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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I have not heard such condemnation from Sinn Fein. Any threats to police officers are to be utterly deplored, as are threats to prison officers and others doing their public duty in Northern Ireland. We cannot have a proper peace process when people are making threats or not condemning threats. I am with the noble Viscount in his sentiments.
I welcome Clause 18, as did my noble friend Lady Goudie. The fixed-term appointments will open the way to people having three-year appointments in the police service. The real issue in that regard is that members of the Garda from the Republic could have short-term appointments in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Apart from the considerations of principle, that appears to be a good thing in view of the difficulties in recruitment in terms of overall numbers, which have been referred to. I hope that such secondments can be made quickly.
I turn to the ombudsman. I, too, believe that it is important that the ombudsman should not be a party-political football. My noble and learned friend referred to government amendments. It is desirable that they should be produced; we shall have to wait for the details over the next few days. I shall make three points about the ombudsman. First, my understanding is that under the Bill the ombudsman may investigate current police policy and practice, not past police policy and practice. However, if the policy has continued from the past to the present, that could be investigated because it is still current police policy and practice. I believe that that is right.
Secondly, there is a limitation in that such an investigation can be held if there is significant public concern. That is probably a higher test than that suggested by Patten, who used the phrase, "if it gave rise to difficulties". I prefer the lower test set by Patten, particularly because there may be matters of police policy and practice that would need to be investigated which might not give cause for public concern but which would be known to the ombudsman. The Patten wording is slightly preferable to that in the Bill.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, this debate has illustrated once again the deep divisions in Northern Ireland regarding the police force. Policing in Northern Ireland has always been a contentious issue. The police were seen for many years to be an arm of the Unionist government. As such, they were disliked and hated by the Catholic community. Significant changes have been made in recent years.
We know that the Bill will not have an opposed Second Reading and that amendments may be made in Committee. I, too, feelI am not of the unionist tradition, having fought unionism all my political lifethat Weston Park was unnecessary. The previous Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, piloted through the legislation to bring into being the recommendations of the Patten committee. I believe that he was happy with what he had concluded in bringing that Bill before Parliament. He was vilified and hated by Sinn Fein, by the IRA and by their paramilitaries. Then we heard that we were to go to Weston Park. Considering that Peter Mandelson, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had brought to the statute book the original 2002 Bill, I am not too sure whether, had he now been Secretary of State, he would have agreed to this further instalment of police regulation.
I turn to the subject of the Bill. There are many technical features in it at which no one could take offence. But the main objections that we have heard come from Northern Ireland. We heard them from the noble Lords, Lord Kilclooney and Lord Maginnis, and they express the concerns of their community. But many other people in the Catholic community do not take kindly to the prospect of former murderersparamilitary people who have committed the most heinous offencesbeing allowed to sit on police boards or DPPs in relation to Northern Ireland.
I would also find that very hard to take. As I said, I am not a unionist, but I have carried many victims of paramilitaries to various churchyards throughout Northern Ireland. I would find it very hard to accept if those responsible for such crimes were now sitting on DPPs and giving their opinions on how the police force should be organised and run in Northern Ireland. I would find that very difficult.
My other concernI believe it will remain a concern as long as I liverelates to the attempt to achieve balanced police recruitment as between Catholics and Protestants. How does one do that? Does it say on the application form, "Are you a Catholic?". Does it go further and ask, "Do you go to mass on a Sunday? Are you mixed up in Catholic organisations? Do you believe in divorce or abortion?". How does one define a "Catholic"? It would have been more honest to ask, "Are you a nationalist? Do you believe in the unity of Northern Ireland or do you believe in the present status quo?". The same applies to a Protestant. If a Protestant is a potential recruit, is he asked, "Are you a Protestant?".
I believe that many aspects of the Belfast agreement were well-intentioned. We were told that it would bring about parity of esteem between Catholics and Protestantsthat is, one would no longer feel oppressed and the other would no longer feel superior in any way. But that has been carried a little too far. Under this parity of esteem, this morning I received postcards wishing me a merry Christmas in Chinese, Vietnamese, Ulster Scots, Irish Gaelic and, down at the bottom, English.
Parity of esteem is being carried too far, and exactly the same thing is happening in relation to recruitment. Perhaps we can find out in Committee or perhaps I could ask some of my police friends what questions are asked on the application form. Does it ask: "Are you a Catholic?". Would the answer to that be, "I may have been a Catholic" or "I was born a Catholic but I have lapsed"? If a person was a lapsed Catholic, he would get a junior position in the police.
Therefore, all kinds of difficulties are associated with appointing people because of their religion. I believe I shall have to query this matter until I get an answer. It would have been far more honest to ask, "Are you a nationalist?" or "Are you a unionist?". Such questions also bring problems. If a person answered in the affirmative and said, "Yes, I am a nationalist", that would mean, in effect, "I am against the state of Northern Ireland"; it would mean, "I want to see a united Ireland and I am not happy with the present status quo". If a person is a unionist or a Protestant, that is supposed to indicate that he is happy with the status quo. There again, we have the seeds of discontent and division. We have had that situation in Northern Ireland for many years and I cannot see any reason why it should go away.
One of the most heartening and optimistic things that I heard over the past few months was the speech of the Prime Minister at the Custom House in Belfast when, for the first time, he used the term, "acts of completion". I believe that he was telling the IRA, "Before you get any further concessions, you will have to make it clear to us that you have given up your ways of violence, whether that means giving up all your arms or whether it means saying that the IRA will fade into insignificance".
I considered that speech to be very important. I tried to take whatever measures I could to allay my feelings of optimism and respect for the Prime Minister when he made that speech. I hope that he does not depart from that position. However, there is now a feeling in Northern Ireland that this Bill represents another step towards making further concessions to the IRA. One dangerous issue that would arise here would be if any attempt were made to put convicted murderers or criminals on to a DPP.
There is another aspect to the Bill. There are many hundreds of unsolved murders in Northern Ireland. Many people have not been made accountable for carrying out the most atrocious murders. Therefore, Sinn Fein or the IRA could pick out one of their men who had committed murders but had not been apprehended by the police or convicted before a court and they could appoint him to a DPP. But what would happen if one of those people were appointed to a DPP and it was discovered that he was a member of the DUP and had been involved in murder before becoming a member? I have not heard what would happen in those circumstances.
For all those reasons, the unionists have expressed an unwillingness in relation to the proposals. I want to make to them a suggestion that has already been put forward. I feel as badly as they do about the concerns that I have just mentioned, but I believe that in Committee we may be able to rectify some of the most glaring wrongs in the Bill. HoweverI believe I said this to the previous Secretary of State at a meeting that we had with your Lordshipsit is right that the unionists should warn the Secretary of State that we should not be seen to make concessions in advance of the IRA. The IRA could make some concessions to enable us to bring forward more concessionary legislation.
I believe that we shall have to face the issue of the DPPs and the other, far more dangerous issue of permitting convicted criminals who are on the run in the Republic of Ireland to go back into Northern Ireland without being charged before a court. Those are two major issues. Having said that, I could not do anything other than support the Bill.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, in speaking in support of the Bill, it is clear to me that there are two major elements to it. First, bearing in mind the experience to date of the earlier Act, there is some minor tidying-up to be done and, secondly, there is the need to move further forward in taking account of the Patten report.
My first wonderfully pleasant duty is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on brevity. He was followed by the "usual suspects". I regret the negativity of their comments. I know of the real concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouthin particular in regard to the on-the-runs and the League of Families. But it is important to understand that concessions to some people are rights to others. Reference can be made to the Sinn Fein agenda on the one hand, and to the Patten agenda on the other. It is my view that, until people associated with Sinn Fein are able to sit on a police board, there will not be success in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond mentioned pensions. I believe that we shall have to look more closely at the detail on pensions. If there are to be two sets of accountsI have no objection to thatthose dispensing retirements and making certain that pensions are paid, and possibly paid early,
When the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, spoke, again we had the negativity to which I have referred. His comments on 50:50 recruitment and on the 250/26 numbers surely tell us that we have to go forward. If that is the reality today, it will clearly not do in terms of the future policing of Northern Ireland.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to his experience serving as an independent member of the policing board. He appeared somewhat dissatisfied with the training in the Police Academy of Northern Ireland. The report of the oversight commissioner makes reference to the fact that there are informal contacts between the police service and police training facilities in Ireland, Scotland and England but the PSNI has not yet developed collaboration agreements with those institutions. One answer to the noble Viscount's comments is that training is shared and people benefit from other institutions, not merely the institution to which he referred. My hope is that, now the negative comments have been made, noble Lords can get down to business.
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