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Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Bill had a very important and extended Committee stage in another place and was extensively amended in the later stages. I do not believe, therefore, that it will need extensive discussion but I should like to raise a few points in the course of our consideration this afternoon.
The first set of clauses, starting with Clause 1, set out the relative responsibilities of the Secretary of State, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland (PANI) and the chief constable. It is quite complicated to understand the nuances of the responsibilities between the three parts of the tripartite structure. That is important because, unless the public understand where the responsibility lies in any particular instance, it is difficult to see that accountability is really being satisfied.
The other feature which seems to me to flow from the Bill is that an awful lot of paper will be required. The Secretary of State is to issue a statement of principles for policing which will be laid before Parliament in due course under Clause 37; codes of practice for PANI under Clause 38; regulations for the administration of
There is later to be an annual report within three months from the chief constable to PANI, and an annual report within six months from PANI to the Secretary of State. There may also be special reports from the chief constable to PANI, from PANI to the Secretary of State and perhaps even special reports from the chief constable to the Secretary of State which would also have to be laid before Parliament. All this seems to amount to a huge weight of paper which it will be difficult for individuals to follow unless they are involved in the structure themselves and following the process quite carefully.
The other thought which strikes me about all of this is that the documents to which I have referred are all in the future. There have been numerous documents building up to this Bill. The principle one was the consultation paper on Policing in the Community issued in 1994, which was followed by a White Paper from the previous government and a Labour Party shadow White Paper covering similar ground from their point of view. There was a fundamental review, as well as Maurice Hayes' report on the complaints system. Now there is to be this legislation, and before all of this comes into force the Patten Commission will start its work to re-think the whole issue. The RUC must therefore be the most examined and reported on police force in the world.
Throughout it all they continue to do an extremely difficult job to protect the public from ordinary crime as well as to protect the whole democratic system from that minority which tries to shoot and bomb their way to a different form of government. The RUC and the RUC Reserve, and everyone connected with them, deserve our highest praise, but also our circumspection in proposing yet further upheavals to their system of management. I hope, therefore, that the Patten Commission will give thought to whether all this paperwork is necessary and to how many changes will actually be beneficial, given the tremendous upheavals involved and the consideration that has already been given to the matter. First in the Commission's mind must be the question whether any future changes will help both acceptability and accountability.
Lord Alderdice: Perhaps I may remark briefly on the Question that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill. I have some sympathy with the view that the police authority may, in its current form, not represent the best way of carrying things forward. Indeed, I have made it clear on a number of occasions that I take the view, as do my colleagues, that if we could move to a situation in the next couple of years whereby a democratically elected parliamentary assembly in Northern Ireland were able to take responsibility for policing and other justice matters, that would ensure a degree of accountability far beyond what has been achieved by the police authority.
Indeed, I recall speaking in South Africa not very long after the agreement was reached there, to some folk about the situation concerning the South African police. They said the situation had changed quite radically. I asked whether this was because representation on police matters had changed: they said it was not that. I asked whether they had brought in completely different staff: it was not that. I asked whether the name had changed, and they said it had changed from the South African police to the South African police service but that was all. I asked them what had made the difference, and they said it was accountability. This had been a police force which existed to maintain apartheid, but now it was Mr Mandela's police force, and that had made the difference.
The one factor which will ensure much greater acceptability of the police is not endlessly revising the RUC but ensuring that it is accountable to the people through their elected representatives. That is why I have some sympathy with the view which questions whether the police authority in its present form is the best way of running things.
However, that is something for further down the line. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I welcome the appointment of Mr. Chris Patten as head of the new commission. He is a man of enormous substance and qualification in this matter and I believe that his appointment has relieved some of the anxieties that were felt.
Let us be clear, however. Any reassurance that that might bring, and any reasonableness with which people might approach this matter, can only occur when people understand that we are talking about improving the context in which policing can be carried out--that is, an entirely peaceful one without terrorism leaving the police able to address civil policing matters as they would do in the rest of the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Also, for there to be suggestions in the public domain--though I hasten to say not from more responsible politicians or indeed from the Government--that we are looking to a time when former terrorists might be part of the RUC is both absurd and extremely destructive. I can only assume that some of those who are putting forward the ideas are
Let us be clear that it is not a possibility--now or at any stage in the future. We look to people who are involved in the police service as people who are upholders of the law, not conscious breachers of the law. That is not to say, of course, that where some young people at the age of 15, 16 or 17 years old were caught with stones in their hands--in the context that the community was in utter turmoil--that should for ever and a day be held against them. That is a different matter entirely and should not be confused. The idea that people consciously involved in terrorism should ever be in a position to act as members of a legitimate police service in Northern Ireland is unacceptable. We must make that very clear.
If we can move forward with the Bill and build further upon that with the Patten Commission, ensuring a degree of accountability which goes way beyond the police authority, I believe it is legitimate for this Bill to pass into legislation, although not as an end in itself. Frankly, if it were to be that I should be most unhappy. Perhaps we can receive reassurances from the Government, as I hope we can, that this is merely an enabling step to ensure that we can fulfil the reasonable undertakings that we reached on 10th April. It would be helpful if the Minister would simply state this. It will not introduce some of the extraordinary suggestions that there have been from others, either about the structure of the police, fragmenting it and breaking it up, or in terms of membership of the police. Those are matters that are of some concern in Northern Ireland.
Lord Blease: We have jumped to Part III of the Bill. In the general remarks at this stage I wish to put forward a point although not to deal with it in detail. It has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. The word "force" is a descriptive word which in my view leads to some problems; I prefer the word "service".
I say this with a good deal of experience and understanding of the role of the RUC in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it has had a very challenging, serious and difficult task over a number of years. We know that that load has been carried with great purpose in trying to maintain peace and order in Northern Ireland. I feel that the word "force" as used in Part III of the Bill does not properly incorporate the real work that the police service does in Northern Ireland and I would prefer to see the word "service".
I realise at this stage of the Bill that it is not appropriate to make any suggestions. However, I draw attention to this matter. I believe that it is possible to incorporate in the definition that the word "service" includes force and other duties that the police carry out for the people of Northern Ireland. I want to give notice that I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, but I shall not press the matter until later in the Bill.
Lord Fitt: I wonder whether it was worth coming here or whether it was a waste of time. This Bill is going to be dissected, bisected and, inquired into by the Patten Commission. It seems that we are going through an awful lot of deliberations on a Bill, and whatever decisions may be taken here may be overturned by the Patten Commission. The Patten Commission is to inquire into the whole structure of the RUC.
This Bill had its foundations in another place under the Conservative government. Why was it thought necessary to introduce this Bill? Coming from Northern Ireland and recognising the dissentions and divisions within that community, I say that the Conservative government thought this Bill necessary because one section of the community in Northern Ireland did not trust the RUC, as at present constituted, for a single second. I do not think that was right.
I was a Catholic--I still am--a member of the minority community, and had nationalist intentions during my political career. There were occasions when the RUC appeared to be showing undue bias towards the unionist community. On one famous occasion when I was taking part in the civil rights demonstration on 5th October 1968, I was beaten by the RUC by a baton. That fact has been recorded on many occasions.
The police did that--not because they were a biased police force, not because they were anti-Catholic or pro-Protestant or pro-unionist; but because they were under the control of the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. It was the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland who banned that particular civil rights demonstration in Derry. The police were acting under the instructions of the Minister of Home Affairs.
We now have a police authority, and the police are no longer under the control of a single political individual. I have to say--and I say it with a great deal of regret--that the party which I formerly led, the SDLP, was composed of three men from the urban society of Belfast and four from outside Belfast. I had some reservations about the RUC, but nothing to compare with the extent to which that force has been maligned and castigated by my former colleagues--and not only then, but up to the present day. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why I found it necessary to give up the leadership and to resign from that party.
I remember very well on one occasion the RUC preventing me from traversing particular streets in different geographic areas in the course of fighting an election. Again, that was advocated by the Minister of Home Affairs. I recall sitting in the gallery of the Old Stormont Parliament--I believe in 1953--when the Flags and Emblems Bill was debated and put on the statute book. That Bill was one of the most bigoted, sectarian, biased pieces of legislation ever to be put on the statute book of Northern Ireland.
The police had to police that particular Act, under which it was agreed that it was a grievous sin to be seen flying an Irish tricolour or to be wearing any nationalist insignia by way of a uniform or a badge. Again, that
Many of the allegations made against the RUC were totally and absolutely unfair. At the moment we hear Sinn Fein talking about the nationalist community. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, mentioned that last week. One of the Sinn Fein councillors, now a candidate for the assembly election, gave a very belligerent, bellicose, vindictive statement against the RUC saying it had to be disbanded because it was not acceptable to the nationalist people.
I wonder who gave him the idea that he was in a position to determine what the nationalist people thought. The nationalist people in Bangor, Portadown, Donaghadee and other parts of Northern Ireland find the RUC quite acceptable. It is only in the ghettos, which have been created by gunmen and terrorists, that the RUC is not acceptable. The reason it is not acceptable in those ghetto areas is that it is the RUC which has apprehended, brought to the courts and had convicted people who were guilty of the most heinous crimes.
I can understand the spokesmen for the IRA and Sinn Fein being vindictive against the RUC but what I regret totally is that the party which I formerly led, the SDLP, was the very first, before Sinn Fein became a political force to be reckoned with in Northern Ireland, to start off this campaign of vituperation and condemnation against the RUC, and it is still doing it.
Last week and the week before, the police authority asked the political representatives of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and others to come to talk to it, to see what their ideas were and what their concerns were about the RUC. Sinn Fein said that it would not go. That is understandable from Sinn Fein, as spokesman for a terrorist organisation. It is not, however, understandable for a legitimate constitutional political party like the SDLP to say it will not attend either. That only gives support and succour to the spokesmen and the representatives of terrorists.
Three or four weeks ago the Daily Telegraph published the photographs of 289--it should have been 301--members of the RUC who were killed by terrorists. I recognised 43 of them. I was frequently in contact with members of the RUC and I must say that morale is very low at the present moment. Whatever excuses may be put forward for this Bill--that changing the name to police service would make it the same as a police service in Sussex or in Wolverhampton--the RUC see this as an attack on their name. It will no longer be the RUC that they joined. Morale within the RUC is extremely low at the moment.
In anything that is said or done in this House or outside it in relation to this Bill, we must be very careful that nothing should be done further to lower morale in the RUC. It is a force which has withstood attacks such as no other force in western Europe has had to withstand over these past 30 years. The force has given sterling service, as I said on Second Reading. Had it not been
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