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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, on 23rd October, on the first day of Committee on this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a notable and courageous speech. In it he said that the debate on the precursor to Amendment No. 1 was really a debate about the constitution of Northern Ireland. He said that survey after survey showed that many Catholics support the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and that unionists now feel as he did when, in 1968, he marched in support of a campaign to secure civil rights for Northern Ireland under the Stormont regime. He spoke as one who still retained a bloodstained shirt from the blow that he received from the RUC on that occasion. He said that the unionists felt that their entire culture has been taken away from them; that pan-nationalism is ranged against them and that they have no one who can speak in their defence.

The noble Lord said that he spoke as a Catholic; that he spoke with a conscience, and he said,

I recognise that there is a tendency among those of us who have lived for even a few years in Northern Ireland and sometimes less, to speak as though we know it all; and perhaps some of us know some of it. But none of us knows it as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and other Members of your Lordships' House know it who live and have always lived in the Province. I believe the noble Lord was right to say that this is essentially a debate about the constitution. No police service, in any democracy, can exercise authority save by virtue of the constitution of the state which it is there to serve. In the case of the RUC that state is, by consent, the United Kingdom.

The RUC therefore is a police service empowered by the Crown. So long as the Union persists, any police service in Northern Ireland, by whatever name we call it, will be and will remain a service empowered by the Crown. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, also said, there are also Catholics--no doubt they are in the majority--who are nationalists and object to any jurisdiction of the Crown in Northern Ireland. They continue to object to it notwithstanding the Belfast agreement, and that is their right. They will have nothing to do with the Crown in any of its manifestations.

So it follows that no police service in Northern Ireland empowered by the Crown will ever be seen by Catholics of that opinion as being "their" police service. I pick up the phrase the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, made much of in his speech, when he spoke

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so helpfully last time about Liverpool; but nobody who feels like that will feel about any police service that derives its authority from the Crown that it is "their" police service. So they will not join it and in that regard the Government--I regret to say--are in pursuit of a chimera for so long as the Union persists.

Does that put paid to our efforts, which we all share, to add to the number of Catholics in the police? It does not. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, again pointed out, there are other powerful factors which inhibit Catholics from joining. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, adverted to some of them. He cited hideous intimidation; the withholding of endorsement of that profession by the Catholic hierarchy and even by the constitutional nationalist party, the SDLP. He might have added the lack hitherto of the substantial improvements--they constitute about 85 per cent of the recommendations of the Patten report--which are now either already in place or provided for in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in support of his argument, pointed to the surge in Catholic recruitment to the RUC which took place after the cease-fire of August 1994 and to its ebbing away when intimidation seemed to be sustained and much sectarian violence also continued.

On that occasion no answer was put forward from the Government Front Bench to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, or other noble Lords who made similar points. I, from my slender experience in comparison with that of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, believe that there is no answer. As yet we are still invited to adopt a name in which the words Royal Ulster Constabulary will, except in the most formal of legal contexts, by the Government's own design and desire, never be used. The sole purpose is the vain hope of getting more Catholics of a nationalist character, such as I have described, to join the police service, and they will not.

The recommendations of the Patten report have elevated the issue of the name into most dangerous prominence and significance, and I wish that it had not been so. But we are where we are. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I am deeply worried about the condition and state of the unionist community in Northern Ireland. And by that I do not mean the extremities of that community.

The ferocity with which a change of name is demanded, and with no promise of nationalist support at the end--there are only threats of regression if a change is not made--has reinforced the siege mentality with which so many unionists have for so long been cursed. They see the name of the RUC as an incident of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, and I wish that it were otherwise. They see the pressure for change as a denial of that status. They see the implementation of a change as a harbinger of the further and worse inroads that they fear. And until there is some beginning to decommissioning, they feel that they have had enough. Those mounting perceptions, and especially the loss of the RUC name, are deeply dangerous to the position of Mr Trimble.

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I have the utmost admiration for the courage, perception and wisdom of Mr Mallon in this long process. He is reported as saying that no one is indispensable to the political process in Northern Ireland. I fear that he is wrong. At least one man is and at this juncture it is Mr Trimble. It is now a political imperative that Mr Trimble remains in place. He could not be restored. I believe that that imperative now requires that the amendment be agreed to.

6 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I rise to oppose the amendment. In Committee I introduced several amendments which went in the Patten direction, but this amendment moves further away from Patten than even the Bill proposes.

I cannot claim to have lived or to have worked in an administrative capacity in Northern Ireland. However, for the past 50 years, since I was a small child in India, I have read about Ireland and Northern Ireland. We forget that the entire issue should be seen against a background history of 80 years, not just the past 30. It is strange that a majority community which has all the instruments of power at its disposal has, after 30 years in an embattled state, achieved a good agreement--call it "Belfast" or "Good Friday"--but it is a compromise between the Republic, the United Kingdom and various communities in Northern Ireland.

Having achieved such a delicate compromise, people want to return to the status quo. But the old status quo did not work. It is not a question of whether the Royal Ulster Constabulary was a brave force of law. It was and it made many sacrifices. But, as Patten said, if the new police service is identified with the centre of political argument of Northern Ireland, there will be two consequences: first, whatever people say, there will be problems with recruitment; and, secondly, the service will not command the free support and loyalty of everyone in Northern Ireland.

It is not merely a matter of recruitment; people have to like their police service. Like it or not, the truth is that a substantial minority does not approve of the police service. They will if we move away from the past and rename the service "Police Service of Northern Ireland". I do not like the compromise of incorporation but I can live with it. We must compromise; we cannot return to the old position because that got us into all this trouble.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the position which the Government have put to the House tonight. I do so recalling my maiden speech in this House. I said that I came from a mixed marriage of a Catholic and a Protestant. My late mother was from the west of Ireland and was an Irish speaker. On my father's side, my uncle died when serving in the RAF and my father served in the 8th Army. I said that you did not have to hate one country because you loved another. The dilemma for the nationalist community in Northern Ireland is learning to love their police

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force; learning to like and love the institutions in Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, described.

In another place, I readily rose to support the then Northern Ireland Secretary, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden. He performed an enormous service in bringing about reconciliation and progress in the north of Ireland and I rarely found myself in disagreement with him. However, I believe that on balance the expectation has been raised through Patten that there will be a change in name and ethos in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and that if that is not now delivered it will in turn endanger the peace process.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord that the position of David Trimble is crucial and that your Lordships and another place must do nothing whatever to undermine his position. He is crucial to facilitating the process. I also agreed with the noble and learned Lord that we must learn to place ourselves in the shoes of those on the other side of the community. After 70 years of, certainly perceived, discrimination and prejudice in Northern Ireland, it has been difficult for nationalists to make a transition and to understand that there is fear, but uncertainty, in the unionist community and that they must make that transition.

In 1985 I served as a member of the then Liberal/SDP Alliance commission which examined the politics of Northern Ireland. Another member of the group was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who had given distinguished service to the British military, had climbed Everest and had also written a significant report on the reform of the UDR. Lord Donaldson was also a member of the group. He had been a Minister in a previous Labour government and had served in Northern Ireland. We were given wide access to all the senior figures in the RUC and the military in Northern Ireland. Time and again, while we were able to see the work that was being done we could see the need for change. Even at that time our recommendations called for a change in the name of the RUC.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, rightly told your Lordships, the number of applicants rose after the cease-fire but has since ebbed away, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, described. However, approximately 93 per cent of the RUC remains Protestant, despite the fact that in the general demography of the population of Northern Ireland 40 per cent are Catholic.

The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said that many other institutions have the prefix "Royal" in their name and he gave as an example the Royal Yacht Club. However, I put it no higher than that to equate a yacht club with the police force in Northern Ireland is to misunderstand the depth of feeling. I do not believe that that will help to dispel the mistrust which many people in the north of Ireland still feel.

When I was in the Province last week, I made a point of speaking to a number of people in the nationalist community and in the Catholic hierarchy. I read the

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speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and felt that a number of points should be pursued. People in the nationalist community reiterated the kind of points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, in his first-class address in Committee. They said that the RUC did not represent or protect them and still believed that there was some collusion with Protestant paramilitaries. They still talked about the killings. They referred to the lawyer Rosemary Nelson, who was blown up as she drove to work last year, and said that despite all of the representations to provide her with greater protection none had been given.

Despite the bravery which the RUC has undoubtedly shown, not least at Drumcree and on many other occasions, and its commitment to duty and professionalism, the perception of that community is all. Until that changes it is difficult to see how we shall secure the four points referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, in Committee: political control, management, composition and conduct. It is difficult to see how one can properly and adequately bring those four points into perspective and ensure that the concerns which have always been raised become matters of the past.

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