Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Dubs: I take issue with the noble Baroness. I do not believe for one moment that this Bill is to do with appeasing or meeting the wishes of terrorist paramilitaries.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I did not for a moment intend to suggest that. I referred to the intention to abandon the title, not the Bill itself.

Lord Dubs: I see the change in the name of the RUC as an integral part of the Government's approach in this Bill. I do not believe that the change of name is anything to do with appeasing paramilitaries or terrorists; it is to establish a police service in Northern Ireland which has the consent of the vast majority of law-abiding individuals in both communities. That is the aim, and I believe that this Bill will achieve it.

Lord Laird: Can the noble Lord refer to any opinion poll anywhere that backs up his view?

3.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs: I am not sure that I should bandy opinion poll statistics, but I am prepared to deal with the opinions of people to whom I have spoken in Northern Ireland on both sides of the community. There are serving officers in the RUC and others who have said that the name does not matter, as long as they have a proper police service which has the consent of the people whom that service seeks to serve. Not everybody makes so much of the name. I agree that

23 Oct 2000 : Column 21

there are those who believe that the name is important, but we must look at what the Bill seeks to do in the round and how we should take it forward.

Lord Laird: If, as the noble Lord says, the name does not matter, why change it?

Lord Dubs: I do not suggest that. There are even officers in the RUC who do not believe that the retention of the name is that crucial. I use as an analogy the British Army regiments which lost their names when they merged 10 or 15 years ago under the previous government. There was a good deal of feeling that the traditions of many brave and illustrious British Army regiments would be lost if the names were changed. Eventually it was argued out, and most people associated with those regiments, which had a long history, accepted reluctantly that it was necessary to change the name and did not maintain that that meant a denial of the traditions of those regiments. I make a similar argument with regard to the RUC. In changing the name to meet the new situation as described in the Patten report one is talking about moving towards a police service in Northern Ireland which has the consent of the vast majority of people there.

I worry about the reference by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to the amputation of the name of the RUC. With all deference to his long experience of and service to Northern Ireland, I am not sure that that kind of terminology is helpful: it implies that somehow one is damaging the history and traditions of the police in Northern Ireland, and I believe that that is not so.

I remind the Committee of one or two passages in the Patten report. I quote from paragraph 17.4 on page 98:


    "Many people in Northern Ireland from the Irish nationalist and republican tradition regard the name, badge and symbols of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as associating the police with the British constitution and state. This contributes to the perception that the police are not their police".

That is crucial. We want to achieve a situation in which people, from whatever part of the community they may come, believe that it is their police. The Committee may regret that that is the situation, but we are dealing with a situation that has arisen over many years.

At the end of the same paragraph, on page 99, the report states:


    "The argument about symbols is not an argument about policing, but an argument about the constitution".

In paragraph 17.6 it goes on to say:


    "In our judgment that new beginning"--

which we are now talking about--


    "cannot be achieved unless the reality that part of the community feels unable to identify with the present name and symbols associated with the police is addressed. Like the unique constitutional arrangements, our proposals seek to achieve a situation in which people can be British, Irish or Northern Irish, as they wish, and all regard the police service as their own".

It is crucial that the police in Northern Ireland have the support of the SDLP and the Catholic Church. One of the real challenges that face the Government is

23 Oct 2000 : Column 22

to ensure that that support is forthcoming. If it is, it will be much easier for young Catholics freely and willingly to join the police and serve the people of Northern Ireland. I am reminded of a story that I heard about the head teacher of a Catholic school in West Belfast. He said that there was no difficulty about his school leavers joining the police: they joined the Strathclyde Police, the Metropolitan Police and the Garda Siochana. The challenge is to ensure that those young people who want a career in the police are willing to join the service in Northern Ireland.

Lord Glentoran: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he believe that if the name is changed, as in the Bill, the nationalist and republican community will come forward and take part in that police force?

Lord Dubs: It is one element in a package of measures described by Patten, to which this Bill gives effect, that will help to secure the confidence of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland.

Baroness O'Cathain: I support the amendment. A considerable amount has already been said about this matter, and I am sure that a good deal more will be said. As a preamble, for the past 31 years the RUC has defended virtually the undefendable in the Province of Ulster. During that time 302 RUC officers and men have died and countless numbers who have been wounded will carry their scars and disabilities to the end of their lives. One has in mind also the widows and children of officers who have been killed in the troubles in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said that at this stage we need a new beginning. I believe that during the past 31 years a new beginning has emerged. It began when the whole Northern Ireland peace process started to take a positive hold in one's mind. The fact that, from the time of the cessation of terrorism, Catholic recruitment to the RUC has increased from 11 per cent to 22 per cent--recruitment has now been suspended--shows that there has been a new beginning. We need to balance that--it is not a compromise as such--with how far we are prepared to kick in the teeth the families of those who have given their lives.

It is quite unacceptable for people to say that unless we change the nomenclature of the police force in Northern Ireland, we cannot achieve the peace that we all dearly want. It is intimidation and not nomenclature that is at the root of the problem. But it is easy for us to say that we should change the name of the RUC.

I have spoken before in the House about the sad lack of active support by the Catholic hierarchy towards those of their flock who want to join the RUC. Greater efforts should be made by everyone involved to try to get the Catholic hierarchy to say, "Of course it is our police force".

People say that the only hurdle against continuing firm peace in Northern Ireland is the name of the RUC. That is not true. We need to root out the support for the paramilitary and terrorist organisations which

23 Oct 2000 : Column 23

is only there because of intimidation. Changing the Royal Ulster Constabulary's name to the Police Service of Northern Ireland will not achieve that.

Lord Hylton: I should just like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that, yes, it is vital that the widows of the RUC and its wounded members are properly cared for. That is precisely what is provided for under the terms of the RUC George Cross Foundation.

I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, that what is needed is a new start and a new name. It would be a great mistake to have a name which is controversial to some people. It would be better to have a name which is neutral and which hopefully all sections of the community could support. Therefore, I support the Government on the amendment.

Lord Vivian: Before addressing the detail of the amendment, I should like to draw the attention of noble Lords to two general points. First, the majority of clauses in the Bill were proposed by the Chief Constable and members of the RUC. They are welcomed in many quarters and have much support on these Benches.

Secondly, there are still a number of controversial issues which will be discussed during the Committee stage. I believe that it is timely to remind noble Lords that this legislation was rushed through the other place with undue haste and insufficient debate and scrutiny. Therefore, it is beholden to Members of the Committee to allow sufficient time for careful scrutiny of the Bill and to keep in mind that the controversial issues of the Patten report will not be implemented until the level of violence has ceased and policing activity has returned to normal. This has not occurred.

I strongly support Amendment No.1. The Patten report stated that it was important that the link between the RUC and the new police force should be recognised. However, at the same time, the report says that many people in Northern Ireland from the Irish nationalist and the republican tradition regard the name, badge and symbols of the RUC as associating the police with the British constitution and state, contributing to a perception that the police are not their police. Ulster is part of the British constitution. Therefore, it is right and proper to associate the RUC with the British constitution, especially as the Belfast agreement means acceptance of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom. It would be improper and weak to adopt any other line.

A recent survey of attitudes in Ulster in the Belfast Telegraph found that 61 per cent of Catholics are not offended by the RUC identity and name. That is in direct contrast to the Patten report statement.

While in the Army and patrolling in Belfast and in the countryside many years ago, apart from in the hardline areas, there was seldom any occasion when people showed hatred or dislike for the RUC. The

23 Oct 2000 : Column 24

Government are taking into account the views of a small element of extremists. One is drawn to the conclusion that the decision to change the name of the RUC is intended to appeal to that small element of hardliners who will never support any police force.

There is no greater or quicker way to demoralise a force than to remove its badge and change its title. That is the exact road that the Government have chosen to go down. A police force with low morale immediately becomes inefficient That leads to increased crime and greater acts of terrorism.

Clause 1 of the Bill lays down the provisions for the RUC's new name. I remind the Committee that Clause 1(1) states that,


    "the Royal Ulster Constabulary shall continue in being as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary)".

There is no need for any brackets or to change the name of the RUC. There is worse to come. Subsection (2) states that for all operational purposes it will be known as the Police Service of Northern Ireland. "Operational purposes" includes all working, public, legal, ceremonial, administrative, presentational and recruitment purposes. I have a strong belief that in the future the only place where the name will be seen in full will be on the statute book. It will not be used on the heading of writing paper, as the title outside police stations or referred to verbally.

It is for all those reasons that I strongly support the amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page