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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of this order. I realise that it is necessary. But sadly, it brings more uncertainty to the running of our police force and, therefore, leads to a reduction in its efficiency. That is for all the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and several other noble Lords.

I am not talking about local crime in my area, to which, no doubt, the Minister would tell me that we all have to put up with a certain amount of crime but that members of the police force do all they can. I wish to draw attention to the recent reduction in activities which the police used to carry out. That is due to a lack of manpower and finance and to the recent reforms in the police force, introduced by this Government. I am not talking about speeding and normal every-day crimes. I wish to talk about terrorist-related crime. Over the past 25 years, the police have been expected to carry out certain duties in that regard. They no longer find themselves capable of performing those duties, but those duties still require attention.

I must declare an interest because my brother-in-law is the Northern Ireland general manager of Securicor Cash Services, which I now use as an example. That company undertakes 85 per cent of all major cash movements in the Province. I am sure that noble Lords and the Minister will understand that the very fabric of business life, which is what has held Northern Ireland together for so long, relies on such a service. The company has 65 of those armoured blue vehicles that one sees around the streets operating every day from bank to bank, bank to business and in reverse. It provides a really important service. I am using it as an example, but it is not the only example. However, it is an example which should demonstrate to noble Lords that, in this case, I am not worried about County Fermanagh, since County Fermanagh is perhaps one of the poorer regions; I am interested in the fabric which holds Northern Ireland together at present.

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In the calendar year 2000, there were 30 attacks or hits when the cash in those vehicles was stolen in the Belfast and larger Belfast area. This year, there have been 40 such attacks already. There were seven last week and three on Friday. The total amount of money that has been lost is £500,000 this year. The individual amounts of money being carried by those vehicles is important because below £100,000 per load, security firms are not insured. Therefore, all that money has been lost in loads below £100,000. In England or in London, that would be headline news: "Armed hijack of Securicor van in the Wandsworth Road" or--dare I say it?--"outside Westminster". The Minister should not dismiss that because it is taking place and it is tangible. I understand that the Minister is not a member of the Northern Ireland Office. However, representations have been made to the Security Minister in Northern Ireland in the last week or so. I understand that in the next couple of days the director of security for Securicor will make a representation to Mr Blunkett. So it is an important issue.

So far this year 15,000 sick days have been recorded among the 240 staff. They have had it. The official response from a member of the RUC has been, "We can give it only passing attention". The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, will understand that previously there was never a case of a Securicor van, or a van containing anything of value, travelling without an escort. This is not an additional task; this is not riot control. What has happened over the past 30 years has now ceased and that goes for many parts of Northern Ireland.

I do not ask for support for an uneconomical business. The business may become uneconomical, but I assure the House that no other business will take up that task if such an undertaking cannot be run economically. Normally somebody more efficient will take over; but no one will operate such a business in Northern Ireland. This is a crisis. I have not given that example because of my declared interest, but because it indicates what is really happening.

Recently, in another place, the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister said that whatever appropriate support the RUC required would be provided. I ask the Minister where is that support? Can he do something about it now?

One other issue is the morale of the RUC. Many people will no doubt say, "He's from Northern Ireland, from the basically unionist population and of course the morale of the police is low". Recently I have spoken to policemen in the street. Their morale has to be really bad for them to admit that outside their force. I have been a member of various organisations including the Ulster Defence Regiment--as it then was--and low morale hit us. We talked about it within the force, but we would never admit to someone outside the force that the morale was bad. The morale of the RUC is seriously low. The Minister's answer may be that the Northern Ireland people cannot agree, so where do we go? I accept that that is the situation,

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but the Government have to do what they can to maintain the security so that there can be a peace process with the result that society can live with itself.

11.43 p.m.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, from what has been said already this evening, the situation in Northern Ireland is not, at the moment, improving. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has described a situation of armed robbery, which, if it took place on the mainland, would be regarded as a crisis. There would be calls for debates, the press would be full of it and there would be great public anger. However, this evening we have this order that we all agree should go through, but no proper debate on the affairs of Northern Ireland.

What is the situation in your Lordships' House? Just look around. Perhaps I should spell it out so that it is recorded in the official record: three Members of Her Majesty's Government on the Front Bench; not a single supporter behind them--not one; two Cross-Benchers from Northern Ireland; half a dozen or so Conservatives and two Liberal Democrats. We are discussing a crisis of confidence in the policing of Northern Ireland, a haemorrhage of police officers on a scale which, if it were to take place, as has been said, in any police force on the mainland, would cause outrage.Are we supposed to shrug and say, "Well, that is the way it is"? We are not even graced this evening by the presence of my noble friend Lord Patten, who could tell us how successful his reforms and proposed reforms have been. It would have been interesting to hear his views on why we have this haemorrhage of police officers.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran was brief but to the point. I have only one disagreement with him, and it is a serious one. He referred to the Government's policy of appeasement. I have never found this Government guilty of appeasement of Sinn Fein/IRA. Collaboration, yes; appeasement, no. Collaboration because their objective is precisely the same as that of Sinn Fein/IRA. It is a united Ireland, under the rule of Dublin, by what is grandly called consent--the consent of a people left without an adequate police force, at the mercy of a terrorist army which has not been required to give up a single weapon, bullet, gun, or one pound of explosive.

We have just endured the interminable communiques and rumours from the discussions between the parties, the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, which appear to have got nowhere. If they had got anywhere, we might have had a statement to that effect. We are now supposed to go away for two or three months in the expectation that things are going to get better. I doubt that they will.

I should like to hear from the Minister--and I have every sympathy with him, for he is not in the Northern Ireland Office and can only read from the brief that his officials will no doubt hand to him in a few moments--precisely what strength he expects the RUC to reach by the time we return in October. What would he regard as a crisis? Below what level would the Government

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act? There must be some view on the part of the Government. What does he expect to happen? Does he expect the numbers to begin to rise again, or is he complacent? Not he. But I do not want to put it in those personal terms. Are Her Majesty's Government simply complacent about this fall, or will they do something to arrest it?

It is a scandal, it is a shame, it is to be deplored, that Parliament and the Province of Northern Ireland should be treated in this way. It will not be forgotten, either in Northern Ireland or here. It seems to me quite extraordinary that in recent weeks we have been treated to the trumpeting of Ministers on the success of bringing Mr Milosevic to trial as a terrorist, when they have put terrorists into government in this Kingdom.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, we have to support this order because I can quite see that, given the haemorrhage of experienced officers, we shall need recruits. After Omagh, the House was recalled to introduce measures to deal with the terrorists. It has proved impossible to bring them to justice. I presume that the amnesty that is said to be under consideration is intended to solve that little problem.

We now have a potentially serious crisis and this is our only opportunity to discuss it. That is a scandal in itself. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us whether as part of the continuing negotiations there are plans to offer concessions next month to the further demands of Sinn Fein/IRA which could include the admission of former terrorists to serve in the RUC? That will keep many experienced officers in the force! Will there be more retrospective Bloody-Sunday-type inquiries aimed at the RUC or are the amnesties intended to reverse that? Will powers be given to local police authorities to sub-contract?

Is it intended to offer such further concessions even though Sinn Fein and the SDLP have, by refusing to nominate their representatives to the police authority, made it impossible to create the new police force and have left the power with the Secretary of State and the chief constable, making this order necessary?

The Minister will say that he cannot discuss what is being negotiated and it is difficult to argue against that. But I believe that we need to hear from him that the Government will not make such concessions before coming back to Parliament to amend the legislation in due process so that the issues can be debated. We cannot have a situation in which an Act which took months to pass through this House can be lightly amended because it happens to help the negotiators.

The Government must surely recognise that in all the years since the Belfast agreement was signed there has been one-way traffic, concession after concession to the IRA, and nothing in return. How much longer is the farce of the decommissioning commission to continue when it is nothing but a fig-leaf for the IRA? We should face facts and abolish a body whose existence has enabled the IRA to play its own game and to give absolutely nothing. Why do we never

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debate the reports of that commission? The latest, published on 30th June, admits that the commission has been unable to ascertain how the IRA will put its weapons beyond use--and they have been talking for three years. It never will learn that from the IRA because the IRA will never do so. It has always said it will never do so.

In the light of that undoubted fact, can the Government really contemplate further concessions designed to weaken the already severely depleted forces of law and order and to destroy the RUC at a time of great instability? The IRA, having gained all it can politically, is already returning to what it knows best--violence. The Government should have recognised that long ago and if they had done so they would have been respected by the people of Northern Ireland and by us. Instead, they have persisted in giving more and more and that is nothing less than a betrayal of the unfortunate people of Northern Ireland who trusted them. There was never a better example of the saying that the floor of hell is paved with good intentions.


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