond in kind. Instead of strengthening the centre of the political spectrum--something which all of us in this House want to see and which so many people, particularly representatives present from all sides of the community in Northern Ireland, have endeavoured to achieve--governments of both persuasions have achieved exactly the opposite. They have hollowed out the centre and strengthened the extremes instead. That may secure a temporary respite. But in the end it leads to trouble, particularly when large numbers of the most dangerous terrorists are being let out without any guarantee that they will not return to their past.

This Bill must be viewed in that context. Those of us who believe in parliamentary government and its consequences for the rule of law must believe that those who govern us and sit in our representative institutions will not use violence or the threat of violence to achieve their aims. We must also believe that the government we elect will use every means to ensure that that is so and remains so; that they will be prepared to draw a bottom line if it is not so and to defend the ballot box against the Armalite by any means at their disposal if it cannot be done by sweet reason.

If there is no sanction that parliamentary government is prepared to use to force the men of violence to rely exclusively on Parliament and the ballot box, I suggest that the men of violence will always win. In spite of the feebleness of British governments of all political complexions and their readiness to give in to the threat of violence, the RUC

27 Jul 2000 : Column 652

has become an increasingly effective first line of defence against terrorism, as my noble friend so eloquently told us. As she also said, that is true not only for the inhabitants of the Province, but also for those of us on this side of the water and the inhabitants of the Republic as well.

This Bill, in a number of ways, undermines the capability of the RUC as an effective anti-terrorist force at a time when terrorism and the threat of terrorism are at least as potent as they have ever been, certainly in their effects if not in the number of victims that they are taking, which seems to be no longer necessary. I shall look at three examples in addition to the points made by my noble friend Lady Seccombe. First, the name and oath as set out in Clauses 1 and 38 are not merely cosmetic: they affect morale in a way one has to have been shot at to understand. Anybody who knows the works of Sir John Keegan, particularly In the Face of Battle, will understand the importance of symbols of this kind.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, the imposition of quotas is counterproductive and shows clearly that the Government have ignored, as my right honourable friend Mr Patten did, the role that intimidation plays in preventing Catholics joining the RUC.

Thirdly, the composition of the district policing partnerships could all too easily allow representatives of terrorist groups who have no convictions to become members. Of course, we shall return to those matters in the remaining stages. I hope that it will be possible, before Committee stage, to see the regulations anticipated in Clauses 44 (on recruitment) and 52 (on emblems and flags) at least in draft before we come to discuss the clauses in detail.

However, I must place on record my own fear that, although much of this Bill is welcome, as many noble Lords have already said--indeed, the RUC welcomed at least 70 per cent of the recommendations of the Patten report--there are parts of it whose consideration, let alone introduction, I am sorry to see before the ghettos are once again free, while the Government continue to submit to terrorist threats, and before the terrorists have thrown away the Armalite in favour of the ballot box. If that happens, it is right that we should examine many matters and be prepared to treat former terrorists in a spirit of generosity and reconciliation, which is absolutely essential if peace is to return to the Province.

Until we are sure that terrorism has really disappeared from the Province and that the men of terror are really prepared to give up violence, I wonder whether we are aware of the delusion from which we are suffering. Indeed, I wonder whether my old friend Mr Patten does not feel, in his heart of hearts, the same. I noticed in a report in The Examiner dated 17th February this year that he was quoted in the context of the suspended Assembly. Some of his strictures in that press report apply to what happens in the Province when the Assembly is suspended. However, there are other strictures which do not seem to apply to that

27 Jul 2000 : Column 653

circumstance. For example, in setting out the central arguments for his policing reforms, my former right honourable friend stated that the arguments,

    "are affected if some people now eschew their obligation to give primacy to democracy".

He went on to say,

    "While some of our proposals would depend on what happened on the ground, some of our proposals would clearly affect for the better what was happening on the ground. But it is difficult to make those judgements when one isn't entirely clear where the security situation is going to develop".

He adds,

    "Now, clearly, a commitment to the democratic process involves an equal commitment to taking the gun out of politics, and I don't see how any number of elaborate casuistries can avoid that simple proposition".

I hope that my right honourable friend can be persuaded to repeat that remark in the context of this Bill.

As your Lordships will have ascertained, I agree particularly with that last sentence. Until the gun is taken out of Irish politics, North and South, we need a police force in Northern Ireland with the morale and capability to continue doing the job it has been doing for the past 30 years with increasing success and courage. If we act in the way we are acting now before that happens, we are in danger of breaking the very foundations on which this House acts and which another place supports as the foundation of our own polity, let alone anybody else's.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to address your Lordships' House tonight on a subject in which I have a keen and very practical interest. As many noble Lords know, I am chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, the body that represents all police authorities in England and Wales as well as the current Police Authority for Northern Ireland. Therefore, I hope that I can share a little "insider knowledge" with noble Lords in this debate.

As my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton made clear, we wish to see a single, integrated policing service that has the confidence and the respect of the whole community in Northern Ireland. I am pleased, therefore, that the Government have recognised the need to specify a minimum as well as a maximum number of members for the policing board. That is essential under any political circumstances. I am also encouraged by the enhancements that have been made to the code of practice for district policing partnerships, the provisions for police officers to register their associations and the increased emphasis on human rights.

We very much welcome the introduction of a new code of ethics as proposed by Patten. We are pleased that the Government have recognised that it should be the responsibility of the police board to issue the code and assess its effectiveness. But how effective can the code be if officers are only asked to, "read and

27 Jul 2000 : Column 654

understand it"? Surely, we must, as a minimum, expect officers to carry out their duties in accordance with the code--just as they are required to do in respect of the oath. We also welcome the decision to remove some of the wholly unreasonable restrictions placed upon the board's ability to ask for a report of the chief constable, or initiate an inquiry. But there remain fundamental concerns in this area, about which I shall say more in a moment.

I make no apologies for reminding your Lordships that policing by consent--meaning the consent of all our communities--is the touchstone of the UK system; a system of which we are justifiably proud. But that can only be achieved by putting in place a series of checks and balances which ensure appropriate accountability both to central government and, crucially, to the local community. The right balance has to be struck in the relationships between the Secretary of State, the policing board and the chief constable. As it stands, the Bill has not, in our view, got the balance right. Of course the Secretary of State must have a role; indeed, that is right. We look forward to the future when that role may be devolved to a Minister of Justice. But, at the moment, the role of central government is rather too great.

It is in this respect that the Government have so far failed to address a number of key issues. In my research into these key issues, not only have I found support on a Cross-Bench basis in this House but also that a broad political consensus exists among the parties in Northern Ireland. That support should, in itself, have commended the necessary changes to the Government. I am optimistic that the Government will find time to listen and heed those points.

I return to the policing board's powers of inquiry. While the Government have removed one of the restrictions, we believe that the stranglehold is still too tight. The Patten report was clear about this. It said that the board should,

    "be able to follow up any report from the Chief Constable by initiating an inquiry into any aspect of the police service or police conduct".

But the Bill imposes significant restrictions on the board's decision-making capabilities--not only in the specified majority for taking such a decision, but also in the detailed requirements that must be followed before a question can even be put that an inquiry be held. I was delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord say that he would make further changes. I hope that he will address some of the points that I have highlighted. I look forward to further discussion on these issues.

However, perhaps I may make this simple point. Even if the board manages to persuade the Secretary of State that an inquiry is needed, it will still have to pay all the costs. That could be almost impossible, given its modest budget. Therefore, I urge the Government to look again at this point. I should

27 Jul 2000 : Column 655

remind the noble and learned Lord that the Patten report was quite clear that the powers of the Secretary of State were already too great and should be reduced. It said:

    "In Northern Ireland the Secretary of State is much more directly involved [than in England and Wales in policing]--these arrangements are not a basis for democratic accountability in the sense of the police being ... responsible to the community".

Best value is a prime example. Since 1st April of this year, all police authorities in England and Wales have had to ensure that local people get best value from their policing services. It is a challenge that we are meeting with commitment and enthusiasm. As one who is now wrestling with this new duty, I can say that one thing is crucial: there must be absolute clarity about roles and responsibilities. In England and Wales, the duty is placed squarely on the police authority. But as the Bill stands, both the policing board and the chief constable are to be responsible for best value in their respective spheres. The chief constable is to be answerable for improving police services to the Secretary of State, instead of to local people through the policing board. I do not feel that it is overstating the case to say that I believe that that will be a recipe for disaster, because of their divided responsibilities.

The policing board's primary duty is to secure an efficient and effective police service. Consistency demands that the obligation to secure best value--that is, economy, efficiency and effectiveness--rests with the policing board. How else can the board fulfil its key statutory responsibility? How else can the board ensure that local people get improved policing services? As the Bill stands, I simply cannot conceive how those points can be answered.

Similarly, in the provisions covering the police planning process, the Secretary of State takes to himself the power to regulate the content of the board's policing plan, in a way that is at odds with the position in England and Wales. I can tell the Minister that that will be bitterly opposed by police authorities in England and Wales.

The strength of the police planning process lies in setting broad performance targets. But the existing powers given to the Police Authority under the 1998 Act are removed. Again, as chairman of a police authority, I know only too well how critically important it is for the new board to be able to set clear targets reflecting the priority and effort that local people attach to particular aspects of police work. I make no apologies for referring again to the Patten report, which said:

    "We see no justification for the Government to second-guess the Board in these matters".

Again, this is an issue to which we shall return at a later stage.

Finally, and extremely seriously, the ability of the board to hold the chief constable properly to account on financial matters has been removed. By placing accounting responsibility for the police grant on the shoulders of the chief constable, the Government will not only damage the board's credibility but also take away from it the valuable right of internal audit, which

27 Jul 2000 : Column 656

is crucial. It is a crucial investigatory and oversight function. This departs from long-established practice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is opposed by all the major political parties in Northern Ireland and by the Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

I have only had time to highlight some of the most obvious and serious concerns. There are many other detailed points to which we shall need to return, including the board's role in consulting local people. But our concerns are clear. The system of checks and balances is out of kilter in that it concentrates too much power on the Secretary of State and the chief constable, thereby negating the role of the board. The consequence of those shortcomings is that we have a genuine fear that the new board: will not have the power that the Independent Commission intended; will not command the support of either the police service or the community; and that, by this somewhat parsimonious approach, the Government will, in reality, undermine the thrust of their own legislation. I look forward to hearing the Government's response and to further, and more detailed, discussion on these important issues when we reach the Committee stage.

7.49 p.m.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, at the outset one has to say that there are aspects of Patten and aspects of the Bill which are positive. Many recommendations of an operational nature I agree with. Many recommendations members of my party agree with. But, perhaps more importantly, many recommendations the RUC agrees with and welcomes--indeed, many it proposed through the chief constable's review.

However, there are many other areas where I have grave doubts and objections. Noble Lords sitting close to me may have noticed that I am wearing a rather distinctive tie. It is an RUC tie, specifically woven to commemorate the rightful and justified award of the George Cross to the RUC. Is it not ironic that a few short months after that award we should debate such aspects of future policing in Northern Ireland as a change of name?

We cannot legislate for what is in people's hearts and minds. Whatever we decide, just as the names "bobby" and "Peelers" remain in use in areas of the country, so also will the name of the RUC, at least for my generation and my son's generation. Can one really foresee someone in trouble in Northern Ireland calling for help and saying, "I'm going to phone the Police Service of Northern Ireland"?

In addition to the removal of the proud name "Royal Ulster Constabulary", I believe that this Bill is fundamentally flawed in at least two other aspects; namely, the proposed district policing partnerships, especially the proposals that Belfast be divided into four sub-bodies, and the proposal for 50/50 recruitment. I have grave reservations about creating 29 local area commands corresponding to the 26 local council areas, plus an additional three for the City of Belfast. With the loss of a whole tier of management in

27 Jul 2000 : Column 657

the RUC via decentralised command, I fear that that bodes ill for the future and will serve to balkanise the police force in Northern Ireland.

The population of Northern Ireland is only 1.6 million. We do not need 29 local area commands. I believe that there needs to be a regional level of command above the local areas and that the unitary nature of the RUC must be preserved.

In mainland terms, the City of Belfast is not particularly large, with no more than 300,000 or so electors. While Belfast may currently be divided by the RUC into four local areas of command, these do not mirror the four parliamentary constituencies and extend far beyond the city limits as far as Lisburn to the south, Antrim town and Carrickfergus to the north, and Bangor to the east, incorporating parts of the constituencies of South Antrim, East Antrim, Lagan Valley, Castlereagh and North Down. I am confident that 300,000 people could more effectively and more efficiently be served by one local area command.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page