|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and the sentiments expressed. I know John Steele. He was, indeed, an excellent civil servant and official in the Northern Ireland office. I have not yet seen his report in full, only a quick summary, but clearly it is important. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House a little more about how the Government have received the report and what they intend to do about it.
I shall not try to gild, as it were, what has been said by my noble friend in support of the amendment, except to say that we all owe a huge debt to the widows and to the injured police officers--particularly, if I may say so in the light of our earlier debates, to the Catholic officers of the RUC. I remember several such officers with whom I became friendly, some in senior positions and some in junior positions. Life was in any case exceptionally difficult in those days if you were a Catholic officer in the RUC.
Among other things, I remember one officer telling me that he could not have a parish life. It was necessary for him to go to a different church to mass each week. If he had gone to the same church with his family there was a possibility of someone seeing him there and then seeing him in his police role, and that would have led to him being targeted. It was exceptionally difficult from that point of view.
It is true, of course, that the casualties and the murders among the Catholic officers of the RUC were much higher than among the Protestant officers. That is why there have been comparatively few Catholics in the RUC over the years. It is not only that someone is killed or wounded in an incident, there is the also the particular horror of knowing that a horrible death or terrible injuries have been deliberately caused by someone
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Government have repeatedly given their support to the sentiments expressed in Amendment No. 72A, which stands in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rogan, Lord Laird and Lord Molyneaux, and which was so effectively spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Laird.
As we said in Committee, the Government have already fully met Patten's Recommendation 88 with regard to supporting the RUC Widows' Association with funding. This amendment will not add to what the Government are already doing in that respect.
With regard to paragraph (b) of the amendment, I am pleased to refer to an announcement made yesterday by my right honourable friend in response to the Steele report. Steele was asked to review the Patten proposal for a new peace fund. We have placed a copy of his report in the Library. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Rogan, for their effectiveness in pursuing this issue, which led to the setting up of the Steele inquiry.
The Government will now be taking forward implementation of this important report as quickly as possible. I know that that is my right honourable friend's intention. In the announcement that he made about the Steele report, he made it clear that the lump sum payments would be made to the widows of police officers killed by terrorist activity before 25th November 1982 without undue delay. I understand that he hopes to be able to make those payments before the end of the current financial year. He will also move to set up the trust fund proposed by Mr Steele as soon as practicable.
In the interests of getting on with implementation, my right honourable friend has chosen not to have a formal consultation period so that it can be moved forward as quickly as possible. But I know that he and my right honourable friend the Minister of State will be glad to receive the views of any interested parties as to the form and detail of the fund. I am sure that he would welcome any further input and co-operation from the noble Lords who have proposed this amendment.
The Steele report properly recognises the sacrifice of a part of society in Northern Ireland that understandably feels that its concerns have been neglected for too long. I welcome that recognition and I know that the House joins with me in that respect.
Amendment No. 72A seeks to bring together the role of the RUC GC foundation and the trust fund to which I referred. The Government believe that the two bodies--and the interests of those they will serve--are best kept separate. As I have said, the Government intend to press on as soon as reasonably practicable with the implementation of the Steele report.
The RUC GC foundation on the other hand will inevitably take a little longer to set up. A working group has been set up by my right honourable friend to come up with proposals. Clause 70 of the Bill sets out its general thrust, which is towards the professional development of police officers and innovations in policing. Representatives of the Police Federation and of the superintendents' and the chief police officers' staff associations have been invited to sit on this group and the Government look forward to hearing its views. There will certainly be a research element in its work.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, is he aware that there is a body of opinion that has put forward a proposal that the foundation shall be supported by Royal Charter? I realise that he will not be in a position to give an answer to this specific point tonight. However, will he recognise that those whom the foundation is intended to benefit would receive considerable comfort if a Royal Charter were to represent the kind of support for the foundation that can uniquely be given by those means?
In the light of the failure to carry an earlier resolution about the name of the RUC, it would be seen as of great importance if that could be achieved. I realise that the noble and learned Lord cannot give a specific answer, but will he kindly take note that there is this feeling?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do take note of that. I am aware of that feeling. It is not a matter for the Government; however, I hope that the Government will be able to respond and indicate their views in the near future.
Lord Laird: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken to the amendment. I also thank the Minister for his remarks. I appreciate what he has said and I am very pleased. That is in no way complicated by my amendment. My amendment seeks to,
I do not believe that I am making an unreasonable request. It would be well received by the community from which I come in Northern Ireland, who have not gained much else from the past few days' activities in this House. Indeed, it would be received very well. I wish to test the opinion of the House on the amendment.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.