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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, we look forward to supporting the kind of measures outlined by the Minister when the Bill comes before the House. Are they likely to include some degree of confidentiality for the private addresses of directors, shareholders and so on? I realise that it is a difficult issue, but it is also a very important one.
Lord Puttnam: My Lords, under what category does the Home Office regard this type of activity? Is it seen as a misuse of freedom of expression; is it seen as civil disobedience; or is it categorised as terrorism?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it would depend very much on the activity being undertaken by particular individuals. None of us has a problem with people freely expressing their views, even if we find those views at odds with our own. But it cannot be right that people conduct their campaigns by means of terrorism, violence or intimidation. For that reason, we intend to take firm measures and to give the police the utmost support and encouragement in dealing with the problems as they present themselves.
Whether they will propose to their partners in the Commonwealth that a voluntary fund be established by the Commonwealth Secretariat, to which member states would be invited to contribute, to pay for the replacement of the printing presses of the Daily News, Harare, destroyed in bomb explosions on 28th January.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government attach great importance to the freedom of the press, especially in the circumstances of Zimbabwe, and deplore the attack on the printing presses of the Daily News in Harare.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that although many messages of sympathy have been received by the Daily News from organisations such as UNESCO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Commonwealth Press Union and the Commonwealth Journalists Association, those now need to be translated into concrete assistance, bearing in mind that replacement of the presses will cost 1.5 million US dollars? Will the noble Baroness ask her colleagues to take the lead in pressing the
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I repeat to the noble Lord that we condemn the attack, which was clearly intended to silence the independent media in Zimbabwe. I have checked with the Commonwealth Secretariat and there are two Commonwealth funds that could be used. But those funds would have to be drawn on by the Government of Zimbabwe. It is important that the noble Lord should recognise that, like all member states, we contribute to the funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat, but it is an organisation that operates by consensus and where all members are equal. I understand that discussions are under way between those who own the Daily News and others on the possibility of setting up some kind of fund. We would support any measures that would lead to the continuance of an independent press in Zimbabwe, but it would be for others to take the lead.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, have the Government of Zimbabwe expressed any regret about the attacks? Have they made any attempt to ensure that those who carried out the attacks are pursued by the police and brought to justice? If they have done neither of those things, will my noble friend make it clear that the Government of Zimbabwe owe a duty to the Commonwealth and to its people to ensure that such events do not again take place? Will she also make it clear that, in reparation for what are clearly government-inspired attacks on the press in Zimbabwe, the Government of Zimbabwe themselves should pay compensation to the newspaper?
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I pay tribute to the courage of certain editors and politicians in Zimbabwe in resisting what has been an increasing disregard of the rule of law. I have two questions. First, would I be right to assume that DfID's aid to Zimbabwe could not include assistance to its press because of the involvement of the government? Secondly, does the noble Baroness agree that, perhaps above all, the international media and the media in this
Baroness Amos: My Lords, of course we deplore the actions being taken in Zimbabwe; namely, trying to harass journalists and to close down the independent press. As regards DfID funding to Zimbabwe, we are focusing on health issues such as AIDS and HIV prevention programmes, rural water and sanitation measures, along with the reform of local government, governance and human rights. We continue to maintain a programme in Zimbabwe for which the 2000-01 allocation is around £14 million. Given that 63 per cent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line, we have a responsibility to try to help those people. However, we have a clear policy of working on smaller projects, using NGOs and trying to assist the poor in Zimbabwe until such times that we feel more confident about introducing bigger programmes with the government of Zimbabwe.
Lord Carter: My Lords, immediately after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, in this afternoon's debate on the police, my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on the Lockerbie bombing.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to police numbers and morale and to the level of violent crime. Perhaps a shorter title for this debate would be, "The preservation of the Queen's peace"--that being the second priority of government, second only to the defence of the realm.
We would all, I think, acknowledge that changing moral standards and social pressures have a huge influence on the propensity to violent crime. Criminologists and sociologists will argue about the causes of violent crime, but there can be no argument that the Crown should honour its side of the social contract with the people to preserve the peace. We heard earlier today during Questions expressions of grave concern about the state of the preservation of the Queen's peace in relation to the activities of animal
Statistics on crime are less reliable and much more difficult to interpret. Inevitably they are only statistics of reported or detected crime. I recollect that during the miners' strike when violent picketing called thousands of officers away from their normal work, crime apparently reduced. That was because there was no one to detect or to receive complaints of crime. Legislation criminalising what were hitherto lawful activities, whether selling bananas by the pound or beef on the bone, driving at 80 miles per hour (chief constables and Ministers excepted, of course) or hunting with hounds, is likely to increase the level of crime. Decriminalising the possession of drugs, late abortion or early sex is likely to reduce the amount of reported crime.
The statistics of violent crime may be more reliable than most, but their reliability and our confidence that we are comparing like with like is greatly affected by the willingness of victims to report criminal incidents. One need not go as far afield as Belfast or Londonderry to see that. In the third world societies of our inner cities, hostility to and lack of confidence in the police ensure that much violent crime goes unreported. In rural areas, the perception that to report lesser crimes will result only in time-wasting form filling has a similar effect. To that extent, the less effective policing is, the less crime will be reported.
Since a recent debate on these issues in another place was largely an exercise in attempts to beat one another into submission with statistical weaponry of great unreliability, I believe that I should issue a health warning: statistics of crime are addictive. They can have unexpected side-effects and dependency on them should be avoided.
Let us start with police numbers. Total police strength peaked in 1993 at 128,000 and is now around 124,000. There had been a huge increase during the Thatcher years: a rise of some 17,000 by 1987 when I retired from government--although I was not at the Home Office--then a fall during the Major years. Between the Thatcher victory of 1979 and the defeat of the government in 1997, total numbers rose by 16,000. Numbers were rising again towards the end of the Major years. Then there was a sustained sharp fall through the Blair years until the final half of the year 2000-0l, which showed an increase of 444. Overall, police numbers have fallen by 2,500 and, since May 1997, the Special Constabulary has been reduced by 6,000.
Of course we can all pick and choose particular dates and numbers, but I think that I have given a fair summary of what has happened under the three administrations. We are told that numbers will now continue to increase, although the Prime Minister's
Overall numbers, effective strength, wastage rates, sickness rates and morale are all clearly interlinked. Events in Northern Ireland and the Patten report have devastated morale in the RUC. I suspect that we shall hear more of that shortly. Morale in the Metropolitan Police in particular is extremely low. As a London dogwalker, I encounter and talk to police officers every day. An alarmingly large proportion of experienced and senior constables have told me that they are working out time and staying out of trouble until they can retire. Furthermore, many younger officers are looking to transfer to less stressful police forces.
Low morale breeds high sickness rates. That puts more pressure on those remaining at work, which in turn increases sickness. Quite properly, the rules on sickness and early retirement on grounds of ill health have been tightened in recent times. But in some cases they have been over-tightened and officers are pressurised to continue at work when they should be on sick leave.
I need hardly make the point that the Macpherson report has had a disastrous effect on morale in the Metropolitan force. The supine acceptance by senior officers of a quite disgraceful slander against the men for whom they are responsible has made matters much worse. In passing, I might add that the existence in Scotland Yard of what I am told is called the Lawrence steering group does not help. I could understand a steering group on the Macpherson report, but the existence of a Lawrence steering group raises the issue of whether there should be a PC Blakelock, or a Damilola Taylor or an Anna Climbie group. Should their relatives not receive the same consideration as those of Mr Lawrence?
I would not defend much of the Sheehy report, least of all the decision on the Metropolitan Police housing allowance. I welcome the decision made by this Government that a metropolitan allowance of £6,000 a year is to be paid, although of course that merely exacerbates the problems in the Home Counties forces around London.
The Minister will, I am sure, make the most of the recent increase in recruits. I hope that he will say something about their quality. Is it correct that a criminal record is no longer necessarily a disqualification? Have physical standards been maintained, and what is the rate of wastage in training? I am told that there has been a considerable increase in the extent of the practice known as "back classing" on the 18-week training course at Hendon; that is, where recruits cannot reach the standard, they are put back in the course to try again. Is that so? If it is so, is it because the standard of the instructors or that of the trainees has fallen?
Officers also complain about the extent of paperwork. It is claimed that an officer who makes an arrest at the beginning of a shift is effectively hors de combat for the remainder, incarcerated in the police station, entangled in paperwork. Is that necessary?
What will be the effect of the wider-scope fixed penalty notices envisaged in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill? The Council for Civil Liberties has expressed concern over the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof. But if a police officer has to report and form-fill for each notice issued to the standard required to arrest and charge an alleged offender, he will not issue many notices in a day. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he expects the police workload to be increased or decreased by these proposals.
Another cause of concern, I am told, is the poor performance, insecurity and unreliability of police radios. My understanding is that the new TETRA digital system currently on trial continues to have problems. I am told that there is a health and safety issue to be resolved; that because it causes interference with other equipment it cannot be used near hospitals or police headquarters; and even that it may adversely affect speed cameras on motorways--not, to my mind, a grave disadvantage. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with these matters before the close of the debate.
We have a police force not only under strength and demoralised, but one facing an increasing workload. Some of that workload arises from our lawyer-driven compensation culture in which we see compensation claims from citizens who are dissatisfied with the inability of the police to arrest and charge those alleged to have done them injury. Those same lawyers may have their part in making it much more difficult for the police to identify and arrest those who have committed crimes. The net effect is to swamp the police with paperwork and to reduce the time and the effectiveness of their work in catching wrongdoers. Even when criminals are caught, convicted and sentenced, the Home Secretary seems to let them out rather early in order to re-offend.
Increasing crime and increasing awareness of crime are also adding to the police burden. In 1993-94, the earliest year for which I can find figures, there were 4.5 million 999 calls. By 1999-2000 that had risen to 9.5 million. While the recent slight fall in recorded crime is welcome, it remains at a high level, and violent crime is still increasing. Soft sentences and early releases are no doubt factors in this, but to what do the Government attribute the rise and who does it most affect? My impression is that the victims are principally those who live in our third world urban areas.
Perhaps here I may take up with the Minister a matter which continues to puzzle me. In June last year I tabled a couple of Written Questions concerning the ethnicity of the victims and perpetrators of racially-motivated crime in the Metropolitan area. I was very surprised to receive an answer from the Minister which told me that information on the ethnicity of victims
As noble Lords will know, violent crime rose in the 12 months to last September by some 8 per cent, despite a slight fall in sexual offences. Assaults on constables rose by 12 per cent to 27,000 out of a total of 588,000 offences. That is not much encouragement to recruitment. Even the slight fall in sexual offences is slightly suspect in that there was a fall recorded of 38 per cent in offences of gross indecency between males. That would be very welcome if it actually happened, but I rather doubt it did. There was a record fall in the practice of buggery of 22 per cent. Rape, on the other hand, edged up by 3 per cent. I wonder whether those figures can all be correct.
Perhaps I may end with a verdict on these matters--not mine, which might be thought by some to have some bias, but that of the people as a whole as measured recently by MORI. Asked about the level of crime in their areas since May 1997, 17 per cent of respondents said it had got better, 36 per cent said it had got worse, 44 per cent said it was unchanged. On standards of policing, the verdict was similar: 16 per cent better, 33 per cent worse, 46 per cent the same. As to the number of police on the beat, 9 per cent thought there were more, 49 per cent thought there were less and 36 per cent thought things were unchanged.
It is worth noting that 20 years ago 70 per cent were satisfied and 25 per cent dissatisfied with the way their locality was policed, a plus rating of 45 per cent. In February 1999, the figures were 70 per cent satisfied and 22 per cent dissatisfied, a positive rating of 48 per cent. The Minister has a slight smile. I do not think he should have because as we go on we find that, as the Government's policies have begun to bite, the mood has changed. Now, fewer than 45 per cent are satisfied and 50 per cent are dissatisfied, a negative rating, for the first time, of more than 5 per cent.
How do Ministers explain this? Have the public become--what is the expression this week?--"detached" from reality? Are they having, like Ministers, "moments of madness"? Does Mr Straw think that the public at large have a collective inability to remember or recognise what is going on? Is there "something strange going on" in the collective head of the public? Or will the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, own up like a man and say, "Yes, this Government have brought about a crisis of confidence in the ability of the
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, on choosing such an important subject for today's debate. As he suggested, it is very close to the top of people's concerns and fears. As to the point that he made towards the end of his speech about the surveys of people's satisfaction with policing, it will be of interest that the greatest satisfaction was achieved during the Home Secretaryship of the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees.
The wording on the Order Paper states that the debate is to call attention to police numbers, morale and the level of violent crime, as though they are all connected. In my small contribution I shall attempt to prove that this is not necessarily so.
Dealing, first, with police numbers, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will know that the setting of establishment figures by the Home Office was abandoned by the previous government. Presumably, that policy was supported by the noble Lord. It was placed in the gift of individual chief constables. It follows that if some chief constables decide that money is better spent on new technology, air support or civilian support, there is precious little that Ministers can do about it.
There may well be a case for maintaining centrally a minimum "ground cover" figure, as we used to call it, for every force before siphoning off officers or cash for specialist departments, squads or national agencies. It is a matter that my noble friend the Minister may wish to consider in the light of my following comments.
The Motion implies that "more police on the beat" means less reported crime. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, noted that that is not necessarily true. Often, the opposite is true. The obvious truth is that, the easier it is made for members of the public to report crime, the more crime will be reported. It follows, therefore, that in order to reduce the crime statistics the trick is to make crime more difficult to report--one method is to have fewer police officers in contact with the public. I hope that I am illustrating the unreliability of the Home Office crime statistics and not suggesting a template for crime reduction!
That said, it is undeniable that the public get a sense of security from seeing the patrolling bobby, regardless of the effect on crime figures. The fear of crime is probably far greater than the reality. If we can reduce this fear by adding more foot patrols, any sensible government are right to underwrite such an increase. That is why I applaud the Government for ring-fencing funding for an extra 9,000 officers over and above the normal intake. I understand that these
The difficulty in recruiting police officers is true of public services generally, not just the police service. I think there is no disagreement on either side about that. It is in a sense a measure of the Government's economic success because of a tightening in the employment market. It is universally accepted that a far more accurate measure of the volume of crime is the British Crime Survey, the latest edition of which was published on 17th October last year. It indicates clearly that in the two years between 1997 and 1999 the number of violent crimes fell by 4 per cent. Similarly, all crime fell by 10 per cent over the same period.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, mentioned assaults on police officers, which we all deplore. Police officers do suffer from assaults, and this has the effect of lowering morale. The apparent acceptance that the police, or indeed any other public servants, can be used as punch-bags cannot continue. I read recently that only 12 per cent of those convicted of assaulting police officers receive a custodial sentence. That is a disgrace, and the judiciary and magistracy should take note. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister could give the most up-to-date figures for custodial sentences following assaults on the police.
Noble Lords opposite should be careful in highlighting crime. The record shows that crime doubled during the administration that they supported. In contrast, this is the first government for 50 years to finish their term with less crime than when they came to office. The noble Lord will rightly say that specific categories of crime have risen: I refer to robbery and the theft of goods from the person. It is common ground between us that this area must be targeted and tackled. Part of the rise is accounted for by a sensible change in the counting rules. However, a great deal of such crime is attributable to the mugging of youngsters by other youngsters, usually for items such as mobile phones, which are almost becoming fashion accessories.
The Home Secretary was right, therefore, to call in the phone manufacturers to explore means of reducing such crime by making phones worthless to anyone other than the owner--in a similar way, the targeting of motor manufacturers reduced car crime. I am sure that noble Lords opposite would have expected nothing less.
I turn now to the important subject of police morale. Morale in any organisation can be affected by several factors. Remuneration, conditions of service, management style and complaints against the police are the obvious important factors. I shall deal with them briefly.
It was the previous government who removed the police housing allowance, in 1993--identified by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as the date when recruiting figures began to deteriorate. That had an immediate effect on recruiting and morale, and the service has never recovered. It was the previous government who removed overtime for the ranks of inspectors.
It was the previous government who abolished the rank of chief superintendent, thereby weakening the ability of chief constables to manage huge divisions, some larger than small police forces. Sense has prevailed, and the rank of chief superintendent is being brought back by the present Government.
The complaints system is not working. For some time, the staff associations have argued for the independent investigation of complaints. We have had, for example, the Lancet inquiry in Cleveland (of Ray Mallon fame) which has gone on for over four years, with many, including Mr Mallon, being suspended for over three years. The cost to the ratepayers of Cleveland is estimated to be in the region of £5 million to £7 million.
In 1996, the Police Superintendents' Association, of which I was then president, discussed reforms with the previous government and the Police Complaints Authority. Unfortunately, our pleas fell on deaf ears. The present Government are reforming the police complaints system.
In conclusion, as the Lancet inquiry has been completed, will my noble friend the Minister give the House some idea of when the Crown Prosecution Service will put the officers being investigated, the remainder of the force and the people of Cleveland out of their misery and announce the final decisions in the inquiry? Mr Mallon has already been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and this sorry mess needs concluding.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for providing this opportunity. Needless to say, I may not agree with many of the things he has said.
Law and order repeatedly surfaces as a key issue that concerns the community. It is no secret that it will continue to remain higher on the agenda in readiness for the next general election. I see nothing wrong in that, provided that we do not use the police and policing issues as a political football.
Until recently, there was a substantial and steady fall in police strength. The fall in numbers, which began under the previous Conservative government, has accelerated under the present Government. The slogan,
There is no guarantee that the increase in police numbers will reduce serious crime. We need to probe much deeper into why our society, particularly our young people, have scant regard for the law. We need to probe more deeply into why, despite repeated criminal justice legislation and a record number of new laws to tackle crime, we have failed to tackle the increase in serious crime. An increase in police numbers alone would not solve our problems. The Government should have realised the folly of restricting their spending on police recruitment. No one has ever argued that crime reduction is assisted by a reduction in police numbers.
There are two reasons for the decline in police numbers. The first, undoubtedly, is the level of funding. The second is recruitment and retention. We can add to this the unfunded police pension scheme and the significant cost of new technology to keep pace with the sophisticated and international nature of crime.
The Government's own figures show that, after the proportion of police funding which is allocated to meet pension requirements is taken into account, in 1997-98 14 forces, in 1998-99 16 forces and in 1999-2000 15 forces had a cut in funding in real terms. The issue of pensions will not go away. It is time for us to know something about the Government's thinking on the subject.
Of course, there is some truth in the saying that fear of crime is greater than crime itself. It does not help the situation when all the evidence points to the declining public confidence in fighting crime, and the police being held responsible for what, ultimately, is the responsibility of the politicians. Ask any citizen and the complaint is that policemen are simply not visible enough in our communities and that the police do not even have the resources to respond to all the important demands made on them. Certain crimes no longer feature as important to the police, and yet they have a very profound effect on victims. Those of us who have items stolen from our cars can vouch for that statement.
The history of law and order over the past two decades is so telling. Of course, the Conservative government could claim falls in recorded crime in the later years of their administration, but recorded crime was still 81 per cent higher in 1997 than in 1979. Violent crime rose every year between 1979 and 1997. Over this time, there was a 168 per cent rise, and the percentage is now rising again. Against this, the number of convictions in courts has fallen. I am referring not only to the proportion of crime leading to a conviction--the conviction rate fell--but also to the fact that the absolute number of convictions also fell. Whereas there were nearly 1.9 million convictions in 1979, there were 1.4 million in 1996. Crime nearly doubled during this time, but the number of criminals brought to account in the courts fell by 20 per cent. In 1985, there was a conviction for every eight crimes; in 1997, there was only one conviction for every 14 crimes.
The simplistic answer of creating more criminal offences has hardly helped. Is it not time for us to allow our criminal justice system to bed down before embarking on future laws? Should we not look to prevent offending in the first place?
Perhaps I may congratulate the Home Secretary who set up the Stephen Lawrence inquiry--the request for which was, at one time, refused by Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary. However, it is important to resist the dangerous argument that the reforms instituted by the police service following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry are an important factor in denting police morale. In fact, I cannot recollect working in any organisation in my life where morale has ever been high. It is particularly specious and inaccurate to suggest, as some have done, that police officers have become so afraid to stop and search black suspects that this has produced an increase in street robbery.
The figures published earlier this month under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 show that there has in fact been a larger fall in stop and searches of white people than of black people, and that black people are still five times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. This is hardly compatible with the image of a police service paralysed by political correctness. The figures also show a larger fall in those types of crime for which arrests commonly follow stop and search than for those, like robbery, which stop and search rarely uncovers. Many of the arrests that follow stop and search are for drug offences, and the number of recorded drugs offences has recently fallen significantly. Far fewer arrests for robbery result from
The results of recent pilot experiments in some parts of the Metropolitan Police district in making a more targeted use of stop and search are encouraging. These have reduced the overall number of stop and searches, reduced the racial disproportion in its use and, at the same time, an increased proportion of stop and searches have resulted in an arrest. So a better-targeted use of these powers has had more effective results. We need to build on the results of these experiments, and not return to the pre-Lawrence inquiry practices, which did so much damage to the confidence in the police service of minority ethnic communities.
We also need to question the peculiar argument that the racial disproportion in the use of stop and search can be justified because there are proportionately more black people on the streets in the areas concerned. Some senior police officers have started talking about the population "available to be searched". What is this supposed to mean? The fact that people are "available" does not mean that you have to search them. In order to justify a fivefold disproportion in the use of these powers, we would need to show not just that black people were five times more likely to be on the streets but that they were five times more likely to be on the streets and up to no good. Does anyone seriously argue that black people are five times more likely to commit crimes than white people? No statistics have effectively demonstrated that fact.
Let us stop looking at specious arguments of this kind that can only fuel racism, and look instead at some more valid reasons for poor police morale. One such reason is the tendency of many people to blame the police unfairly for high crime rates when these are in fact due to a range of social factors outside the direct control of the police. If we seriously want to bring down crime rates, we need a comprehensive strategy to tackle the root causes, involving all government departments as well as statutory and voluntary agencies. This means providing more support for families under stress. Research shows that effective family support programmes can pay for themselves five times over by reducing the rate of family break-up and delinquency by children of those families.
It also means tackling the problem of truancy and school exclusion, because research shows that persistent truants commit three times as many offences as children who attend school regularly. It means working to ensure that there are accessible work and training opportunities for the most disadvantaged, because young offenders commit three times as many offences when they are out of work as when they are employed. It means providing youth facilities and sporting activities for young people in disadvantaged high-crime-rate areas. Research into intensive youth activity programmes run by organisations like
It means tackling problems of drug and alcohol abuse, because drug addicts who continue with their drug habit commit five times more crimes subsequently than those who enter treatment programmes. It also means working to resettle offenders on release from prison. Prisoners released homeless are two-and-a-half times more likely to reoffend than comparable offenders who have access to stable accommodation. Unemployed former prisoners are twice as likely to reoffend as those who get and keep a job.
In short, policing has a vital role to play in preventing and reducing crime; and where the police service has genuine grievances, these must be addressed. But, ultimately, a determined attack on the causes of crime will do far more to affect crime rates than the police service could ever hope to achieve on its own.
Last week I asked the Minister whether he would consider establishing a Royal Commission on policing to address the many and varied issues facing the police. This is also called for by the Police Federation. The Minister seems to have brushed that aside. Of course we discuss policing issues on a piecemeal basis but Parliament has failed to take a comprehensive look at policing. Is it not time that we took a more fundamental look at the police and at policing issues? Is it not time that we developed a much more effective strategy on crime prevention? Is it not time that we gave support and encouragement to the thin blue dividing line which makes a difference between democracy and chaos?
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am sure we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for giving us this opportunity to debate vitally important linked issues which are of great concern to the law-abiding citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom. We should all be grateful to the noble Lord for his detailed and thoughtful analysis.
I declare an interest as a council tax payer resident in London Monday to Friday. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I have been dismayed by the destruction of police morale throughout the United Kingdom and the consequent increase in violent crime. Despite what has been said by others, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is accurate in linking the two matters.
As a Londoner I offer two examples, one pre-Macpherson and the other post-Macpherson. Four years ago I encountered a young off-duty sergeant of the Metropolitan Police. After he had described his initial ambitions career wise, he began to recount how he became disillusioned and how his enthusiasm had been blunted by what he regarded as unnecessary
The other example concerns a rather more personal experience at a London Underground station. Two sturdy, well built young ladies rampaged across the concourse screaming, laughing and hurling abuse at anyone within earshot. The first one shoulder charged an elderly lady immediately in front of me knocking her and her pathetic grocery bag to the floor. The second gave me the same treatment. I suppose that I should have been flattered by that. The two then joined forces and proceeded to charge the ticket collector who not unnaturally asked to see their tickets which they did not have. They butted him to the floor and charged through the now open gate on to the platforms.
A few good samaritans--I suspect that two or three of them were army officers in civilian clothes--offered their assistance to the rest of us and then went over in my presence, as one of the aggrieved parties, to sympathise with the ticket collector who was just recovering. They were prepared to offer their names and addresses to assist him in putting forward a claim. He declined their offer on the ground that some weeks previously one of his colleagues resisted the same two well built young ladies, was beaten up, complained and two weeks later was accused and found guilty of racism, and lost his job. Delicacy prevents me from mentioning the role of the Metropolitan Police in this context. That incident, of course, occurred post-Macpherson.
Yesterday your Lordships debated the Private Security Industry Bill. Today's debate is linked to the word "industry": the discipline industry, the inquiry industry and the complaints industry. The police always find themselves in the front line of attacks from all such bodies. By the nature of things the police are always on the defensive.
Noble Lords will remember that last year they voted through the Police (Northern Ireland) Act which included a provision for a police ombudsman--who now happens to be an ombudswoman; I do not complain about that--in place of what had been the independent commission for police complaints. The recent former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland explained that under the 1998 Act he had decided on a prescribed period for retrospective investigation. However, under the 2000 Act the retrospective period was two years for the first year of life of the new police service and one year for its second year of life.
Since then terrorist bodies have united--there are many of them in Northern Ireland of both shades--and are now pressing for retrospective investigation of many years (as far back as seven years) of complaints which they have unearthed, although all such complaints had been investigated by independent commissions and even in the courts.
I understand that terrorists have already supplied the new ombudswoman with over 300 complaints before the new police body takes over with the intention, obviously, of clogging up the system. We can rest assured that that virus--that industry, as I call it--will soon spread to Britain. We would all be wise to heed early warnings.
While there may be disagreement over police numbers in England, there can be no quarrel over numbers in Northern Ireland. The unholy alliance between the Patten report and the Northern Ireland Office had the intended effect of slashing police numbers through pressure, incitement and destruction of morale, as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, forecast, while the cream of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is as a result being lost. It is worth noting that those officers rejected by Patten on purely sectarian grounds are now being snapped up by constabularies such as Lothian and Borders, Suffolk, Tayside, Sussex, Strathclyde and Manchester. What is undoubtedly Ulster's loss will be Britain's gain.
When the police Bill was being processed by your Lordships' House last year, it was intended--noble Lords will remember the figures--that hundreds of police officers who were forced to leave would be replaced by Roman Catholic applicants to meet the 50:50 requirement. None of us, least of all myself--I was educated at a Roman Catholic school and, therefore, under the new guidelines would qualify as a Roman Catholic recruit if I did not have a sagging face and grey hair--made complaint of that. I supported it as a target and not a quota. It gives me no pleasure to report that what was made a quota is not working.
I shared your Lordships' hope and expectation that the 50:50 figure would be achieved voluntarily through co-operation with republicans, nationalists and, most of all, the Church. However, it is most regrettable that all three have in recent weeks publicly refused to encourage young Roman Catholics to enlist in the new force. It is heartbreaking to note that the excuse used to justify the refusal to advise young Catholics to join the force is that demilitarisation has not been achieved to the satisfaction of terrorists, nationalists and, very regrettably, the Church.
All three have explained exactly what they mean by "demilitarisation". It means the removal of all safeguards for law-abiding citizens--that is, the removal of all protection before all terrorist capacity to murder is demolished; no recommittal of the Army, as was necessary last year in the Protestant Shankill Road where civil war was raging; no more intelligence gathering which might abort a terrorist atrocity; no frontier surveillance which might hamper the Real
Some noble Lords may ask why they are permitted to carry out those activities in addition to increased murder by Protestant and republican terrorists. The answer was given at a parliamentary press briefing last Tuesday by a Northern Ireland Office spokesman. To the question, "Why do you not regard them now as terrorists who have broken the ceasefire?", the answer was, "That is simply paramilitary housekeeping. We will not be concerned as long as it does not cross the sectarian divide". Some hope for the future, my Lords!
The last requirement for demilitarisation--it is an extremely serious one--is the demolition of the watch-towers on the South Armagh frontier. I fear very much that chiefs of staff have been broken under political pressure to approve the removal of two of those towers. That may seem small beer, but military men know only too well that if one removes two links in an intelligence-gathering chain, as these towers are--they are not offensive but for intelligence gathering and surveillance--the entire structure becomes ineffective. Taking away two out of six of those towers will horrify any military man: it creates dead ground between all six which terrorists can exploit at will.
I plead with the authorities even at this late stage to think again on that issue and to face the fact that the watch-towers have the intended effect of deterring terrorism; otherwise why would terrorists be concentrating on their removal? Surely the Army cannot welcome the removal of what are inoffensive structures. With the Army now at full stretch with commitments in many parts of the world, it will have serious difficulty in supplying new formations to replace the watch-towers with foot patrols.
The sad part is this. Do we want to commit ground forces again in an area where casualties will be inevitable on that South Armagh frontier which is tailor-made for snipers? It has proved to be so in the past. I beg those who share a responsibility, at whatever level, for ensuring that loss of life is not again permitted, to please think again on that crucial decision.
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