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Lord Dubs: My Lords, that is a question that should be directed at the Minister. It would not be proper for me to speculate on the series of events that led to that release. I would rather leave it to the Minister. I understand what the noble and learned Lord is saying, but I am sure that the Minister will be back in his place shortly and will be made aware of the question that has been asked.
Perhaps I may comment briefly on one positive feature: the co-operation between the Garda and the RUC. It is not always widely appreciated. For example, at the Templemore training centre in the Republic there is a joint training programme for RUC and Garda officers, preparing them for service in Kosovo, where many are at present. When I was a Minister I met Garda officers in Donegal who told me about the joint project with RUC officers providing holiday facilities for children from Northern Ireland who had learning difficulties and other handicaps. I am aware that there is co-operation also on such issues as road safety. Co-operation in tackling the problems of drugs could usefully be developed further. The Patten report says that co-operation could be more formalised; nevertheless, there is a high level of co-operation. It is important that that should be understood.
Looking at the Patten report and the Bill that is before the House, what are we seeking to achieve? There are clearly two aims. One is that there should be a higher share of Roman Catholics in the police force in Northern Ireland. No one quarrels with that. People say that the Roman Catholics' share of RUC membership increased at the time of the first ceasefire. All I would say is that in the period before the Troubles, in the late 1960s, there was a low proportion of Catholics in the RUC, so this is a long-term problem. I agree that intimidation is a serious factor. I have discussed the matter with individual RUC officers. But there are other reasons. One is surely that there is not the context and climate of opinion within many Catholic communities which encourages young Catholics to join the RUC. They do not have the support of the politicians or the good will that would be necessary if they were to take that step. I hope that that will change.
The second aim of the Bill is surely that nationalist parties and Churches, the Catholic Church in particular, should all be prepared in the future to recommend that young people should join the police in Northern Ireland if that is the career that they want. That will be a key test of the overall success of the policy.
I had quoted to me recently the words of the headmaster of a Catholic school in Northern Ireland. He said that there is no difficulty for his school leavers in joining the police; they do join--but they join the Strathclyde police, the Garda and the Metropolitan Police; they do not join the RUC. That is what must change if we are to have a proper basis for policing and peace in Northern Ireland. I learnt a long time ago that for the police to be effective anywhere, they must have the consent of the majority of people in the communities that they serve. That is what members of the Metropolitan Police have always said to me when I have discussed the matter with them. Because that consent is not as forthcoming in some parts of Northern Ireland as it ought to be, the task of the RUC is made much more difficult. If members of the RUC are to provide the professional policing that they want to provide, they need to have that support in their own communities. That means that they must have more support among the Catholic population than at present. I know that many Catholics support the RUC, but they voice that support in opinion polls; it is not done vocally, through the community leaders in that population.
When the Bill is bedded down and becomes law, it is important that we get the police in Northern Ireland out of party politics. Nothing can be more damaging to professional policing than for the nature of the police service to be the subject of constant party-political argument. It does not lead to good policing. It is not fair to the police or to the people of Northern Ireland.
My understanding is that every one of the 175 Patten recommendations had the endorsement of at least a police officer who put it forward to the Patten committee. I mention that because it is sometimes thought that the recommendations do not have any support among police officers.
When I had the privilege of serving in Northern Ireland as a Minister, the Secretary of State suggested at the time of the publication of the Patten report that we should all visit individual RUC stations and discuss how officers felt about the report. I visited four RUC stations and at each I met 20 or 30 RUC officers. I visited Enniskillen, West Belfast, Dungannon and Newry. In each, I had an interesting, fascinating and difficult hour-and-a-half or two-hour discussion with the officers there. My sense was that, although they were not happy about the Patten report--they did not like the idea of a change of name or a change of badge, or some of the other points that have been raised in this debate--in the end they felt that if implementing the Patten recommendations would achieve the intended aims, they would go along with it, albeit reluctantly. That was the main sense of my discussions, although there were clear voices to the contrary, saying , "Under no circumstances". I felt, both at those meetings and in discussions that I have had with other RUC officers, that that was the way they saw it: "We don't like it, but if that's the way forward, we'll go along with it".
The RUC officers in Northern Ireland to whom I have spoken are much more relaxed about the Patten report and about this Bill than are some politicians in Northern Ireland. At times the police have a more mature attitude to this matter. They know that they operate in a democratic society and have said to me that if a democratic parliament wants to change the way that the police service operates, they will accept it, even if they do not like it. I believe that the task of negotiating these changes with the police is a good deal more straightforward than are negotiations with some politicians.
There are signs that some nationalist politicians and the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland are very unhappy with the Bill. My concern is that if in the end they are not willing to encourage young people to join the RUC, one of the main objectives will be negated. I appreciate that the Secretary of State has had very little margin for manoeuvre. He is hemmed in between the views of Unionist politicians who do not want to go an inch further than they have gone--they do not even like the fact that they have had to go so far--and nationalist politicians who do not believe that all of their concerns are being met.
I turn briefly to the name. I understand why the RUC does not want to lose its name. Equally, at the time of reorganisation of the Army, in some cases British regiments also lost their names through mergers. They did not like it, but they accepted it. It did not imply any denigration of the traditions, courage, VCs and other decorations earned by those regiments; it was simply a necessary change. I urge those who are concerned about the name to look at the precedent set by people from those regiments.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is the noble Lord sure that the analogy he draws between amalgamated regiments and the change of name of the RUC is an accurate one? After all, there is no doubt about the national allegiance of an amalgamated regiment. The implication is that those who support the change of name and the new badge will refuse allegiance to the Crown and that we are accommodating them.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I believe that the noble Viscount goes rather far down that path. In quoting that example I seek merely to demonstrate that painful decisions had to be made and accepted by those associated with British regiments with long traditions. There is some analogy to be drawn between that difficulty and the difficulty faced by people who respect the long tradition of the RUC.
I asked where the new name of the service would appear. At the moment police vehicles do not bear the name of the force. For example, I do not believe that in London police vehicles bear the name "Metropolitan Police". The name RUC is not in evidence on vehicles anyway, so I am not sure that the change is as significant as some make out. I understand the concern expressed by nationalist politicians about the use of "PSNI" for operational purposes and not others. However, I am also aware of the difficulty that faces the Secretary of State who has had little margin for manoeuvre.
I am conscious that I have gone on for longer than I intended. I should like to make one key point and then bring my remarks to a close. One wonders whether anything else can be done to seek a more positive attitude to this legislation on the part of nationalist politicians, particularly the SDLP. Many say that they want more of the Patten recommendations in the Bill. Although I realise the difficulties, I wonder whether there is any way in which the Bill can provide future flexibility. The oversight commissioner, for example, has a particular remit. Could his remit be widened to give a little more flexibility to enable him to make recommendations to the Secretary of State about further managerial changes that may be introduced into police operations in Northern Ireland? I put that question to elicit the Government's view on it.
Finally, the council of the isles is a new structure to be set up under the Good Friday agreement. I hope that policing can be on the agenda of future council meetings. That would enable all of the territories--England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man--to discuss joint problems and approaches to policing within that council.
I am aware that the Secretary of State has endeavoured to meet many criticisms. I am also aware that many remain outstanding. I hope that they can be resolved and that, in the fullness of time, the SDLP will find it possible to be more supportive of this legislation than it has been able to be so far. I see the reform of policing in Northern Ireland as one of the biggest challenges of the peace process and an essential ingredient in making the Good Friday agreement effective to ensure long-lasting peace for the people there.
Lord Laird: My Lords, I recognise that the hour is late and we have covered a good deal of the ground. It is not my intention to weary noble Lords any more than is necessary by regurgitating what has already been dealt with. However, I should like to pay a great tribute to a number of noble Lords who have spoken tonight. I refer to my noble friends on these Benches. I also refer to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt--he is not present at the moment--who is a gentleman of very high integrity. I spent 20 years trying to keep him out of this building, because the noble Lord would regard himself as one of my political opponents. However, his
Before I move on to a number of topics in this debate, on a night like this I should like to provide the Government Front Bench with a little relief. I pay tribute to the Minister for one matter which pleases me very much. The noble and learned Lord said today in response to a Question for Written Answer that the Government now recognise the plight of police widows and the difference between those who were widowed before 1992 and those widowed after. I should like to dwell on that for a moment or two. To be fair to the Minister, when I discussed this matter with him on a number of occasions he was most sympathetic and understanding. I am ashamed that I was not aware of the circumstances of these gallant ladies until recently. In fairness, when it was put to the Minister he recognised the situation immediately.
This matter was drawn to our attention by a series of articles in the Belfast Telegraph written by the UK's regional feature writer of the year, Gail Walker. She is one of the best known and best established feature writers in Northern Ireland. She drew attention to the plight of widows. I seek the indulgence of the House to highlight one case which is humbling and shows how much we owe to the RUC itself and officers' families. In last night's edition of the Belfast Telegraph Gail Walker profiles the case of a woman who has been widowed for 31 years and is in receipt of a police pension. After inflation, that pension is now £137 a month. I am ashamed of that and the fact that I was unaware of it. To be fair to the Minister, he has taken the matter on board and appointed Mr John Steele, a gentleman of high integrity who is known to me, to look into these matters and report back at the end of October.
With the Minister's permission, I should like to put the case to Mr Steele on behalf of the small group of widows who have been kept by us in penury. Their only sin--it is no sin--was to lose their loved ones who were protecting me so that I could sleep at night, and protecting all of us in no matter which part of the kingdom. That is a salutary lesson for us all. I know that the Minister will join me in saying that it behoves us to look at those who protect us in a different light. A few lines from Rudyard Kipling always come to mind on this issue:
I support changes in organisations. There must be changes in the RUC if and when we move towards a peaceful society in Northern Ireland. I do not think that noble Lords on these Benches or anywhere else would disagree with that. I still have reservations. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, referred to the state of society in Northern Ireland and debated whether we
On the arguments about the 50/50 recruitment issue I make only one point. As the noble Lord, Lord Eames, knows, I am associated with one of the major grammar schools in Northern Ireland. Because it is classified as a state grammar school everyone who goes there is classified as Protestant--yet we do not know what proportion are not Protestant. I suspect that it could be 15 to 20 per cent. But the question is not asked; it is not relevant. An education is supplied. Those people will be disadvantaged if one adopts the 50/50 arrangement.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the definition of a Roman Catholic. Is he someone who goes to mass? Is he a Roman Catholic if he is a lapsed Roman Catholic? If he is a lapsed Roman Catholic, is he eligible only for the part-time police? Where do we stop this nonsense? There is an honourable, fine, small Jewish community in Northern Ireland which has given great service to the community, including the police force. Where are they in all of this?
Like all noble Lords who have spoken, I want to see more members of the minority Roman Catholic community in the RUC. I join with others in paying tribute to the work that they have done. But 50/50 recruitment is not the way. I suspect that that measure will be heavily attacked at a later stage.
The name and the badge are emotive issues. We should not underestimate their importance. We want politics and police separated. At this point in time they are not. While the various relationships of politics and police in Northern Ireland are still intertwined, it is important to remember that at this point in time the Good Friday agreement and the executive are not stuck together with superglue. They can come apart. For instance, too much stress on the community that I represent and the house of cards could come down. I fire that warning shot in the air.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, after the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I shall say little or nothing about the strategy of the IRA. It has been covered. However, because of the security situation over the past 30 years, the RUC has had to develop a counter-insurgency capacity and to operate, unlike any other police force in the UK, as an armed force which is itself a prime target of the paramilitaries. It is recognised as the most dangerous police force in the world in which to serve. It is also, despite that necessary extension of its role, one of the police forces of the United Kingdom. Incidentally it is the front line for the UK and it has special tasks.
The Belfast agreement recognised the choice of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland to maintain the Union. The RUC is thus one of the legitimate manifestations of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, just as the Garda is of the Irish State.
When I say "we", I believe that I am speaking for many of the people of Northern Ireland for we are all citizens of the same country. But we, here, do not suffer as they do from the consequences of the steady appeasement under both governments which has continued and of which parts of this Bill are the latest manifestations. I wait with interest to see what further concessions are to be made as the Bill goes through, as a result of the meetings between British and Irish officials which were reported to be taking place in London two weeks ago to consider what more could be done to appease the nationalists. The Minister indicated that he expected further changes to be made to the Bill here. I wonder whether that is what he meant.
The Bill is premature. We should not be demobilising, or at the very least disarming our front-line troops, the police, when the war is far from over. And we are not bound to do so, even by the Belfast agreement. Northern Ireland is not yet a normal, peaceful society and we must ensure that the same mistakes are not made again in terms of accelerated devolution. We are not yet ready, as the agreement requires,
Festina lente, hasten slowly, should be our approach to any measures that weaken our only defence against a still active terrorist threat. We should firmly reject any proposals which might tend to weaken the efficiency of the Special Branch, as is envisaged in the Government's implementation plan. We should also ensure the continued accountability to Parliament proposed by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, with reference to Clause 46(3) on recruitment, Clause 49 and Clause 52--the sensitive issue of emblem and flag--where the committee advocates the affirmative procedure.
As the Government have chosen to accept and to translate into legislation a report which has sometimes treated the RUC as a political football rather than a highly professional and valuable police force, they must consider carefully the wider political impact of how the Bill is handled. As it started as a political issue, we have to consider it in political terms. Many of the recommendations made in the Patten report and reviewed in the plan are sensible. Many are welcomed by the force. Some of them, such as community policing on a larger scale, were already operating. Where the Government risk failing is in forgetting what the agreement--usually their bible--says:
Fortunately, Clause 52 of the Bill reserves to the Secretary of State the right to make regulations as to emblems and flags. When the time comes for those decisions they will send a very potent signal.
But meanwhile the man in the street looks round and sees the continuing brutal intimidation of the paramilitary--and the Prime Minister, when he pledged no more violence after the agreement, included the beatings and the exile. The man in the street is living in a world where, since the Belfast agreement was signed, there have been 215 shootings and mutilations, 507 beatings, 2,579 families rehoused because of intimidation and 1,932 families exiled for ever overnight from their homes in Northern Ireland on the arbitrary decision not of the law but of the paramilitaries.
Into that world a large number of killers have now been released. An alien government, the Irish Government, can, by agreement, intervene and claim the right to be consulted on how the police force of those Northern Ireland citizens should be recruited and run. That is very different from the existing and excellent co-operation between the Garda and the RUC. That Irish Government have presumed in the past to negotiate with Sinn Fein/IRA on reductions of our troops. That Government would like all issues of policing and justice to be devolved to a body, the Assembly, where the mortal enemies of that force, who openly wish to destroy it, are represented and have Ministers.
Northern Ireland is full of victims, past and present, of the paramilitaries, many of whom, including members of the RUC and the reserves, received derisory compensation for often terrible injury.So far, the Government will not consider retrospective changes in compensation. Many of the pensions are derisory, too. Someone of the age of 21 will not have clocked up many pension years. However, I welcome what the Minister had to say about new developments on that front.
I hope that we shall examine more closely in Committee exactly what the redundancy terms are to be for the many experienced RUC officers being offered voluntary retirement to make way for the presumed new intake of "persons treated as Catholics" to make up the required 50 per cent quota. What happens if that quota is not reached? Who does the work? I wonder whether noble Lords have considered sufficiently--if not, we must do so--how training will be carried out if too many experienced officers are lost too soon.
Meanwhile, the man in the street sees that the Government so far have spent £12.5 million on the Bloody Sunday inquiry and estimate that a further £19.4 million will be needed in 2000-01. On the other hand, victims are to have £3 million over a two-year period and £1 million for a memorial fund. The European Union Peace Programme, interestingly, is giving £2.8 million to victim groups--very good--but £4.3 million to ex-prisoner groups. Therefore, the man in the street sees how the victims are valued.
Meanwhile, many of those brave and experienced officers who have not done a bad job protecting the community from terror and have suffered while doing it--that includes many Catholic officers--are to retire to make way for an as yet unsecured quota of "persons to be treated as Catholics". It is generally recognised that what has prevented Roman Catholics from joining the RUC--although some brave men have--is intimidation, peer pressure, loss of contact with family and friends and the permanent threat to the lives of their families. That was the decision of the House of Commons Select Committee on the recruitment of the RUC. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what imposing a quota will do and yet more interesting to see whether Sinn Fein/IRA will allow anyone to seek to be a part of that quota.
It is worth noting also that under Clause 45 both the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order and the Race Relations Act (Northern Ireland) will have to be amended or disregarded. When one looks at the RUC as a highly professional organisation which has already done so much to develop and change, it is clear that the issue is partly one of timing. It is simply that the time is not yet.
The RUC has accepted much of this Bill and much of what it is trying to achieve. There is no doubt of its earnest wish to be a fully accepted force of law and order in a peaceful community and to prevent the paramilitaries from keeping their own arbitrary and brutal order. Incidentally, I find it extremely difficult to understand why the SDLP is not able to encourage people into the RUC. How does it expect things to change if that does not happen? Because of that, we must support the RUC's efforts to make things work.
However, we must also make no more concessions that threaten its professional task. We must recognise that it takes two to tango. We must wait until the conditions of peace obtain before we take irrevocable steps. Unless and until Sinn Fein/IRA abandons its present uncompromising position and in its turn delivers the decommissioning without which there can be no peaceful, normal world, we must give no more ground and we must help the Secretary of State to call Sinn Fein/IRA's bluff whenever he needs to do so. He did it once with very good results. I should like to see it happen again from time to time. He is defending something vital, valuable and irreplaceable. In my view, the only acceptable reason for changes in the Bill at the behest of the nationalists is that they are acceptable, valuable and useful operationally and professionally and not for political reasons.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I say at the start how much I appreciated the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who spoke with his wealth of recent ministerial experience. I know that he had many contacts not only with farmers but also with policemen.
Your Lordships will possibly have noticed from this evening's debate that there can be little doubt that Northern Ireland has been, and still is, a deeply divided society. The divisions relate to religious beliefs and to political aspirations. They are often so deeply entrenched as to affect individual and group perceptions of identity. In such a society, policing is almost bound to be a highly contentious issue.
In considering the future of the police service, your Lordships' House is at a slight disadvantage. I say that because the nationalist Irish tradition is almost totally unrepresented here, whereas the Unionist Irish tradition is rather strong. That imbalance becomes
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