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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Viscount. Does he agree that in recent times more Catholics have been killed by Protestants than Protestants have been killed by Catholics?

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl knows better than I. I do not have the facts at my fingertips.

We know the potential of the mainstream terrorists, but we must realise the potential of the dissidents. They are more sophisticated than they have ever been and in my view they are as strong in numbers as they were in 1972, the early days of the campaign. Your Lordships can see the potential problem, even if the mainstream on both sides decommission. What stands between us and catastrophe is the RUC, backed up by other security forces in the North and South of Ireland.

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I congratulate the RUC on the award of the George Cross. That is a tremendous tribute to the outstanding service of members both past and present. I declare an interest in that my mother and elder sister were among the first to join the Women's Police Reserves.

Everyone knows something about the Patten report on policing in Northern Ireland. I do not want to go into it in great depth, but perhaps I can put a few things into perspective. First, Sinn Fein/IRA have demanded the dismantling of the RUC. Is that a surprise? If one asked the criminal underworld in any part of Great Britain for an opinion on their local police force, it would not be difficult to guess what their answer would be.

Secondly, there is the possibility of the change of name, badge and the times when the flag may be flown. Taken as a whole, changes of the kind suggested will simply lower the morale and operational efficiency to combat the known terrorist threat, let alone the everyday crime and law and order issues that continue at present and will continue even if there is peace.

Will such matters help recruitment? I think not. Even without those changes, recruitment from the Nationalist community is already rising at a remarkable speed. The percentage of Roman Catholics applying to join the RUC in the last competition--apparently it is called a competition--was 22.3 per cent. The competition is not yet complete so we do not know how many will get through, but in my opinion the Roman Catholic police officers in Northern Ireland are among the very best. I have no doubt that many of them will get through.

What is wrong with the word "Royal"? The Royal Victoria Hospital is in Nationalist West Belfast and is known, affectionately, by the Nationalists as "the Royal". There are many other examples. In Dublin the Royal Dublin Society is the largest and most respected cultural society in the republic. The RNLI operates in waters both North and South. The badge already contains the Irish harp and the shamrock. Nationalists, other than the extreme, are relatively happy with the Union flag. For your interest, the genuine calls to the RUC for help from Nationalist areas have increased dramatically: Newry, up 24 per cent; Waterside, up 22.7 per cent; and Woodburn, up 12.6 per cent. Those are examples of what the peace process is beginning to yield without the dismantling of the RUC. On those issues I ask the Government to halt the pandering to the violent, terrorist and criminal underworld.

There are those who say that we cannot cherry-pick at the report. However, the parts of the report that are not so good must be dropped or amended. I have three important general points to make on the recommendations in the body of the Patten report. First, in 1995 the Chief Constable of the RUC instigated a review and I believe that over 100 of the recommendations from that review are his or emanate from the police themselves.

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Secondly, some recommendations have been shown not to work elsewhere in the United Kingdom. An example is the limit of tenure in certain posts such as Special Branch. On 21st October this year the last Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said, in a speech to the Police Federation, that the tenure policy had not worked. I quote from the Mail on Sunday of 21st November:

    "Scotland Yard's new Commissioner John Stevens is to scrap the controversial policy blamed for plunging standards among detectives.

    "The 'tenure' scheme, which forces specialist police officers to change jobs every few years, was introduced by Sir Paul Condon but it will be seen as the biggest mistake in his seven years as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police".

I do not damn him for that. Sir Paul Condon admitted that to the Police Federation, so the view is not just that of the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Thirdly, every change costs money. Among such costs would be new uniforms at £3 million and replacing armoured vehicles with new civilian standard vehicles at £13 million. From where will that money come? Is the Treasury ready to put it forward? Now is not the time to discuss the detail. No doubt we shall have a debate later. I ask the Government not to be too hasty in their implementation of all the Patten reforms.

In conclusion, I support the order and wish our Assembly and new Executive well in the future.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I share to the full the evident feeling with which the Minister introduced this order. He introduced it in words that were characteristically generous towards his predecessors.

From the beginning of direct rule in Northern Ireland it has been the hope and the ambition of succeeding administrations that democratic, devolved government would be restored, but restored only on terms that were fair and just to everybody living in the Province.

For long periods of time that elusive objective seemed remote indeed. Now we have an agreement which represents not so much a step as an enormous leap towards that objective. I want to express my gratitude for and admiration of the way in which it has been prepared and for the courage with which it has been executed.

It is a leap which has saved the people of Northern Ireland, for a short time at least, from a poisonous political stalemate. It offers them an enormous opportunity. Of course, it is not without risk. I believe that the risks are manageable and justified. The potential gains are enormous, not least in the development of cross-border organisations.

I have felt that surely it must make sense to make common cause in areas where there is an undoubted common interest. I believe that, as that process develops--it has already been established in some instances--it will have an important effect on the development of confidence.

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In my humble opinion Mr David Trimble has shown himself equal to the most testing demands of leadership. The Secretary of State, building upon and fortified no doubt by the Good Friday agreement that was achieved in his predecessor's time, has firmly, perceptively and constructively rekindled confidence and the willingness and readiness in others to take risks. I gladly pay tribute to him for that.

I cannot know, but perhaps the greatest part in this momentous development has been played by that extraordinary man, Senator Mitchell. I warmly endorse what has already been said about him. He thought he had taken on a three-month task, but he stayed with it for five years. I hope that in future, when people are tempted into a generic denunciation of the motives of all politicians, they will remember George Mitchell and desist.

If this leap of faith had to be taken, and if devolved government had to be shared with Sinn Fein in today's dangerously unsatisfactory circumstances, I can see that it was necessary that a final decision by the Ulster Unionist Party should be postponed. But I have no doubt that the spirit and the intent of the Good Friday agreement require at the very least an immediate start to the decommissioning of arms to the independent commission headed by General de Chastelain. If that unprecedented act of faith were to be spurned, then the whole world would know where the responsibility for the result lay and would recognise the true character of those carrying that responsibility.

I wish God speed to the arrangements which this order will set in place. But as I do so I cannot avoid reflecting on how much they will owe to the RUC's heroically staunch resistance to violence and terror over all these years. As the Minister said, it has been shown that politics work and violence does not. It was the RUC in the main, though not exclusively, which created the circumstances in which politics have been able to show that they work. The RUC was always in the front line, upholding the law to which it too was always subject; and it acted for all the people in Northern Ireland. It is important that its sacrifice and achievement shall never be seen to be devalued in the days which lie ahead.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, this is a great day in the history of both Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. I speak as someone whose home is in County Westmeath, southern Ireland, but I wear an Irish Rugby Union tie given to me by an Ulster Protestant. When I was Leader of this House I went to Lansdowne Road and saw a United Ireland team play England. I cheered for Ireland. It was said, "You cannot do that. You are paid by the Brits." I said, "No, I am afraid I am Irish." So I speak as an Irishman.

It is a great day. There are a number of heroes, not least the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who did wonderful work for peace in Northern Ireland. But the highest praise goes to the Prime Minister. I am not always uncritical of this Government, although I am a loyal and obsequious supporter. This is his finest achievement. No one but Tony Blair could have brought it off, though Mo Mowlam, Peter Mandelson

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and others have done much of the work. Above all, when I pray about all this--and I pray about it constantly--I pray for Mr Trimble. I do not know him, but his task has been the hardest of all. I therefore salute him and the many others concerned.

When all that is said and done, this is a great opportunity. People say how marvellous it is for Mr Trimble to be sitting down with a representative of terror. I read a book on the Irish treaty of 1921. It said that when Michael Collins, who became what they liked to call a great "terrorist" leader, came to Downing Street with a delegation, it was doubtful whether the British delegation would shake hands with him. Lloyd George solved the problem by shaking hands himself with the Irish delegation and introducing its members to the others.

Those were the tensions at that time. Southern Ireland has been a colossal success by any possible standard. When I was a boy the children attending the school in front of our house were in rags; now their standard of life has risen to that of the British. It has been a wonderful achievement and I look forward to similar success for Northern Ireland.

We hear a great deal about decommissioning. There was reference by the speaker for the Opposition to decommissioning all round. There is to be pressure on the IRA to give up some of its arms; I hope that it succeeds. But is any pressure being placed on the Protestants to give up their arms? They have just as many. I leave that question with the Minister.

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