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Lord Laird: This is a very sad period. I identify myself with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, when he says that opinions have moved on over the past 30 years. I am one of those who have developed their thinking over that period in a way perhaps not dissimilar to that of the noble Lord.
But this is a difficult day. It is a day of considerable political significance. We all want peace in Northern Ireland and all that that means. Some of us are supporters of the Belfast agreement--with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But the political realities are that if the unionists, who have a culture based on their Britishness, continue to be marginalised in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, if they continue to have their culture broken and denigrated in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, we shall not get unionist participation in the Belfast agreement. It will be for others then to decide whether there is a Belfast agreement. You can push people only so far.
I was saddened and disturbed to hear a man of the stature and standing in the community of the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, speak about statistics and the information he had gleaned from individuals. No statistics I have come across show that the majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland take offence at the name "RUC". I was also disturbed by the noble Lord's interpretation of history, which, on reflection, he will recognise was terribly one sided and offered offence to people like myself. That is a part of the problem.
Perhaps I may draw a parallel with the Battle of Britain, which has been celebrated in some areas in the past couple of months. What would have been the reaction throughout the United Kingdom and in this Chamber if the few who stood as the thin line between peace and chaos and the chance of winning the war had been disbanded, disregarded and had had the names of their squadrons changed within months of fighting in the Battle of Britain? That is what you are asking the unionist community in Northern Ireland to accept. The RUC was the thin green line. I stand here today only because my life was saved time and time and time again by the RUC.
If you want statistics, if you want opinion polls, it is quite simple: go to the South Antrim constituency where we, as Ulster Unionists, lost the safe Unionist seat which my noble friend Lord Molyneaux of Killead represented with distinction for many years. That seat, in which the Ulster Unionists formerly had a 16,000 majority, was lost mostly on the issue of constant concessions. The perception at present is that the Belfast agreement does not deliver a two-way process.
I ask the Committee to consider these amendments long and hard. We are not talking about some faraway place--despite what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, this is not some colonial area. This is part of the United Kingdom, where British citizens like myself are proud and pleased to live. We want to live there, and we continue to do so by choice. But the indications are that if we do not achieve an equitable solution in regard to the name of the police force in Northern Ireland, it may be one bridge too far. I support the amendment.
Lord Laird: There is a difference between continuity in terms of people moving from one force to another and the name. The name is important. It has been made considerably more important by the activities of the Dublin Government, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and even the Roman Catholic Church. It has become an issue for the unionist community and for
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I hesitate to speak in the wake of the two previous speakers to the amendment. Not only were they born and bred in Northern Ireland and still live there, but they have given their lives to the politics of the Province and I have not.
The issue for me as an outsider--and I hope that the Committee will forgive my ignorance--is: what will render that state of affairs more likely? What underlies the present "inadequacy" of the RUC. It appears to be a matter of confidence. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, made the telling point that since the Belfast agreement the number of applications from Catholics to serve in the RUC has risen from 11 to 22 per cent. It is striking that one needs to make that point, given that the Catholic community in Northern Ireland is not far short of half the population. Even now, we are talking about only 22 per cent of applicants being from that part of the population. It must be asked why that is. Then one gets into impossibly difficult historical waters--totally contested, totally without any form of agreement between the two principal sides.
My point is that 22 per cent is not nearly enough. What can be done to make it more? If the name of the RUC--which arouses such passion, and therefore carries such symbolism--is not changed as the Bill proposes, might that deter even 22 per cent of applications from the Catholic community in the future? I suggest that it well might. I suggest that the doubling of applications following the Belfast agreement was on the back of the optimism generated by that agreement.
If we follow Clause 1 of the Bill and change the name, will it undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of the RUC? No one, least of all those who have spoken against the change of name, has suggested that such a change would cause the Protestant community and existing RUC officers to withdraw their support in terms of their tremendous service to the RUC. No one has suggested that for the good reason that it would not be the consequence. There would be a great deal of hurt and hard feeling; some would feel rejected, some that their loved ones who died in the cause of duty were being spurned. But it would not be the case that changing the name would damage the legitimacy or effectiveness of the force.
On the other hand, if the name is not changed, could that affect support for, and hence the legitimacy of, the new police force in terms of the future in Northern Ireland for which we all hope? Because of the passion aroused by this debate and the symbolic significance attached to the name by both
It may be that the Roman Catholic Church will change its policy and will cease to persist in what seems an outrageous refusal to grant that service in the police force in Northern Ireland is an honourable occupation.
Lord Elton: Will the noble Lord forgive my intervening? I do not want to spoil the flow of his speech. However, he has just used a turn of phrase that I keep hearing: "It may be that something will follow", "Let's do it and perhaps something will follow". But we have done so many things and nothing has followed. Is it not foolish not to wait for an undertaking by those concerned?
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: To deny those who are legislating the right to speculate on the consequences of that legislation would be to kill debate. I merely put it to the Committee that the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Northern Ireland might now feel extremely embarrassed by the fact that its failure to endorse service in the police force as an honourable occupation is being held up in this debate. I hope that it does feel embarrassed. It is permissible to speculate that if this further concession to the Catholics in Northern Ireland were to be made, they might change their view. If they did so, as is clear from all the contributions, it would have an effect. Similarly, it is not unreasonable to hope and expect some response as regards intimidation--although I am under no illusion as to the refusal of the real men of violence to change their mind.
On those grounds, despite the unanimity of view expressed by Members of the Committee from Northern Ireland, I look forward and I believe that this symbolic change would be of small but significant assistance in making this great force an even greater one in the future.
It seems strange, given that we have debated this matter for almost an hour and a half, that no one has yet convinced me that a change of name will bring in more people. I find that the young people among whom I work go to the employer who will give them the best opportunities: the best salary and the best chances of promotion. Looking at the new RUC as envisaged by Patten--and reference has been made to the fact that 85 per cent has already gone through--we would see it as a possible step for young people to join the police force.
As the Committee is aware, I am a community worker. Like most of my other colleagues, I live on the peace line in Belfast, so I am well aware of the feelings around the RUC. I am well aware of the fact that, for five years, I had to have an RUC Land Rover sitting practically outside my door for 24 hours a day to keep
I was speaking recently in what would be considered a Catholic stronghold. I went to a women's meeting, at which just one man was present. It was absolutely amazing; indeed, I thought that he was very brave, but I did not know who he was. It turned out that he was a local chief inspector of the RUC who had come to the meeting to present the women with books for their library. I did not hear one woman at that meeting say anything about Catholics not liking the RUC. I have travelled around Northern Ireland and I believe that we are moving away from the issue here.
Obviously, we want the RUC to remain and to retain its title. That is neither a Protestant nor a Catholic point of view: it is the fact that the RUC deserves that recognition. The force deserves it for no other reason than it deserves it. We could all talk emotively about friends and neighbours who have been murdered. We have all been through that and have attended such funerals. That is not what this is about; this is about bringing forward a police force that young people can feel confident in joining. I fully support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. I believe that this could be a new beginning. We must get away from talking about that.
One of the things that is happening, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, mentioned, is that this mafioso has grown up in our community. The RUC has been used as a political football for almost the past two years--"Will they?", "Won't they?", "Are they?", or "Aren't they?" In the mean time, my community is suffering. We have just been through the most horrendous imploding of a community, a Protestant community, simply because this kind of thing is going on. This Chamber must make a decision. I urge noble Lords to think carefully. If I can be persuaded that changing the name will mean that Catholics will flock to join the force tomorrow, I will agree to it. But I do not believe that that evidence is on the table.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: Perhaps I may detain Members of the Committee for a few minutes. At another time I should feel that there was a good deal of logic about changing the name of this force. As far as I am aware, it is the only police force in the United Kingdom that carries the designation "Royal". There is a good reason that other police forces do not do so: first, it is very important that the police force should, above all, be seen as being the servant of the people; and, secondly, the area which it polices is not coterminous with the traditional boundaries of Ulster. Therefore, in those two respects at least, it is--or might be said to be nowadays--a misnomer.
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