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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, if I could just remind my noble friend, the House is not finishing today; the House finishes tomorrow.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I think my noble friend may regret having said that because tomorrow the last of the murderers will be released from the Maze Prison. This is a deeply emotional week in Northern Ireland. We have to think of the people, the victims, who have lost their loved ones, not only the RUC--although 310 of its men have been brutally murdered--but the 8,000 who were injured as well. We have to think of the civilians who were murdered. In this country we have to think of the 600 servicemen who were murdered. This has been a deeply disturbing week in Northern Ireland. This week, as I have read the newspapers--coming from Northern Ireland--I can feel the emotion. I know what is happening to the people over there as they see the brutal murderers of their loved ones being released. Is that price too high to pay for peace in Northern Ireland? There are many people who think so.

We have heard that the Good Friday agreement is meant to charter the future of Northern Ireland and that we should attempt to move on. It is only the living that can move on. The dead cannot move on. The hundreds of people who have been murdered in Northern Ireland cannot move on and neither can their relatives who watched them die in such horrible circumstances.

Many people quote the Belfast agreement. The Belfast agreement contained three main controversial points: first, the release of prisoners, to which I have just referred; secondly, the decommissioning; and, thirdly, what we are discussing today--the reform of the police. My noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench spoke. The noble Baroness said that she was on the police authority for North Yorkshire. North Yorkshire has absolutely nothing to do with policing in Northern Ireland. The police in North Yorkshire are not about to murder their way out of the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland we do not vote on Conservative and Labour terms, much to my regret. We vote on Unionist and nationalist, terms. The Unionist wants to remain within the United Kingdom. The nationalist

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wants to break away from the United Kingdom--at least we are so told. Northern Ireland is never very far away from elections. We have local government elections; we have the Assembly elections; we have the European elections; and we have the elections to this House.

I shall tell your Lordships what is happening at the present moment. There are two nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the party of which I was a former member, the SDLP. They are nationalist parties. I should explain what nationalism means. The other two parties are the Official Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party.

Both those elements are fighting the next Westminster election. I believe that, particularly on the nationalist side, some of them are acting quite irresponsibly. We know that the SDLP is now following a republican agenda. Sinn Fein has attempted to demonise and to humiliate the RUC. It has a very good reason. It was the RUC which was responsible for arresting those terrorists, bringing them before the courts and having them sentenced to long terms of imprisonment--the same terrorists released this week. So it is in the interests of Sinn Fein and the terrorists to demonise the RUC.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland only yesterday broke the Anglo-Irish agreement. There was one notorious prisoner called McArdle who was detained for a few days. He did not qualify for release. The Secretary of State went to Her Majesty to ask for the royal prerogative to be used to let out one of the most notorious prisoners who had ever been in the Maze prison. That is a direct attack on the integrity of the Anglo-Irish agreement. The Bill is hugely political. Let us not underestimate the politics of the Bill.

I say to the noble Baroness again that there is absolutely no comparison between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and any other police force within the kingdom. Unless one knows the history, the background and the ethos of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, one will not understand anything about it. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was created in 1920 by the partition of Ireland. The previous police force was known as the Royal Irish Constabulary. It was the Royal Irish Constabulary which had the badge that is now with the Royal Ulster Constabulary--a shamrock and a crown. Nothing could be more instructive to the two communities in Northern Ireland. In fact Sir Richard Dawson Bates, Minister of Home Affairs in the first government of Northern Ireland when the state was set up, attempted to do away with the Northern Ireland badge, the badge that has been so courageously worn by the RUC.

The RUC was formed after many scores of RIC men were killed in the years between 1918 and 1920. They were given two jobs. One of them was to detect crime and criminals, the same as in any other police force in the United Kingdom. The other one--the one that led to their death, and the one which has led to this humiliation--was to protect the integrity of the state of Northern Ireland. It is because of that responsibility that the IRA has been killing RUC men over so many years.

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Sinn Fein is nationalist. The SDLP is nationalist. Let us look at the interpretation of that word. "Nationalist" means that they do not accept the state of Northern Ireland. They want to take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. That is the meaning of nationalism. It is for that reason that so many terrible tragedies have taken place.

Now we have this Bill. It is hugely political. It is recognised to be such by the majority of people in Northern Ireland. I have already stated that the SDLP is following the agenda set down by Sinn Fein--Sinn Fein/IRA--the party that has murdered policemen and many others. I do not believe that Sinn Fein/IRA and the SDLP represent the true feelings of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. Every Catholic is not a nationalist. Every Catholic in Northern Ireland does not want to see the abolition of the Border. But parliamentary elections have determined those people who would have us believe so. I suggest that the Bill has been brought forward in a very emotional week. I read the papers today and saw photographs in them of people who have been released--people who murdered friends of mine. Therefore, I do not discuss this issue in a vacuum. I discuss it in the terms in which it is seen by the people of Northern Ireland.

The provisions on 50/50 representation were brought forward with the best of intentions but they are totally unrealistic. In 1976 I sat at the other end of this building putting through the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. It was meant to deal with discrimination between Catholics and Protestants at the time. After all these years there is still an imbalance. A balance has not been achieved since 1976 and it will certainly not be achieved within the time limit of Patten. How do you discern a Catholic? When he applies to join the RUC, is he a Catholic because he went to mass on the previous Sunday? Perhaps he did not go to mass at all. Perhaps he is a lapsed Catholic. If he was lapsed, would it mean that he could not be taken in as a Catholic? I do not think that a solution can be found to that problem.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, about the district partnerships. I have lived in Belfast and represented West Belfast for many years. I know every district in West Belfast. District partnerships set up in estates like Turf Lodge, Ballymurphy, New Barnsley and Andersonstown will be wholly dominated by the men with guns. They will not accept a police force. There will be no opportunity for anyone living on those estates to join the police force or the new police service without the sanction and approval of the men with guns. Even as things stand, the Catholics who are in the RUC--I recognise the courageous stand they have taken--cannot live in the ghettos. They have to live far way from their districts and far away from their relatives. They cannot even visit their parents because they are members of the RUC. There is still a great deal of intimidation.

We learnt from our papers all last week and from contact with the RUC of the terrible number of brutal beatings. People are having their ankles and elbows blown off. They are not being killed, because that

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would break the IRA ceasefire, but the mutilations continue. I can tell the House--I say it with a great deal of realism--that there is no way in which the IRA or the loyalist paramilitaries will give up control of their areas. There is absolutely no chance of that happening.

The Bill may be visionary. I should like to see much of what it proposes come to pass. I approve of many of the elements in the Bill. Many of them have been brought about by the chief constable himself. Perhaps I may say that the present chief constable is the best chief constable we have ever had in Northern Ireland. I know that he is desperately trying to go along with the Bill. But can noble Lords imagine the position he is in? He wants to see the provisions of the Bill implemented. He wants to see an acceptable police force. But it would be less than human to expect him to forget the murders of members of his own force--the ones with whom he served, from the time he was a constable to when he became chief constable of the RUC. I believe that Ronnie Flanagan will do his best to implement these proposals.

Tomorrow the House adjourns for two months. That adjournment provides an opportunity for the Government to look at all the imperfections in the Bill and to recognise that nationalists will never accept the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. All Catholics are not nationalists. Northern Ireland is not like North Yorkshire and is not like some parts of London. Northern Ireland is a place apart. We have had to live with the awful circumstances of the past 30 years. I hope that we can do something with the police force through the Bill. But I would say, with rather more hope than optimism, that we need to bring about the right circumstances. I wish the chief constable God speed.

8.24 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I feel rather inadequate in following the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I only hope that the situation does not turn out to be as depressing as some of us have reason to believe it might.

I welcome the Government's willingness to improve the Bill at later stages. The vast proportion of the Bill is most welcome and comes from the chief constable's review, which was not complete when Chris Patten was moved in. I and many others object to and oppose the change of name from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I oppose it very strongly indeed. I am full of admiration for the dedication, professionalism and sacrifice of its members over the past 70 plus years and especially since 1969. In the security forces I served beside them on a daily basis for 17 years and I know the sacrifices they and their families made during that time. I may say that among the very best were some from the minority side of our community. I stress that. I entirely support all the tributes paid to them.

I agree with most of the reservations that have been expressed in the debate. I should like to highlight a few additional concerns that I have on other parts of the Bill. The Northern Ireland policing board will take over

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from the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. I have no problem with that. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, mentioned the division of responsibility. As she was the first and only speaker to do that, I thought that I would reiterate the point with regard to one particular circumstance. Under Clause 3, the board will continue to be responsible for the efficiency and effectiveness of the police, the police support staff and the traffic wardens. However, under Clause 12, the chief constable will take over financial accountability. That is a change from the present position whereby that responsibility is vested in the police authority, as it is in England and Wales.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, does he agree that responsibility for efficiency should not be divorced from financial accountability, as that is the very means of control through value for money and so on? Secondly, why should the position be changed if it is considered good practice in England and Wales? Why should the position be different in Northern Ireland? Surely those who hold the purse strings call the tune. I would not insist on those two responsibilities necessarily being with the police board. I would leave that up to someone else to decide. But there must be outside auditing, no matter who has those responsibilities. I believe that they should be vested in the same place, wherever it is.

Before leaving the subject of policing boards, I have one matter to raise in comparing the board with the district policing partnerships in Part III of the Bill. At present, members of the police authority, which is to become the policing board, sign a notice declaring their awareness of the Official Secrets Act. They also agree to a code of practice and the seven principles of public life. In effect, they undertake, among other things, to observe confidentiality. I have reservations about the establishment of district policing partnerships. However, I know that many other people have concerns about their composition and, in particular, about the backgrounds of the people involved. I share that concern. Can the Minister assure the House that those individuals will have to undertake the same commitments to confidentiality and good practice as those members of the policing board? If he says that the police board will bring in regulations, I will not be satisfied. I should like to know that it will occur. That would perhaps allay some of the fears which have been generated by these partnerships.

The reorganisation of the structure of the police force into police districts, as provided in Clause 20, will bring our policing structures into line with the remainder of the United Kingdom. Some may have a fear of this. However, I have read Police Force Reorganisation--Getting it Right by Jonathan Nichols, a report published in 1991 on behalf of the Home Office by the Police Research Group and I am quite impressed with it. I shall not venture into discussing the situation in Belfast, although I know of the problems. However, I do not live there and we have just heard a far more expert account of it than I could ever give.

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Nevertheless, the report is excellent and stresses the difficulties of reorganisation into the United Kingdom equivalent of police districts, which are known as BCUs--basic command units. A quotation is cited at the beginning of the report and is worthy of note:

    "We need to meet any new situation by reorganising. And what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress by producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation".

So pronounced Gaius Petronius, writer, satirist and organiser of Nero's personal revels in the Roman Empire. Not much changes. It is a warning; it will take a great deal of good leadership and professionalism successfully to carry this out. It will not happen overnight.

Although I support this change, I must ask if we are doing it at quite the right time. I am not against the change, I am for it, but perhaps not yet. In an Audit Commission report, Paper 9 of the Police Papers in England 1991, such commands are defined as,

    "the lowest level in the command structure which can provide a 24-hour policing service able to respond to all incidents and deal fully with most of them without frequent external support".

That is key to a breakdown of that kind of command structure. It is a fact that the type of problems that occur frequently in Northern Ireland--marches, bombings and shootings--all require more resources than those held at divisional level, let alone at the envisaged smaller district commands. In principle I am supportive, but is the time yet right?

On that question, another problem lies in the offing. Assuming that the reorganisation is put in place, it may not be long before it will have to be reorganised. It is common knowledge, now that we have an Assembly, that it is likely to look at reducing the number of district councils in local government. However, police districts are to conform with district council areas. Again, I ask the question: are we being a little premature in bringing about this change by enacting the Bill?

I should like to discuss for a moment the 50/50 quotas. Noble Lords will be glad to know that I shall not detail half of the matter. My noble friend Lord Rogan has covered it well. We all understand his figures and will understand them even better when we come to read them. I shall leave out my contribution on that point. However, they emphasise the fact that, first, we should seek targets and not quotas. I wish to examine this briefly in relation to police recruits and thus add a little to the words of my noble friend. Secondly, I should like to discuss the police support staff, who have not yet been mentioned.

If we meddle with the acceptance of recruits by accepting outside of the order of merit to achieve our quotas, then--assuming that the order of merit is some indication of the merit of policemen and women in the future--by taking people of lower ability, we are creating a less able group of police. In the longer run that will create what will amount to a two-tier system. Noble Lords will note that I am not saying that Roman Catholics are less intelligent than Protestants. I say merely that, with the numbers coming forward, that will be the effect of taking people from further down the order of merit.

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In addition to creating a level of, perhaps, less able policemen, we shall also create a problem for the future. Future promotions will be made on merit. That will not reflect either a 50/50 or any other form of quota. How will we get around this? Perhaps the Minister could suggest a strategy that will solve the problem. I should also say that similar circumstances have prevailed in America with the black population and, I believe, in Canada with French Canadians in Quebec. This has been demonstrated in other areas.

My next point is not mischievous. It may be a reality. A recruit's religion is taken as being that which he or she enters on a form held confidentially--and signed in confidence so that no one will witness it--by the equal opportunities branch of the police force. No proof is required and it can never be questioned in the service. Thus, if a Protestant or one of the "others" that make up their side of the 50/50 division, feels that he or she would have a better chance of being appointed if he or she were a Roman Catholic, all they need to do is to sign a form saying that they are Roman Catholic. No one can question it, even if that person walks out of the base on a Sunday morning and attends the Protestant St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. I appreciate that that is simplicity in itself, but in Northern Ireland people get around much more complicated situations. It is not even a criminal act, because the applicant could change religions in 20 minutes flat.

I wish to mention quickly in the same context the position of the police support staff. At present they are made up of some who are employed directly by the Police Authority and some who were seconded from the Civil Service. The latter have now been incorporated into the Police Authority. In future, employees will come directly to the police board, as it will be constituted. In practice, this will make the present imbalance in that department even worse because the proportion of Catholics in the Northern Ireland Civil Service is higher than that in any policing body.

There are those Catholics who may have joined the Civil Service in preference to a police body because they may have felt intimidated had they joined any organisation involving the police. In the Civil Service, they are asked to tick a box to discover whether they would be prepared to be seconded to the police. Some may not have ticked the box initially, but, after experience, some of those Catholics have done so and have then gone to serve with the RUC in that context. However, under the new arrangement, this option will no longer be made available and the imbalance in the police support staff will become even worse, even though it forms a part of the Northern Ireland police service. That was confirmed as a possibility to me this morning by the Police Authority.

I should like to say that I am a strong supporter of the motive that lies behind the 50/50 principle. However, the Bill will be successful in that respect only if the SDLP and--dare I say it?--the Roman Catholic Church actively support their members in joining such a service. I have not heard that they have done so yet. Until that is done, there is not a hope on this side of

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kingdom-come that Sinn Fein will do so. I call on the SDLP and the Roman Catholic Church to make the move. The Bill goes as far as it is possible to go; it goes far further than would most reasonable people.

In conclusion, I support the Bill and I hope that the Government will respond to the concerns that have been voiced today. I hope too that over the Recess they will think carefully and come back with some amendments of their own.

8.38 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps I may join first in the tributes that have been paid to the courage and bravery of the men and women of the RUC. I should like also to join in the tributes paid to the Chief Constable who, I agree, is the best chief constable to have served in Northern Ireland. He is leading the police in a most excellent and far-sighted manner.

I am conscious of the 302 deaths--murders--of RUC officers during the Troubles. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the last officer to die did so as a result of the bomb at Drumcree two years ago. He was, as it were, enforcing the law against loyalist paramilitaries. That shows that the RUC has been behaving, and has had to behave, in an even-handed manner. I am sure that it has been very difficult for members of the RUC to deal with some of the difficulties that they have had to face, particularly at Drumcree in the past few years. Therefore, we all agree that the George Cross was a well deserved tribute.

I have sensed a great deal of pessimism in this debate. I have not detected much confidence about the future for Northern Ireland. I have heard rather gloomy prognostications. I am more of an optimist, although I share an awareness that there are many difficulties still to be overcome.

I should like to comment briefly on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, about prisoner releases. My view differs from his. Of course, the release of prisoners has been the single most difficult issue arising out of the Good Friday agreement. It has been painful for many. I recall the debates in this House when we dealt with the legislation for the release of prisoners. We all found it a painful prospect. Nevertheless, without prisoner releases, there would have been no Good Friday agreement, and without an agreement there would have been no prospect of peace for Northern Ireland. Admittedly, there is an unacceptably high level of paramilitary attacks within the communities, and these must be condemned absolutely and totally. No such attack should ever take place; the level is far too high. But the release of prisoners is something that we had to do as a government. I refer to the time when I was a Minister helping to further the policy. Without such prisoner releases, difficult as the matter is, the prospects for Northern Ireland would be much gloomier. I give way to the noble and learned Lord.

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