§ Order for Second Reading read.4.45 pm
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The aim of the Bill is to make the policing of Northern Ireland more efficient, more effective, more accountable and, as a result, more acceptable, thereby commanding increased confidence across the whole community.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on his first visit to Northern Ireland, on 16 May, shortly after taking office:We want to increase public confidence in policing through measured reform based on the Hayes Report on the complaints system and last year's consultation paper on structural change".That statement set out the Government's stall on the issue of policing within Northern Ireland.
Indeed, in April 1996, when in opposition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with the support of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), published a comprehensive consultative document on the future of policing in Northern Ireland. What we are dealing with today draws heavily on that document. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Government are determined to push forward with the principles and structures laid down in the Bill.
As a Government, we are resolute in seeking to build on the strengths of the Royal Ulster Constabulary by putting in place new mechanisms to increase its efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and acceptability. It had been the Government's intention to proceed with our proposals through the Order in Council procedures. Strong representations were received on that point from political parties, the Police Authority, the Police Federation and others that, given the nature of the measures in the Bill, it would be more appropriate to deal with the matter through a full Bill placed before both Houses of Parliament. As a result of those representations, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agreed that it should be proceeded with in that way, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friends who are responsible for the business management of the House for finding an early slot to introduce the Bill.
The purpose of the Bill is wide ranging and, I believe, vital to the better policing of Northern Ireland. It is an objective to which the Chief Constable, the RUC and the Police Authority constantly aspire. Many changes for the better have been introduced over the years. The Bill takes that process of constructive and developing change a major step forward.
In essence, the Bill has four main strands. First, it clarifies the relative responsibilities of the Chief Constable, of the Police Authority and of the Secretary of State in the governance of policing in Northern Ireland, otherwise known as the tripartite structure. Secondly, it introduces measures to enable the wholly independent investigation of complaints against the police in Northern Ireland by establishing the office of the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
42 Thirdly, the Bill introduces a range of measures intended to make the RUC and the Police Authority more accountable. Fourthly, it consolidates existing Northern Ireland policing legislation, with the exception of police and criminal evidence provisions.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I know that the Minister appreciates that there are concerns in Northern Ireland about policing developments. Has his attention been drawn to the fact that about 15 people awaited the delegation when it arrived back from Downing street on Thursday, and that one suspects that they may not have been other than armed? Is that an extension of the policing that some people would like in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Ingram
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I should not comment on individual cases. If he has evidence of law breaking, he—as a citizen of Northern Ireland—has a responsibility to report it to the RUC. I have taken note of his point and I will take the issue on board.
Before I describe the detail of the Bill's provisions, I should like to pay tribute to the work of those who will be most directly affected by them. I should mention first the officers—the men and women—of the RUC. There is no question but that, over the past 28 years, they have made great sacrifices—including, for some, the ultimate sacrifice of life itself—to safeguard civil society in Northern Ireland from the evils of terrorism. The figures speak for themselves: 301 officers have lost their lives because of terrorist attacks; many thousands more have been injured; and all officers, and their families, have had to live with the constant danger of terrorism.
I know that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary take great pride in the force's record and in the fact that, despite the threat of terrorism, which remains, they continue to commit themselves to providing a community police service for all the people of Northern Ireland. The Bill's proposals will aid them in that task.
As a police service, the RUC faces unique and all too often extremely dangerous circumstances as its officers go about their daily duties. On Saturday, that fact was brought sharply into focus yet again, in Derry. Once again, the RUC was caught in the middle of the need to uphold the right of those who wished to march in recognition of their community traditions and a section of the other community that was determined to deny that right.
In a clearly orchestrated and deliberate attempt to create maximum civil disorder, RUC officers were subjected to a torrent of petrol bombs—totalling more than 1,000. Five RUC officers were injured—thankfully, none of them seriously—as they did their duty, at the risk of their lives, to protect life and property.
The conduct and actions of those who carry out such attacks threaten the very fabric of society and undermine all the good work of those, from both sides of the community, who are working so hard to provide a better future for Derry, for the north-west and for Northern Ireland as a whole. Those who took the actions have no place in a democratic society and should be universally condemned—including by those who claim to uphold the principles of democracy and non-violence as enshrined in the Mitchell principles.
No one should seek to find any excuse for the riotous behaviour that Derry suffered on Saturday night, and those who participated in it should ask themselves 43 the fundamental questions: do they want peace and prosperity for their community, and how do their actions achieve that end?
Peace will not be achieved while there are those intent on creating mayhem and violence against their own community, and prosperity will constantly be restrained by those who resort to riot as their first and only response to what they object to.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Will the Minister—for the benefit of those who do not fully appreciate the basis of the petrol bombing—stress that 1,000 petrol bombs were thrown at the police and say by whom those bombs were thrown? It is important to establish those facts. Will he also agree that to throw 1,000 petrol bombs is not a spontaneous action but one which is preplanned by the enemies of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Ingram
I made similar points in my statement, although I will not dissent entirely from the hon. Gentleman's comments.
It is perhaps worth elaborating slightly on what happened in Derry at the weekend. There are reports of shoppers having to run for their lives as youths ripped up paving stones and threw bricks and missiles at the police. Ball-bearings were fired from catapults with sufficient force to break armoured windscreens, and high-powered lasers were directed at police lines. Lorries and vans were hijacked and driven into Guildhall square, where they were set alight.
A Littlewoods store and a branch of the Northern bank were extensively damaged by fire, and firemen attempting to deal with the fires were attacked. Windows were broken in numerous other premises, some of which were looted. Approximately 12 vehicles were hijacked and set on fire.
Initial reports suggest that the weekend's violence may have cost traders between £1 million and £5 million in damage and lost trade because of shops being closed and lost customers.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
I thank the Minister for that further information on the riots in Londonderry. The nature of the information reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis)—that there was clearly some preplanning and organisation behind the riots. I repeat my hon. Friend's question: has the Minister any indication of the persons or organisation responsible for the preplanning, organisation and direction of the riots? Is it not the case—as we all know that it is—that the riots were organised by Sinn Fein-IRA? The Minister himself referred to the Mitchell principles of non-violence. Are not the actions a clear breach of those principles?
Will the Secretary of State take cognisance of the facts, or will she bury her head further in the sand? Is there any circumstance in which she will recognise the fact that is as plain as a pikestaff to everyone else: there is no genuine acceptance of the Mitchell principles by the persons concerned?
§ Mr. Ingram
I will answer it, but in my way, if the hon. Gentleman will give me time to do so. I am sure 44 that he will fully understand that—although it is easy to allege—culpability must be proven under the rule of law. Initially, it is for the Chief Constable and the RUC to establish the facts of the matter. I have stated the major extent of the problem and talked about an orchestrated set of actions, based on the initial information that I have received. I am not yet in a position to attach blame or to take action.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) appreciates my point about the need for proper investigation of the incident. He will also know that, after Saturday's events, some people have been charged and have appeared in court. It is a matter to be handled according to due process of law, and that is how it should remain.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
I have a very simple question. This morning, the chairman of the Bogside community association was on the BBC and said that that riot could have been organised in five minutes. Does the Minister believe that?
§ Mr. Ingram
I have never organised a riot, so I do not know. The hon. Gentleman may have given some advice on it, but I have never done so. I do not know whether it takes five minutes or five hours. However, I have been very clear in the statements that I have given.
§ Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)
Does the Minister agree that both this Government and the previous Government have consistently said that Sinn Fein and the IRA were two sides of the same coin? Is it not significant that one Sinn Fein member who was entertained last week at No. 10 Downing street was prominent in Londonderry on the day of the riots and—judging from photographs taken of him—approved of what was going on? Is the Minister aware that senior police officers in Londonderry have unequivocally attributed organisation of the riots to the IRA?
§ Mr. Ingram
I have pointed out the facts of the matter. I said that it was easy to make allegations, but that allegations have to be proved in a court of law. I am sure that, as an eminent Queen's counsel, the hon. and learned Gentleman is only too well aware of that. It is a matter for those who investigate such incidents and apply the law; it is not directed by politicians or, indeed, by Ministers.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
I have been a regular visitor to the city of Derry. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) thinks that I am on the electoral register there. Over the years, I have noticed how the citizens have rebuilt that beautiful city where there is now a burgeoning of civic pride. The city has attracted inward investment and tourism from around the world. I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that the incident that took place at the weekend was shocking and disgraceful, and that it does no good whatsoever for the citizens' attempts to promote that marvellous city.
§ Mr. Ingram
My hon. Friend makes a very strong point with which I agree whole-heartedly. I have visited Derry several times—at least once, I think, with him. I have worked closely with city councillors, officials and others to try to stimulate economic regeneration in what 45 is undoubtedly a difficult area in Northern Ireland because of its relative remoteness from the centre. I have no doubt that the work of those who seek to create economic opportunities there will have been damaged by the events of the weekend. That is why I thought it important to set forth the Government's views on those events and why I said that peace and prosperity go hand in hand and will undoubtedly have been damaged by what happened.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
I agree with the Minister that the violence that took place at the weekend was absolutely appalling. It cannot be excused in any way, and I cannot imagine circumstances in which it could be excused. Does he agree that there is something that we can prove, which is that many people in Derry, including my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), Church leaders, business leaders and civic leaders, tried their best to prevent the events of the weekend? The majority of people of the city did not want them to happen, and most would agree with my condemnation of the violence.
§ Mr. Ingram
I whole-heartedly agree with those sentiments and welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution. He speaks for the greater part of public opinion in Derry and the wider area of the north-west of the Province.
I was paying tribute to the RUC. I also pay tribute to the members and staff of the Police Authority as they, too, have operated under the shadow of threat and attack. The Government and the community in Northern Ireland are indebted to them as well.
The proposals in the Bill will enhance the role of the authority in representing the community and holding the Chief Constable to account by refocusing and redefining the role of the authority. I know that those who serve on the authority will rise to the new challenges and actively participate in the reworking of the relationships between the authority, the community, the Government and the police service.
§ Mr. Trimble
The Minister is paying tribute to the members of the Police Authority, but will he give us some more information about the extent to which the authority has been consulted on the Bill? Is it not the case that the authority is strongly opposed to it? Is it not also the case that, since 1 May, it has repeatedly sought meetings with the Secretary of State in order to express its opposition, but that the Secretary of State has refused such meetings?
§ Mr. Ingram
That is not at all accurate. There have been a number of meetings at various levels. I met the chairman and senior members of the authority, and officials have met the authority's representatives several times. Over the summer, while the legislation was being developed, we repeatedly offered to provide the authority with senior officials to explain it, but our offers were not initially accepted. However, I think that we have now set out a detailed approach.
I want to touch on some of the ways in which the authority will be engaged in the process. As for the authority's whole-hearted or fundamental opposition—I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman's exact words— I am not aware of it. We are still engaged in discussion 46 and consultation with the authority to take forward the principles of the Bill, and I shall comment on that in detail a little later.
§ Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the Police Authority is a genuinely representative civic body, or does he plan to modify it in some way?
§ Mr. Ingram
I shall come on to that a little later. 1 shall want to comment specifically on the structure of the Police Authority and our proposals for it.
I was paying tribute to the RUC and the Police Authority. I also want to mention the past and present members of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, who have played an important part in the accountability framework for the police, again in difficult circumstances. The Bill is intended to enhance that framework, both through proposals to reform the tripartite structure governing policing in Northern Ireland and through the reform of the police complaints system, with the creation of an independent police ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
It is intended that the existing staff of the commission will form the core of the ombudsman's office. I know that the current members of the commission will continue to perform their function professionally until the ombudsman's office is created, and I thank them publicly for that.
I now touch briefly on the political process. The present talks represent a real chance for peace for everyone in Northern Ireland. As hon. Members will know, the talks are taking place on an open agenda. Many important issues, including policing, are being or will be discussed there. That is as it should be.
The proposals in the Bill are not designed to preclude discussion of policing in the talks. Indeed, the Government have given an undertaking that any agreement reached in talks on the issues covered in the Bill will be taken on board during the passage of the Bill, if that is practicable. If not, they will be implemented at a later stage. In the meantime, we think that the real benefits that these proposals will bring to the people of Northern Ireland should be delivered as soon as possible. The provisions lay down a new foundation for policing in Northern Ireland. They offer great opportunities, and do not pose a threat to anyone.
Let me turn to the detail of the proposals. The Bill introduces to Northern Ireland police planning and objective setting mechanisms, similar to those that already operate in England and Wales. They will allow the Secretary of State and the Police Authority to set the priorities for policing in Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable will then be required to produce a plan, showing how he will police Northern Ireland in the light of those priorities.
That plan will be approved and published by the Police Authority before the beginning of the financial year. Within four months of the end of the year for which the plan was written, the Police Authority will provide a public assessment in its annual report of the Chief Constable's performance in carrying out the plan. The police planning and objective setting provisions have already been brought into effect in Northern Ireland, on a non-statutory basis.
47 My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced her objectives for policing for 1998–99 on 25 November, and the Police Authority is to announce its objectives soon. The priorities that my right hon. Friend has set for the police are security, public order, burglary, violent crime, traffic and drugs.
Those are all important matters, which the police must tackle efficiently and effectively if we are to secure our goal of making life better for everyone in Northern Ireland by reducing the disruption, distress and fear brought to the lives of ordinary people every day by criminals pursuing their nefarious activities.
The Government fully recognise the importance of protecting the operational independence of the police, as the safeguard for police impartiality and freedom from partisan political control. We recognise the key role of the Police Authority, as envisaged in the Hunt report, in securing that. The Bill follows the well-established precedent of the tripartite structure developed in England and Wales.
The Police Authority will receive the funds for policing from the Secretary of State and set the budget on foot of the policing plan.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Does the Bill not give more power to the Secretary of State? Anyone who knows anything about policing in Northern Ireland realises that it makes radical changes. Are the Government trying to give the Secretary of State the same control over the police as the Minister of Justice in the Irish republic has?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It is no use the Minister shaking his head. The people of Northern Ireland know about policing. Everybody knows that the Police Authority is not in favour of the changes. It is amazing that the Minister has not got that message.
§ Mr. Ingram
The hon. Gentleman's assessment of the Bill is wrong. It does not give the Secretary of State equivalent powers to those exercised by the Department of Justice in the Republic of Ireland, which is his main charge. I have explained that we are in close consultation with the Police Authority. I understand that there was an emergency meeting of the Police Authority last week to discuss some of the matters that I had asked it to consider. I am awaiting its response on an implementation plan. The allegation that the Police Authority is wholly opposed to the proposals is not borne out by the events. Our discussions are proceeding.
The Police Authority will delegate to the Chief Constable, who is empowered to act on its behalf, management responsibility for all the resources needed to deliver the policing service. That includes those civilian staff who work in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, so bringing together into one unitary service—to be called the Northern Ireland police service—all those, both constables and civilians, working to provide the policing service.
We have introduced the new title to reflect the overall service being provided. However, the title of the Royal Ulster Constabulary will remain. The Government have no plans to dispense with that title.
48 The Police Authority will have overall responsibility for the police grant and will hold the Chief Constable to account for the delivery of the policing service and for his utilisation of resources. Those proposals will bring policing arrangements in Northern Ireland into line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom, with clearly defined and logically structured responsibilities and lines of accountability.
The creation of the office of police ombudsman is another important feature of the Bill. Before I get into the detail, I am sure that hon. Members would like to join me in paying tribute to Dr. Maurice Hayes for his independent report, presented to the previous Administration in January this year. He produced an excellent study of police complaints, and I believe that our proposals do justice to his recommendations.
I shall refer to two key points in that report. It said:The overwhelming message I got from nearly all sides and from all political parties was the need for the investigation to be independent and to be seen to be independent. While there were systemic failings in the present arrangements they lacked credibility because of lack of independence, because it was the Chief Constable who decided what was a complaint, because there was no power of initiative, and because the complaints were investigated by police officers.The other key point is that while public confidence is paramount, it should not be gained at the expense of police confidence. The police must accept and support the new system if it is to work effectively. I believe that our proposals will enjoy the confidence of the police and the community.
As well as establishing the office of ombudsman, the Bill provides for an independent figure—the ombudsman himself—who will be appointed by royal warrant. He or she will have control of the process, deciding what a complaint is, how it is to be investigated and by whom. Investigation will, as now, be required by statute in certain categories of case. The ombudsman can also call himself or herself in, meeting a long-standing recommendation of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints.
I have already suggested that some within the current ICPC staff will be well able to fill the posts, but I expect there to be direct recruits as well, selected by the ombudsman. In addition, initially at least, there will be a small number of temporary service police officers drawn from forces across the United Kingdom. They will be selected by the ombudsman and will be under his or her direction and control.
Those are new arrangements for Northern Ireland— indeed, for the United Kingdom—but they are not unprecedented. They are the result of painstaking research in many jurisdictions, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The establishment of the office of independent ombudsman provides a guarantee to the public that in cases involving alleged police misconduct, justice will not only be done but be seen to be done. It is also a guarantee to the vast majority of dedicated, hard-working police officers, who maintain the highest standards of personal integrity, that their work with the community cannot be undone by malicious allegations and innuendo. They will have the advantage of being examined not by the police but by the independent ombudsman.
49 The work required to translate the provisions into practical arrangements is on-going. Steering and working groups involving the police, the ICPC and police staff bodies are being set up. That is an open approach. It is how it should be.
To show the Government's commitment, we have already been looking at transitional arrangements to smooth the implementation of the proposals. We have, for example, made the chairman of the ICPC a full-time post and have allocated money, in a tight financial climate, to begin the work required on computerisation for the new office.
The proposals on the ombudsman have received support from nearly all political parties, the Chief Constable, the chairman of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints and police staff associations in Northern Ireland. I hope that that support will be reflected today when the House votes on the Bill.
The Bill also changes the declaration of office made by RUC constables to a form broadly similar to that used to affirm constables in office in Scotland. That is in line with a series of other changes in recent years to oaths or declarations of office throughout the criminal justice system in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland. Outdated and overly complex language has been eliminated and new, clear, simple wording used. The new declaration states:I hereby do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Constable.That is clear, simple wording.
The role of the police, in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom, is not to uphold one political view over another. It is impartially and effectively to protect life and property, to preserve order, to prevent crime, and to bring offenders to justice. That is what the declaration of office commits RUC officers to. They are also aims that all right-thinking people ascribe to. In the fulness of time, I am sure that more and more from the nationalist community will wish to join the RUC, to the benefit of the whole community.
The Bill also gives the Secretary of State the power to issue codes of practice to the Police Authority relating to the discharge of its functions. The purpose of that power is to enable the Secretary of State to ensure that the authority follows best practice on openness, community consultation and financial oversight.
§ Mr. Robert McCartney
Does the Minister really believe that the form of oath that a constable takes has any bearing on whether members of the minority community in Northern Ireland join the police force? Will he accept that there is such low recruitment from the minority community because its members are murdered, maimed and ostracised, and find it impossible to live in the communities where they grew up?
§ Mr. Ingram
There is no question but that they do suffer that type of harassment and victimisation, and that poses a great deterrent to joining the RUC. Through the talks process, we are trying to normalise Northern Ireland society. To do that, we have to lay down a framework on which to build for the future, instead of continually dwelling on concepts and structures that relate solely to the past. The hon. and learned Gentleman should think more about the future and worry less about the past; he should help us to build structures for that future.
50 The Secretary of State's transferred power to issue codes of practice will enable her to ensure that the authority follows best practice as regards openness, community consultation and financial oversight. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State power to issue guidance to the police in Northern Ireland, to enable her to issue circulars detailing best practice to the RUC, just as the Home Secretary issues such circulars to police forces in England and Wales. That will make relationships between the Secretary of State and the Police Authority and the RUC more tangible and transparent.
One of the main underlying purposes of the Bill is to improve links between the police and local communities. As part of that, the Government want to ensure that district councils in Northern Ireland are better informed about policing arrangements there. The Bill therefore makes provision for district councils to ask questions of the Police Authority, and requires the authority to send one or more members to a meeting of the district council to answer such questions, provided suitable notice is given. I am sure that that important step will be welcomed by all who serve on district councils and by the wider community.
I should also like to mention one other major piece of related work arising from our 1996 paper. We hope to publish shortly after Christmas a consultation document seeking views on the method and appointment of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland and on ways of developing links between the police and the community. 1 believe that that deals with the point about our wish that everyone should participate in the consultation process.
I call on the House to support the Government in introducing these reforms; they will help to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland continue to receive the highest standards of policing service. The reforms are sensible, moderate and timely measures which will enable the police service in Northern Ireland to evolve to face whatever challenges the future holds, while developing partnership with the whole community. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)
The House will be grateful to the Minister of State for sparing the time to give us more information about the disturbances in Londonderry during the past few days. I also entirely endorse what the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) had to say, although I must tell him gently that it was in marked contrast to the comments made by one of his political colleagues. In the heat of the moment on the streets of Londonderry—
§ Mr. Mallon
I am not sure to which of my colleagues the hon. Gentleman is referring. The difficulty lies in a refusal to accept that there may be two groups of people who did not do what was right. If I am lucky enough to catch the Chair's eye, I shall have things to say about policing with which the hon. Gentleman will not agree. Criticising the police is one thing; it should never be misinterpreted as supporting the acts of violence perpetrated in Derry. That distinction must always be clear, and I make it on behalf of whichever colleague the hon. Gentleman was referring to.
§ Mr. MacKay
I am grateful for the distinction. I was referring to Mark Durkan, who, in the heat of the moment, 51 did not draw that distinction. On radio news bulletins that day, he said that it was the Royal Ulster Constabulary that was causing the violence—which was regrettable. I am glad that the matter has been cleared up, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will refer further to it in his own speech.
I also strongly believe that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) was right to point out the damage caused to a beautiful city that was hugely restored and reinvigorated—I do not make a party political point— during our 18 years in government. I hope that that will be kept up by this Government. As the Minister said, there is a real need to help Londonderry, because its location and economic circumstances do not make things easy.
The violence, however, was clearly premeditated. I do not expect the Minister to comment, but press reports emanating from the security forces, and seemingly accurate, state that Sinn Fein-IRA were behind these actions. That is deeply regrettable, not least because the violence came straight after their leaders had accepted the Prime Minister's invitation to Downing street—an invitation that we thought was decidedly premature. I regret to say that what has happened confirms that Sinn Fein-IRA have not signed up to the democratic process; they have certainly not condemned violence.
No debate on the structure or role of the police service in Northern Ireland can begin without the strongest possible tribute to the men and women of the RUC and the RUC Reserve. I hope that that tribute has the unanimous backing of Members of all parties, including those from Northern Ireland. Throughout 27 years of sustained, wicked and vicious terrorist campaigns, it is the RUC that has for the most part stood in the front line. The RUC has borne the brunt and has often had to pay the ultimate price.
It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the statistics. Since the troubles began in 1969, 199 RUC and 102 RUC Reserve officers have been killed as a result of terrorist violence; and 8,326 have been seriously injured or maimed. Those appalling numbers serve to highlight the dangers that the police have faced—dangers that cannot be compared with those facing any other force in the UK. The main perpetrators of these foul deeds have been the IRA, whose political apologists are now represented at the Stormont talks. For all their posturing outside Downing street last Thursday, and all their talk of signing up to the principles of democracy and nonviolence, it speaks volumes about these men that they have never uttered a word of apology to the victims of these murderous deeds. But we do not forget.
The RUC has also suffered at the hands of loyalists. Those who over the years have cast doubt on the impartiality of the RUC should remember the intimidation and violence directed at many of its officers after the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. They should also remember the splendid way in which the force, under so much pressure from parts of the Unionist community, stood firm and held together.
The only crime committed by the men and women of the RUC—in the eyes of their opponents—is that they have been carrying out their duties to serve the entire community. They have upheld the rule of law in Northern Ireland and defended all its people—Unionist and 52 nationalist—against terrorism. They have defended democracy and freedom and ensured that the constitution of Northern Ireland will ultimately be determined by the people of Northern Ireland and not by the gunman. Let us be clear that it will never be decided by violence or the real or implied threat of violence.
§ Mr. Godman
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his characteristic courtesy. Is he saying that if he were lucky enough to be a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, he would not sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of Sinn Fein?
§ Mr. MacKay
No. The hon. Gentleman, who takes an assiduous interest in our Northern Ireland debates, was in his place last Thursday when, in response to the Minister, I made it clear that we would be talking to Sinn Fein-IRA at ministerial and civil service levels at appropriate times and that we supported the talks that are talking place at Stormont, and that include Sinn Fein-IRA. I repeat what I said earlier: it is unfortunate that one of the parties at the talks still condones violence and does not seem to have properly signed up to the democratic process. However, that does not imply that I do not think that the talks should be continuing.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his condemnation of violence which is shared by every Labour Member. We have maintained that position for the past 27 years, without any departure or deviation from that stance. Although I understand—but certainly do not share—the hon. Gentleman's criticism of what happened last week, does he accept, nevertheless, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did what he did because he believed it to be in the national interest and not because he had any sympathy with Sinn Fein-IRA? Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister believed that what he did was in the national interest, bearing in mind the talks that are taking place in Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?
§ Mr. MacKay
I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman. First, I entirely believe that every Opposition Member renounces violence, and that is part of the strength of this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman alludes to my public disagreement with the Prime Minister over the invitation of Sinn Fein-IRA leaders to Downing street. That is a matter of judgment. I believe that the Prime Minister's judgment is wrong and I have said so to him privately, but equally I agree that he is acting with the sincerest of motives. I hope that that completely satisfies the hon. Gentleman.
As I was saying, the outcome of any talks will never be decided by violence or the real or implied threat of violence. There can be no concession on that fundamental principle.
The RUC has displayed not only incredible bravery in the face of terrorism, but the highest standards of dedication and professionalism. The Opposition do not recognise the bitter, twisted and distorted picture of the RUC that has been painted by the propagandists of Sinn Fein-IRA and their fellow travellers. Slogans about the RUC being unacceptable in nationalist areas will be vehemently rejected by the Opposition, as will the calls that will inevitably be repeated inside and outside the talks, as the 53 debate moves on, for the RUC to be disbanded. To be replaced by what, I ask—by the vigilante gangsters and that which passes for IRA justice, by thugs with baseball bats, nails and guns and by the IRA as judge, jury and executioner within the nationalist community?
While of course there is a debate to be had about the nature of policing in Northern Ireland, let us at least be clear that the RUC is the only legitimate police force in Northern Ireland, that it will remain the legitimate police force for Northern Ireland and that there can be no such thing as no-go areas for the RUC.
The reality, unbearable as it is for the terrorists, is that the RUC has been one of the central elements that has stood between the rule of law and the descent into anarchy and chaos—a real force for stability in Northern Ireland. Let us not underestimate the difficulties of policing a divided society. The Minister referred to that today in introducing the Bill, to which I now turn.
The most obvious manifestation of the community divide is the imbalance in the composition of the force between those from a Unionist or Protestant background and those from a Roman Catholic or nationalist background. As the House will acknowledge, there are no easy answers to the problem.
Since the creation of the RUC out of the remnants of the old Royal Irish Constabulary in 1922, Roman Catholics have been under-represented on the force, despite the fact that initially a third of the places were reserved for them. The historical reasons for that are well documented and it is fruitless to dwell on them for too long.
Today, the main obstacle for many is not necessarily the nature of the force, but the fear of intimidation from within the communities in which they live. That view is reinforced by the Police Authority in its document, "Listening to the Community—Working with the RUC", which states:Fear of being attacked or ostracised from within their own community is undoubtedly a major factor but it may also be that Catholics feel they have to submerge their cultural and religious background to fit within the RUC.One of the most encouraging and interesting facts about the period before the previous IRA ceasefire is that applications to join the RUC from Catholics doubled from about 11 per cent. to 22 per cent. I gather that the figure is currently around 17 per cent. Surely that demonstrates that the establishment of political stability will do more than any institutional reform to attract more applicants from the nationalist community.
§ Mr. Mallon
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I note the point that he has made. I should like to ask him to clarify one thing. The figures are that in 1923, 21 per cent. of RUC officers were Catholics; in 1929, 19 per cent. were Catholics; in 1969, 11 per cent. were Catholics; and in 1997, 8 per cent. are Catholics. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is more to the problem of the non-identification of the Catholic community with policing than the physical threat that undoubtedly comes from the IRA and that there is a deeper dimension to it, which we must address if we are to solve the problem?
§ Mr. MacKay
Yes, of course I do. I hope that I have already been doing that. It is precisely why we are here tonight discussing the legislation, so there is no disagreement between us on that point.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is it not a fact that although Roman Catholics are under-represented in the RUC, they are better represented among the officer ranks?
§ Mr. MacKay
That is my understanding. If the hon. Gentleman and I are mistaken, I know that the Minister will correct us.
The Police Authority report, to which I have been referring, considers a number of possible measures that might help to create what it describes as a neutral working environment. Those are rightly excluded from the scope of the Bill, except in one respect: the proposed change to the so-called RUC oath.
I agreed with the words of the Secretary of State in her press release of 4 December that accompanied the publication and First Reading of the Bill. She said:Unfortunately much of the debate on this issue is focused on names and symbols. These are significant matters, but we believe now is the time to concentrate on reforming the future structure and style of policing.If that is her view, why does she feel it necessary to bring forward at this delicate stage in the political talks such root-and-branch reform of the oath of office that is taken by police officers on their appointment?
I shall be clear so that there is no misunderstanding. The Opposition do not necessarily oppose the move to the Scottish declaration. We are satisfied that the Chief Constable, the Police Authority and the Police Federation have all been consulted and are content with—or, it would be better to say, can live with—the proposed change. If the change leads to more Catholic applicants, we shall of course welcome it.
We also understand the potency of symbols in Northern Ireland. Change in that area should be approached carefully and very cautiously. Many people in Northern Ireland are rightly concerned about the future of the police force. They think that changing the oath is simply the thin end of the wedge, leading to full-scale reform of every element of the RUC with which they currently identify. I ask the Government to give an assurance to the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no attempt radically to overhaul the RUC without the widest possible consultation and full-hearted consent of all representative bodies of the RUC; that the future of the police, while not excluded from the talks, will not become a bargaining chip in those talks.
We broadly agree with the policy of promoting respect for the two traditions, which the Government inherited, but it must never become, or be seen to have become, a policy of making concessions to one side of the community without parallel assurances and guarantees to the other. We trust that the Government and Ministers will continue to remember that.
We have no objection to the broad thrust and the main substance of the Government's proposals. It was, after all, the Conservative party that identified in the previous Parliament the need to reform the tripartite relationship between the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the Police Authority. The Bill builds sensibly on the foundations that we laid and implements a number of 55 changes—most notably, the establishment of a police ombudsman—which were recommended by Dr. Maurice Hayes in his review of the police complaints system in Northern Ireland. I share the Minister's commendation of Dr. Hayes's work.
For all the reasons that I have given, the Opposition intend to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading. If we may, we shall return to some of the detail in Committee.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
In addressing this problem, as we all must, I recognise the difficulties inherent in it for someone such as me. I want to make my position clear: I believe that there is a fundamental problem of policing in the north of Ireland that has existed since the formation of the state and has never been fundamentally addressed. Until it is, the problem will remain, not go away. Sooner or later, we must deal with it.
That was not an attack on, or a criticism of, the police. I have enough grounds sometimes to make attacks on certain police officers and their behaviour without making them part of a political debate, which I hope I do not do. I want to focus initially on what I believe is the core issue. It can be put in many ways. The hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) has identified the core of the problem: the inability—the refusal, as it were—of a broad nationalist community in the north of Ireland to give its support and allegiance to a system of policing in Northern Ireland.
Such an inability or refusal has existed since the very foundation of the state. It cannot be solved by simplifying the issue by getting Catholics into the police service. It is much broader, deeper and more fundamental than that. It is about nationalist identification with the process of policing and allegiance not just to the police as one part of the instrument of administration but to the administration that is partly responsible for administering policing.
That is the core of the problem and that is why I believe it is central to the negotiations that are taking place. A policing service that operates on the basis of consensus, which commands the support and allegiance of all sectors of the community, is one of the hallmarks of a properly functioning civil society. It is essential, then, that the negotiations address not only how we govern ourselves, with the consent of all sectors, but how we police our society, enforce its laws, protect the individual and maintain community stability.
I do not believe that we have any choice but to reassess from the very first principles the policing requirements of a divided society that is enjoying the beginnings of peace. We must fundamentally reappraise how we deliver a policing service, its ethos, structures, accountability, control and the legal framework in which it operates. I believe more and more that the policing problem cannot be solved in isolation from the political process; policing and political problems in the north of Ireland are interlocked and entwined. I am quite sure that we cannot solve one if we fail to solve the other. If we do not solve either, the problem is beyond resolution.
It is only through political discussion, negotiation and dialogue that we will agree a system of policing that commands the support, involvement and allegiance of all 56 the people of the north of Ireland. Whatever edict, whatever Bill, whatever is handed down from this Parliament, whatever the composition of the Government, that fundamental reality is one with which we must all deal. It is the most difficult one because there are no cop-outs, no things that can be left out if we do not like them, no ways in which we can sidestep it. It is the fundamental question that must be asked—and sooner rather than later.
I want no ambiguity about my position on this issue. My position is very clear. When I talk about nationalist support for policing, I am not talking about a verbal presentation. I am talking about people in nationalist areas joining the police service, defending it, being part of it and creating an ethos of support for policing in the communities in which they serve. That has not happened in the lifetime of the state of the north of Ireland. That is why, when we try to change fundamentally the nature of the way in which the north of Ireland operates—call it a new dispensation, or whatever—at its core are changes in attitudes to policing that inherently demand changes in policing itself.
That process will ask questions of the nationalist community, because it will have to make the quantum leap between being outside the whole ethos of policing and being part of the creation of the new dispensation for the administration of the north of Ireland. It will also ask a positive question of the Unionist community. The deep emotional bond that it feels for a police service that it sees as its own must change, because it is not that community's police service. No section of the community, in any healthy society, can regard policing as its own. That attitude must change because it must accommodate a police service that is part of the entire community. That historic and symbolic legacy, which has wedded policing almost exclusively to a Unionist perception, must give way to a new ethos that the entire community can identify with and share in. That is the real nature of the policing problem and shows how fundamental it is. That is why I am disappointed in the Bill. I shall give my reasons in more detail later.
The problem is much deeper than anything covered by the Bill. It is a deep-seated political problem that goes to the heart of the political entity that is the north of Ireland. Consequently, a wider and deeper responsibility transcends operational or administrative matters and places the problem of policing as a central, legitimate and compelling part of the political debate, the political process and the political negotiations that are currently taking place.
I was disappointed when the hon. Member for Bracknell tilted at windmills when he mentioned the disbandment of the RUC. I know of no one in the House who has advocated that. It will not happen and I have never advocated it. I have advocated fundamental change at the heart of policing that will allow the police service, in its political dimension, to start to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Therefore, I examined the Bill for signposts that the involvement and allegiance of the whole community will be catered for. Such signposts are difficult to find, but perhaps it is not that sort of Bill and the Minister's answer would be that the Bill did not set out to do that.
I also examined the Bill for signs that it met the requirements that must be met if we are successfully to police a divided society. The Bill will, to give it credit, partially do that. Does the Bill point to the changes in the 57 ethos, composition and identity of policing that must be made? Yes, one could say that it contains a small element of those changes. Does it include the all-encompassing respect for human rights and community awareness that will be essential? Those factors are scarce in the Bill, although those that are present have heavy implications.
I regret that the Bill has been introduced at this stage; I would have preferred the talks process to have developed further before its introduction. Unfortunately, the Bill is a statement of the limitations of change rather than a clear indicator of a vision and willingness to pursue the meaningful change that will be required. I may be being unfair to the Bill—doubtless the Minister will claim that the Bill was not intended to achieve that—but at this stage of our history and the negotiations, the Government should have gone out of their way to include those signposts in the Bill.
I welcome the change in the affirmation or oath, although I do not believe that it will make any fundamental difference to the problem. In that, I agree with the hon. Member for Bracknell. The change in the oath is welcome because it clearly defines the role of the police and it does away with a symbol. Symbols are important. In her statement when the Bill was published, the Secretary of State referred to symbols and name changes. The Bill will make a few symbolic changes and a few name changes. The change in the oath is one of the signposts that are needed.
The addition of Northern Ireland police service to the name of the RUC in the definition of the Police Authority in the Bill is cosmetic and devoid of substance. It is a contrived distinction between a police force, as defined, and a police service, as defined. It will satisfy no one and serves to embarrass, because it achieves only a curious balance that is not part of the debate. It is two names welded together in the hope that the two will stick, but they will not stick because the fundamental issue has not been addressed.
I welcome the appointment of a police ombudsman, because it will be an opportunity to improve the quality of management of police complaints and to enhance public confidence in the police and the handling of complaints. That is crucial and I commend the report and recommendations of Dr. Maurice Hayes on the subject, but is it too grudging to suggest to the Minister that the potential of the ombudsman is in danger of being squandered by aspects of the Bill as at present drafted?
In paragraph 11.2, the Hayes report made clear its fundamental position on police complaints when it stated:The overriding requirement which was impressed on me from all sides… was independence, independence, independence.That must be the measure by which we judge the Bill and I question whether it has got the tenure of office of the ombudsman right. The appointment of an ombudsman should not be determined by and dependent on whichever Secretary of State is in charge at any given time. It should be above and beyond that. The period of the ombudsman's appointment should not require, as the Bill demands, the sanction of a Secretary of State, because independence will be crucial. It is not any old run-of-the-mill appointment to some board or trust. The police ombudsman, whoever he or she may be, will have to step on some powerful toes, be they policing toes, administrative toes or political toes. That person will need the strength given by security of tenure to do that. I ask the Minister to go back to the Hayes report and read what Dr. Hayes recommended in paragraph 11.10— 58the full-time commitment of a single person with perhaps a couple of deputies.The report continued:Full-time membership too for all members would improve staff management and morale and would make it easier to manage the work load.In paragraph 11.17, the report says that the post should be a full-time one,removable only by a process of impeachment.To have the independence that is required, the ombudsman should not be dependent for tenure of office on the position and the decision of a Secretary of State. There are ways around the problem which will be probed in Committee, but it is crucial to make that point at this stage.
§ Mr. Trimble
I am interested in the serious point that the hon. Gentleman is making; it is one to which we would not be unsympathetic. However, making the ombudsman completely secure in his position—similar to a High Court judge—is not necessarily the best way to proceed. I quote, as an example, the chief electoral commissioner to show the disadvantages of making people irremovable. I take the point that it may be undesirable for the Secretary of State to have the power of dismissal in the event of someone not acting efficiently or effectively, but might it be possible to find another procedure—including a representative police authority— as the basis from which to proceed?
§ Mr. Mallon
I note the skill with which the hon. Gentleman makes his point, which was not the point I was making. I take the reference to having someone in a position who is not adequate for it when there is no power of removal. Surely we must return to the Hayes report's comment on impeachment and rely on that.
The second area of the Bill that falls short of the objective of independence is the implicit suggestion that the ombudsman's office will investigate only some of the complaints against the police, with the rest—possibly the greater number—being investigated by the police themselves, as is currently the case.
§ Mr. Robert McCartney
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the thrust of the Bill on this point seems to be that the case will be dealt with informally if the complainant agrees? If the complainant does not agree, it would appear that the matter will be dealt with by the ombudsman.
§ Mr. Mallon
That is correct in terms of a complaint that is to be dealt with informally, but it is not correct in relation to the second category of complaint. The first category is mandatory on the ombudsman—the second is not. The third category is where the complainant's view is sovereign. I believe that it should be sovereign in other cases and it is for that reason I am making my point.
If police complaints are not leased from the ombudsman, how will the ombudsman's office be able to function on a budget of £2 million when at present it is £7 million? That must be answered. The answer is that it can function only if complaints are leased out and dealt with by a police complaints bureau, rather than by an independent body. Will the Minister state how the new body—which will have set-up expenses—will do a better job than the Independent Commission for Police 59 Complaints on a budget that is £5 million less than the current budget, other than by farming out cases to the police themselves to investigate?
The third basic flaw—probably the most basic flaw in the Bill—is in schedule 3. Paragraph 5(1) requires the ombudsman to appoint members of the police to carry out investigations into complaints against the police. It is not a matter of he might or he could, but that he shallenter into arrangements for members of the police force to be engaged for a period of temporary service with the Ombudsman.That is a long way from paragraph 13.67 of the Hayes report, which states:RUC officers could be involved, whether as direct recruits or on secondment, at the discretion of the Ombudsman.That is not in the Bill, which requires the ombudsman to appoint members of the RUC. The Hayes report continues thatthe Ombudsman should select and recruit the officers.However, where the ombudsman does not agree with the Chief Constable on that, lo and behold, who does the Bill propose should have the responsibility? The Secretary of State.
The ombudsman is replacing the ICPC—the current body—which was criticised for not being sufficiently independent although, by statute, serving or former police officers were prohibited from its membership. That is a fundamental flaw. Have we not got to a stage in terms of the policing of Northern Ireland—with all of its problems—where we can have total independence, at least in terms of police complaints, without intrusion and without dilution of the most fundamental proposal?
How can the proposal be reconciled with the principle of independence, or with public confidence? One wonders how it can be reconciled with the principles of fair employment and equal opportunities, particularly given the present composition of the organisation from which seconded police officers will be drawn.
§ Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)
The hon. Gentleman is making rather heavy weather of this point. Clause 57 allows the ombudsman to appoint a police officer and gives the ombudsman the power to supervise any investigation that is carried out. It also allows members of police forces from Great Britain—and not Northern Ireland—to undertake investigations. I am very much enjoying his speech, but the hon. Gentleman appears partly to be saying that he does not have confidence in the ombudsman to make such arrangements and undertake effective supervision.
§ Mr. Mallon
On the contrary, I could express confidence in the ombudsman. If the ombudsman saw fit, in certain circumstances, to appoint members of the RUC, I would accept it. If the ombudsman saw fit to appoint police officers from England, Scotland or Wales—or from the Europe, or the Republic of Ireland—I would accept that. I do not accept that the Bill should determine for the ombudsman that he appoint members of the RUC. He should have the option, as presented in the Hayes report, but it is made mandatory in the Bill.
The Bill raises other factors, some of which relate to experience. I accept that a serving police officer would have an entree into the police service that others may not 60 have, but is it the type of entree that one would wish? Does he have the type of training that one would wish? When one looks at the vast amount of investigative skills that are employed in social services, agriculture and every other civil Department, one wonders why those skills cannot be sought and that training cannot be applied in relation to the Bill.
It will be argued that RUC officers would bring an understanding of police culture and procedure, which of course they would, but that is not the most convincing of arguments. Police culture has many flaws, not least the lack of awareness among many who are inculcated in it of its own manifestations, misrepresentations and insidiousness.
That is not my criticism: it started with the Scarman inquiry and has been made on the record down the years. It was considered in a recent report commissioned by the RUC itself. I believe that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has asked for a copy, and I hope that it will get it, because it is of fundamental importance.
The allegation in the confidential report is that 29 per cent. of all serving Catholic members say that they have experienced religious harassment. That is only one element of the report. I hope that it will come to light and be used and that it will be recognised that the police culture is not necessarily the best culture in which to investigate complaints against the police.
It may be that the provision is included to satisfy elements in the police service, or should I say the police force—I keep getting it wrong—because of the proposed changes in the north of Ireland. Is it there to satisfy the Police Federation? If so, it risks the independence of the ombudsman's position for the sake of satisfying a section of the policing community that has not always brought credit on policing itself. The police ombudsman must be free to bring together the best possible team. He or she must decide the manner of appointment and make the selection.
Clause 59, which concerns disciplinary matters, has caused concern. The present situation is absurd: if the Chief Constable decides not to bring disciplinary proceedings and is instructed by the commission to do so, he briefs the legal representatives who take the case to a tribunal, chaired by himself. He chairs the commission and almost has the power to decide whether to bring the case, and he briefs the legal representatives on the conduct of a case that he does not want to be brought. That absurdity should change and the Bill should not be silent on it.
The ombudsman should become the disciplinary prosecuting authority in the cases that are investigated on his behalf and there should be a fully independent tribunal to adjudicate on the merits of each case as well as to lay down penalties for those who are found guilty. That is the way round the absurdity, which must be dealt with in the Bill if that inherent weakness is not to continue to provide problems in the operations of the ombudsman's office.
The fact that police complaints are subject to the criminal standard of proof has been engaging minds here as well as in Northern Ireland. We should change to the civil standard: beyond reasonable doubt is inappropriate and applies to no element of the public service other than policing. That creates a remarkable gap in the implementation of police complaints.
61 I know that the Home Affairs Committee is considering the matter in England and Wales and that the civil standard already applies in Scotland, which sets the United Kingdom precedent. What is wrong with following the Scottish precedent in relation to the standard of proof, when in effect we are following it in relation to the oath or affirmation? The Minister should address that matter quickly.
There are some more absences that weaken the Bill considerably. All of us who have experience in the north of Ireland know that many police officers against whom complaints are made take early retirement and that there drops the complaint. That way around the problem should be blocked, because once the ombudsman is involved in an investigation he should bring it to a conclusion, if only to protect the integrity of his office and of the police officer concerned if the case is not proven.
There should be a formal pronouncement by the ombudsman when wrong has been done but cannot be proved. It is not enough to leave the matter hanging in the air, with suspicion lurking about. A formal pronouncement would at least be an honest position to present to the community, rather than simply letting the matter fester and boil over.
Reference has been made to reimbursement when complaints are proven. The Bill should go further than that and provide for compensation, because that would strengthen the power of decision on complaints and prevent the type of difficulty that has occurred with civil cases being brought on the foot of frivolous complaints that may be sustained in courts of law but would not be sustained through reference to the ombudsman's office.
Those points are crucial. I would like to have been much more complimentary to the Bill.
§ Mr. Mallon
I note the Minister's reaction. I have been trying to deal with the problem of policing in Northern Ireland for longer than I care to remember. We will certainly not solve it unless we recognise that there is a problem. I am terribly sorry if the Minister's feelings are hurt. That was not my intention; I simply want to put honestly on record my position on the Bill.
I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me to reply to a comment made about my colleague, Mark Durkan, in Deny. No one knows the problems of policing in Deny better than he does, and no one tried harder in the weeks before last weekend to negotiate a resolution. He is a man of integrity whose criticism was of faulty policing strategy, which is an entirely different matter from in any way condoning the violence.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) regretted any hurt that he might have inflicted on the Minister in respect of the Bill. I will have no such reservations, because it is the most ill-conceived and badly drafted Bill that I have seen in almost 15 years in the House. For sheer effrontery, it ranks a close second to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and it smacks of thinking and planning that fall not far short of treachery.
The Secretary of State and the Minister constantly harp on about a more efficient and acceptable Royal Ulster Constabulary. No one would gainsay them as regards an 62 improvement in the service the RUC brings to society in Northern Ireland, but I have not heard in that phraseology any plain and unequivocal recognition of the level of protection that the RUC has provided in the most difficult circumstances during 27 horrible and bitter years, or any acknowledgement of the RUC's detection levels, arrests and successful prosecutions for crimes committed against society. It would help a great deal if the Minister would acknowledge that, under the most difficult circumstances—I emphasise that—the RUC has a record that is unsurpassed by any other United Kingdom constabulary. Furthermore, it would be helpful if the Minister would acknowledge that no other police force in the civilised, western world has a better record than the RUC, under the most difficult circumstances for the past 27 years.
We have all seen images on television of the mentally disturbed indigent outside the gates of the White House, who was causing some problems and waving a knife. We saw the reaction of the Washington police who, although they had him totally surrounded, gunned him down in cold blood. That sort of behaviour would never be accepted from the RUC.
In another incident in the United States, someone drove off in a tank, eventually marooning it on the motorway, jammed in the middle reservation. That tank was going nowhere. A policeman climbed on top, opened the hatch, reached down with his pistol and shot the driver through the top of the head. That would not be acceptable either and it is not the standard set by the RUC. So, when using careless words about the police in Northern Ireland the Minister and others would do well to think carefully about what the police there have had to endure and how they have endured it in the past 27 years.
The Government inherited this Bill, but that is no excuse for promoting such flawed draft legislation. Whether the previous Government would have rushed to the House with such dangerous nonsense is immaterial and it is a question to which we will never know the answer. This Government are now responsible.
On Second Reading, I cannot hope to expand on all the dangers inherent in the Bill. I look for reassurance that a great deal of time will be made available in Committee. The Ulster Unionists envisage that a large number of amendments will be required. We would prefer to consider the Bill in Committee at a reasonable hour, rather than finding ourselves up against the problems that we had with the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.
Furthermore, it is not helpful when Northern Ireland Office civil servants, diplomatic staff in the United States and, perhaps, even the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland assume that this Bill is already enshrined in law. I must draw the attention of the House to the right hon. Lady's performance when she mentioned her key objectives and performance indicators for the RUC, despite the fact that the exercise simply reproduced the methodology that the RUC had long employed. One has only to read the Chief Constables' annual reports for perhaps the past 15 years or longer to discover that.
Noticeably, the name Royal Ulster Constabulary was seldom mentioned and the new and unacceptable police service for Northern Ireland terminology was noted by the journalists to whom the Secretary of State made her 63 presentation. Let the right hon. Lady not deny that the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is to be relegated if she gets her way.
An official briefing, which emanated from our Washington embassy on 8 December, alludes toA further step which should help to build confidence in Northern Ireland was the publication on 5 December of a Police Bill which will inter alia create a Police Ombudsman able to investigate complaints against the police independently; abolish the RUC oath of allegiance to the Queen;"—note the language—and introduce the concept of a Northern Ireland Police Service, incorporating the RUC and others involved in law enforcement.
As a Scotsman, I have never yet heard a Scottish police officer complaining about the oath that he or she takes when taking up the position of a police constable. In all seriousness—I am not being facetious— does the hon. Gentleman not regard the title, Royal Ulster Constabulary, as a little antiquated?
§ Mr. Maginnis
To answer the last question first and briefly, no. On the more substantive point, my party has no difficulty with the oath as far as it is proposed. We have seen changes to the oath. I will deal at greater length with that matter as I proceed, but what scares many law-abiding people—specifically, members of the Unionist tradition in Northern Ireland—is the reasoning behind what is happening. I will allow the hon. Gentleman to have a copy of the document. I am sure that it is in the public domain as it was issued by the British embassy in Washington. He will discover that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the welfare of society in Northern Ireland, but alludes more specifically to how the republicans' appetite for change can be fulfilled—how they can be pleased by the apparent weakness of government in the face of militant republicanism in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Robert McCartney
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if a person lives in a part of the United Kingdom where his or her place within it is absolutely certain, such as Cornwall or Devon, symbols are not, perhaps, so important, but if a person lives in a part of the United Kingdom that is constantly under threat, along with one's identity, symbols take on a significance that they would not otherwise bear?
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that I agree whole-heartedly with what he says. Furthermore, when one's right to walk in certain parts of the United Kingdom is dictated by militant republicanism, one understands the fear that pervades the Unionist tradition.
As well as relegating the name of the RUC to be merely an element of a Northern Ireland police service, can the Minister tell us who "others" are? To be blunt, why should I believe that this does not allude to local policing on the basis of incorporating the very same people who currently and illegally impose their will on the civilian population of Northern Ireland? If the Bill had meant to include traffic wardens and civil servants employed in the Police Authority, no doubt it would have said so, but it 64 leaves the option open. Will the Minister tell me when the IRA is to be recruited in areas that it at present terrorises? Is that process de facto already under way?
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) said that when the IRA Army Council member Gerry Adams and his acolytes returned from Downing street to Aldergrove last Thursday, they were met by a band of 15 thugs who acted as a policing element, and were allowed to do so within the confines of the airport. They had, as far as I understand, certain communication facilities in their possession. Can the Minister tell me whether they were armed? Is it true that these same people have requested electronic entry facilities to the airport similar to those used by the RUC, who go there to meet the Minister and his ministerial colleagues?
In Northern Ireland, the RUC has policed with the consent of the overwhelming majority of the people for the past 75 years. Anecdotal experience of how they are treated on the streets and rural byways bears this out. All the surveys of public opinion carried out independently on behalf of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland show this support quite clearly. As the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Leslie Rodgers, said recently:that consent for the police is only a crudely assessed majority feeling; it is never unanimously given by all sections of the community. Those who withhold their consent range from disaffected drop-outs, to young people simply going through a rebellious phase to irreformable criminals and terrorists and those who support them. The consent of this latter group to policing is not only unwinnable but irrelevant in the context of striving to meet the needs of the wider public.Does the Minister disagree with that assessment? Does he not recognise that the greater number of people within both traditions co-operate with the RUC and depend on it when carrying out their duties? The Royal Ulster Constabulary is unique. It is the question mark over its very existence that causes dismay, disappointment and, most of all, anger among members of the RUC and their families.
The RUC is criticised because it holds on to its traditional symbols: the badge, the royal prefix, the allegiance to the Crown, the flying of the Union flag on preordained days on public buildings such as police stations, but all of these are what makes the RUC a British police service, not the French gendarmerie, the German Polizei or the Spanish civil guard. It is what gives a disciplined force its esprit de corps, its sense of identity and comradeship which has enabled it to endure and survive the loss of 301 officers in the line of duty during the past 27 years, and almost 8,000 injured in an unflinching determination to protect the community.
If anyone is in doubt as to the importance of a symbol to those who risk their lives, let them take note of the row created on armistice Sunday, in London, by the insult that was felt by the veterans because the Union flag was flown upside down and was tattered.
I do not believe that the official trappings of the RUC give offence to anyone other than those who seek to be offended. Their campaign is to create not a neutral working environment but a neutered RUC, bereft of identity and effectiveness from a lack of self-confidence.
65 I quote again Leslie Rodgers, who said:The effect of all this one-sided criticism of the Force is to leave members with an impending sense of betrayal"—which is shared by members of my party—that the RUC may be sacrificed for political expediency rather than recognised as the brave and disciplined service which holds this communityin Northern Irelandtogether when civil violence and terrorism threaten disintegration.I listened carefully to the very constructive speech of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, and I understand—as my party tries to understand—the points that he puts across on behalf of his party, but there is a fundamental flaw in everything that I heard from him this evening: he sees policing not as something that serves society but as something that satisfies political expediencies that exist between and among the traditions in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Mallon
I regret that the hon. Gentleman has formed that opinion. I was at great pains to point out that I want to see support for policing. I do not want it in a verbal sense. I said what it meant—joining the police service; defending it; defending it within one's own community; but to do that there have to be fundamental changes, which are tied to the political dilemma of the north of Ireland. Without those changes we will not get there.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not want to enter into a narrow debate with him at this stage. I think that we shall have an opportunity in Committee to sort out what he meant, and how we can consider the interests of society rather than what I interpret as a need to fulfil the specific political aspiration of one tradition in Northern Ireland.
Leslie Rodgers said:But the RUC is not a spent force to be cast aside like some unwanted or unfashionable ideal. It is young, progressive and ultimately successful and its officers recognise more than most the changing realities of life on and off the street.The people of Northern Ireland need the RUC. Its future role and strength should not be diluted until the future of Northern Ireland … has been democratically decided.I echo those words. Anything less is weakness, and will be exploited by the terrorists and their co-travellers as the sign of a Government prepared to compromise on the rule of law. If the change of image and name of the RUC is not designed solely to placate the insatiable appetite of militant republicanism, which will further subvert the civil rights of the law-abiding members of both traditions in Northern Ireland, why is it happening at all?
Those are questions that the Minister must answer. He must tell us what was intended by Mr. Carey's bulletin from the embassy in Washington. He must tell us what the Secretary of State is about when she devotes the greater part of her time to what she calls her de-escalation policy, or her information action plan—something that is designed exclusively to deal with attitudes emanating from republicanism—and how those matters will be dealt with. It was an offence to everyone in Northern Ireland 66 with any sense of decency or propriety to find that the Secretary of State was considering writing in "An Phoblacht", the IRA's magazine.
§ Mr. Ingram
Can the hon. Gentleman please quote from whatever document says that the Secretary of State was considering writing in the publication that he mentions?
§ Mr. Maginnis
The Minister, the Secretary of State and a great many civil servants in Northern Ireland would very much like me to identify the document to which I allude, but I have no intention of doing so, because I believe that I, as an elected representative—
§ Mr. Ingram
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State's integrity has been maligned by an hon. Member who has said that she was considering doing something—a claim that he is not now prepared to justify. I do not know whether it is in your domain to rule on that, but, if so, I would welcome your comments.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) is responsible for his own speech and his own words.
§ Mr. Mallon
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have heard a direct attack on the personal integrity of the Secretary of State. Is it right for the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) to refer to a document, shuffle papers as though that document were in his possession and then refuse to make it available to the House? Is that not an attack on the Secretary of State, and should she not be defended by all hon. Members who are present?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
What I can say is that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has been in order. It is my responsibility to ensure that every hon. Member is in order, and the hon. Gentleman is in order. It is best, perhaps, not to talk about personalities, but to debate the issue that is before us.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps it would not be inappropriate to suggest to those who question what I am saying that when one is in a hole one should stop digging. When the Secretary of State and I met to discuss the issue last Wednesday or Thursday, she did not deny that she was contemplating writing for "An Phoblacht". She may not do so now, but she indicated to me that as a member of Her Majesty's Opposition she had already written for the publication once.
67 Let us bear in mind the nature of that publication. It glories in the death of members of Her Majesty's services and of members of the RUC. It is folly that the Secretary of State should have considered writing for it, or sought advice on a possible press facility.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman should be seated while I am on my feet.
The House is discussing a specific matter—a Northern Ireland Bill. Perhaps we should leave the matters that the hon. Gentleman has been raising, and stick to the subject of the Bill. I think that that would be helpful.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I will move on, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can see that I have embarrassed the Government considerably. I will not expand on the matter, or on other matters contained in the document; I will simply say that the Government's judgment and intention in respect of what is happening in Northern Ireland, specifically in connection with the police, give huge grounds for disquiet, and that we are bound to question the judgment of those who think in such a way.
Let me now deal with matters relating to the police complaints commission, and the proposal to appoint a police ombudsman to replace it. My party, too, is grateful to Dr. Maurice Hayes for his report, and, in general, sees the good sense of his suggestions. I will leave any minor amendments to this part of the Bill until the Committee stage, but perhaps I could take up—in a supportive manner—the point made by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, who objected to the way in which the ombudsman was to be appointed. I agree with him that the Secretary of State should not be solely responsible for the appointment, although I think that his ideas on the period involved should be considered much more carefully. We go part of the way towards agreement on the issue.
On the matter of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, treachery is undoubtedly afoot. When the authority was established in 1970, it was believed that it would insulate the RUC from any interference by politicians, and that even the suggestion of tampering with the RUC's operations would be resisted. The Bill is a veritable reversal of the authority's role, because its responsibility is to be eroded. I predict that the authority will no longer attract people of principle or ability, and will become merely a whingeing shop for malcontents and agitators who have no real interest in the security and welfare of society. I am not referring to the members of the authority: the whingers will be those who go to the authority when it has no real power.
The authority will have no power to influence and protect the RUC on a day-to-day basis. The Minister will probably say that the authority's involvement in the consultation process is no mean responsibility, but those of us who have tried to sustain Northern Ireland affairs at local government level know that consultation is meaningless when it comes to planning, roads, education, health and a host of other matters, so why should it be any different for the Police Authority for Northern Ireland?
68 The authority is currently involved in day-to-day policing. A sum of money is allocated by Government to the authority, 86 per cent. of which is allocated by the authority to the Chief Constable to pay for day-to-day policing. My percentages may not be exactly right, but about 14 per cent. of that money remains with the authority and is spent on new build, strengthening police stations, repairs and the purchase of equipment. Those tasks give the authority on-going, day-to-day contact with the police and with policing at the coal face, so it never loses touch with the grassroots.
It is now proposed that that 14 per cent. should be moved across to the Chief Constable. He is already in charge of 13,500 men, which is a fairly demanding task operationally, and now he is to be given a new kingdom over which to reign. He will be given a civilian civil servant, who will probably have the rank of assistant chief constable, and below him will be a pyramid of people to whom he will relate directly and for whom he will be responsible. He will have to account to the Police Authority for Northern Ireland for his policing money: the 86 per cent. The able and dedicated people from both traditions who currently serve on the authority will feel insulted, because it will be relegated to no more than a consultative body. They will not stay, and will be replaced by less able people who have less day-to-day contact with people at the coal face. Accountability will be called into question.
Knowing my feelings about this issue, the previous Government invited me to Stormont for a presentation, which explained why 14 per cent. of the money that is now administered by the Police Authority should be handed over to the Chief Constable and a new kingdom created. I listened carefully, and I asked whether they could produce figures to show that there would be a financial benefit, because I saw no benefit to the community. The Police Authority was established as a representative body in the community to provide an interface between the ordinary members of society and the police and insulation between the politicians and the police.
Those figures were not forthcoming. I asked for them again and again, but I have never seen them. In the past 72 hours, someone has produced out of a hat a figure of £10 million. It is amazing that we get such nice round figures as £10 million. It is not £7.26 million or £11.19 million, but the nice round figure of £10 million. I am expected to be satisfied with that. Let me tell the Minister that I am not satisfied, and furthermore I do not believe that the information can be verified. If it could be verified, it would have been given much sooner.
This exercise has to do with where power over the Chief Constable and his police force in Northern Ireland actually rests. The police will no longer be insulated, and we should remember that if our talks progress successfully, there could be devolved government in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh or the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone may be in charge of policing in the future. [Interruption.] I note the enthusiasm with which that idea is received.
Clauses 4, 5 and 21 refer to the responsibilities with which the Police Authority is charged. They use such terms asas the Secretary of State may directOr 69the decision of the Secretary of State".The least offensive iswith the approval of the Secretary of State",although I am sure that it has exactly the same meaning. The Secretary of State will have total power. She will not have to deal with the body of people that has existed for the past 27 years: she will have to deal only with the Chief Constable, who is directly dependent on her for the money that he requires to fulfil his policing role. She may say, "Chief Constable Bloggs, you will get a £50 million cut unless I see this or that." What is the Chief Constable likely to do? He is likely to say, "Thank you very much Secretary of State. I will do what you want. Please hand over the lolly." That is the reality of the Government taking total control.
We should look carefully at the role of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland in relation to the Chief Constable. Clause 21(3)(b) states that the authorityshall, if required by the Secretary of State, call upon the Chief Constable so to retire.That is another responsibility to be taken away from the Police Authority. In Committee we must ensure—
§ Mr. Ingram
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what he has read out about what he calls the overriding power of the Secretary of State is not a change from the existing legislation? There is nothing new in it.
§ Mr. Maginnis
A great deal is new. Obviously, the Minister has not been listening. Did he not hear that the Secretary of State has placed the entire budget under the control of the Chief Constable? I do not know whether the saying exists in Scotland but where I come from people say, "He who pays the piper calls the tune." That does not always protect society and it is society that we should be considering, not the finer feelings of the Secretary of State or those of her Ministers. The Minister is forthcoming with information. What has he done with the community police liaison committees? Where have they gone? I note that what remains of the Police Authority will liaise at district council level.
For some years many of us have worked hard to establish the credibility of community police liaison committees which work at local level and feed their information through to the Police Authority. That is done in a balanced, mainly non-political way and that is quite difficult in Northern Ireland. Those committees are not mentioned in the Bill. Another layer of protection for society and for the Royal Ulster Constabulary is to be removed. No doubt in his winding-up speech the Minister will give us some idea of the role that community police liaison committees will have to play. Will it be meaningful?
As the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) said in an intervention, in normal circumstances the oath would not have the same significance as it has in Northern Ireland. We are told that because it is an oath to the Queen it is unacceptable to some members of one tradition in Northern Ireland. I think we all recognise that the oath to the Queen shows loyalty to the state; the constitution. In relation to policing, that oath of loyalty is towards those subjects who seek the maintenance of their freedom, civil rights and security and protection against crime and subversion. It is directed at those who want their wishes, which were 70 democratically expressed at the ballot box, protected within the state process. It means nothing more and nothing less.
I have been associated with policing since 1959 and none of those many members of the Roman Catholic tradition who serve faithfully within Northern Ireland has said to me that he was in any way inhibited by having his duties defined by the present oath. I am more worried about the definition of a constable's duties. The oath states that an officer shall carry out his duties as a constable. Those duties are set out in clause 18 and they contain the vaguest of vague expressions such as "to preserve order". Does that mean that if a big bully attacks a little fellow, the constable sides with the bully even if the little fellow is right, because that preserves order?
Mr. Lembit Ö (Montgomeryshire)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is a narrow interpretation of what is intended? Although it is possible to interpret it in that way, it is extremely unlikely that that is the true purpose of that part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am a member of an Opposition party and I am not sure what the Government have in mind. In setting out a constable's duties, particularly in the Northern Ireland context, there should be specific mention of the prevention of subversion and the maintenance of civil rights. There is nothing like that. Therefore, the setting out of the duties is inadequate. Perhaps it is a small fault and the Government will be able to amend and strengthen the clause to meet Northern Ireland's needs.
I was earlier accused of calling the Secretary of State's integrity into question. I have never suggested that the Secretary of State is malicious or is lacking in judgment, nor have I suggested that she is personally treacherous. However, those who through naivety or malice or for other reasons betray society in Northern Ireland, and those who betray the RUC, which has stood between the ordinary members of society and the terrorist for the past 27 years and longer, are guilty of treachery.
One must wonder at the judgment emanating from the Northern Ireland Office—let me deal with it collectively, so that no one will feel left out. When we see a member of the Northern Ireland Office team going to the United States and liaising with the lawyers representing Kevin Barry Artt, an escapee from the Maze, about what will happen if he is extradited, and making promises about how long he may have to serve if he is extradited, we must question whether a member of the Northern Ireland Office team is overstepping the mark and interfering in the judicial process.
§ Mr. Ingram
It may be useful if the hon. Gentleman would explain whether he is speaking about a member of the ministerial team or a civil servant. If he is referring to a civil servant, does he not understand that civil servants cannot answer such accusations? Will he therefore direct his accusations to Ministers?
§ Mr. Maginnis
Civil servants going to the United States with a Secretary of State or a Minister do not act independently when they go to consult the lawyers of an escapee from the Maze prison. They act under the aegis and direction of that Secretary of State or that Minister. I am suggesting that in doing so in this case, they stepped over the mark and into a judicial area where they have no competence.
71 That makes me wonder whether the same Secretary of State or Ministers are interfering and giving assurances that they are not mandated to give in respect of extradition cases between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and whether they have considered what effect that might have on the good relationship that exists between the RUC and the Garda Siochana.
I could rehearse these follies until the hour of midnight, if that were permitted. I do not intend to do so— [Interruption.] I can see the disappointment on the faces of Ministers. The judgment exhibited through the Bill is symptomatic of the judgment, or lack of it, that I have seen during the incidents to which I referred. I leave the Minister with that thought, and I hope that he can give us a satisfactory answer and an assurance that we will have—I repeat the request—adequate time in Committee to amend a Bill that would be a disaster for the RUC.
§ Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)
The view that I shall advance in relation to the Bill broadly reflects that of the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay): I do not oppose the general thrust of the Bill, although there are matters about which I am not particularly happy. It is rather like the curate's egg—good in parts.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) referred to some fundamental concept of policing which the Bill did not address. I was interested in the concept that he was adumbrating, although it was never presented in a specific and clear way that I could entirely appreciate.
The Bill deals with a limited range of matters—the reorganisation of the administration of policing in Northern Ireland, the important issue of the independent adjudication of complaints made against the police, and the form of oath, to which I shall return. There is also the element of the name of the RUC, and the question whether that honourable title, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is in the process of being subsumed into some other, more nebulous entity—the police service for Northern Ireland.
It may be helpful to hon. Members who are not as intimately associated with Northern Ireland as those who have spent their lives there if I deal with the nature of the RUC, its origin and its purposes.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary has been rightly described by almost every speaker in the debate as having a very proud record. We have heard about the 301 members who have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of Northern Ireland, and about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who have been injured and mutilated in the course of their service. We have heard that the entire membership of the RUC live constantly in circumstances where they are under threat of death or injury. That is a daily condition of life to which they must become inured.
Nevertheless, there seems to be inherent in the Bill the suggestion that the RUC has in some way been less than pure in its service to Northern Ireland. There seems to be an assumption that, in some way, the force has been sectarian, and that it has been guilty of conduct that makes it unworthy of the backing of the entire community. Indeed, it is a matter of public record that the Social Democratic and Labour party, as well as Sinn Fein, has withheld its support from the RUC.
72 One must look at the fundamental functions of the RUC since its inception in 1922. It was the successor to the Royal Irish Constabulary. The figure mentioned by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, of 21 or 22 per cent. Catholics in the RUC in 1922, reflects the fact that many of them transferred at that date from the Royal Irish Constabulary, which was an all-Ireland police force and a mixed force.
Let us not forget that, in the whole of Ireland, members of that force, which had a far greater percentage of Catholics in it than the 21 per cent. in Ulster—possibly as high as 50 or 60 per cent.—were the subject of assassination and murder before 1921. At the very beginning of the so-called armed struggle in 1916, some of the heroes of the old IRA, such as Dan Breen and Sean Tracey, were responsible for the murder of a Catholic policeman at Solihedbeg. There is a tradition of violent Sinn Fein-IRA terrorists directing their terrorism at the forces of law and order, regardless of how those forces are composed.
When the state of Northern Ireland was created in the early 1920s, there was a political question of allegiance. There were those who were determined to bring down the state, and there were those who never recognised the state. There are people today—constitutional politicians—who are subliminally of that mind.
I have the greatest personal respect and regard for the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, but he never refers to Northern Ireland—he refers to the north of Ireland. There is subliminally within his language a rejection of the state of Northern Ireland. That is perfectly legitimate. He is opposed to the state, but as a democrat he will try to change it through democratic means, and I respect him for that.
However, there is an armed tradition in Ireland, and in Northern Ireland, that has never accepted the constitutional restraints that the hon. Gentleman observes. Since the inception of the state, that armed tradition has been determined to do everything in its power, by violent means, to bring the state to an end.
As a result, from the date of its creation the RUC essentially has had two functions. Its primary function, which it shares with every other police force not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the world, is the preservation of what we might call ordinary law and order. It has to deal with the tracing and identification of criminal behaviour and bring those responsible for a whole range of crimes—from murder to felony to misdemeanour—before the courts. It has to ensure that the rule of law is observed.
As the Bill recognises, the RUC is responsible for the preservation and protection of life and property, the preservation of order, the prevention of offences and, where an offence has been committed, taking measures to bring the offenders to justice. Those are all part of the functions of the RUC in its normal phase of ensuring that the community is kept safe. After having been involved in the law for almost 30 years, it is my experience that in that function, the RUC has never been significantly the subject of complaint about its independence, its integrity or its objectivity in carrying out its duties. Nor, indeed, has the Northern Ireland judiciary been the subject of complaint in those functions.
The other function, with which both the RUC and the judiciary have had to deal since the commencement of the state, has been the bringing to justice of those 73 who violently objected to the existence of the state, and who were prepared, by gun and bomb, to ensure that their political objectives were attained. The history of the state since 1921 has been one of continuing war, with people prepared to use violent means to change the constitution of the state against the will of the majority of the people who reside in that part of the United Kingdom.
The RUC has had a dual function—in one it was perfectly acceptable, but in the other it was constantly the subject of political attack as unfair and biased. No one stopped to inquire how senior police officers and constables on the beat could be fair, objective and equitable when dealing with minor crime, but suddenly became biased monsters when they were called upon to deal with politically motivated violent crime.
Judges who sat in court dealing with divorces, civil claims for serious injuries, property disputes and so on, were never the subject of complaint—indeed, they enjoyed the highest reputation—but suddenly, when called upon to adjudicate in cases that involved those who had committed violent crimes for political purposes, they became biased, unfair, discriminatory and sectarian. That is the basis of the difficulties with the RUC.
It is a difficult problem, but the truth is that the vast majority of the community in Northern Ireland would give both the judiciary and the RUC their confidence and trust if they were permitted to do so. However, the criminal political element will not permit ordinary people to display their confidence in the RUC. One reason why political terrorism has enjoyed success beyond its numbers in Northern Ireland is the political control that terrorists have managed to achieve over a large section of the community, especially those living in the huge, modern, public housing estates that were created in the 1960s.
The terrorists mark out their territory in those areas. The footpaths are red, white and blue, or green, white and gold. The insignia and motifs on the gable walls eulogise either the South Armagh brigade of the IRA, the 5th battalion of the Ulster Volunteer Force or the Ulster Freedom Fighters. The terrorists mark out their territories, and they control them. The vast majority of the people in those areas would give their whole-hearted confidence to the RUC if they were allowed to do so, but they are not.
Although Northern Ireland legislation, including this Bill, contains solid material and points of organisation and change that need to be made, there is a suspicion in Northern Ireland that the changes proposed in this Bill, in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill and in the Public Processions etc. (Northern Ireland) Bill, which is to be dealt with in the House on Thursday, are all designed indirectly to comfort terrorism. The suggested name change for the Police Authority for Northern Ireland serves as an example.
Clause 2 is very strange, because—to put it bluntly—it does not seem to make a great deal of sense. It states:(1) The police authority shall secure the maintenance of the police force in Northern Ireland which shall continue to consist of—(a) the Royal Ulster Constabulary; and(b) the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve.(2) The police force, traffic wardens and civilian staff of the Police Authority shall form a single service which shall be known as the Northern Ireland Police Service.That seems to be introducing a name change by the back door.
74 The Royal Ulster Constabulary is the effective police force controlling and enforcing law and order in Northern Ireland. What will happen if we suddenly tack on to the force wardens and civilian police staff—such as clerks, fitters, mechanics and others who service equipment—and they become the Northern Ireland police service? One wag suggested, rather cynically, that the only way of restoring order to Northern Ireland was to arm wardens. However, that suggestion was—I hope—only a jest.
As I said in an earlier intervention, symbols of the state and of identity—marks that show who we are as a people, and where we belong—are very often taken for granted where the substance of one's identity is established. People with an established identity do not really care very much whether one stands for the national anthem, or even whether the national anthem is played, because everyone knows that they belong.
There is no question of someone in Surrey or in Kent being emptied out of the United Kingdom. Therefore, symbols in those areas perhaps do not matter so much. They can have 20 ethnic Irish pubs instead of the Rose and Crown and engage in all types of activities other than Morris dancing, and it will not matter a hoot. They know who they are, what their citizenship is and where they and their children will remain.
Now consider a situation in which one feels that one's identity and citizenship are constantly under threat, and that legislation and the direction of policy are always pointing one in the direction of another state, with which one does not identify and to which one does not wish to belong. Suddenly, symbols of one's identity—the Crown, the Queen and the royal appellation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary—become important.
The symbols become even more important when one reads the policy documents of the Government of the day. The document of 18 September 1988—which was signed by, among others, the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—stated that the Government's aim is a united Ireland, and that the goal will be achieved by a process of harmonisation. Among the harmonising factors is the gradual removal of the badges of identity of the British citizenry of Northern Ireland. Therefore, such matters—which cause the average Scotsman, Englishman or Welshman to ask, "Why are these people getting up tight?"—are important to some people.
We have an oath in which allegiance is sworn to the Queen. I have absolutely no objection to amending the current oath, and think that we need to obtain from new recruits only the necessary undertakings when they assume the rank of constable. However, the oath's new form—which I believe is directed only towards making the minority community feel good—will remove another badge or symbol of the majority community's British identity. The relentless process of attrition in removing their identity as British citizens causes their objection.
People say, "You've become paranoid; it's all in your imagination." I do not lay all my concerns at the door of the current Government, because the previous Government have questions to answer, too. In all the pages of the Downing street joint declaration of 15 December 1993, the majority in Northern Ireland are never described as British citizens. They are described as the "people of the north of Ireland" or as those of "one of the traditions of Northern Ireland". Never, ever are they described as British citizens. My worry about the beginning of change in the 75 description of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and in the form of the oath is based on my reservations about such matters.
§ Mr. Öpik
The hon. and learned Gentleman cited Wales and Scotland as examples within the Union. Does he agree that expressions of cultural identity in a different manner could not only create greater stability in the Union but reduce some of the cultural frictions that sometimes obstruct effective progress of the United Kingdom as four states, rather than as one pseudo-English super-state?
§ Mr. McCartney
I take on board the hon. Gentleman's point. The concept of citizenship rather than that of national identity—whether it be Scots, northern Irish, Welsh or English—is important. Citizenship, however, is the very thing that is being removed from the majority in Northern Ireland. Their sense of British citizenship is being removed. As I understand it, that citizenship is an over-arching concept that is recognised by all the disparate parts comprising the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, ultimately, symbols of identity—the phrase that he used— and a sense of citizenship are inseparable; that, without them and the sense of belonging to something or of being something, citizenship becomes ever less significant; and that citizenship ceases to have real weight and meaning once it becomes insignificant?
§ Mr. McCartney
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Symbols are the badges of who we are. They are created over centuries by shared experiences in peace and in war, and by our culture, our history and our games. All those factors and all the differences are manifested in Northern Ireland.
It is, however, foolish to believe that altering the oath will attract into the RUC more members of the minority community. It is fatuous nonsense to suggest otherwise. The RUC has a low intake from the minority community, because people from that community fear that they will be subject to the risk of death, mutilation or ostracism by the community in which they live if they join the RUC. They believe that they will have to tear themselves from their community and move to an area that is safe for those in the RUC.
I am not certain that the Bill, in either its timing or its purpose, is essentially aimed at improving the policing of Northern Ireland, but I think it owes a great deal to a process of conciliation and concession to IRA terrorism. There is a strong argument that legislation such as this is part, as it were, of the continuing peace process, and that the process itself is primarily directed not at a democratic settlement in Northern Ireland but at the resolution of the continuing conflict between the British state and Sinn Fein-IRA.
§ Mr. Godman
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, and showing me his characteristic courtesy. I must point out that, if I thought for a second that the Bill had been drafted and crafted in order to offer concessions to vicious and violent terrorists, I would vote against it.
§ Mr. McCartney
I accept that assurance without a second's hesitation. It is not so much that the Bill itself is 76 directed solely at that purpose, as that it is part of the so-called policy of salami slicing, making a little concession here and there. What is the doggerel—a concession a day keeps the terrorist away?
The offer is that yes, we are going to make big changes, change the police and get to work on taking the word "Royal" out of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and making it a Northern Ireland police service, but the majority fear, with reason, that this is only the beginning, and that, further down the line, there may well be community policing.
What is community policing? We want to get everyone supporting the police, but not everyone will support a single police force, no matter how the notion is dressed up. So the next suggestion is that there can be a community police force that will reflect the feelings of the people in the area. There could be a community police force for Newry and Armagh, for Crossmaglen, for Mid-Tyrone or for the Fermanagh borders, all of which would have a certain resonance with the majority in the area. Those forces would perhaps take a more benign view of certain political terrorist activity. Where would they come from? Who would the members be?
Mr. Adams, recently received at No. 10 Downing street, struts about with one of his protectors, a Mr. Cleeky Clark. Clark was among those who were on the roof with a starting handle, attempting to get into the car occupied by two soldiers who were subsequently torn apart and brutally murdered in Casement park. Mr. Clark has a very long record, but he is now walking about as one of Mr. Adams's minders. Is he the sort of person who could conceivably be a member of the community police force in west Belfast? I just do not know.
The fear is that, for the purpose of political settlement, there will be a drive towards a police force that is acceptable in terms of terrorist objectives, and not because it deals with rapists, murderers, con men, fraudsters, paedophiles or the whole range of criminals dealt with by ordinary policemen. The prime consideration is whether the force is acceptable in terms of political terrorist crime.
Perhaps we will hear from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh about the fundamental principles of change to which he broadly referred and which he does not find in the Bill but which he believes, if they were in the Bill, would be the answer to the problem of getting the entire community to support a single police force. Perhaps I can supply the answer: it would be a police force that took absolutely no view on overt terrorist crime. It would be absolutely neutral in that respect.
However, while there is a police force that preserves the rule of law and deals with violent terrorists, whether they be orange or green, for there is absolutely no difference between those terrorists, those who employ violence for the purpose of achieving a political objective should be dealt with rigorously, whatever their objective.
It is interesting—my experience of the law bears this out—that the same complaints about the police are made by the same people in both communities. The so-called loyalist terrorists have become mirror images of their Sinn Fein-IRA opponents. On both sides, they do exactly the same thing: they enforce their control and political objectives with the same ruthless, brutal callousness. They subject the people under their control to the same intimidation, and are engaged in the same activities— extortion, intimidation, protection rackets, the sale of 77 stolen goods and the production of pirate videos. They subject both communities to a reign of terror in the name of political change.
There is a great fear in the entire community that the Government, in their efforts to resolve their conflict with such people, find it necessary to make concessions to their political representatives. We then get to this stage: although large parts of the Bill are worthy and excellent, and are, I believe, directed to proper change, there is nevertheless, tucked away here and there in the Bill, a small and sometimes even subliminal present for the men of terror.
§ Mr. Mallon
I would not have tried to intervene had not the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to me directly. I made no reference to principles, as Hansard will show. I said that there was a fundamental problem. Irrespective of how we view the matter, there is in effect a divided society—one section sees policing as its preserve, and another sees itself as without responsibility in relation to policing. Unless we try to deal with that fundamental problem, we are not going to be able to solve either the central political problem or the policing problem.
I do not wish to go on for too long, but I have been seeking change for a long time, and it is offensive—I do not mean that literally, but the hon. and learned Gentleman knows what I do mean—to find that the proposals are being offered as concessions to a violent organisation rather than as a rational response to rational argument.
§ Mr. McCartney
I shall be brief, because I have spoken for longer than I intended.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh crystallises the problem, which is not about policing, but about political objectives. The Social Democratic and Labour party, which is a constitutional party, and the Irish Government—the Government of a democratic state— share a common objective with Sinn Fein-IRA. They have different ideas about how to achieve it, but their common objective is a united Ireland. Anyone who is in favour of a united Ireland cannot give their allegiance to Northern Ireland. That is why they call it the north of Ireland. Until those two issues of policing and political objectives are divorced, we shall never have a proper policing system in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)
The Government have clearly cobbled the Bill together hastily. We all had a letter on 4 December from the Minister of State who opened the debate. At the end of that letter, he talked of the "weeks ahead" for discussions on the Bill between all the parties. Today is 15 December. Where are the weeks ahead? Representatives of my party have tried to see the Minister three times, but could not do so because he was very busy.
The Bill has been cobbled together because there is a great move on at certain talks that are taking place at Stormont. If we believe Bertie Ahern, they will take place in Dublin after Easter—after the celebrations of the 1916 rebellion, no doubt—and perhaps in London a bit earlier. There must be a push because of that.
78 The Secretary of State said in a press release on 4 December:The RUC already gives Northern Ireland a highly professional and effective police service, but it can be better, and it must do still more to be seen as a police service for everyone.At the end of the press release, she said:The Bill does not preclude discussion of policing in the talks. Indeed, we have given the commitment that any agreement reached in talks on the issues covered in this Bill will be taken on board during the passage of the Bill".Duly elected Members of the House will not be able to reach decisions, but that privilege will be granted to those sitting in another place, including the representative of the southern Government, with all his clout, and others who could not even be elected to the forum, but got in on the top-up system. The Bill could change while it is passing through the House. The House does not know what the Bill will be like.
As an elected representative in the House, I resent that. I thought that this was the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The people whom I represent resent it. They think that their elected representatives should have an opportunity to see the whole Bill.
The Bill has been cobbled together. The Government are trying to mask political changes to the police behind a reform of the police complaints system. I believe in the reform of that system. There are many good features in the Bill relating to the ombudsman. I resent the present system, which is not independent. I have always believed that the police should not be judge, jury and interrogator of complaints against them.
A certain police officer, whom I will not name in the House, got into serious difficulties with the Protestant population in part of my constituency. Many complaints were made against him. He was then promoted to become one of the chiefs of the disciplinary body that investigates such reports. Those who are responsible for discipline and complaints sent a letter to a constituent of mine who had made a complaint about him. My constituent was told to ring the headquarters in Limavady, where an officer would talk to him about making an appointment. When my constituent rang and asked for the officer who had been named in the letter, he was told, "He is no longer here." The officer mentioned his name. My constituent said, "I do not wish to talk to you," because he had been making a complaint against the officer.
That does not give me confidence in the police complaints system. We need an ombudsman. However, I want to know how he will be appointed and how independent he will be. He should not be just a political appointee of the Secretary of State. That is a matter to deal with in Committee.
We should have no doubt that this is a politically highly charged Bill. I have already mentioned the Secretary of State's comments. The RUC rank and file resent the slight on them. They have had to operate in the most difficult circumstances of civil disturbance and conflict. They have faced murder and mayhem. They have been intimidated and abused by those who did not like their behaviour in upholding law and order. They have been abused by the Dublin Government, who have made outrageous charges that they have not been able to prove. They have been insulted by ignorant European politicians. In another place, I have heard vicious, lying attacks on members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I have had to stand up in 79 Strasbourg and defend the integrity of the RUC against people who did not know anything about the situation— they just thought that it was a good target to attack. The United States Government denied weapons to the Royal Ulster Constabulary on one occasion. It has been under attack from all around the world.
I have attended more police funerals than any other Member of Parliament. I have sat with widows and curly-haired little orphans. I have thought of the service that their fathers and husbands gave, and then I have thought of the vicious bigotry employed against the force in general.
Not all members of the RUC are perfect; indeed, not all Members of this House are perfect. But the RUC is second to no other force in its professionalism, fairness and impartiality. From time to time, people on both sides of the religious divide have criticised the RUC. I do not believe, however, that any other police force in Europe is more open or accountable. Yet the Secretary of State says—I agreed with the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) on this point—that the RUC must still do more.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who has left us for a moment, made it clear that no more Roman Catholics would be joining the RUC just because the oath was done away with. The oath is not the problem. The problem is that nationalists will never be satisfied with the RUC. Republican nationalists and constitutional nationalists, the latter in the shape of the SDLP, are both determined that the only way to settle the matter is to deal with what has been called the fundamental difficulty. That fundamental difficulty concerns whether our police force upholds the legal status of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh told us that we need a police force that the entire community can support. There is of course no such police force in the world. I ask hon. Members to consider their own back yard. Criminal elements here do not give the police their entire support; nor do certain other elements in this country. The idea of a police force with the support of the entire community is nonsensical—it cannot be done.
The constitutional nationalist in this debate, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, welcomes a few parts of the Bill, but says that they do not really deal with the issue. That issue concerns whether one believes in Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom or in a united Ireland. SDLP Members say that they support the RUC, but when we ask them to call on their constituents to join it, they refuse. That is the crucial test. The nationalist community has driven a wedge between itself and the police. Nationalists have always objected to, and intimidated, members of the RUC, and those who have joined the RUC have had the flames of hatred fanned against them by the IRA.
Some people in the House do not really know what is happening. Many Roman Catholics have strong British Army connections—their families have been in the British Army for generations. In the Downpatrick area some years ago, three UDR personnel were murdered, one of them from a Roman Catholic family which had been connected with the British Army since the time of their 80 great-grandfather. The local undertaker was visited by the IRA and told that he would never bury anyone again if he buried this particular young man. So the family had to go to an undertaker 20 miles away to have the burial done.
It is important to remember that no concession will satisfy these people. Consider the case of the Roman Catholic police sergeant shot at Warrenpoint. The IRA rifled the place where he was to be buried, and warned the undertaker that he would never bury anyone again if the sergeant was buried there. I attended the funeral, as the man was a constituent of mine. In the end, he had to be buried away in Banbridge.
Tonight, I salute the Roman Catholics who have joined the RUC and who have suffered for doing so. Because a young constituent of mine joined, he has been exiled—he cannot go home. His people have to travel about 100 miles if they want to spend a day with him. That is his punishment, the price he has paid. All this talk about offering concessions, and then more concessions, is fruitless. All will not be well. As we heard from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, such concessions will not make much difference. Indeed, he said that he was sorry that more progress was not being made.
The hon. and learned Member for North Down asked— he did not get an answer—what nationalism wants to do about the police. What are the nationalists' proposals? We should like to hear them.
This serious Bill is divided into three general areas. First comes the reform of the complaints mechanism, with which I largely agree. Then there is the structure of the RUC; its management and accountability are to be changed. There is also the claim that the Bill will make the RUC man on the beat more acceptable than he is today: it will not.
The Bill contains a number of political concessions. We were told that there would be no change in the RUC's name. Having been in the House a long time, I said, "Let's see the Bill before we pass judgment." Now that I have the Bill, I read clause 2:The Police Authority shall secure the maintenance of the police force in Northern Ireland".We used to be told that it was a police service; now it has gone back to being a police force. "Police service" was the jargon with which we were all familiar. We used to talk about police barracks; now they are called police stations. All these changes were brought in by a Chief Constable who came over to Ulster at the beginning of the troubles saying that he could solve everything. He took down the shutters of the police stations. He said that he did not like leather belts, so he gave the men cloth belts. He said that he did not like boots, so he gave them shoes—the men were all spruced up. He did not like the collar of the uniform, so he changed it from black to a pale green.
Did that make any difference? Not a bit. The Chief Constable was sent home in the end. He got married and his wife came over and took him home like a child. What a fool he was—but the authorities backed him. I remember Ministers at the Dispatch Box praising him to the skies and saying that he had the answer to everything—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Yes, that was his name—but he is no longer young.
81 Clause 2 says that the police serviceshall continue to consist of—(a) The Royal Ulster Constabulary; and(b) The Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve.(2) The police force, traffic wardens and the civilian staff of the Police Authority shall form a single service which shall be known as the Northern Ireland Police Service.That is not the traditional name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It must have been written by a Jesuit. That is the only comment I can make because it is a most clever construction, especially the use of the word "single". The reference to "a single service" did not miss anything. The men and ladies who helped to draw up the Bill are here in the Box listening to the debate. They knew what they were doing and they did it well. In the next honours list they may have some letters added to their names for a good job well done, but they have not bluffed the ordinary people of Northern Ireland who know what it is all about and what they are after.
I do not understand why right hon. and hon. Members should worry about the oath, because we all have to take the oath. Even if we make wee statements at the Dispatch Box, we still have to take the oath. Although one hon. Member did not take the oath, but said something else, and another crossed his fingers, we all have to take the oath. A police officer who takes a vow will be just as much a target of the IRA as the man who took the oath. It will make no difference whatever, but at this crucial time it means a great deal to the people of Northern Ireland. They see it as another concession.
I was in the House after Drumcree when Ministers lashed out at the Orangemen. Like a certain Minister on the Front Bench, I am an ex-Orangeman and I heard what was said. Today, the Minister was not prepared to put the blame where it really belonged, but the time will come when we know exactly what took place to cause £5 million of damage to Londonderry.
I salute the people of Londonderry. It is a great city and I am well acquainted with it, as I represent it in another place, where, as everyone knows, I have a good personal relationship with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). I have been received well by both communities in Londonderry. I regret what happened, but I denounce the fact that the Government did not react more strongly. They can indict Orangemen, so they could have indicted the people responsible for that atrocity and let them know that it was not acceptable and could not be reconciled with the Mitchell principles.
§ Mr. Godman
The hon. Gentleman is well known as a fierce and formidable opponent of terrorism. Will he take this opportunity to denounce with equal fervour the recent activities of the Loyalist Volunteer Force?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am under threat from the volunteer force and from all the Protestant paramilitaries. I have had bullets fired through my bedroom window, not by the IRA, but by loyalist volunteers. No force, whether it is the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, 82 the Ulster Defence Association or anyone else, has any right to use violence to kill. That has always been my position, and I am sticking to it.
On the loyalist streets of Belfast, there are great signs saying, "Carson brought in guns. Paisley wants you to surrender them." They are written by the people who are sitting at the table with Northern Ireland politicians— some of whom are sitting opposite—negotiating peace. That is what they say about me, and it does me no harm at elections. People continue to vote for me or, if they have the choice of three names, I am still their first choice. I am truly thankful for that.
I should mention that there was a vicious attack on a Roman Catholic school in Broughshane. I denounced that attack and I condemned those who did it. They need not call themselves Protestants, as the Protestant ethos is civil and religious liberty for all. I also denounced with all my heart the armed gang that went into the Roman Catholic chapel at New Buildings near Londonderry and attacked the statue in that place of worship.
I should also tell the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Mr. Godman) that when my churches are burned and bombed, the ecumenical clergy never say anything. They remain completely silent. I wonder why. I have never heard an ecumenical clergyman in Protestantism or a priest say that it was wrong to burn one of my churches. I have made my position clear and I welcome the opportunity to do so again in the House, as these things have to be said.
We cannot put the politics of Ulster into the heart of policing. The RUC cannot be radically altered because it must remain a professional force that can do what it has to do. The Secretary of State has not had a happy relationship with the RUC. Since May, she has visited only three police stations, yet she has met all manner of so-called community groups that are fronts for IRA-Sinn Fein. Last week, she met a group of people in south Armagh whose sole aim was the destruction of bases designed to protect the lives of soldiers and civilians.
The Bill transfers to the Secretary of State vast powers, giving her direct say over policing matters. Local accountability is to be removed altogether. When the Secretary of State came to Northern Ireland, she ensured that every DUP member of the Police Authority was removed. We are the second largest party in Northern Ireland. When the forum elections were held, the Ulster Unionists got 30 seats, we got 24, the SDLP got 21 and Sinn Fein got 17. We now have no representation on the Police Authority. We had a very good representative who was an ex-policeman who still has to be protected because he was a member of the Police Authority and has been attacked before, but the Secretary of State saw fit to ensure that he was not reappointed. That is how we have suffered, but it will no longer matter as the Police Authority will have very little power under the proposed scheme.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
It might be worth while for my hon. Friend to comment on the fact that a number of groups, including Protestants, are discriminated against in the Police Authority. The majority on the Police Authority are Roman Catholics, despite the fact that the majority of the community in Northern Ireland are Protestant. Women are discriminated against on the Police Authority and there is discrimination against areas such as Fermanagh.
83 Of course, our party is discriminated against. Those factors were acknowledged publicly by the chairman of the Police Authority in a committee, yet there are still two empty seats. To this day, the Secretary of State has yet to fill them.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I know that my hon. Friend is on that committee. I remember hearing the question put to the chairman of the Police Authority and his reply. Of course there is discrimination. I do not like the set-up of the Bill. I am not so sure whether even the present Chief Constable will be about for very much longer. I think that there will come a time when there will be no Chief Constable of the RUC. The structures will be changed. The present Chief Constable better beware that he, too, can be sacrificed.
Mention has been made of the Royal Irish Constabulary—a fine force of men who, in very difficult days in Ireland, were the target of attack. The majority of them were Roman Catholics and some were Protestants. They were wiped out, sacrificed by the Government. The good men of the RIC became the foundation of the RUC. That is why, back in 1920, such a large percentage of the force were Roman Catholic. I would like a balanced police force, and for Roman Catholics to take up their positions.
I must say, however, that Roman Catholics in the police force have the best possible time. They move to the top posts because of their religion. In written answers, the House will soon know exactly how many of the sergeants, inspectors, superintendents and chief superintendents are Roman Catholics.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Those statistics are publicly on record and show that a Roman Catholic is twice as likely as a Protestant to be promoted in the RUC
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It is good that the House has such information before it, so that hon. Members see that there is a another side to the story.
When the Bill goes through, there will be great rejoicing in the IRA camp. The Secretary of State will say, "There you are, we have moved towards you." I am told that, in every week until May, there will be some concession for the IRA. No doubt the Bill is part of the concession, but, at the end of the day, the problem will still be with us. What are we to do about it? There is only one answer: to make all men equal under the law and all men equally subject to the law. Our police force should have the Government's backing.
Why were no members of the public made amenable to the awful massacre of Enniskillen? I shall tell the House why. It was because the police officer who was warm on the trail and asked for more men was suddenly taken off the case and removed from Enniskillen. I had that officer with me. He called to tell me the whole sorry tale. Why was nobody caught? It was because there were people in Enniskillen who were too close to certain other people. That is why there are doves on the monument, but no mention that the murderous action was taken by the Irish Republican Army. Such things go to the heart of the problem.
The Government should start now a rigid policy of all men being equal under the law and all men being equally subject to it. That is the basis for a proper settlement. It is 84 a question of law and order. Terrorists cannot be bought. If concessions are made, they will want more. Doing away with the oath will not be enough. Doing away with the name will not be enough. There is only one way in which to settle the problem: by everybody being equal under the law and being equally subject to it. When we come to that point, we will make progress.
§ Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)
I must put on the official record my rejection of the kind invitation of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) to join the Orange Order. As one who married into a Glasgow family in which every member is a fervent Celtic supporter, I would not have dared to go home, had I accepted the invitation. Also, I would lose 10,000 Catholic votes. I might pick up 10,000 Orange votes, but that is another story. The invitation is rejected.
My late grandmother, who came from Cork, would turn in her grave to hear me say that there was something a little Irish about the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) when he asked whether Scottish Members had a saying similar to the one that he recited: he who calls the piper plays the tune. I think that that was characteristic of him.
Before I offer a couple of observations on parts I and VII of the Bill, I should like to compliment and pay tribute to the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who have conducted themselves over the years with remarkable courage and fortitude. I paid a small token of my tribute to the RUC officers who have been killed and maimed when I attended the Adjournment debate of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), which was about his campaign for—rightly and properly—reasonable compensation and decent pensions for injured officers and the families of officers who have been killed.
I was concerned by the report on Wednesday in The Independent, in which a claim was made that there is an unpublished RUC report on harassment of and prejudice against Catholic RUC officers. I should have thought that, if Catholic officers have suffered in such a way, it would be a deterrent to young recruits from nationalist communities. The story was a press story. I do not know in which other papers it appeared, but it caused me concern that such a claim was made in one of our broadsheets.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone is not in his place. Perhaps he needed some food after his fairly lengthy speech. He seemed to be shocked when I suggested that the title of the Royal Ulster Constabulary appears somewhat antiquated to a Scots Member. I think that I am right in saying that there are no royal constabularies anywhere in the multinational state that we call the United Kingdom other than the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The Scottish oath has been perfectly acceptable to all officers in X division of the Strathclyde police force in my constituency. All our constabularies have disappeared. I know that there are more differences than similarities in policing between the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland, especially with regard to the dreadful violence that Northern Ireland has suffered. We in Scotland, to a considerable extent, have not suffered from such violent terrorist activities—not for many years, at any rate. I think that we could consider changing the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
85 The issue of policing in Northern Ireland is, as was rightly pointed out by hon. Members on both sides of the House, of immense importance. That is acknowledged in the Bill and also in the book, "Human Rights on Duty", written by Mary O'Rawe and Linda Moore and recently published by the Committee on the Administration of Justice. After a remarkable piece of research into policing in Northern Ireland, in which the authors examined evidence from other nations that had had difficulties with policing divided communities, they concludedIn order to maintain the cease-fires, secure political stability and achieve social consensus, we must accept that changes to policing are important building-blocks. If policing change in Northern Ireland is managed in a fair and open way, involves the broad community, and brings about a police service which is representative, responsive, accountable and effective (because of greater community support), this will underpin and guarantee the peace.It is difficult to argue against such sentiments. We are a long way from achieving those goals, but that is the direction we should take. The Bill goes some way to advancing the development of an accountable and representative police force.
§ Mr. Trimble
I shall not comment on the book that the hon. Gentleman quoted from, because I am not familiar with it or with the authors, but I am familiar with the Committee on the Administration of Justice and know that it is not a fair and impartial body. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in policing, it is important that the law is enforced fairly and impartially? Does he seriously suggest that that is not the case at present?
§ Mr. Godman
I agree that the law must be administered fairly and reasonably, but we have seen exceptions to that over the years. Indeed, the hon. Member for North Antrim said that problems had occurred in that area. Occasionally, some officers have displayed conduct that falls below those high standards, and no police force anywhere is immune to the bad copper. Nevertheless, we must ensure that the police force is representative of both traditions and both sexes. The Minister needs to ask the question that I asked about the article that appeared in The Independent.
We have heard some complaints about the Police Authority. It must be a genuinely representative civic body and must be given important responsibilities and a defined accountability. In Strathclyde, our police authority—which is known to both my hon. Friends on the Front Bench—is made up of representatives from the local authorities. That works well. It happens that most of those representatives are Labour, but that reflects the political composition of the councils in Strathclyde. We should aim for that in Northern Ireland also.
I shall refer to part VII, because I promised to make a short speech, unlike some of those that we have heard today, which were lengthy, to put it mildly. I support the brilliant idea of a police ombudsman, and I agree with the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) that the person who performs that important role must be independent of Ministers and civil servants. I see no difficulty with that, even though the person will be selected and appointed by the Secretary of State. If certain guarantees, outlined by my hon. Friend, are made in respect of the ombudsman's employment, he or she can remain independent of and detached from Ministers and civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office. It is important that whoever is appointed is independent and has genuine powers of discipline.
86 I should like to know more about the selection criteria. How will the ombudsman be appointed? From what area will he or she be recruited? Will he or she be recruited from the legal profession? Will one of the criteria be that he or she has to have a law degree? What staff will he or she have and, if deputies are appointed, will they be chosen by the ombudsman?
It is important for the two traditions to see the ombudsman working impartially. We have experience of such officers elsewhere. In Scotland, the local authority ombudsman is now widely accepted by politicians of all hues, and people know that they can complain to the ombudsman if local authorities act improperly. People in Northern Ireland should have similar access to the police ombudsman.
Policing is so important that the police force must be representative of both traditions and both sexes. The police officers themselves should be able to trust the ombudsman. Will representatives of the RUC be involved in the appointment? They should not be involved in selection, but will their views be taken into account, together with the views of representatives of civic society?
The Bill will take us some way along the road to a more modern police force. The objective must be to create a police force that is fairly representative of the communities that it serves and with which both traditions can readily and willingly identify. At the moment, we are some way away from achieving that goal. I should love to see a mostly unarmed police force in Northern Ireland, which is the sort of police force that I am used to in Strathclyde. Community policing was mentioned earlier by an hon. Member who talked about armed thugs. In Britain, we define community policing in the terms of the police officer who regularly attends meetings of community councils—or, south of the border, parish councils—and frequently meets the representatives of voluntary organisations. I could go along to a local care association meeting and, almost always, I would see the local community policeman. The Bill is pushing in that direction in terms of community policing, and not towards the absurd description that we heard earlier.
Finally, the Bill should be examined with care in Committee. I do not expect to be a member of the Standing Committee, but I hope that hon. Members who are will examine the Bill in a vigorous and tough-minded way. Were I to be on the Committee—that will not happen, I hope—I would offer fair-minded but tough criticism. Some clauses could be amended or sharpened to move towards our goal—the kind of police force with which most of us are familiar. The Committee must enhance the Bill and help Ministers define in detail what they mean by an independent police ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire):
As my coughing throughout the past four hours will have shown, I put the health of Northern Ireland before my own tonight. [Interruption.] I seek no sympathy from Government Front Benchers—simply their gratitude. In this regard, I am pleased that the tripartisan approach to Northern Ireland seems healthy. Concern was expressed last week by the Minister that the tripartisan agreement was in some jeopardy. I was reassured by the comments of the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) that it was not at risk.
87 We support the Bill with some reservations. We feel that there is an excellent case for reform of the RUC, and a large section of the community has little faith in it. In fact, more than 80 per cent. of those who regard themselves as nationalist or republican believe that the RUC needs to be radically reformed or scrapped. However, that statistic does not lead to certain conclusions.
The first conclusion to which the statistic does not lead is that the RUC is at fault; that simply is not the case. The overwhelming majority of its officers are performing an extremely difficult job under the toughest of circumstances. Most signed up in more testing times, when officers were being ruthlessly targeted by the paramilitaries. Anyone who saw the pictures of officers bravely facing a barrage of petrol bombs at the weekend will recognise the need for clause 13, which proposes special rewards for civilians or officers performing worthy acts.
Secondly, the suspicion harboured by many about the RUC does not mean that if the RUC were reformed, renamed or revolutionised, it would gain the support of that part of the community that currently has no faith in it. It does not follow that those people will all come across—a point which has been made effectively already. The police force can be reformed in ways that will increase the number of people on all sides who have faith in its effectiveness and fairness. In looking for a way to reform the police force, we may be looking for something that does not exist in its entirety. However, as long as we are committed to improving the inclusive nature of the RUC, we must be serious about considering the source of concerns raised by nationalists, republicans and, for that matter, some people from the other side.
The third thing that suspicion about the RUC does not mean is that it is necessary simply to incorporate all the views of those who have been critical of the RUC in the past. That would make the RUC a political football and, to some extent, we have seen the sort of debate that will ensue if we allow the RUC to fall into the political arena, rather than being a neutral enforcer. We cannot descend into the mentality of looking at what nationalists want and what Unionists want and giving each group half of that. That is lowest-common-denominator politics, which will ultimately please no one. The RUC enforces political decisions and it must not in itself become a political decision maker. For that reason, we must be willing to regard the history of the RUC not as a resting place, but as a starting place.
It is not a sign of weakness to change something that has proved to be effective in certain areas but deficient in others. It is a sign of strength to make that point, and to recognise that it necessarily leads to change. Individuals can choose to feel betrayed by talk of change in the RUC; or, instead, they can be a part of that change. To that end, I hope that we are able to support the possibility of change within the principle that positive progress necessarily requires change.
I detect paranoia in some of our discussions on the military and the police force in Northern Ireland, and it is perfectly understandable that there are genuine worries about what change could lead to and whether it would disadvantage certain communities that are currently well served. We have to act in good faith and believe that all
88 sides are genuinely committed to a settlement process, part of which involves a sensible debate about the kind of police service that we require in Northern Ireland.
The Government have tried to avoid the fallacies in drafting the Bill. The cosmetic changes to the police in the Bill are not half-nationalist, half-Unionist—they are neutral. The change of name—in spirit, at least—is to be welcomed. However, I have reservations about the specific proposal, the Northern Ireland police service. Inevitably, it will be abbreviated and known as NIPS, and that does not sound right to me. Something along the American lines, such as the Northern Ireland police department, would provide greater gravitas. That is not the key issue for debate tonight, but I hope that we are able to make progress in Committee.
We should try to find a name that will genuinely improve the sense of inclusiveness. Let us not pretend that we can have two names running side by side; one name or the other must be preferred. The biggest danger is that one section of the community will call the force by one name while the other section calls it by another, and we shall end up with a more divisive state of affairs. We must think carefully before we make that symbolic change.
Similarly, the new oath proposed in schedule 2 is welcome, although some might argue that it is cosmetic. There is some weight in the argument that it will make no difference—a point eloquently made by a number of speakers tonight. However, I believe that it will make a difference. I do not think that people make a life choice about a career in the RUC on the basis of the oath, but it is symbolic, and changing it could be regarded as something of a confidence measure.
The oath to the Queen is an indication of loyalty to the state, but a new oath would not mean disloyalty to the same state. Perhaps two oaths could be acceptable, and there is plenty of precedent for that. It is possible for a Welsh Member of Parliament to read the oath in Welsh or in English—albeit the words are the same.
I see no problem in making a concession that allows for two oaths—one of which is manifestly acceptable at the moment and the other, proposed in the Bill, which is for the future. If people on both sides are amenable to compromise, we might be able to reduce the influence or importance of the oath as a political statement. I hope that people will be progressive enough to take a risk on this subject.
I wish to refer to the matter of British citizenship. I have a strong sense of my Northern Irish roots, despite east European parents and the fact that I have lived on the mainland for more than a decade. Northern Irishness to me is not a set of legislative details—it is character, an attitude and a sense of humour. It is the accent; it is a question of how people in Northern Ireland entertain their outlook on life.
Perhaps we allow ourselves to be too detailed in the minutiae, when we should step back and recognise that we choose to make certain statements symbolic, and we can equally choose to accept certain changes as necessary and helpful, to show good will on both sides in the search for a more settled understanding of Northern Ireland's role in the United Kingdom. The concessions are not a betrayal to terrorists; that is evocative language, but it does not reflect the Government's true intent.
The proposal for an ombudsman, which has been long in the making, could be the most important part of the Bill, and we warmly welcome the innovation. The way in 89 which complaints against the police are investigated at present is clearly unsatisfactory. In the rest of the United Kingdom, complaints are examined by other forces—for example, a complaint against an officer in Wales might be investigated by officers from Merseyside or East Anglia—but complaints against RUC officers are investigated by other members of the RUC. That is the crucial problem.
The investigating officer must be two ranks higher than the officer under investigation, but that can provide little more than the most basic comfort to people who feel that they have a genuine grievance and who distrust the service. The Independent Commission for Police Complaints cannot provide the check that is required on such an investigation: the investigation itself must be reformed.
The key point is that the new ombudsman must be politically independent, be seen to be so, and have every prospect of remaining so for many years to come. The proposals go some way towards meeting that objective, but not nearly as far as they could. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) made the point most effectively. Will the Government consider appointing the ombudsman in such a way—perhaps until retirement— that he or she is not beholden to the Government's political leanings?
Under the Bill as it stands, the ombudsman would be appointed for up to two five-year terms. We do not think that that provides enough independence. He might still be looking over his shoulder for a political steer, knowing that if he ignored such a steer in a crisis, he would soon be out of a job or out of funds.
The ombudsman might be starved of resources in that situation—we might question whether they will be sufficient from the outset—but he must not be starved of the opportunity to exercise independence. The reformed complaints procedure does not do enough to listen to complainants, except in the most specific cases. That again ties into the importance of having a system that can be trusted by the general public.
There should be a requirement to hold specific, clear and transparent consultations with complainants and to inform them how their complaints, whatever they may be, have proceeded. Imagine the case of a youth who claims that he was unjustifiably hit by an officer's baton and is told some weeks later that his complaint is not believed or is not important enough to take further; that is sure to be interpreted as simple confirmation that the system is loaded against him.
If the ombudsman specifically went through what the complainant alleged had happened, investigated it and came back to the complainant to explain the situation, even if no action was brought, the procedure would be smoother and confidence could be built on both sides. That process is open to abuse because much time could be wasted by spurious or unfounded claims, but it is far better to waste time and a little money if in the long term the complaints procedure is trusted. We strongly recommend that such considerations be taken into account.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I do not pretend to be an expert on the matter, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that complaints about police actions can be made by a third party on behalf of the person alleged to have a complaint, and that 90 in many cases, when that person is faced with the reality and recognises the circumstances—perhaps that he had given cause for offence to the police—he withdraws that complaint? That is often interpreted as showing that the complaints procedure is not working, but in fact it works very well in that respect. The concept, created by the previous Government, of third parties being able to make complaints on others' behalf is slightly nonsensical
§ Mr. Godman
Does the hon. Gentleman expect the ombudsman to be concerned exclusively with complaints or to be involved in giving guidance to the police?
§ Mr. Öpik
It is my experience that the extent of the role is often defined by the first person who takes it on. A proactive individual, who can see the opportunity to prevent certain events rather than simply reacting to them when they are brought to his or her desk, would be preferable. Again, I would be interested to hear how the Minister envisages the role evolving, bearing it in mind that it would take more resources for the ombudsman to take a proactive role.
The Liberal Democrats are also concerned about the increased powers to be centralised in the Secretary of State. Our main concern is that the measures will de facto reduce the decision making in the Province itself. We do not condemn the changes out of hand, but we are concerned that they represent the movement of decisions in the wrong direction. Any change in the tripartite arrangement should be made extremely cautiously, especially as it may be seen as a public reduction of responsibilities within the Province. This is a consensus issue, and I hope that there may be room for appropriate amendments as we discuss it in Committee.
The power for district councils to ask questions directly of the authority is to be welcomed. It reconnects local authorities and police authorities, and I, unlike others who have spoken, do not believe that it necessarily undermines existing structures. It could also go some way towards filling the desperate need to increase the real stature and influence of local authorities and elected local representatives in Northern Ireland.
The attempt to reform the structure by which the police service is financed is welcome. Unnecessary bureaucracy must indeed be done away with, and we would all join in the call to get rid of any waste in the system, but the note on the financial effects of the Bill is rather alarming. It saysCurrent practices and procedures lead to bureaucracy and duplication and the intention is that the structural inefficiencies be removed and replaced with a streamlined and more effective support service.That is a little suspicious, for two reasons. First, we must be careful not to eliminate something that has been effective, perhaps in a low-lying way, or that has been used without often being publicly appreciated as useful. Secondly, it is dangerous, in the ceaseless drive for savings, to monkey around with processes that have been set up most meticulously and with a good deal of pain. 91 There may be savings there, but let us not move rashly. Let us ensure that we consult closely the people who will ultimately be responsible for administering the service as it stands.
Finally, there are some things that the Bill does not do. It does not overtly link the changes to the talks in progress, although the Minister of State alluded to that in his opening remarks. If, as we hope, there will soon be new political structures to govern Northern Ireland, they must have some ownership of policing there. One question that remains is to what extent the Minister feels that there will be scope to change things a little more, once the new structures have been established. We are sure that the linkage has to be there, because without that ownership, there is a danger that we shall once again miss an opportunity to weld the police service closely into whatever new structure prevails.
The Bill does not do enough to tackle the make-up of the RUC. For the many reasons that we have heard tonight, perhaps legislation can never do enough to encourage those from the nationalist communities to take up a career in the RUC. Nevertheless, we should not be afraid of considering that question and asking ourselves whether, for example, legislation that makes it clear that sectarianism will not be tolerated in the RUC would help and would remove some of the structural barriers to taking up a career in the RUC.
That said, we recognise that one piece of legislation cannot be a panacea, and we welcome the Bill. In some ways, it extends well beyond a gesture. In others, it still has some way to go. At later stages, we shall focus on the complaints procedure and the independence of the ombudsman. In the meantime, we give the Bill our support. Above all, I hope that we shall enjoy a reasoned and insightful Committee stage, when amendments are taken seriously, when the genuine concerns of Opposition Members and of hon. Members on the Unionist Benches behind me, and suggestions from elsewhere in the House, are recognised and, importantly, when the concerns of the professionals in the front line—in the police service—are taken into account. In that context, a tripartisan approach might be a constructive way in which to develop the Bill and to consider it successfully. May I be forgiven for saying: may the force be with you all.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)
I rise partly to take note of the Minister's initial remarks on the context of this debate. Bertrand Russell once described the appropriate attitude of the philosopher as passionate disinterestedness. Those of us who want the present talks to prosper and succeed will agree that there is a role in this debate for those who want to exhibit passionate disinterestedness.
Also, it is hard to ignore the fact that well over 70 per cent. of the debate's time has been taken up by the views of three varieties of Unionist, who have collectively and in their different ways suggested that there is not a problem. They seem to have suggested that things are pretty much in order as they are, although the provisions for an ombudsman would be welcome in some quarters.
Those attitudes make it difficult for those of us who want to express even-handedness or even passionate disinterestedness. The moment we suggest that there is a 92 problem and that the Bill is necessary at all, we are put on the wrong side of the fence. We are seen to be admitting that there is a problem and giving succour to people whose vile modes of behaviour have resulted in the 301 deaths of RUC officers about which we heard. I do not want to give succour to terrorists, but it would be foolish not to acknowledge that there is a problem. That problem can be specified in so many different ways that we often have difficulty trying to express why we need to move on.
The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) strongly suggested that there was no need to move on. Understandably, when he talks it is of his great pride in being British and of how there is a threat to the symbols and the sources of his commitment to the Union. I understand that attitude passionately, but the hon. and learned Gentleman lives in a community that is deeply divided. Although there are those who share his sense of identity, they constitute but 60 per cent. of the population and the other 40 per cent. do not share it. To take their needs seriously is not to be partisan. It is not to depart from even-handedness; it is to recognise that there is a problem. If my Unionist friends and those whom I respect in that party do not take it on board that there is a problem, we will never achieve any real community policing, or any real desire from the people of Northern Ireland as a whole to accept those who expedite the law. It is important that we acknowledge that there is a problem.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Is the hon. Gentleman putting forward the thesis that there is a problem, which he has yet to define, between 60 per cent. of society and 40 per cent. of society—in other words, along narrow, sectarian lines? If that is what he is suggesting, with the greatest respect I would repudiate that. In all my years living in Northern Ireland mainly, that is not my experience.
§ Mr. McWalter
I thank the hon. Gentleman, because he requires me to specify the problem. It is certainly not narrow. I do not think that it is sectarian either. I just think that the description that the hon. and learned Member for North Down gave of his Britishness would be shared only by about 60 per cent. of the people. The remaining 40 percent. will, for example, have a very different relationship to culture and tradition. They will be more inclined to look south, whereas the other 60 per cent. will be more inclined to look east. These matters of identity are deeply etched into people's personalities.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. Gentleman does not understand the point that I am making and the reality of the situation. He is suggesting that people's political aspiration exclusively governs their attitude towards policing. That suggests that there are not people in the Unionist tradition who, because they are beyond the pale on law and order, think very little of the RUC and that there are not people in the nationalist tradition, the majority of whom act within the law, who are content with what they have by way of policing, which has nothing to do with their ultimate political aspiration.
§ Mr. McWalter
I thank the hon. Gentleman again, as I am always willing to learn from him on these matters, 93 but what he said seems to underestimate the important need for change and reform in a huge number of areas in Northern Ireland, including policing.
§ Mr. Öpik
Is the hon. Gentleman willing to consider the fact that, as the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) made so clear, the danger of categorising the community in Northern Ireland as a 60:40 relationship oversimplifies it to such an extent that reforms could be damaging to those who are currently satisfied with the force? Indeed, one has to take a more sophisticated approach towards the issues in hand.
§ Mr. McWalter
I accept that a sophisticated approach is needed, but the starting point has to be, as the hon. and learned Member for North Down said, the strong sense of cultural identity felt by very many people in Northern Ireland. That has resulted tonight in Unionist Members portraying almost a seamless robe between themselves and the RUC. I understand that; the RUC has a tremendous record of courage, determination, coolness under fire and intelligence in its operations. I understand the pride that members of the Unionist community take in the RUC.
I also accept that, when a grave crime is committed in a nationalist area that people in that area believe they cannot handle within their own resources—such as the dreadful rape of a young girl—they are the first to call in the RUC. I agree with the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) to that extent. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the fact that policing requires the consent of virtually the whole community. Although any society contains a group of people who will never give that function its assent, such a group must be relatively small for policing to be possible. In Northern Ireland, the minority who have a strong nationalist identity find that the degree of assent that they need for normal policing functions is, at least in part, withheld. That led the Chief Constable, when he spoke to the Select Committee recently, to refer to the abnormal policing conditions that obtain in Northern Ireland.
Once we accept that the current conditions are abnormal—I have just quoted the best possible authority for that judgment—we must ask ourselves how we can engender a return to greater normality. I believe that the Bill, in part, attempts to address that. It at least considers some of the more vexatious but relatively small matters that members of the nationalist community have found difficult to accept. I think that it would be generous of those of the Unionist persuasion here first to admit that there is a problem and, secondly, to be considerate about whether the sense of a lack of support for the police on the part of that section of that community can be dealt with.
I do not think that that is asking too much. If it is, it should perhaps be borne in mind that there has rarely been a time when it could be felt that the police function could be exercised normally. Once, in the mid-1970s, I was riding a motor bike through County Monaghan in the south of Ireland. I came to a bollard in the road. Because I was on a motor cycle and not in a car, I could have driven past it, but I did not because I knew that, if I had ridden past it, I might have been shot. The bollard was the border.
That same year, I visited Berlin, where the border was clearer and the electric fences more distinct. Borders are dangerous, however, and those who live near such 94 edifices are much more inclined to be hostile to those who police, or exercise force at, such points than those up in North Antrim.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am not aware of all these incidents in which motor cyclists are shot while travelling along the frontier with the Irish Republic. I wonder what gave the hon. Gentleman the idea that he was in such dreadful danger.
§ Mr. McWalter
On the boat going over, strong warnings were posted all over the place that people should cross the border only at approved crossing points. They were couched in the same language as warnings at borders elsewhere. Perhaps the people who put the bollard in the way had no wish to dissuade people from going to and fro, but I felt that they were minded to prevent people from passing that way. That, after all, is the function of a border.
I suggest that people who live in proximity to such a place have at least the potential for violence in their everyday existence. It does not become people to suggest that a return to such circumstances is healthy or desirable.
§ Mr. Mallon
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to clarify that point. I know that he did not mean it, but the implication was that, by definition, people who live close to the border have a greater propensity for violence than those who live elsewhere. As someone who lives close to the border, I dispute that. His point is that the circumstances in which violence can take place are greatly increased. It has nothing to do with the mindset of those people and their support for or abhorrence of violence.
§ Mr. McWalter
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He made the point better than me.
What I shall say in conclusion is meant in the kindest possible way. Even if our Unionist friends regard some of the obstacles to the acceptance of the police force by people in the nationalist community as unreasonable, they should make a generous gesture so that we can try to overcome this intractable problem.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
I did not intend to take part in the debate, because our party's position was admirably expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). However, I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) that what he said was so misconceived that it is necessary to respond briefly.
The Chief Constable said that circumstances in Northern Ireland are abnormal. What is abnormal is the existence of terrorism by a group that is trying to overthrow the constitution. Generally speaking, the legislation in force in Northern Ireland contains no abnormality. When the hon. Gentleman talked about divisions, my hon. Friend and I were disturbed that he expressed his argument in purely sectarian terms. His reference to 60 percent. and 40 per cent. shows that he was thinking in sectarian terms. That is not correct. To people in Northern Ireland of both religious denominations and both traditions, it is not acceptable to talk in sectarian terms, as he did.
§ Mr. Trimble
I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that hon. Members from both major traditions 95 in Northern Ireland are very good at deconstructing speeches, and we well understand what lies behind the terms used, even if it is not said explicitly.
The hon. Gentleman expressed his view in sectarian terms and said that there was a problem. That implies that he thinks there is a problem with the legislation. He should bear in mind the fact that the role of any police force, whatever it is called, is primarily to enforce the law. He can either criticise the law or the way in which it is enforced. There is no accusation that the legislation in Northern Ireland contains sectarian elements, although I noticed that a member of the SDLP suggested at its party conference that the newly introduced system of penalty points for road traffic offences was a Unionist plot to do down the nationalists of south Armagh.
§ Mr. Mallon
I must reply to that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. That was not said at the SDLP conference. The remark did not relate to south Armagh and it was not about the matter that the hon. Gentleman mentions. The hon. Gentleman leads a party and knows that views are expressed within it. Why, oh why does every political sin that is committed in the north of Ireland come to rest in south Armagh?
§ Mr. Trimble
The hon. Gentleman implicitly concedes that it was an SDLP comment, and he must concede that it was made in the context of his party conference. I accept his reproof about south Armagh. Like me, the hon. Gentleman would not treat such comments seriously. We all know that some people make silly comments.
As I have said to the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead, there is generally no complaint about the legislation on the statute book. From time to time there may be complaints about the effectiveness of the police force as a whole or about individual police officers. However, I take it that there is no serious complaint about the ordinary law and the general run of RUC operations, nor is it said that it is not the policy of the service to administer the law as fairly and impartially as it can.
Against that background, to say that there must be changes because of a political or sectarian division is to introduce political considerations into the structure and operation of the police force. That is not acceptable, and that is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone tried to make when he complained about the Bill stripping from the Police Authority functions that were put there to try to ensure that the police force operated in a fair and impartial way.
We come back to the question of terrorism that is directed to the overthrow of the constitution. In response to that, we cannot change the ordinary legislation nor can we change the way in which the law is administered because the objective must still be to administer it fairly and impartially.
§ Mr. McWalter
I should like to clarify an issue now that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is back in his place. The word terrorism is being used in two distinct ways. It is used as a broad term and, specifically, to refer to extreme republican terrorists. Some terrorists perhaps seek to overthrow the constitution; other terrorists seek to defend it.
§ Mr. Trimble
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that terrorism has more than one source. However, the cause of the current terrorist problem is the terrorist groups that are trying to overthrow the constitution, and to that there has been a violent reaction by some groups. They hit back, as they think, in a way that is quite inexcusable in any circumstances.
It cannot be seriously suggested that in response to terrorism we change legislation that is generally admitted to have no political or sectarian overtones or that the police force should no longer try to operate in a fair and impartial manner. What has been suggested? The suggested changes can only relate to the constitution itself, and that is not acceptable because the democratic principle that the constitutional destiny is determined by the views of the greater number has to be accepted.
§ Mr. Trimble
No. I have given way a couple of times and I should like to complete this point.
One is left with questions of symbolism and, in effect, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead said that these changes should be accepted as symbols. I do not know what effect those symbolic changes will have on the problem that is said to exist. The change of name can be seen as not mollifying one side while causing deep offence to the other, and it is foolish to think that anything significant could happen if there were a change of name. I trust that there will not be. I hear assurances from Ministers that there will not be, but I wonder what on earth the draftsman was doing. No doubt he was given inadequate instructions and this matter will be sorted out later.
There are other symbolic matters to be addressed. I thought at one stage that the hon. Gentleman was going to suggest that we should put members of the RUC in a green uniform, and put a harp and some shamrocks on their cap badge. That symbolism already exists. There is a crown on top of the harp, but does not that give the right balance? The symbols are already taken care of, if people would only look and see them.
People must take care not to be seduced into thinking that there is anything seriously wrong with the legislation or with the objectives of the force. The objectives may not always be met fully, and individuals can cause problems, which is why there should be provisions in the legislation to deal with those failings. That has always been supported by this party. However, to speak in simplistic terms about a problem that requires some unspecified major changes is misconceived.
§ Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)
I reiterate the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). The official Opposition will not oppose the Government on Second Reading, as we feel that the Bill in the main follows some of the developments that were being taken forward during the lifetime of the previous Government. We recognise in part of the Bill many of the developments that were in train at that time.
Nevertheless, in parts of the Bill the Government find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Even the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is 97 unhappy. He does not think that the Bill goes far enough. All the speakers who have taken part in the debate from the Unionist side—the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), and the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)—have opposed some of the Bill's components.
I welcome the change of mind to which the Minister alluded in his opening remarks. The Government have changed their mind about the procedure through which they would introduce the legislation. We welcome the fact that, instead of taking it through as an Order in Council, they have taken the Bill on the Floor of the House. By extension, that presumably means that the Government are prepared in Committee to have the Bill taken apart line by line and clause by clause. [Interruption.] I am happy to have the Minister's assurance. The last time that he gave me an assurance in Committee that the Government would welcome a lengthy debate on the EPA, we kept the Government up for 12 hours, because they would not give us a reasonable timetable.
§ Mr. Moss
We tabled amendments on Report. It does not matter when we tabled them. The procedures of the House allow for amendments to be tabled not only in this place at various stages, but in the other place.
I hope that, when he winds up, the Under-Secretary will give the House an assurance that adequate time will be given to the Bill in Committee. It is a long Bill, with more than 60 clauses. Hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have repeatedly asked for an assurance that the Bill will not be rushed through in one sitting, and that there will be a sittings motion so that we can plan ahead and consider the Bill properly.
I endorse the comments of the Minister of State that he is seeking through the Bill to build on the strengths of the RUC. I am not sure that he achieves that in the Bill as drafted, but I endorse his aim. He paid tribute to the RUC, and I am more than happy to endorse the views that he expressed.
I also pay tribute to the Police Authority. Let it not be forgotten that, over many years, many members of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland have faced the same kind of intimidation as many police officers in the RUC have had to face.
As I said earlier, this Bill builds on the previous Government's White Paper. In a press release on 1 May 1996, the then Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew, set out proposals for the reform of the tripartite system of police governance in Northern Ireland. He said that the proposals sought to build on the consensus that has been shown to exist for a police service which upholds and is seen to uphold the law fairly, with rigorous impartiality, efficiency and effectiveness, which is accountable both to the law and, through a strong and independent police authority, to the community, and furthermore is responsive to that community.
The Minister said that the Bill has four main strands. He clarified the role of the tripartite system. In an earlier Labour party publication there was some question about the future of that system. I am delighted that the Government have decided to strengthen that three-legged stool for the police in Northern Ireland.
98 The Bill provides for a structure for investigation of complaints. It follows on from the work of Dr. Hayes, who was commissioned by the previous Government to look at the complaints procedure. He produced an excellent report recommending that the Government set up an ombudsman for police complaints, which was warmly welcomed by the previous Government.
I must ask the Minister a question that has already been asked several times this evening—why this Bill at this particular time? It could be said that the Bill implements some of the proposals put forward by the Labour party in its policy document last year. On the other hand, some of the more important proposals in that document have not been included. I shall say more about that later.
We are left with the feeling that with the Government's difficulties in bringing legislation forward quickly enough, someone said to the Northern Ireland Office, "Have you got a Bill ready to fill a Second Reading opening?" That is how it comes across. We have already been told this evening that there is no rush to get the Bill into Committee, so why is it having its Second Reading a week before Christmas? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question. As hon. Members have said—especially the hon. and learned Member for North Down—the Bill has been introduced at this time because it is part of the overall political dimension. It is something that is being offered in the talks process.
The explanatory and financial memorandum refers to givingeffect in Northern Ireland to certain proposals for police reform which were set out in the Labour Party consultation paper 'Policing in Northern Ireland—A Service for all People'".As I said earlier, some of the main proposals in that document have not been included in the Bill. Page 9 of the document said that, currently, the Secretary of State appoints members of PANI from various sections of Northern Ireland society such as trades unions, local government, industry and social services. It said that Labour did not quarrel with this representation, but believed that, rather than being appointed, we should narrow the democratic deficit and ask those bodies to choose their own representatives.
On page 10, in the final paragraph of the section dealing with the future of the Police Authority, the document said that the Labour party believed that these interim proposals—there are a number of them, but incorporating the one I have mentioned—would strengthen PANI by ensuring that the police were accountable to the people of Northern Ireland and making it possible for those groups that currently will not accept membership of PANI to join the body.
However, schedule 1, paragraph 2(1) states:The Police Authority shall consist of—I should like to know whether the intention of that wording is any different from that which currently applies. I cannot see any real difference in it. The wording certainly does not incorporate that very important section of the Labour party's document of last year. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to tell the House how the Government believe that the new wording will lead to a more balanced composition on the Police Authority.
- (a) a chairman;
- (b) a vice-chairman; and
- (c) not less than 14 nor more than 20 other members, appointed by the Secretary of State."
99 Some hon. Members have mentioned the current composition of the Police Authority, and have made known their opposition to the Bill. The Minister of State expressed some surprise, saying that he was not aware of any opposition. How could he not be aware of opposition to a Bill of such importance?
I ask the Under-Secretary of State to tell the House what consultation has been conducted on the Bill. Have any requests from the Police Authority for meetings been refused, as was alleged earlier in the debate? It is appropriate that the Minister should answer that question. How on earth can Ministers turn down requests for meetings from a body as important as the Police Authority—the very future of which is under threat in the legislation?
How many meetings have there been in the consultation process? How many written submissions has the consultation produced? Have they been placed in the Library? If not, may we have copies of the submissions, and could they be sent to relevant politicians?
§ Mr. Maginnis
I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman, but I am rather confused. He said initially that the Bill, by and large, is the one that the previous Government would have introduced. Just a moment ago, however, he suggested that the Police Authority was under threat. Will he clarify the matter?
§ Mr. Moss
I am sure that tomorrow's Hansard will show that I said that, had we still been in government, we would have introduced large sections of the Bill, but that some sections of it, in its earlier clauses—I alluded to the Police Authority—require thorough investigation.
Clause 2 establishes a new body—the Northern Ireland police service, which was alluded to by the hon. and learned Member for North Down—and renames the Northern Ireland police force, from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to a police service—which incorporates traffic wardens and civilians. It is easy to see from how the legislation is written that, by deleting two lines, the RUC would be deleted entirely from the Bill and the name of the new police service would be left intact.
I have already praised the work of Dr. Hayes. Sir Patrick Mayhew also praised his work, in January 1997, when his report was first published.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh raised the matter of the standard of proof. He said that the standard to which he alluded—the civil standard—has not been changed in the Bill. I cannot find the reference that he made, but he said that, in disciplinary proceedings, he wanted use of the civil rather than the criminal standard. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that point in his reply.
Page 12 of the Labour document to which I have already referred said that Labour believed that it would be foolish to allow names, uniforms and other matters to dominate the debate, and that symbols must not be allowed to get in the way of substance. Labour said that it was the structural changes which were fundamental. Why then has the Labour party changed its mind on the symbolism of the oath?
The Minister needs to satisfy the House on several key points. Why have the Government introduced this Bill at this time? To judge from the comments that have been 100 made by hon. Members of all parties, it seems to have satisfied no one at this juncture. There has been sufficient opposition on Second Reading to show that many hon. Members believe that there are flaws in the Bill and that changes will be needed as it proceeds through its various stages. Indeed, the Secretary of State implied as much in her press release of 4 December. The final part of the press release states:The Bill does not preclude discussion of policing in the talks"—a point alluded to by the hon. Member for North Antrim.Indeed, we have given the commitment that any agreement reached in talks on the issues covered in this Bill will be taken on board during the passage of the Bill, if that is possible. If not, we will seek to implement them at a later stage.That is an admission that the Government have introduced legislation that they do not think fits all circumstances and which certainly is not perfect. If they are prepared to accept amendments as a result of the talks process, how much more should they take on board the comments and opinions of hon. Members either on Second Reading or especially in Committee? To return to my initial point, we seek an assurance that sufficient time will be afforded in Committee to ensure that the Bill receives adequate scrutiny.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tony Worthington)
This has been a fascinating debate. At one stage, I thought that I would have to speak for two hours, but I now have only 19 minutes so I cannot deal with all the points that have been raised. In my view, it is fascinating to return to this subject because, as the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) said, I was involved with the discussion document on policing in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that the Bill had been cobbled together. In many ways, the Bill has had the gestation period of an elephant having two foals in succession, because its origin goes back to 1994. As the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire knows, a consultation paper was published in 1994, under the previous Government, and was followed by a White Paper. In other words, there has been an enormous amount of consultation on many aspects of the Bill.
I was involved with the Police and Magistrates Courts' Act 1994, which covered England and Wales and also had a Scottish component. In many ways, this is the Bill that we considered then. Various allegations have been made about the reasons for introducing the Bill, but it is interesting that it simply seeks to achieve what has already been achieved in England, Wales and Scotland. That is the fact of the matter. The Act has improved the efficiency of the police.
§ Mr. Trimble
I am pleased that the Minister draws a parallel with the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. He will remember the intense controversy that surrounded the suggestion that the Home Secretary would appoint members to the police authorities in England and Wales, yet the Minister is now supporting a Bill which provides that everyone on the Police Authority in Northern Ireland is to be appointed by the Secretary of State. He knows 101 that one of the things to which objection is taken is the removal of the representative element from appointments to the Police Authority.
§ Mr. Worthington
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that allows me to move on to the contribution of the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. He asked why, when the appointment of the members of the Police Authority had been mentioned in the Labour party's consultation document, it was not in the Bill. In the judgment of my colleagues, it would not be appropriate for such issues to be in the Bill. A consultation paper on the composition of the Police Authority will come out separately from the Bill. The reference to the appointment of the Police Authority by the Secretary of State is simply the legal way of referring to that process, but it will be the subject of a consultation paper in the new year, which will deal with how to make the authority more responsive and reflective of the people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Mr. Godman) referred to practice in Scotland, where it is simple for a police authority to be representative of the whole community because there is a tradition of representatives from the district councils being appointed in proportion to their numbers on the councils. One of the problems in Northern Ireland is that the Association of Local Authorities in Northern Ireland does not have the allegiance of all the political parties. That will have to be addressed.
§ Mr. Worthington
I notice that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene for the second—and, I fear, last—time.
§ Mr. Trimble
I note the Minister's reference to a consultation paper. That evades the point that the detailed provisions for the police authorities were contained in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, to which he has referred. Measures that are not in the Bill are open to the discretion of the Secretary of State, which, time and again over the past 25 years, has been abused. We would like representative authorities and proportionate appointments. Previous Secretaries of State have not given us that. We want more than an assurance—we want it in the Bill.
§ Mr. Worthington
We are proceeding sensibly, with a consultation paper on how the Police Authority should become more representative of the whole community.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have a simple question for the Minister. Will the consultation paper be with us before the Committee stage of the Bill?
§ Mr. Worthington
I should like to be certain of being able to give that assurance, but I cannot give it because I do not know the date on which the Committee stage will begin. It is certainly our intention that the consultation paper should come out as soon as possible. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
102 An enormous number of issues have been raised. I shall not be able to deal with them all. Not everybody agrees with what the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) said, but he was right to say that there is a huge problem with policing in Northern Ireland because it is seen as symbolic. We could not have had a debate on policing anywhere else in the United Kingdom in which no one mentioned crime, vandalism, anti-social neighbours or any of the other issues that would be raised on a police Bill for England and Wales or Scotland. We have heard only about the constitutional issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) was right to say that there is a problem that we must address. The relationship of the Bill to the talks is important. We are right to move forward with the Bill because it will be a significant improvement, whatever happens in the talks. We wish the talks well, but we recognise that in the negotiations people will have things to say about policing. The great reward of any settlement will—I hope—be that the people from all sides who sign up to it will then give their unhesitating support to the police force.
§ Mr. Mallon
I take the Minister's point, but is he suggesting that that type of reaction will come after a practical agreement without the fundamental changes which he has himself accepted? That seems contradictory to me.
§ Mr. Worthington
I do not see any contradiction, but we may explore that later. I am saying that what happens in the talks and what happens here are two parts of a whole. We are right to move forward by improving policing, and right to expect that one consequence of a settlement in the talks will be that the policing problem in Northern Ireland will be greatly eased.
§ Mr. Godman
There are 70 or so clauses and six schedules to the Bill, and although I do not expect to serve on the Standing Committee, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he intends to provide Committee members with notes on clauses? They would be very helpful.
§ Mr. Worthington
Yes, as with every Committee I have ever served on. By the way, if my hon. Friend says once more that he does not want to be on the Committee, he will find himself on it. We are certainly serious about providing adequate time to deal with the Bill in Committee.
I pay tribute to Dr. Maurice Hayes, whom everyone has praised, and to his ombudsman proposals. Reaching such an agreement is a remarkable achievement, and I know just how hard he worked to achieve it. It will mean that relationships between police and public, and police and police authorities, in Northern Ireland will be better than those anywhere else in the UK.
Many hon. Members have referred to the powers and security of tenure of the ombudsman, and his ability to take up cases on behalf of third parties. Those are all essentially points for the Committee. We took advice on the ombudsman from Sir Len Peach, the Commissioner of Public Appointments. His role is to take the politics out of public appointments; his advice, in the first instance, was that tenure should be for five years, as we have said, with the option of extension to 10 years. I believe that the same applies to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. We can consider that.
103 Things have turned out as they have because of our attempt to remove the issue from the political domain. Public appointments are usually advertised, there will be interviews, and there will be consultation with the Police Authority and other bodies to ensure that the ombudsman's terms of reference are laid down fairly.
As for whether the Police Authority supports the Bill, it would be highly unusual if it did support a Bill that transferred some of its resources. I grant the hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) that this is a contentious area.
Once again, we are simply extending what has happened elsewhere in Great Britain by giving the Chief Constable responsibility for all the resources under his control. The current position in Northern Ireland appears to be rather strange. The Chief Constable has control over the men and women of the RUC, but not over the buildings and equipment. It seems odd that there should be such a division. The previous Government agreed that it should be addressed and that the Chief Constable should have responsibility and accountability for all the resources. There will be savings because certain central services are duplicated unnecessarily.
§ Mr. Worthington
I cannot say exactly, because no one has worked out the structures. However, there will be one structure instead of two, and her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary has said that there will be savings. Those efficiencies will be made.
Mention has been made of standards of proof. Hayes recommended that standards of proof in respect of police complaints should be reduced to the level accepted in the civil courts. The Select Committee on Home Affairs is considering the matter. In respect of police discipline, the RUC has tended to follow the English and Welsh pattern, so it makes sense to wait for the conclusions of the Select Committee. I was informed that, although the Scottish pattern has been applied to civil cases, it would be sensible to keep in harmony with the English and Welsh rules.
I want to guarantee that the ombudsman will be independent. It is a big step to say that the ombudsman genuinely must be in charge of the cases, the procedure and who staffs his or her office. One point that was raised was whether the ombudsman would have the power to take up third-party complaints. The position remains as at present. Solicitors and others who are involved may bring complaints to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints.
Some wild words were said about the transfer of large powers to the Secretary of State. The Bill transfers no powers to the Secretary of State. Many of the points that were quibbled with tonight were straight copies of previous legislation that changed nothing.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone always accuses me of ignoring him and that is totally untrue. He referred to community police liaison committees. They are not mentioned on the face of the Bill because they are not statutory bodies. There will continue to be consultation with CPLCs, but we are
104 extending that consultation to district councils. It is a step forward and one of the many reasons why I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).