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Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, will the Minister reply directly to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about whether people with a terrorist record would be excluded from the local police boards, the DPPs? Perhaps I may also ask the Minister whether, if a man with no previous convictions for football hooliganism can be deprived of his passport merely on the grounds of intelligence, could not people also be excluded from such boards merely on the grounds of intelligence background.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I was about to come to the specific question that has been asked. I will answer it in the order of my speech and deal also with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The question goes to the point about the policing board.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, raised the question of best value. The provisions are technically very complex. We intend that the policing board should take the lead on best value and that the Secretary of State should intervene only in the event of default. However we will bring forward some amendments in Committee to try to clarify that position.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, also raised issues about the power of inquiry and the obligation of the board to pay the costs of such an inquiry. The Government have accepted that the safeguards originally put on the board's exercise of the power were too great. As I said earlier, we will table amendments building on those already made in another place. We believe that the board should, as a matter of proper financial accountability, be responsible for meeting the costs of an inquiry. If the board finds that it needs additional funds, it can, of course bid for them.
Particular issues were raised by the noble Baroness on financial accountability arrangements. I think it would be much more appropriate to deal with those in Committee rather than now. Similarly, I shall deal in Committee with the point about the code of ethics.
Many noble Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, the noble Lords, Lord Rogan and Lord Laird, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Eames, raised problems in relation to 50/50 recruitment. The questions related to a variety of points but they were to a large extent points along the lines of, "Do not have reverse discrimination, simply have a target" or, alternatively, "This is not practicably enforceable".
The Government's aim, and the aim set out in the Good Friday agreement, which said that the police service should be representative of the society that it polices, is to have a police service which is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.
It is acknowledged by all that the current composition of the RUC is unbalanced. Only 8 per cent of its officers are Roman Catholic. Affirmative action, or targets, would take too long. The Police Federation has calculated that it will take 30 years to achieve a balance through affirmative action alone. We want all community leaders to encourage people to join the police, as Patten recommended, but we are aiming for a combined impact to bring about a sharp upturn in Catholic representation in the short term.
Patten records in his report the view of the Equal Opportunities Commission that it is not enough to have a few Catholic recruits entering the service. As long as the figure is less than 15 per cent, they will never have a substantial influence on its culture. That is why the methodology that the Bill has adopted has been adopted.
I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, as to whether a terrorist record will mean exclusion from the board. Where a person has been sentenced to imprisonment, he will be excluded. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, approached the issue from a different direction. I should tell him that we do not believe that the time is right at the moment to relax those provisions which exist at present in the Bill.
A number of speakers--the noble Baronesses, Lady Seccombe and Lady Park of Monmouth--said that they thought the problem would not be solved by quotas because it is intimidation and threats of murder which prevent Catholics from joining the RUC.
Intimidation is undoubtedly one important fact. We want to see an immediate end to that. But there are other factors which include a lack of identity with the RUC; fear of loss of contact with family and community; and lack of encouragement from community leaders. The Government encourage all community leaders to remove barriers to those wishing to join the police. They believe also that the technique adopted in the Bill is something which will make a real difference to the composition of the police force.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, gave the House his picture of what Northern Ireland is like at the moment. He gave a rather gloomy picture. I took the noble Lord, Lord Eames, to disagree with that. He said that he thought, despite what we may have read in the papers, that there is a turn for the better in Northern Ireland.
Lord Eames: My Lords, if I gave the impression that the turn for the better this year was something which changed all the problems that we are facing, then I overstated my case. I was simply saying that I was hopeful that this summer, we had seen a turn
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I certainly was not seeking to overstate what the noble Lord said about the turn for the better. Without in any way overstating the position, I took the noble Lord to say that there are signs that things are getting better.
The particular point on which I take issue, with great diffidence, with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is his description of the sense that the men of violence were winning. That is not the sense at all that we should wish to think is right. We believe that normality is returning to Northern Ireland. It is not as quick as everybody would like but we should not ignore the fact that there are signs of progress and that progress is being made.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, also raised the issue of decommissioning and the status of the ceasefires. As my right honourable friend in another place constantly makes clear, he keeps the status of all ceasefires under continual review. He will not hesitate to act against any organisation not observing a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. He receives regular briefings on the security situation from the chief constable and senior security advisers.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I have not had an opportunity to check them. I obviously accept what the noble Viscount says, that they come from the RUC website. The particular issue with which I take issue is the picture that the men of violence are winning and that no progress is being made towards a more peaceful society. Progress is being made, not as quickly as everyone would like, but there is progress.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked whether the regulations under Clause 44, which deals with recruitment, and Clause 52, which deals with flags and emblems, would be available at Committee stage. A draft of those on recruitment will be available; those on flags and emblems are dependent on the outcome of the consultation with the policing board, therefore they will not be available before the Committee stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan--"complained" may be the wrong word--drew attention to what he described as the "Balkanisation" of the police service. With respect to the noble Lord, he is seeking to substitute his own judgment for the professional policing judgment of the chief constable. The chief constable supports the creation of district commands, as recommended by Patten. I believe that that idea originated from the chief constable's own review of the policing service. He supports the removal of the regional tier and he supports the four police commands proposed for Belfast as operationally necessary. So, with apologies, the Government will not follow the approach of the noble Lord. I can reassure the House that the police service will remain a single unified police service. There is no basis for claiming that those changes are about the "Balkanisation" of the police service.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in a moving and effective speech, referred in particular to the prisoner releases that have been in the news this week. Of course, I understand why the releases that took place earlier in the week and those that will take place tomorrow are difficult for many to accept. However, I believe that prisoner releases remain an essential part of the Good Friday agreement, without which a settlement would not have been possible. They were endorsed by the people of Ireland, north and south, not because they want to see prisoners go free, but because they realise the need to move on and to put the violence of the past behind them.
Time is moving on and it would be wrong for me to deal with each individual point. I am sorry that I have not dealt with every single point raised by noble Lords, nor dealt with the speech of every noble Lord. Perhaps I can return to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Eames. He asked two rather powerful and pertinent questions: does the Bill help us to move towards a peaceful society and is the community prepared to play its part? We believe that the Bill takes us towards a peaceful society by laying the foundations for the new beginning to policing called for in the Good Friday agreement. The Bill lays the foundations for a police service that is representative of the whole community and which commands the support of the whole community. I cannot quote the exact words, but that reflects the description of what the noble Lord, Lord Eames, said that the RUC wanted.
On the second question, I strongly believe that the community is prepared to play its part in policing in Northern Ireland. Through the Bill and through the implementation of the other elements of the Patten report, we have a unique opportunity to create a situation where, for the first time ever, all parts of the community in Northern Ireland are prepared to play their part.
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