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Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, is the Minister aware that although many people in the House will regard, as he does, the Copenhagen Summit as a great step forward, there are still problems that need to be addressed? When we look at the external border of the enlarged European Union being a large border—with Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine—and what it might be following successful negotiations with Turkey, we have a potential enormous threat to the integrity of the internal market. That does not make the enlargement wrong, it makes the imperative of dealing with border security absolutely urgent. Although I do not ask my noble and learned friend to give a detailed response today, I hope that he makes careful note of it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend is right. He speaks with a good deal more authority than I, having been more closely concerned with European matters. He is right. Every opportunity brings with it a concomitant threat. In agreeing with his theme, I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said. These are extraordinary opportunities. It is a leap of imagination that is required, but it is not a leap of faultless optimism. As my noble friend said, we must be extremely careful. After all, a community of 15 will have another 10 members, and that will be difficult. If we do not recognise the difficulties, we shall be extremely foolish and short-sighted.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, first, will the Minister say a word or two to the House concerning the Government's aspirations with regard

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to the British rebate? Although this is not up for formal renegotiation until 2006, it has now been raised as an issue by some of the newly joining states who clearly see a fundamental injustice in some of Europe's poorer states contributing towards a rebate to a richer one.

Secondly, in reporting to the House today the Prime Minister has made great play of the primacy of the nation state within this newly enlarged European Union. Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that there is some significance that those states, with their hard won and much prized sovereignty, clearly see no fundamental problem with joining a single currency as part of joining the Union? Will the Minister comment on that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the abatement is settled. It was settled in 1999 at Berlin. I do not believe that claims of an unjust settlement are justified, bearing in mind the contribution that the United Kingdom has historically made and continues to make. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, turned to the single currency. Out of the corner of her eye, she may have seen that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was unduly pacific and I believe that she has successfully egged him on.

The two are not the same, nor is it wise to talk of national sovereignty in the classic 17th century description with which we were once all familiar. Sovereignty is capable of being deployed in a way that we were never taught in our school-books or university days. That is the real excitement of the time in which we are living.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I regret to have to tell the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House that far from affecting a Damascene conversion, to many of us the proposed enlargement is a colossal mistake because the economies of the emerging democracies of eastern Europe simply cannot afford the EU social and labour policies.

Enlargement is bad for the United Kingdom, too, because it is the excuse for the corrupt octopus in Brussels to devour even more of our sovereignty. Widening means deepening, but I do not know whether my party has caught up with that yet. At first sight, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that it is difficult to understand why the applicant nations want to join the wretched thing.

I have two questions. First, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the main reason for the enthusiasm of the applicant nations to join the European Union—at least their political classes—could be that if members of those political classes manage to obtain a job in Brussels their salaries stand to increase 20 times? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that that is bound to colour their attitude, which may not be shared by their people?

Secondly, the noble and learned Lord says that we are in trouble with the common fisheries policy, which is even worse than the common agricultural policy. Does he agree that if the United Kingdom had never

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ceded that 75 per cent of fish which swim in European Union waters and which belonged to the UK before we were foolish enough to join the EU, there would be no trouble with our fishing industry?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did not say that it was difficult to understand why the applicant nations wanted to join the wretched thing. However, if I lived in Poland, Hungary or the Baltic States, I would not have much difficulty in answering that question.

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

4.31 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill. I am particularly happy to do so because during debate on the previous Bill in your Lordships' House I made considerable attempts to argue that the direction in which we ought to move was to have more of Patten rather than less. I did not receive much joy for all my efforts, but I am pleased that two years later we are moving in the direction of having more Patten rather than less.

I welcome in particular the awareness that the police service must be representative of the local community and must secure its co-operation. That is covered in Clause 15. I welcome the reduction in the majority of members of the Policing Board present and voting from 10 to eight, which appears in Clause 10. I strenuously argued for that. I welcome in general the emphasis that the Policing Board will have more "reach" to ensure that the police service performs in line with the wishes of the community. I am also pleased that the powers of the ombudsman have been extended to provide him with an effective role in Northern Ireland. I welcome the Bill.

4.34 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill builds upon the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and its provisions cover in particular the relations between the Policing Board, now up and running, and the Chief Constable, the powers of the ombudsman and some amendment of the law on district policing partnerships. It is designed to implement many of the recommendations of the implementation plan on policing of August 2001 for action on the Patten report. That plan records with justifiable pride the significant progress made, including, sadly, in order to meet the requirement for a 50:50 Protestant-Catholic force, the enforced retirement of 1,000 experienced officers and the reduction of the size of the Special Branch by 50 per cent.

The recommendations of the Patten report were based on the principle that inclusiveness was the key to a peaceful future; that wolves, among others, given the chance, asked nothing better than to lie down with lambs. And in a way, that was true, but their object in doing so was likely to be to eat them.

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But it was of course important that Sinn Fein/IRA should no longer be able to reject the police as unrepresentative of the nationalist community because it contained only 6 per cent of Catholics, even though the reason for that—of which we can never be reminded too often—was that only a handful of very brave and committed men and women from that community dared to enter the police knowing that they and their families would be at lifelong risk of being murdered by the IRA as traitors. That imbalance, through no fault of the police, was in any case a matter of genuine concern for those many nationalists, including the SDLP, who were not terrorists.

Now that major point of contention has been dealt with and the Policing Board, designed to include representatives of all political parties, has been created to oversee policing in Northern Ireland, the condition of Patten has been met. The Government, however, received a rude shock. Sinn Fein/IRA has not only refused to join the board, it has continued to reject the police and to claim that nothing but a totally new force will do. It has targeted, threatened and in one case attempted to kill harmless young new entrants who are Catholic. The order from Sinn Fein/IRA to its people to treat the police as it treated the RUC—that is, to reject its authority and threaten or kill—remains.

I welcome and support the principle which characterises the Government's approach to the legislation of police matters which this Bill represents; that is, that the police Bill shall be concerned exclusively with the needs of good policing rather than the need to meet the political agenda of any one party. As it was drafted in the light of the commitment in the implementation plan of 2001, some of which at least was driven by the need perceived by Patten to reassure and mollify Sinn Fein/IRA and, it was hoped, bring them on board, it still contains clauses which need, I believe, amendment. An example is Clause 2 on the board's policing objectives and powers. Clause 8 is another, as is the clause on the powers and scope for action of the ombudsman. Not least is the example of the clause relating to the independence of both of the district policing partnerships. We shall certainly be paying particular attention to those clauses when we come to debate the Bill in Committee.

What is new and reassuring is that the Government have chosen to exclude from the present Bill, though not from eventual further legislation in the light of political developments, what might be called the Sinn Fein agenda on the issues raised. Those have been published separately under the title of "texts for consideration". They were evidentially conceded in principle in the Weston Park talks of July 2001 between Sinn Fein/IRA and the British and Irish Governments, talks at which other political parties, though there, were not present and participating.

The Minister of State, speaking in another place on 2nd December (Official Report, cols. 637 and 638) described the transaction, which was published in August 2001 as the Weston Park agreement, first as "intentions" and then as "commitments", which the Government felt it was essential to honour. The

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Weston Park document also contained a similar commitment to do something to enable the OTRs to return and live in their community.

I am glad that the Government's wise approach today is to consider solely what will make for good effective policing, as it ought to be conducted in the rest of the UK, and no longer to regard legislation on policing as yet another area where concessions can be made to Sinn Fein/IRA in order either to bring them on board or to secure commitments from them to do what they are supposed to do anyway; that is, to behave like a normal political party which is there to serve the electors and which does not seek to set up a separate state in its own community through the exercise of violence against that community by its own private army and by the rejection of the rule of law and the police.

However, we need to think one step further. Gerry Adams has said several times recently, both here and in the United States, that the British Government must come forward with a comprehensive time-framed programme for implementing outstanding aspects of the Belfast agreement. This is code, among other things, for the total withdrawal of troops from British territory at a time when the police are desperately overstretched and the situation potentially explosive. He requires a,

    "detailed, transparent and irreversible commitment",

for these issues, he says, are "entitlements not concessions". In the same period, Martin McGuinness has flatly denied rumours that the IRA will disband, and he is well placed to know.

What concerns me is that, despite the Government's present robust intention, to which I pay tribute, to base their legislation on policing on solely professional considerations—that is, will it produce an effective police force?—and despite the Prime Minister's equally robust statement that,

    "the concept of Sinn Fein or of former Republican prisoners participating in policing while maintaining a private army is absurd",

the implication that the Sinn Fein/IRA agenda as set forth in the texts could be brought forward for legislation, like the issue of the OTRs, if only they make undefined concessions, wholly undermines the commitment to policing, not politics.

Short of the complete abolition of the IRA, total severance of the Siamese twins—Sinn Fein and the IRA—and the complete decommissioning of the paramilitaries on the streets, as well as an end to arms buying, not only stockpiling, there is no way that the presence of Sinn Fein/IRA on the Police Board can be made compatible with an effective police force. It works now because the SDLP represents nationalists, but it has neither paramilitaries, nor a private army, nor an intelligence arm dedicated to undermining the state and the police.

At a time when international terrorism is a real and immediate threat, what hope will the Special Branch or the police have of operating if Sinn Fein/IRA sits on the board? Far from trying to bring it in, I suggest that we need to keep it out, and that we are fully justified in

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doing so. It refuses to join and continues to attack those in the nationalist community who do. Let us accept that and build up the very good beginning that has been made thanks to the courage and good sense of the SDLP and the infinite courage of the police themselves. The SDLP speaks for the moderate, decent nationalists. That should be enough.

We speak confidently of taking courageous steps for peace. Everyone in Northern Ireland, including the nationalist community, will sleep easier if the Sinn Fein/IRA Trojan horse can be kept outside the wall. I believe that it is both disingenuous and dangerous to imply that given some meaningless concessions—such as, perhaps, to decommission more old arms when new ones have already been brought—we are prepared to give Sinn Fein/IRA the power to destroy the institutions of government. It has a relentless and effective agenda while we are still struggling in the treacle of the Patten report.

If, however, the Government continue—no doubt with the encouragement of the Irish Government—to negotiate, let them, I beg, exclude all police and security issues from the negotiation and exact from Sinn Fein/IRA, as a first step, the total decommissioning of all its paramilitaries—a requirement which would have to apply equally to the Loyalists—and an abandonment of the regime of unlawful murder, beatings and exiles which should never have been tolerated for so long. Let it be seen to end—and it can—all violence against its own people and accord to the police the right to operate freely against crime and violence.

In this period of direct rule it is vital that we send a clear message of support for ordinary people on the streets; that we conclude no more agreements with a party that operates with guns under the table and guns on the streets so that men and women dare not speak to the press, go to the courts or appeal for protection to the police. We are tolerating in a part of the United Kingdom behaviour and breaches of human rights which we daily denounce—and rightly—in other countries. I am glad to know that in this Bill at least we are about to operate a professional rather than a political agenda.

I, too, wish to thank the noble and learned Lord and, through him, the new Secretary of State, for the present approach to police legislation. Just as I supported and respected the steps taken by an earlier Secretary of State, to whom reference was made by my noble friend Lord Glentoran, to protect the police from the Sinn Fein/IRA agenda, which is designed to destroy them, I hope that we can continue that vigilance.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I believe that this is the third Bill we have had on Northern Ireland policing in four years. I very well remember my baptism of fire when I spoke for the first time on a Bill in your Lordships' House. That was during discussion of what became the Police (Northern Ireland) Act

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2000, which we on these Benches very much supported. So we are very pleased to see the Government taking a further step towards the implementation of the Patten report through the Bill now before us. The Act established the new Northern Ireland Policing Board and I look forward very much to hearing from two members of that board—the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney—in a few minutes time.

My interest in policing stems from my background as a member of a police authority, albeit in England—in north Yorkshire to be precise—for 20 years. I chaired that authority for eight years. I was also a vice chairman of the National Association of Police Authorities, which did much to support and encourage the transformation from the former Police Authority for Northern Ireland to the present policing board.

I am quite relieved that the Bill before us is relatively short, although experience warns me that I should take scant account of its brevity. However, as we have heard, much of the Bill is about tidying up existing legislation or taking further steps to fulfil the Patten recommendations. That is a positive step which my noble friends and I welcome.

In particular, we very much welcome the reaffirmation in the Bill of the core policing principle that police officers must carry out their duties with the aim of securing the support of local communities and by co-operating with local people. We also welcome the proposed changes relating to consultation by the Secretary of State with the board about the long-term policing objectives and codes of practice.

The Secretary of State is rightly required already to consult with the board and the chief constable before introducing new objectives or codes, or altering existing ones. The Bill extends this by placing an explicit obligation on the Secretary of State to undertake that consultation,

    "with a view to reaching agreement".

This is a sensible change. I wish that England and Wales could follow the good example set by Northern Ireland but, as we have recently had the major Police Reform Act, I do not expect the Home Secretary to be in a rush to bring forward more legislation at present. I can but hope for the future.

The police service in England and Wales could also benefit from adopting the kind of transparency surrounding the costs of police pensions proposed in the Bill. I well remember how we on these Benches sought to introduce a similar provision in the Police Reform Act. The costs of the current unfunded police pension scheme continue to soar and will add a further 70 million to police costs next year. By 2013, some 25 per cent of police funding is expected to be eaten up in police pension costs. But, unlike what is proposed here for Northern Ireland, there will be no obligation on the Government to spell out exactly how much of police funding goes on meeting that pensions burden instead of being directed into front-line policing. I recognise that the provisions in the Bill are driven by new accounting requirements; nevertheless we could and should learn from this approach for England and Wales. I warmly welcome the initiative.

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Also welcome are the provisions which separate the arrangements for production of the best value performance plan and the publication of a summary of the board's assessment of performance against that plan. That, too, is a sensible step and reflects the position in England and Wales where this discipline has been helpful to both police authorities and police officers.

I turn now to those parts of the Bill which we shall be examining with a more cautious eye. Some aspects of the Bill give us concern, notably reports by the chief constable to the board, inquiries proposed by the board and investigations by the ombudsman. However, the key concern on this side of the House relates to the proposals in Part 2 to give police powers to non-police officers. That will come as no surprise to those noble Lords who contributed to the lengthy debates on the subject during the passage of the Police Reform Act. Many provisions in the Act represent a radical and significant change in the nature of policing. Provisions relating to those powers were brought into force only this month. It is far too early to be rushing to adopt a similar approach in Northern Ireland until the effect of the changes in England and Wales has been properly evaluated.

On these Benches, we continue strongly to oppose the idea of non-police officers having the powers to carry out intimate searches. By their very nature, they are extremely intrusive and could cause major problems. Such powers are not to be exercised lightly. Human rights are at issue. Individual rights of privacy must be respected. They must be infringed only in the most tightly controlled circumstances.

I have enough trouble accepting that a police officer can conduct intimate searches. I listened carefully to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, who indicated that they would be undertaken only by a trained medic. I need assurance that the power will not be extended to support officers. The excuse that it will release police officers to do more imperative tasks does not wash with me, I am afraid. We all welcome measures to relieve police officers of routine paperwork and administrative duties and so get them back on the streets. But our view remains that these are most sensitive and intrusive powers. We shall want to pursue the matter in Committee.

The people of Northern Ireland need and deserve a police service that is responsive and sensitive to their needs, and fully accountable through its representatives on the policing board. In so far as the Bill moves us further down that path, it is welcome; but we give notice that we shall pursue the concerns that I have highlighted in more detail as the Bill progresses.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, when the same government come to Parliament on three separate occasions within a four-year period to legislate on the same issue, one must be tempted to ask why that is necessary. In such circumstances, one could be excused for concluding that that government did not have a clue about what they were attempting

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to do in the first instance. But we all know that that is not the case and that the Government know exactly what they are about.

For this will not be the last legislation on the subject. This Bill is only the softening-up process for something so dangerous and perverse, and so undemocratic in its conception, that we will ask, "Have those in the Northern Ireland Office and in Downing Street lost their collective minds?"

In a pre-planned sequel to what is before us, there are, already drafted in legislative form, 11 pages of "text for consideration". It is not intended that we debate it here today, or in Committee, but these clauses might properly be labelled as the "IRA Army Council Clauses". They cannot be ignored.

Let me clarify the background. The Government spin what we are debating today as deriving from a commitment given to Sinn Finn at the Weston Park talks in July last year. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has reassured me on the issue, but, lest the point was missed, it is important that I restate it and that he acknowledge it again. Weston Park was the location for talks between Northern Ireland political parties concerning practical difficulties encountered in implementing the Belfast agreement. But neither there nor subsequently was the Ulster Unionist Party involved in, or consulted about, the commitment given by the Prime Minister to Sinn Fein/IRA. I refer to Sinn Fein's being accorded a de facto role relating to operational policing matters and to permitting membership of the Policing Board and district police partnerships to convicted terrorists.

I will return to the Prime Minister's dubious arrangement with Sinn Fein/IRA later. Briefly, I wish to look at policing and law and order in Northern Ireland as they are today. Following the Patten report—a mixed bag of good and bad, but which we have to swallow, lumps and all—Tom Constantine was appointed to oversee its implementation. His most recent report—his third—is worth serious consideration. He begins:

    "The scope and magnitude of the changes recommended by the Independent Commission are unparalleled in modern-day policing".

Later, he points out:

    "The Police Service deserves credit for having sincerely and diligently undertaken a change process of unprecedented scope and magnitude on policing".

What is also unprecedented is that there are no fewer than,

    "772 performance indicators that both represent 'best practices' in policing and measure the progress and pace at which the policing institutions implement change".

That is benchmarking gone over the top. But, obviously, the police are playing their part. So who is letting the side down? None other than those for whom the democratic parties—particularly mine—created the opportunity for transition from violence to peaceful democracy. It is primarily IRA/Sinn Fein, but I do not overlook the violence of that rag-bag of so-called loyalists.

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The difference between the two factions is that loyalists are Ulster's equivalent of London Yardies—criminally motivated and without support from Unionist politicians. The IRA, whatever its criminality, is still politically driven by the very people with whom our Prime Minister has contrived this "text for consideration".

Ultimately—and that is why we must consider this Bill in terms of what it heralds rather than what it appears to be—the "consideration" is about how convicted terrorists can become members of the Policing Board and district policing partnerships. It is also about devolving into four sub-units of the Belfast district policing partnership, effectively Balkanising policing in Belfast.

Ordinary lifetime law-abiding members of Ulster's community will be expected to join a veritable "felons' club" when they seek to play their part as board or partnership members. Would that be advocated in Surrey? How many extremists, Yardies, racists or murderers of women, children and police officers would be accommodated in the leafy suburbs of south-east England? Even if they signed a piece of paper eschewing their former ways, it is unlikely that the Prime Minister would underwrite such an accommodation.

But in Northern Ireland we are expected to accommodate such people. Regarding Florida gun-running, IRA association with Colombian narco-terrorism, Castlereagh, which struck at the heart of police intelligence, and Northern Ireland Office spying that struck at the heart of government and necessitated a minimum 30 million compensation and security scheme for prison officers, we have to pretend that all that terrorism never happened.

No wonder, then, that the sordid, secret capitulation by the Government to Sinn Fein/IRA demands continues to be sold publicly as deriving from Weston Park, as though that gives it legitimacy.

Today, western democracies seem to be moving inexorably towards what will likely be a 20 to 30-year struggle against highly mobile and ruthless international terrorism backed up not just by organised crime as we once knew it, but by modern international criminals so competent in exploiting information technology that they may have the capacity to undermine and corrupt our economic structures and major financial institutions.

Against that background I ask your Lordships to judge whether, in their dealings with Northern Ireland's policing issues, this Government are sending out a signal that they have not the stomach to confront the reality of terrorism and crime on their own doorstep.

If time permitted I should wish to draw attention to that part of the Bill that deals with the police ombudsman's role. I support the concept of a police ombudsman, but I hope that in Committee I can ensure that we will be able to examine the scope of that office so that we do not create a de facto supremo who has precedence over every aspect of policing.

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I would like to review the 50:50 recruiting strategy, which was invoked to ensure that the make-up of the Police Service of Northern Ireland was equitable but which, according to Chief Constable Hugh Orde, has produced only 10 per cent of applicants for civilian posts from the Roman Catholic tradition. Hence, because of the 50:50 criterion, he has been unable to recruit the number of civilians he needs to free police officers from civilian duties.

We all know that intimidation is rife and that young Roman Catholics are being actively dissuaded from applying. Mr Orde, the chief constable, says,

    "We had 26 successful people from the Catholic tradition and around 250 non-Catholics. That means I can only recruit 52 and it makes it harder".

On 9th December he also pointed out—I think it was in the Irish Independent—that the police endeavours against dissident paramilitary groups were being frustrated by lack of response from the Catholic tradition to a recent recruitment drive by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Consequently, serving officers are having to operate under huge pressures and it is little wonder absenteeism is still far too high.

I must conclude by asking: where does this Bill address a single issue of this nature? It is not meant to. It is certainly not about how your Lordships' House legislates; it is about a compact between the Prime Minister and Gerry Adams without regard to the greater good of the police or society or the democratic processes that we are here to represent. Despite the no doubt well intentioned, if somewhat patronising, advice from one noble Lord to the Ulster Unionists—advice that would be better directed towards Sinn Fein—I have to say that this Bill will not and must not get an easy passage in Committee if the consequences of Executive diktat are to be avoided.

5.4 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, in declaring an interest as a independent member of the Policing Board for Northern Ireland, I should like to say a little about it. The Government, the Ministers and many others have been singing our praises. Of course we are grateful for that and bathing in the glory of it is quite nice for a change. It is true that we came to unanimous decisions over such issues as uniform, badges, flags and even the Omagh bomb issue. Many additional days' work are being put in to solve the problems and many other issues in front of us at present, even burning the midnight oil to achieve results.

At the time of the suspension of the Executive, the independent members were reappointed and the politicians who previously were members by virtue of their Assembly seats agreed to be appointed. So the board remained intact. It is one of the very few institutions that has done so over the past couple of months. Even more praise came from the Government after that.

On the surface, we on the board, including the hard-working staff, get more praise than virtually any other body in the United Kingdom at the moment.

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However, perhaps we should look underneath the surface. Are we getting the practical support in all areas that is really needed to be, as Patten put it,

    "an institution of central importance in creating a new police force".

It should be acceptable throughout the community and strong enough to be effective.

As Patten pointed out in chapter 16, the cornerstone and building blocks for the future are training, retraining and the environment in which it is carried out. He condemned the present training centre at Garnerville and recommended that a new purpose-built college should be built as soon as possible.

The other day, Tom Constantine, the Oversight Commissioner, mentioned this problem of the training college in his report. He subsequently made a press statement. He said:

    "If we are going to prepare these young people and service people for future, you have to train them. The facility at Garnerville is deplorable by any standard. I have never seen a training facility that bad for an agency of this size. It is almost like a third world type of facility. I mean when you look at the inside of it. I have been to eastern Europe and some of the aspects of that remind me of that. When I first came here I was told that this would take three to six years to complete. I thought that was too long a period of time. I now have been told, two and a half years later, it will take three to six years. So it seems that every time I ask the question, no matter when I ask the question, it will be three to six years. So I draw a line under that and that is what I call implementing in isolation one or the other for cherry picking".

I speak as an independent person on the board, but I can say without fear of contradiction that we and the staff feel very let down by the NIO on this issue. A proportion of the Maze site—about 70 acres, or up to 30 hectares, for those who are European, which amounts to 25 per cent of the total—was identified as perhaps being suitable. We were told that as the whole site was to be transferred as a gift to the Executive, the Treasury could hardly then purchase it back for our use. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister refused to provide it for their new police force. However, now that the Assembly is suspended and direct rule reimposed, the NIO and the Treasury could provide us with a proportion of the Maze site, but they will not. They seem to be happy to let this remain a political football. Okay, perhaps there has been praise for the board, but practical support on a key Patten recommendation is lacking.

Another issue is the support for setting up district policing partnerships. These are considered to be vital to community policing in the future. In fact, the text for consideration which was attached to the Bill is very much about DPPs. The Policing Board will provide 75 per cent of the funding and the local councils will provide 25 per cent, so they are very much our business. The councils will run them and we will give the 75 per cent in the form of an annual grant. Even after paring down council estimates, our staff came up with a shortfall of 800,000 in our funding from the NIO for this task. We asked for more. The reply was, "Find it from other areas". The "other areas" are those for which we are getting so much praise in operating. It cannot come from staffing, as the NIO is fully aware that the Government's own consultants BDS are

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recommending that we need increased resources. So where is it to come from, except from there? Those are not the only examples where many of us feel that words of praise are one thing, but it is now time for the Government to give us that practical support required to achieve the "new beginning" in policing in the Province.

This Bill comes to us with the attachment, the "text for consideration", which must be dealt with now at Second Reading. The reasons are clear. There are the so-called "Sinn Fein clauses", which were in the Bill until only a few weeks ago. In addition, although they may become a future Bill after the enactment of the Bill now before the House, it is still possible that they could be brought forward as amendments to this legislation at a later stage—either here, or, indeed, in another place. So it is not wrong for us to talk about them now; we should not apologise for doing so. Those clauses are the price that the Government are willing to pay to bribe Sinn Fein to take part in DPPs and to take up places on our board.

I should like to discuss the first page of the "text for consideration", because DPPs are of such crucial importance. We, the board, will be funding many of them. There are plenty of members of Sinn Fein/IRA and of extreme loyalist groups who have no criminal convictions, so it is not as if there are no clean people without prison records available who could serve on them. Noble Lords should please note that Sinn Fein members are not being kept out; they have decided not to join these bodies unless criminals are permitted to serve on them.

In the last chapter of his report, Patten says:

    "We therefore consider it vital that the recommendations in this report should be implemented comprehensively and faithfully".

In paragraph 6.26 on the independent members of DPPs, Patten says:

    "As with the Policing Board, the independent members should be selected to represent business, and trade union interests and to provide expertise in matters pertaining to community safety".

The report also says that each DPP should be broadly representative of the district in terms of religion, gender, age, and cultural background. Including criminals would drive a coach and horses through this. It was never anything to do with Patten—the Patten that the Government rely so much on.

I should also like to consider the practical reality of that, not just the theory. DPPs will be about communication and trust between themselves and the police. How will the police be able to be frank and open with these people? The latter have their associates who may still be criminals—they will most certainly be in touch with the criminal world—and who will know so much about their past. On the DPPs, they will be open to pressure, if not blackmail, in order to gain access to confidential, or useful, information.

"Rehabilitation of offenders" is a buzz phrase these days, but surely, in the rest of the United Kingdom and the world, "rehabilitation" is normally taken as being rehabilitation to being an ordinary law-abiding member of society. That is one thing—access to community policing is quite another, and unjustified.

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In the light of such issues as the Stormont spying affair, I believe that the presence of Sinn Fein on the DPPs and on the Policing Board in the foreseeable future would destroy the ability of these bodies to function. That is not to say that Sinn Fein can never join; that is to say that we have taken three-and-a-half years from the previous agreement when Sinn Fein was meant to come clean. It is not clean now. How on earth can the Government conceivably ask us to trust members of Sinn Fein if they come out in either January or February and say that they have seen the light? It is simply inconceivable. The police could not speak to us as they do at present—that is, openly and without fear. It would be unforgivable if anything in this Bill were to undermine our work on the board to achieve the "new beginning" for policing in the Province.

5.14 p.m.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, I have been involved with policing in Northern Ireland for some 30 years, beginning as Minister for Home Affairs in the early 1970s when I worked with the Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I was involved in many of the reforms in policing in Northern Ireland during those 30 years; for example, the Hunt report, and the change whereby the special constabulary—specials still exist in England, but no longer in Northern Ireland—became the Ulster Defence Regiment, and, in recent years, the Royal Irish Regiment which has been involved in security in Northern Ireland and abroad.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, we also created the Northern Ireland Police Authority. On the basis of the Hunt report, we went out of our way to ensure that it was a non-political body—no politicians. But the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is quite right. Policing has become very political in Northern Ireland, especially since the passing of the 2000 Act. We now have politicians on the Northern Ireland Policing Board. We have independents, some of whom are also very political. They are not truly independents. I shall not mention names, but I certainly know the political involvement of some of the independent members of the board. I must declare an interest as a political member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board: I find many of its meetings very political and very divisive. For the outside world to think otherwise is to be misinformed.

As my noble friend Lord Maginnis rightly said, some aspects of the Bill are based on private negotiations at Weston Park. Yes, there were Ulster Unionists at Weston Park—outside the room—including my noble friend Lord Maginnis and myself. But there were also private meetings taking place in the main rooms involving the Prime Minister, Sinn Fein, and the SDLP. Between them, they reached agreements on which we were not consulted, in which we were not involved, and with which we certainly did not agree when we heard about them. This Bill is the product of private agreements between the Prime Minister, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

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The latter is an ongoing operation in Northern Ireland. Every few months—perhaps it is every two years—we get another police Bill for Northern Ireland as a result of pressures from the nationalist community in the Province. Of course, there are some aspects of the Bill that I welcome, for example, the regularity of public sessions of the Northern Ireland Policing Board with the Chief Constable. However, those public meetings have proved uninteresting to people in Northern Ireland: very few attend them. I am glad to see that the Government have recognised that those meetings have not achieved the expected success and that they propose a reduction in the number.

There are some provisions I would have liked to see in the Bill that are not included. I should have liked a reference to "advance notice" of meetings of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. I attended a meeting of the policing board on Friday of last week; I had attended one on Thursday. I was in the House on Tuesday and received a telephone call telling me that there would be a meeting within 24 hours on Wednesday. Of course I could not go; nor could many other members of the board. Too short a notice is being given for emergency meetings of the policing board. This issue needs to be addressed.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said, we welcome and appreciate praise for the Northern Ireland Policing Board. But sometimes there are events within the board of which people are unaware and about which they neither know nor understand. A very serious incident has taken place in the Province involving a senior policeman, Chief Superintendent Lowry, from Special Branch. He received a letter of dismissal from the new Chief Constable, but within 48 hours that letter was withdrawn. It was unbelievable.

What happened, of course, is that Chief Superintendent Lowry resigned: he was so hurt. He sent a letter of complaint to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. I have chaired boards of directors for nearly 30 years. We have had many letters of complaint—about, for example, unfair dismissal, libel, or religious discrimination. Never once in my period as chairman have I refused to allow members of the board to know what a letter of complaint was about. Yet, in this case, we are told by the chairman that he cannot show the letter to the members of the policing board because it is too sensitive. He asked us to agree that it should be submitted straightaway for legal advice. Chief Superintendent Lowry and the public in Northern Ireland do not realise that, although he lodged a complaint with the Northern Ireland Policing Board, we have never actually seen the letter. We referred a matter for legal opinion but did not know what we were talking about.

The aspects of the Bill that concern me are the reduced role of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in policing matters, which is what is at the bottom of this Bill, the provisions for inquiries by the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and the provisions for further investigation by the ombudsman. As I said, the Bill does not contain some provisions I should have liked to see, such as provision to address the issue of 50-50 employment—50 per cent

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Catholic and 50 per cent non-Catholic. Why does such provision create problems? It does so because police numbers in Northern Ireland, which collapsed after the introduction of the PSNI, have now fallen well below the minimum stated by Patten himself in his report. We need to recruit more new policemen as quickly as possible.

As crime is obviously rising in Northern Ireland because of the lack of policemen, our new Chief Constable, Mr Orde, said, "Right—one way to get more policemen out on the street quickly is to take police off civilian work behind the desks in police stations". He had 276 successful candidates. However, as only 26 of them were Catholics, he was allowed to employ only 52 of the candidates. The result was that 224 successful Protestant applicants could not be appointed because of their religion. There was no other reason.

There is now discrimination against Protestants in many aspects of Northern Ireland life. I am sorry to say that it is causing further resentment and sectarian bitterness and division within the community. The bottom line is that it is denying us more policemen on the streets and roads of Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, says that Sinn Fein should be welcomed into the Northern Ireland Policing Board once it rejects violence. He will recall that that has been a requirement for many years for those serving in local government in Northern Ireland. It has not stopped Sinn Fein members serving in local government, and it has not stopped Sinn Fein/IRA from continuing terrorist violence in Northern Ireland. The mere statement that one rejects violence is not a reason for allowing anyone connected to or involved in violence to serve as a member of the policing board.

Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked, so we were assured by both the southern Ireland Prime Minister, Mr Ahern, and our own Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Thus, while the IRA continues to exist and is indeed active at home and abroad, there is no way in which Sinn Fein can serve on the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Nor should the new Chief Constable involve himself in political debate in this matter, as he did recently by expressing a desire to have Sinn Fein on the policing board. If that were to happen in present circumstances, the Ulster Unionists and the DUP members would resign from the board and it would be left in a state of collapse.

Another policing issue is very much in public debate in Northern Ireland—the question of devolving control of policing to the Northern Ireland Assembly should it reappear. In practice, after an election, Sinn Fein could emerge as the largest party in a devolved Assembly. Martin McGuinness, a self-confessed terrorist and understood to be still a member of the IRA Army Council, could then become Minister for the police in Northern Ireland. The fact that Mr McGuinness was coincidentally born on the same street—Elmwood Street, in Londonderry—as the wife of our new Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, does not make him any more acceptable to the British majority

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in Northern Ireland. While the IRA exists, there must be no possibility of devolution of justice or policing to the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont. Independent members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board should not be showing their real colours by demanding such a transfer of powers.

In the overall context of policing in Northern Ireland, and as we discuss the political role of the Northern Ireland Policing Board—which does have a political role—and, one hopes, the re-emergence of the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont, I should like to close on the issue of North-South relations. The South does have an input now into such matters in Northern Ireland.

On 26th November 2002, in the southern Irish Parliament, all in one day, an entire Bill was passed to give effect to a new treaty, signed by the British ambassador on 19th November. There was no consultation with the Ulster Unionist Party. The treaty provides for Northern Ireland Office Ministers to replace Unionist Ministers on the North-South bodies during the present suspension of the Assembly. That is totally contrary to the terms of the Belfast agreement, of which I was one of the three main negotiators for the Ulster Unionist Party. Ulster Unionists such as myself agreed to the creation of the North-South bodies on the condition that the Ulster Unionist Minister present would have to give his approval for decisions to be reached. This new treaty, brought about by Dublin just a few weeks ago, completely violates what we agreed when we negotiated the Belfast agreement.

New talks started a few days later, on 21st November—notice the date; two days after this new treaty between Dublin and Her Majesty's Government—yet neither the Secretary of State, Mr Paul Murphy, nor the Dublin external affairs Minister, Mr Cowen, told the Ulster Unionist Party or any other parties at the talks about this secret agreement that had undermined one of the main planks of our Belfast agreement. I have to say that I feel betrayed by Her Majesty's Government on this issue. No longer can I promote the Belfast agreement to the British majority in Northern Ireland. Ulster Unionists should not return to the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont unless the problems caused by this secret treaty are urgently addressed.

5.28 p.m.

Baroness Goudie: My Lords, I declare an interest as patron of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday agreement recognised that:

    "Policing is a central issue in any society".

It also acknowledged that, given Northern Ireland's history of deep divisions, the issue is,

    "highly emotive, with great hurt suffered and sacrifices made by individuals and their families, including those in the RUC and other public servants".

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However, those who supported the agreement in 1998 had the foresight to recognise that the agreement provided an opportunity for,

    "a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland, with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole".

This remains an eminently worthy and essential challenge. A policing structure that is acceptable across a diversity of communities is the core of any stable and sustainable society. This is the challenge that still remains in a post-conflict Northern Ireland.

It is my belief that this Government have been more open and more responsive than any other British government in seeking to implement the aspirations of the participant parties in the Good Friday agreement. They have set out their shared understanding of the basic premise of the required policing structures and arrangements. It was agreed that the police service must be professional, effective and efficient; fair and impartial; free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves; representative of the community it polices; operating within a coherent and co-operative criminal justice system which conforms with human rights norms; within the framework of structures and arrangements that must be capable of delivering a policing service that is capable of maintaining law and order, but structures and arrangements that can also deliver a policing service in constructive and inclusive partnerships with the community at all levels and with the maximum delegation of authority and responsibility consistent with the principles outlined. Again, that is an ambitious agenda but one that was addressed by the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland—the Patten commission.

Despite the immense amount of time, consultation and attention given to the way forward for policing in Northern Ireland by the Patten commission, the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland, the issue of policing has remained one of a number of areas of contested political space. The fact that the discussions and negotiations around attempts to remodel a police service for, it was hoped, a more peaceful and inclusive society have in effect become a zero sum game has done an immense disservice to those people who wish to see a modern, acceptable and effective police service. Since May 1998 we have seen a situation where a perceived gain for nationalists is automatically interpreted as a loss for unionists instead of the general acknowledgement that an acceptable police service should be one that is above sectoral politics. The reality is that no effective police service can be seen as belonging to any one section of the community. Policing must offer an impartial, effective and accountable service to all the people of Northern Ireland.

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I certainly agree with the Patten commission when it pointed out that:

    "Policing problems cannot be resolved simply on the basis of either nationalist or unionist demands . . . It is not possible to assemble the best set of proposals for the police service that Northern Ireland deserves by searching out the middle point between opposing political views".

I also believe that Northern Ireland deserves better than the lowest political common denominator approach, and certainly in terms of the new beginning that has been introduced through the Police Service of Northern Ireland I feel that there have been major efforts to draw on models of best practice despite the predictable party political sniping within Northern Ireland.

There are some who see change as being the enemy of their old certainties and securities. There are others who expect change to have happened yesterday and who argue that it is a conspiracy if it does not. But what we have seen in Northern Ireland is a process of change that has taken time and dialogue but that is delivering a policing structure and approach that may yet be a model of good practice for other regions and countries. We have heard it said often enough that the peace process in Northern Ireland is a process. Well, so too is the evolution of a new police service as evidenced by the debates around the introduction of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and the subsequent discussion around aspects of its implementation.

The amendments that we are considering today fall into five general areas: the powers of the Northern Ireland Policing Board; issues relating to district policing partnerships; police functions and appointments; the powers of the Police Ombudsman; and the disclosure of information and inquiries. I want to comment on each of those issues separately. Many of them go to the heart of the initial shared aspiration to ensure that policing would be accountable, representative and inclusive as befits the needs of a troubled and divided society emerging from a lengthy legacy of conflict.

With regard to the issues relating to the powers of the Policing Board, I welcome the strengthening and clarification of the provision made under Section 24 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 where the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has to consult with the board prior to determining the long-term objectives for the policing of Northern Ireland. Under the amendment the Secretary of State will have to consult the board,

    "with a view to obtaining its agreement to the proposed objectives or revision".

That recognises the prime role that the broadly representative Policing Board has in determining such objectives. It might be argued that an alternative formulation would be for the Secretary of State to be obliged to obtain the agreement of the board before he sets or changes long-term objectives or codes of practice, but certainly the proposals go some way to address the issue. Clearly the intent is there that agreement between the Secretary of State and the Policing Board is required rather than mere consultation. This is a welcome and important development.

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Similarly, the proposed amendment to Section 25 of the 2000 Act represents a strengthening of the Policing Board's role vis-a-vis the framing of the board's policing objectives. This change is in line with the original vision contained in the Patten report. The issue of the stated grounds whereby the Chief Constable can appeal to the Secretary of State against reporting to inquiries held by the Policing Board also has a direct impact on the powers of the board. It is suggested in the proposed amendments that these grounds are reduced from four to three. The somewhat more general provision that compliance with the inquiry,

    "would prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension of offenders",

is to be removed. As the power of holding inquiries is clearly an important mechanism in enabling the Policing Board to hold the police service accountable, it is essential that any restrictions on that power are clearly defined and narrowly drawn.

A related issue is the proposal that weighted voting by Policing Board members as to the holding of inquiries should be laid down. However, although some commentators would argue that the decision to hold inquiries should be taken by a simple majority voting procedure, the proposed reduction in the number of votes required to trigger an inquiry will make the holding of such inquiries a more accessible mechanism for accountability purposes.

The amendment relating to the appointment of independent members to district policing partnerships imposes an obligation which hitherto did not exist on the board to ensure that in appointing independent members of the DPP the board has to ensure that members of the DPP taken together—independents and political representatives—are representative of the community in the district. Given the strength and positive contribution over the years of civil society organisations in Northern Ireland, that is a welcome proposition as it serves to increase the representativeness of the DPP structures.

There is, of course, the "text for consideration" concerning the disqualification of people who have had convictions from being independent members of DPPs. Although I understand that the text is subject to further discussion, there seems to be a certain anomaly whereby a convicted person could be a political member of a DPP but not an independent member. It is my sincere hope that that anomaly can be addressed as part of the progressive process of moving towards a wider sense of community ownership of policing. This development is particularly important in a post-conflict society but will require acts of leadership and courage on all sides. The right to expect open and accountable policing must be accompanied by the responsibility to participate in its implementation.

The proposals concerning police functions and appointments would appear to underpin the key concept of community policing that is increasingly recognised as being critical to the operation of an acceptable and effective police service whether in Milton Keynes or Derry. However, in the context of the mistrust and suspicions of communities in

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transition from violence and alienation, that is a particularly important requirement. If the Police Service of Northern Ireland is ever to win the necessary acceptance it seems eminently sensible to assert that police officers will carry out their functions with the aim of securing the support of the local community and of acting in co-operation with the local community guided by a code of ethics. However, equally, it must be recognised that that community-based approach can be effective only if every effort is made to involve all sections of a local community. We should not seek to marginalise those who were seen to be in opposition to the state in the previous conflict. The aim must be to include and involve local community leaders and members and not to stereotype or alienate them. The understanding that people can and do change in a shifting political context is central to the comprehension of the peace process.

It must be hoped that the new wording relating to the Chief Constable's function vis-a-vis the Policing Board's plans and codes of practice will continue to enhance the position and standing of the board, as is right and fitting. However, there may be need to clarify the impact of the word "reasonably" in the paragraph that refers to the new obligation of the Chief Constable to supply the board with information that it reasonably requires for the purpose of its functions. No one who wishes policing arrangements well would wish to see ambiguities that might foment misunderstanding about what the Policing Board might reasonably expect in terms of provision of information by the Chief Constable to the board.

I have most serious reservations about the amendments relating to the powers of investigation by the ombudsman. The report of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland clearly recommends that the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland should be, and should be seen to be, an important institution in the government of Northern Ireland. The report went on to state:

    "We cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of the office of Police Ombudsman in the future policing arrangements proposed".

It is my belief that the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland must be empowered to investigate police policies and practices, instead of having the power only to carry out research into these crucial matters. Indeed, it should be made a necessary disciplinary offence to obstruct the ombudsman in investigation of police policies and practice. It is truly a case of answering the question, "Who guards the guardians?". In the situation in Northern Ireland, dealing with a legacy of mistrust, we must be able to come to a clear answer.

As currently worded, there is a clear danger that the formulation of the proposed amendments weakens the power of the ombudsman. Under the 2000 Act, the ombudsman could report on any matters relating to the practices and policies of the police that should in her view be drawn to the attention of the Chief Constable and the Policing Board. She could also carry out research into any matter that may have been subject of a practice and policy report. These powers

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were not subject to the appeal process by either the Chief Constable or the board to the Secretary of State, which appears in the clause. Neither were the ombudsman's powers to investigate a practice or policy subject to the additional qualification that the practice or policy gave rise to significant public concern. We need new wording to empower the ombudsman to investigate policies and practices that she decides warrant an investigation, but without a qualification or caveat to modify such powers. A clear and definite role for the ombudsman is essential in the effective implementation of the policing framework for Northern Ireland.

In conclusion, much has been achieved, and while I have expressed a number of reservations about the clauses under consideration, I believe that more progress can be consolidated in the near future. I pay tribute to Her Majesty's Government for introducing the Bill. I have every confidence that they will address the points that I have raised, in particular in relation to the powers of the ombudsman. I also wish to pay tribute to those political representatives in Northern Ireland who have shown leadership and awareness of the need for change in the context of the shifting political circumstances of the region. Change is never easy, despite being inevitable.

From my experience of my frequent visits to Northern Ireland, where I visit schools, universities and conferences and many of the groups on the ground in Belfast and Derry, I am acutely aware of the growing community level of realisation that effective and inclusive policing can be a "win-win" arrangement for all sections of the divided community. What is required is the confidence and determination to achieve it.

5.44 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal referred to "acts of completion" in relation to Northern Ireland and the Belfast agreement, and quoted the Prime Minister. I am sure that we are all praying that such acts will soon be forthcoming from all the political parties and all organisations associated or connected with them. The notion of completion has an obvious bearing on policing, particularly in the sense of full support for necessary police work and the ending of attempts at unofficial enforcement of social morality.

Acts of completion can be held to have still wider meanings. I suggest that prejudice, fear and hate are signs of incompleteness. The more that those negative emotions can be overcome, the more will minds and hearts be transformed. The walls of sectarian division have to fall, in the same way as the Berlin Wall fell, because those living on either side wanted to come together. Objects need to become subjects and enemies have still to be transformed into friends. Whatever our tradition, we all have to learn that apart from each other we are incomplete.

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I turn now to the Bill itself. I shall not say that it is a mouse of a Bill, but it is certainly a modest affair. The hope is probably widespread that we are not going to be faced with a new or supplementary Northern Ireland police Bill every two years.

On Clauses 6 and 7, will the noble and learned Lord confirm that the Chief Constable is always able to speak confidentially to the chairman and members of the Policing Board? That seems entirely necessary, just as in courts of law it is sometimes necessary to impose restrictions on reporting. The interests of good policing, like the interests of justice, sometimes need protecting by limits on total disclosure. In the same connection, I also query whether targets and performance figures are always able to measure the quality and availability of services provided. That is perhaps an old-fashioned view, but I hope that it sounds a note of caution.

Clause 20 and the schedules make possible the use of designated police support staff. That is an interesting development, as it is clear that those designated will be able to do nearly everything that a full constable can do. Will the noble and learned Lord confirm that that is so and say what length of training is likely to be given to police support staff? How soon does he expect that significant numbers of support staff will be in post?

It is no secret, as other noble Lords have said, that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been severely overstretched recently, particularly in hours of darkness. Police numbers have been limited by the wise requirement to recruit on a 50:50 basis. The Chief Constable himself has commented on the shortage of detectives, who are so necessary to deal with organised crime, extortion and racketeering. For those reasons, I have suggested that the police services of the whole English-speaking world should be asked to second suitable volunteer officers, particularly detectives, for service in Northern Ireland, whether on fixed terms or permanently.

I derive much encouragement from Clause 18, but I query whether three years will be long enough in all cases and whether the restriction in proposed new subsection (3) is really necessary. Incoming police officers of the kind that I have mentioned could be regarded as being neither Protestant nor Catholic, and thus additional to 50:50 recruitment. Will the noble and learned Lord undertake to discuss that idea with his colleagues? I hope that he will not reply that everything will be fine with the help of the new support staff. Most of the new support staff, by definition, will be beginners. What is needed is experience, and keen volunteers from the police services of the English-speaking world could provide that vital quality. Even a small number of such volunteers could supply new ideas and creativity at all levels. I commend the idea to noble Lords and the Government. There must be police officers of Ulster origin currently serving in many countries. They could give a lead to their colleagues to volunteer for a challenging assignment. Will the noble and learned Lord respond to the idea of appealing to the police services of the English-speaking world?

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I welcome anything that can improve public order and inter-communal harmony in Northern Ireland. I expect that we shall make some improvements to the Bill as it passes through its later stages.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I give the Bill a broad welcome. I firmly believe that for the peace process in Northern Ireland to be soundly based, the police service must have the broad consent of all sectors of the community. I welcome this measure and other government measures that are intended to achieve that end. I wish that some critics of the Government's policies were a little more generous at times, given the worthiness and importance of what they are trying to do.

I am a member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. As a member of one of its sub-committees, I was able to visit in Belfast some months ago the first batch of police trainees under the 50:50 basis. I was impressed by the quality of the trainees: their abilities, commitment, enthusiasm and mature attitude towards the task facing them when they graduate from the training scheme. I went away feeling more confident in the future of policing in Northern Ireland than I previously had been.

It is essential to get policing out of party politics. That is not the case at the moment but in the fullness of time we must secure that. It is not right for members of the police service to be political footballs and it does not make for a good relationship between the community and the police when such arguments occur. It is very welcome that the SDLP supports the new arrangements and is on the Policing Board. It is welcome that the Catholic Church, which previously was not happy, is now supportive of the arrangements, as are the Irish Government and the American Government.

The question is: what about Sinn Fein? Does it matter that it is keeping a distance? I very much hope that direct rule will end soon and that devolved government will be restored before the elections in May. It matters that Sinn Fein is keeping a distance, first, because it has members on the executive and representatives in the Assembly. It therefore matters that it should be committed to policing in Northern Ireland and not remain detached from it. Secondly, it matters because it is important not simply that the Catholics of Northern Ireland join the police service but that Catholics from west Belfast and Derry do so as well. Those are crucial areas.

My noble and learned friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that Sinn Fein's view is—I must get the wording right—that it has said that young Catholics are free to join the police although its policy is that it does not want them to. In other words, it is against that, but it has said, "All right, if they want to join, they are free to do so". Perhaps that represents some progress.

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