HC Deb 24 February 1999 vol 326 cc301-21

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Session 1997–98, on the Composition, Recruitment and Training of the RUC (HC 337) and the Government's Response thereto (HC 1142).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

9.32 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am delighted to introduce this debate on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's third report of last Session on the composition, recruitment and training of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was published on 27 July 1998. I am grateful to colleagues on the Liaison Committee for recommending this report for consideration by the House today. The Government's response was published as the Committee's third special report of last Session on 11 November 1998.

When the Select Committee first met in July 1997, we agreed that we would at all times have one inquiry in progress on a controversial subject and one on a more standard and general issue. This report falls into the former category. Our purpose was to evaluate the ways in which the RUC recruits and trains its members and how those processes can foster the widest possible community trust in the police force. The RUC has been at the centre of the fight against terrorist violence for the past 30 years. In the course of their duty, the officers of the RUC have borne the brunt of the danger and many have lost their lives or suffered horrific injuries. I pay tribute, as did the Committee in its report, to the sacrifices made by members of the RUC, and their families, over this difficult period. The Belfast agreement is intended to lead to an end to the sustained terrorist campaigns that have dominated life in Northern Ireland for a generation or more. Success in that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the role of the police.

As a result of the Belfast agreement, the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland has been established, under the chairmanship of Chris Patten, to make recommendations for future policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. That is required to report no later than autumn 1999. One of the aims of the Committee's report is to contribute to the commission's work by setting out some of the relevant issues raised in evidence. As part of its work, the commission is required to include means of encouraging widespread community support for the arrangements that it recommends. Recruitment and training have a key role in fostering such support.

The Committee came to 33 principal conclusions and recommendations. They are listed at the end of the report and I do not propose to go through them all on this occasion. I will, however, mention that we visited both Madrid and Bilbao to examine the policing of the Basque country in the context of general Spanish policing, and likewise The Hague to examine Dutch experience in lower-tier policing. Today, I propose to comment briefly on each of the three principal areas covered in the report and to conclude with a few remarks about possible future developments.

On composition, the RUC is, and always has been, disproportionately short of Roman Catholic officers. Roman Catholics make up more than 40 per cent. of the economically active population of Northern Ireland, but in August 1997 constituted only about 7.5 per cent of the RUC. It is also short of women officers: only about an eighth of RUC officers are women and they tend to be clustered in the lower ranks. Even if 40 per cent. of new intake were Catholic and 50 per cent. women, it would take a generation to eliminate those imbalances. The Committee considered that the long-standing shortage of Roman Catholic officers in particular could only make the task of building understanding between communities and the police much harder and would encourage a "them and us" mind set to develop both outside and inside the force. Such a mind set can only exacerbate the deep divide that currently exists between the police in Northern Ireland and many of those they are there to serve. As the Committee said, that must be tackled urgently.

Recruitment is the key to resolving the compositional difficulties of the RUC. Many elements combine to hinder greater recruitment of Roman Catholic officers. Intimidation and fears over personal safety have undoubtedly played their part over the past 30 years in particular. However, that factor alone cannot by itself explain low Catholic numbers: the Committee concluded that that is a symptom of the present lack of acceptance of, or confidence in, the RUC among a significant part of Northern Ireland's community.

What can be done to improve acceptance of the force and to remove disincentives to Catholic recruitment? The Patten commission will, of course, be addressing this question too, following extensive consultation in Northern Ireland. The Committee recommended two particular practical steps as having a contribution to make: ending the flying of the Union flag over police stations on 12 July and placing restrictions on RUC officers' membership of organisations or exclusive groups that generally prohibit membership on religious grounds. It is perhaps worth mentioning in tribute to my colleagues on the Committee that, in the four reports that it has so far published, despite the wide spectrum of opinion on the Committee from five different political parties, those two recommendations are the only two on which it has divided. All other recommendations in all four reports have been unanimous, without the reports becoming bland.

In the Government's response to the recommendations, the Government reported that the Chief Constable had issued instructions that the Union flag would not be flown on any public holiday, including 12 July. That goes beyond the Committee's recommendation. On membership of organisations, the Secretary of State accepted the Committee's recommendations that police officers who already belong to organisations such as the loyal orders and the Ancient Order of Hibernians should register their membership of such organisations. The Secretary of State also envisages that members of the Freemasons, which is not a sectarian organisation, should do so. Registration will initially be on a voluntary basis, and will be private, as the Committee suggested. We recommended that new recruits to the RUC should not be permitted to be members of such organisations. The Government rejected that proposition, pending the findings of the Patten commission, but accepted that there should be a more vigorous system in place for new recruits". Perhaps the Minister can expand on that somewhat opaque statement, if he catches your eye, Madam Speaker,

The Government have also established a working group to co-ordinate implementation and consider further the implications of the Committee's conclusions concerning membership of private organisations in the context of membership of public service organisations in general, not just the RUC. The details were set out in the Government's response and I hope that the Minister can describe today the progress made to date by the group in that important area.

A greater level of Roman Catholic and female recruitment will bring no long-term benefits unless the new recruits can be retained. The Committee found that the proportion of Roman Catholics in the higher ranks was encouraging, but the proportion of women was less so. The Committee received considerable evidence about the corrosive effects of sectarian and sexual harassment, which can lead to unfair discrimination and, in extreme cases, resignation from the force. The Committee pointed out the crucial role of those in supervisory ranks in changing inappropriate behaviour. The Government's response states that eliminating those pernicious practices is a priority area for the Chief Constable, and rightly so.

The Committee made a number of recommendations designed to improve the operation of the recruitment process itself. One element to which it attached importance was that the process should not only be fair, but should be seen to be fair. As part of the process, the Committee recommended an appeal for unsuccessful candidates to the new police ombudsman. In their response, the Government note that the Chief Constable is devising a formal appeal procedure. It is vital to confidence in its findings that it is not simply an intra-RUC procedure but that it includes, as the Committee recommended, a respected independent element. I welcome the Chief Constable's acceptance of the Committee's recommendation that there should be a greater civilian contribution to the recruitment process.

One benefit from a stable peace process will be that Northern Ireland will not require so large a police force. The RUC envisages an establishment more than one third smaller than at present in those circumstances. It will be a major challenge to manage such a reduction while at the same time maintaining the necessary level of recruitment both to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the force and to improve its balance.

On the evidence available to the Committee, it would be a mistake to try to engineer any reduction in numbers in a way designed to redress partially the present imbalance. Instead, the Committee believes that the way forward must be through the recruitment process.

The Committee rejected positive discrimination in favour of Roman Catholic applicants. Such discrimination is unlawful and we could see no case for making an exception for the RUC. However, the law does not rule out positive action to encourage good candidates from under-represented groups to apply to join the RUC. That, combined with a clear goal of bringing the proportion of Roman Catholics in the force up to the proportion of Roman Catholics in the population as a whole, should provide an effective way of redressing the present imbalance within a reasonable time scale.

A fair employment report is due very shortly. Further goals and timetables will be agreed with the Fair Employment Commission, and published in the summer. I hope that they will be ambitious but realistic, and will send out an unequivocal message of equality and opportunity.

The Committee made a number of recommendations on training. It received evidence that some aspects are old fashioned, with a perhaps undue emphasis on drill, given the skills that are required of modern police officers in normal circumstances. The community awareness programme has made a useful start towards addressing training needs in the modern ethos of multiculturalism. Its scope should be widened and there should be greater involvement of outside trainers.

There is a need to enhance the present low consciousness among RUC officers of all ranks of the need to acknowledge community differences. A greater involvement of outside influence in RUC training will help to modernise the outlook of recruits and serving officers, and greatly enhance the public image of the police.

Finally, I should like to look to the future for a few moments. The RUC has faced with great fortitude the challenges of the past. It will face new challenges in the future, not least in responding to the changes that will undoubtedly come in the light of the report of the independent commission.

The Committee's report concluded by stating: A lasting peace will offer many opportunities for Northern Ireland, but the changes that will result will be profound. Officers of all ranks, but especially those in senior positions, will need to display considerable leadership in developing the role of the RUC in the future. I commend the report to the House.

9.43 am
Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I was not a member of the Select Committee when the investigation took place, but I should like to begin by paying tribute to the work of past and present members of the Committee. I pay particular tribute to the Chairman, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), for his dexterity in steering a way through what were clearly difficult matters. That difficulty is shown by the fact that the Committee was divided on two issues, but the right hon. Gentleman was right to point out that there were only two.

One of the things that the report makes clear is that the tradition of policing in Northern Ireland is remarkably different. It is much more akin to what John Alderson, the former chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, once called the colonial tradition of policing, than to British community policing.

There are understandable reasons for that and, when I read the report, I was struck by the section referring to the dangers involved. It stated that it is more dangerous to be a police officer in Northern Ireland than it is to be one in El Salvador, and that police officers in Northern Ireland, rather than being killed as a byproduct of their activities, have been specifically targeted. We must all acknowledge the context in which policing takes place.

However, what comes through strongly in the report is that we must also recognise that it is almost inconceivable that a peaceful Northern Ireland will be achieved with the existing sort of police force. In particular, it is unacceptable that 40 per cent. of the population should be represented by only 8 per cent. of the police force. However much people might not want to engineer change or pursue a specific recruitment policy, it is inconceivable that there can be lasting confidence in the police without radical surgery as part of a settlement to transform that police force.

The report recognises questions of balance and the incompatibility of membership of organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians with membership of the police service. As the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster noted, it also refers to the unacceptability of flying the Union flag on 12 July. Therefore, I was surprised that the report concludes that there is no argument for changing the name, uniform or symbols of the force.

People who have served in the force may be proud of its name, uniform and symbols, but they are part of a tradition that is unacceptable. So, too, are officers who belong to organisations that the Committee considered to be incompatible with membership of the police force and activities such as flying the Union flag on 12 July, which the Committee explicitly regarded as offensive and said should not continue.

If we are to change the police force and make it more acceptable, its symbols—name, uniform, and all the other elements that people associate with it—will also have to be changed. I find it strange that the Committee should have fallen short of making that recommendation.

Also, although the work of the community awareness programme is to be welcomed, the programme is very limited. It is interesting that the response to the questionnaire on harassment, which was cited in the report, was so poor. We are asked to believe that officers will be influenced by a programme to make them aware of their potential prejudices or even bigotry. However, the fact that that was not evident in their responses to the questionnaire suggests to me that the programme is extremely tentative.

In addition, the programme has not been subject to any reliable evaluation. The force may have good intentions with regard to drawing people's attention to the problems of prejudice and religious intolerance in Northern Ireland, but it is clear that the programme is not achieving that.

As we have seen in connection with the Lawrence inquiry report here, it is not enough to say that a member of a serving police force, in this country and in this day and age, will be aware of prejudice. We need to know that there are clear steps to change behaviour and to ensure that all members of the public are treated fairly and even-handedly.

There is nothing in the community awareness programme to suggest that it is going that far. I acknowledge the intent, but we are entitled to say that the programme must go much further if it is ever going to be possible to create a police force in Northern Ireland that will be acceptable to the whole community. The difficulties of recruitment, because of the existing imbalance between Protestants and Catholics, raise the likelihood that it could take a generation to change the imbalance if we proceed with the present, or even an enhanced, recruitment policy. Because of that, it seems to me that the Committee may too lightly have dismissed the idea of a two-tier police force.

The RUC has developed around its security role almost a pseudo-military role at times. It will not be easy for the force to transform into what is more commonly understood to be a civilian police force. If we are serious about wanting a force acceptable to the whole community, creating a second tier of policing based more in traditional, civilian, community policing might offer a way forward. Perhaps some of the work that the Committee witnessed in the Basque country could be taken on board.

However much of a debt we owe to the Chief Constable of the RUC and his predecessors for their work in difficult circumstances, it is clearly wrong that any police force today should vest so much power in an individual, and that a force should be so little influenced by the community that it seeks to serve. If we genuinely want a force acceptable to the whole community, we must move significantly towards creating greater accountability. The people of Northern Ireland must genuinely be able to say that their police force belongs to all of them, and not just to one section of the community. I hope that the report will prompt urgent action to broaden accountability, and, in that sense, to weaken the power of the Chief Constable, which seems far in excess of what is tolerable today.

9.52 am
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Some reports show that four out of five nationalists or republicans feel that the Royal Ulster Constabulary must be radically reformed or even scrapped. I want to suggest a link with some undesirable behaviour in Northern Ireland, and to outline two suggestions of what we might do about it.

There is a direct link—at least in the justifications given—with paramilitary beatings, and with exiles, of whom we have not spoken much in the House. Exiles are individuals who have effectively been banned by paramilitary organisations, under threat of violence or death, from living in the Province. If we consider the connection between those two things and the RUC, we may see a link in that the paramilitaries justify their vigilante behaviour on the grounds that the RUC is not maintaining law and order in certain communities.

We would all agree that that is a weak argument for operating outside the remit of the law. However, if we are to tackle the issue, we must understand the difficulties in communities and the feelings of local people. We should challenge head on the assumptions underlying the vigilante behaviour of the paramilitary groups. One assumption of those groups and their apologists is that the RUC cannot operate effectively in some communities. Often, the low percentage of Roman Catholics in the RUC is cited as a reason for that.

My first point, therefore, is that we need to recognise the link within the logic used to justify outrageous and barbaric acts by those who perpetrate them. What can we do? My main concern is that Catholics, by and large, do not feel that they are part of the RUC. There is anecdotal evidence that good Catholic applicants are overlooked for relatively poor reasons, such as minor traffic offences. We should be able to show that that is discriminatory against Catholics. There may also be some coercion to dissuade Catholics from entering what some communities regard as a Unionist organisation.

Secondly, we do not fully understand what may dissuade Catholic applicants from putting their names forward. We should consider the proposal to conduct a comprehensive professional research project so that we can understand exactly the attitudes and opinions of potential Catholic recruits who do not apply for a career in the RUC. We must also tackle the connected question of underlying attitudes in the communities that could supply those recruits. A project could throw up some interesting and previously unseen linkages involving the paramilitary beatings and the exiles.

Finally, we must be clear that the RUC is the established organisation for maintaining law and order. A name change alone will not fix the problems. A more comprehensive review of the type suggested in the Select Committee report would go a long way to beginning to tackle underlying attitudes that make it difficult for many people in the Province to take the RUC's role seriously.

9.56 am
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

It was a privilege to participate in the investigation into the composition, recruitment and training of the Royal Ulster Constabulary under our distinguished chairman. The RUC and its reserve have served Ulster well. I pay tribute to the courage and dedication of the force, and I do so on behalf of the greater number, by far, of Northern Ireland's law-abiding citizens. We owe the RUC a great debt of gratitude for the sacrifices that it has made, especially during the past 30 years. The RUC has provided protection to persons and property irrespective of class, creed or ethnic origin.

I also record my admiration and sincere appreciation of the support given by wives, husbands, fathers, mothers and family members to their relatives who have served Ulster in most difficult times. They have faced vicious and brutal terrorist onslaughts. The RUC has earned the respect and admiration of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, and that admiration goes worldwide.

Those who call for the complete disbandment of the RUC and for its replacement with a new force are, by and large, from that sector of Northern Ireland society that has endeavoured to destabilise and overthrow the lawful authority of that region of the United Kingdom since the first day that Northern Ireland was established. Let us not encourage the anti-RUC element whose evil deeds over the past 30 years and before have caused unlimited misery, created widows and orphans, mutilated bodies and damaged minds. Those people should not be rewarded with the satisfaction of destroying the RUC.

For as long as terrorists masquerade as politicians, and until there is evidence that the terrorist war is over—the destruction of explosives and weapons, the cessation of brutal mutilations, the break-up of structures of paramilitarism and an end to protection rackets and drug smuggling—the law-abiding in Northern Ireland will need the protection of all those who serve in the RUC. The force's numbers cannot be reduced before all those things have happened.

Most people in Northern Ireland wish and pray for permanent peace. The law-abiding have never had anything to fear from the police force, and they should have nothing fear from future policing arrangements. Permanent peace will enable the RUC to become more representative of the whole community. I refute the insinuations and allegations that the RUC belongs to the Unionist community. I have never had any favours from the RUC: I have paid my fines and my debts, I have been prosecuted and I have been to prison. I have been deliberately made an example of in order to show the world that there is no favouritism—not even for Ulster Unionist politicians. So I do not want my colleagues to fall into the trap of repeating allegations that are intended to damage and discredit.

I believe that the report identifies the historic and particular reasons why there has been imbalance in the past and present composition of the RUC. We cannot minimise the targeting of Roman Catholics serving within the RUC as a deliberate means of dissuading others from applying. It is a great credit to the RUC that Roman Catholics' chances of senior promotion within the force are about twice that of Protestants. That reflects the fact that those who have joined the RUC from the Roman Catholic community have been dedicated in their service, have wished to be part of all that is good in Northern Ireland, and have received promotion on merit alone.

The report emphasises the need for a police force to reflect the religious, gender and ethnic balances of the community that it serves. We all agree with that aim, and I believe that genuine peace will enable that to happen in the case of the RUC. In the report's 33 summarised conclusions and recommendations, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has sought to assist the RUC to become a police force whose composition will command the respect, confidence and support of all citizens in Northern Ireland. We hope also that recruitment will come more readily from those sectors that are presently under-represented in the RUC. I commend the RUC for its self-examination, and do not dismiss the benefits that will flow from further development of the community awareness training programme and other on-going professional development within the RUC.

However, I caution Mr. Patten and his commission against pandering to those who seek to destroy the RUC because that will not make the police force any more acceptable. Permanent peace will assist in creating balance within the RUC and enable it to gain wider acceptance throughout the community.

10.4 am

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

I, too, am delighted that the report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has been selected for debate—I wish that more Select Committee reports would receive this treatment. Like my colleagues, I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) for the enigmatic way in which he chaired the Committee's deliberations. Our Select Committee must be one of the most diverse in the House of Commons. There are strongly held views on all sides—from Belfast, East to Brent, East—yet the vast majority of our deliberations are conducted in a friendly and co-operative manner. That is certainly a tribute to the way in which the Committee is chaired, managed and, dare I say, directed by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster—although I wish that he would represent a constituency with a shorter title.

To some extent, I believe that our report has been overtaken by events. We have witnessed the signing of the Belfast agreement and the establishment of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, whose terms of reference are remarkably similar to our own. The terms of reference state: Proposals will be designed to ensure that policing arrangements, including composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols, are such that in a new approach Northern Ireland has a police service that can enjoy widespread support from, and is seen as an integral part of, the community as a whole. I believe that the report makes a significant contribution to the debate about policing—and a range of views have been expressed this morning. Furthermore, I believe that the report provides a signpost for the work of the commission and highlights issues that were thrown up by the Committee's extensive and beneficial evidence sessions.

Perhaps the main issue is to ask: how do we achieve widespread community support for a police service and ensure that that police service is representative of the community? This is a significant day upon which to discuss policing. We shall hear later from the Home Secretary about the Macpherson report—and there are some parallels with this report. It is regrettable that a report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee has been leaked. I am also sorry that some of our more controversial recommendations were leaked to sections of the media in advance. That aside, I put on record my tribute to all those who are working for peace and fighting against terrorist violence in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

The key question is: does composition and religious affiliation really matter in the context of a police force? The answer must be an overwhelming yes. If people do not believe me or other Labour Members, they should read the evidence provided by Colin Smith, Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary. He was asked: Should the RUC be concerned about the religious affiliations of its members? If so, why? Mr. Smith's answer was unequivocal. He replied: Yes. It is a basic precept of policing in a democracy that the composition of forces should reflect the composition of the communities they serve. 'Policing by Consent' requires the police to have the respect and trust of all sections of society, and in a divided society it is essential the police officers and civilian support staff reflect both sides of the divide. Policing inevitably involves intervention in conflicts between individuals and groups, therefore adherence to this principle is an important way of demonstrating impartiality and securing universal confidence and support. I hope that we can ignore the argument that this issue does not matter—because it does.

In a society where there is a split in religious affiliations—there is some argument about the figures, but it is about 55 per cent. Protestant and 45 per cent. Roman Catholic—some 93 per cent. of RUC members come from the majority tradition. That clearly means that, in terms of composition, the Royal Ulster Constabulary fails the most basic test. There is no doubt about that. In the course of taking evidence, we observed examples of what I would call institutionalised sectarianism. It exists—let us not deny that—from the level of canteen culture bigotry through to systematic religious harassment.

However, we also heard clear and significant evidence about intimidation of members of the Roman Catholic community who wish to pursue careers in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I had the privilege of speaking to several people who wish to pursue such careers but who have been prevented from doing so by intimidation and threats of violence. We cannot ignore such behaviour. There are those in both communities who have a vested interest in creating no-go areas for the police force. I had the opportunity to discuss those issues in the terrorist mutilations debate on 27 January, so I shall not go into them now.

There is a clear link between gangsterism and paramilitary activity dressed up as political protest. A few months ago in west Belfast, I had a private meeting with a former inspector there who highlighted a poignant situation. He wants to send officers to discuss personal safety with schoolchildren but cannot because picket lines prevent the pursuit of that basic tenet of community policing. He wants to provide home security advice for pensioners but cannot because officers might be at risk. That is clear evidence of a systematic campaign to prevent the RUC is from doing its job. It is not only nationalist areas; this occurs in many of the more front-line loyalist areas. Let us return to some of the internal problems.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

If the RUC achieved this proper balance, would the situation change in west Belfast when police wish to visit some schools?

Mr. Salter

I believe that it would. If we signed up to the principle of policing by consent, it would be difficult to get community support for making areas ungovernable.

The hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) will not like hearing about the evidence not of a propagandist but of the RUC's own internal survey of religious harassment in the work place. Some 63 per cent. of Roman Catholics have been subject to religious and political harassment in the RUC during the course of their careers. I do not want to expand on that at length but let us not deny the facts. There is intimidation of people who wish to join the RUC and, within the RUC, there is intimidation of people from the minority community. What are we going to do about it?

I suggest, especially to Opposition Members, that one of the first things that we must do is accept that there is an issue. We must accept that the people who call for reform and want to achieve policing by consent in Northern Ireland are not rebels. They are not all insurrectionists trying to overthrow the British state.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that there is some harassment within the RUC of Roman Catholics, which, of course, we deplore. Does he accept that it is not institutional to the force but an example of what might be called the canteen culture, which exists in all police forces, and that the RUC is trying to address that? I acknowledge that he mentioned the intimidation of Catholics to dissuade them from joining. Does he also accept that there is a chill factor, which is not addressed in the report, in the nationalist community, quite distinct from the intimidation and criminality that he mentioned? Does he agree that we will not succeed in changing the RUC's composition until the chill factor, which is reflected in the social ostracism of Catholics who join it, in the Gaelic Athletic Association ban and in the failure of the Catholic hierarchy to appoint chaplains, is changed?

Mr. Salter

Yes and no. Yes, I believe that religious harassment is institutionalised. Careful reading of the evidence shows that. I accept that there is a significant chill factor. Members of the right hon. Gentleman's party were at almost every evidence-taking session of the Select Committee and had ample opportunity to explore the issue but chose not to. I suggest that he talks to them.

We addressed some of the significant issues involving flags, symbols and the loyal orders. Let me highlight something that needs to be praised. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). I do not believe that the RUC community awareness programme at Garnerville road is limited. If he had had the chance to visit it, I am sure that he would have been as impressed as we were. I pay tribute to the members of the nationalist and Roman Catholic community who were taking part at some personal risk. Like us, they have reached one simple conclusion: the achievement of policing by consent and a police force that tries to represent the community that it serves is a precondition for a peaceful democratic society. I believe that there is no case for revolution but there is a clear case for gradual reform. I hope that this report is a significant contribution to that process.

10.15 am
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

I wish to address a controversial issue that emerged from the report: the membership of exclusive organisations. I was advised when the Committee met that, as a member of the Loyal Orange Institution of England, I have a non-pecuniary interest to declare. I have some doubts about that advice because I have no involvement whatsoever in the Orange Order of Ireland or any of its constituent lodges. Nevertheless, I make the declaration.

I strongly agreed with the Secretary of State's response to the report when she wrote: the overriding principle is that those who hold positions of public responsibility should be, and should be seen to be, impartial in the discharge of their duties. I believe that that goes to the heart of the issue. The argument that membership of the exclusive orders runs counter to that lacks any evidence.

Some may love it to be otherwise, but the impartiality of the RUC, with members of the loyal orders in its ranks, cannot be seriously or significantly challenged. It is evident from the higher arrest and conviction rate for loyalist terrorists and from the fact that the RUC has been on the receiving end of loyalist terrorism. Most recently, PC Greg Taylor was kicked to death by loyalists in Ballymoney. PC Frank O'Reilly was critically injured by a blast bomb during loyalist rioting in Portadown last August. Most especially, the RUC's impartiality is evident in the continuing and sometimes ugly saga of Drumcree, where it demonstrates exemplary courage, valour and discipline in its confrontation with loyalists, some of whom, no doubt, are members of the loyal orders. The fact is that the RUC, with many members of the loyal orders in its ranks, has served both sides of Northern Ireland's divided community with magnificent heroism and restraint.

In her response, the Secretary of State, pending the findings of the independent commission, chose not to challenge the assertion of the Apprentice Boys that there is nothing incompatible in membership of their organisation and of the RUC. Nor did she challenge, again pending the findings of the independent commission, their opposition to any move that would prevent police officers from following their religion and culture. I agree with that approach, which is why, in Committee, I tabled an amendment to the effect that RUC officers, both current and new recruits, should be allowed to belong to private societies such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians or the loyal orders, but be required to register their membership. That view is shared, according to the Secretary of State's response, by the police authority. I still believe that that is the right approach. If we were to deny members of those groups the right to be, or to become, police officers, we would be guilty of bigotry and prejudice comparable with that which we condemn in others.

10.19 am
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

In the five minutes available to me, I shall concentrate on paragraph 37 of the report. I associate myself with the many speeches of praise of the bravery of those who have sought to implement peace in Northern Ireland.

There is in England a gipsy camp known to me. In it, there are a number of young people who would be best described as hooligans. Despite that, that gipsy camp is an exemplary neighbour. Local people have no difficulties with the hooligans, because the person who is in charge of the gipsy camp says to the neighbours, "If any of my lads do anything which, in any way, invades your peace or your ability to enjoy your premises, let me know, and I'll deal with them"—and deal with them he does.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

By what means?

Mr. McWalter

By the strap or other such means, as families have done for hundreds of years; I do not commend that. In England, such a different source of authority from the law and the police force is very rare. In Northern Ireland, the number of people who regard themselves as appealing to some other authority or law is very much greater than in England.

The Select Committee report took seriously the plight of those who regard themselves as alienated. Although we of course dealt with the issue of under-representation of women in the RUC, the report specifically deals with the issue of under-representation of Catholics in the force. Some will see the report as pro-Catholic, some will see it as pro-nationalist, some will even see it as pro-republican.

I draw attention to paragraph 37, which establishes unanimously that the Committee took seriously the problem of under-representation, and recognised that some things could be done, within approved legal structures, to try to minimise the extent to which there is a law and a force other than that of the state. It states that one of the things that we must do is to say that the cause of low Roman Catholic membership is not merely a result of intimidation. Even if intimidation contributes to the cause—how we quantify such a contribution, I do not know—and even if an element in the Catholic community is saying, "You will not join that; if you do, you are a traitor", there are nevertheless things that we can do to improve the situation.

I agree very strongly with the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) on the community awareness programme that the RUC has inaugurated. It is fantastic. It recognises the Catholic community's problems, and has made an enormous effort to understand why so many people in the Catholic community feel alienated from the normal processes of law. The programme is doing its best to try to address that issue.

Although exemplary in its content, the community awareness programme is not sufficiently extended. How much of the process of training is devoted to such problems of alienation? The answer is comparatively little. How many RUC members, such as those who have been in post for 10 or 15 years, or are members of the canteen culture that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) described, have access to the programme? The answer, again, is comparatively little. The community awareness programme is not sufficiently distributed throughout the RUC, and is not sufficiently taken on board, even in training recruits.

One of the things that I discovered as a lecturer in philosophy was that it is very difficult to address people's reluctance to take seriously ideas which their culture has treated as nugatory. It takes an awful lot of effort, training, essay writing and discussion. Just being given a relatively small snapshot of what life might be like on the other side is not sufficient.

Paragraph 37 says that confidence in the RUC must be achieved among a much wider number of people in the Northern Ireland community. The report begins that debate, takes that issue seriously, and does so with the approval of all members of the Committee, from Belfast, East to Brent, East.

10.26 am
Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

I echo the comments of my colleagues on the Committee on the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). We have all enjoyed working under him. It was a remarkable achievement to reach the level of consensus that is borne out in the report in a Committee comprising quite a diverse range of political opinion. I also pay tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which has suffered greatly during the past 30 years of terrorist violence. We ought to recall the level of sacrifice that its members have made in defending and protecting all of the community in Northern Ireland.

The main thrust of the report deals with the imbalance of membership of women and Roman Catholics in the RUC. It proposes improvements in training and recruitment procedures to deal with that imbalance, which I welcome.

I and some other colleagues dissented from two aspects of the report. One was the issue of flying the Union flag. It is worth bearing in mind that the Union flag is our national flag, and that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It is appropriate, on occasions, for the RUC to fly the national flag. Equally, I welcome the Committee's conclusion that there is no clear reason for making a special case for changing the name of the RUC. Members of that police force carry the name with pride. The name is also very important to the widows and orphans of RUC members who have lost their lives serving the community.

There is no case to be made against other aspects of RUC symbolism either. Considering that the force's badge shows the harp, the crown and the shamrock, nobody could reasonably argue that it does not fairly reflect both traditions in Northern Ireland. Similarly, I find it unconvincing that nationalists argue against a police force whose members wear a green uniform.

I and other colleagues also dissented from prohibition of the recruitment to the RUC of members of certain organisations. Such a prohibition would raise a number of issues, not least the question of fair employment. I am not convinced that existing laws on fair employment in Northern Ireland would permit such a prohibition. I believe firmly that recruitment to the RUC should be on merit, and merit alone.

I support the proposal for the registration of membership of such organisations. I welcome the fact that the Government, in their response, rejected the Committee's recommendation on prohibition of membership. It would be foolish to deny a sizeable proportion of the community in Northern Ireland access to membership of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, bearing it in mind that the organisations mentioned in the report represent a large proportion of the population. We are seeking inclusivity in our police service in Northern Ireland, and such a prohibition would mitigate against that.

If the Minister has time, will he clarify exactly the organisations which officers of the RUC will be encouraged to register their membership of? Will they include, for example, membership of organisations such as the Knights of St. Columbanus and Opus Dei, as well as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the loyal orders and the Freemasons?

In his intervention, my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) mentioned the chill factor. It is not correct for the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) to suggest that the wider chill factor was not addressed in the report. Paragraph 4 of the conclusions and recommendations refers to intimidation, peer group pressure and so on. Those are symptoms of the wider chill factor towards the RUC within the nationalist community, which expresses itself in a number of ways. My right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann mentioned the Gaelic Athletic Association's ban on members of the RUC belonging to its organisation.

There have also been problems with members of the SDLP—the largest nationalist party—refusing to serve on local police liaison committees. That, too, sends out the wrong signal to the nationalist community about the acceptability of the RUC and creates and adds to the wider chill factor.

Impartiality has also been mentioned. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs). I add that one only has to visit the Maze and Maghaberry prisons to see that their number of loyalist prisoners equates to—indeed, in proportionate terms, is greater than—the number of republican prisoners. We must accept that it was the RUC who put those men behind bars and in that respect it has been highly impartial.

It is ironic that we are having this debate on the day on which we anticipate the publication of a report on the investigation by the Metropolitan police into the murder of Mr. Stephen Lawrence. Without anticipating the findings of that report, it is fair to say that no police service in the United Kingdom or anywhere in the world is perfect. The RUC does not pretend to be perfect, but when we bear in mind what that police service has had to endure in the past 30 years of terrorist violence and the difficult conditions in which it has had to work, we realise that it has acted honourably and professionally. I hope that the RUC will continue to be the police force that provides an excellent service to the people of Northern Ireland.

10.33 am
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

I want to deal with aspects of the problem of recruitment of Catholics to the RUC. The leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), has recognised and condemned the canteen culture that exists, and that is important. However, paragraph 37 of the report, which deals with those matters, stresses that a picture does emerge: intimidation; peer group pressure; losing contact with family and friends", and expresses concern for the safety of Roman Catholic officers. That obviously provides a tremendous bar to recruitment to people from Roman Catholic areas.

One of the factors behind that is the intimidation and beatings perpetrated by the IRA. If we were discussing other matters, I might want to talk about loyalist paramilitary activity, but it is sufficient in this debate to refer to IRA activity. It has sought to operate as a crude police force, judge, jury and executioner in the most barbaric fashion to contain and control its own communities. In those circumstances, it is difficult for people to contemplate a career in the RUC, yet the IRA can change its policy, as it did during Clinton's visit and in the run-up to the Belfast agreement. Recent publicity from the House and elsewhere means that during the past fortnight republican violence has ended, apart from perhaps one incident.

Sinn Fein is sufficiently worried about the violence to have thought of an alternative that it calls restorative justice, in which it brings together victims and those who have committed a crime to sort out matters. I am not against restorative justice if it is operated by officialdom, but I am not in favour of it being operated by a political party.

Responses to the beatings, such as that by the leader of the Ulster Unionists—who suggested that Amnesty International should monitor the situation; and the organisation responded to that—mean that the violence seems to have been called off for the time being. As long as the publicity is kept up, that situation will continue.

We now need to tackle the problem of people being forced into exile from Northern Ireland or particular communities. Several hundred people have been chased out of Northern Ireland by paramilitary groups.

In January, Families Against Intimidation and Terror assisted 15 families to leave Northern Ireland and has dealt with about 80 people this year. In Manchester, the Christian group Maranatha is dealing with 14 cases. It assists one family a week, but before the ceasefire it was dealing with only one family a month. That is a serious matter that could be tackled by 10 March.

The Peace Train organisation and New Dialogue, of which I am joint president, are calling for action by the IRA to stop exiling people. That could be done in two stages. The first is to ensure that no more people are placed in exile, then we must tackle the problem of returning people to Northern Ireland, which obviously is linked to ending violence and intimidation because people cannot return unless the circumstances are favourable.

Those approaches are hugely important for putting in place arrangements for people in Catholic communities to feel secure in applying for membership of the RUC. Our immediate situation is therefore highly relevant to the problems that we are discussing this morning.

10.38 am
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

My party warmly welcomes the fair and well-balanced report produced by the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs under the distinguished chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke).

The debate has been useful and well balanced, and has proved timely because we have discussed the issues being considered by the Patten commission under the Belfast agreement. Many of the Select Committee's arguments and conclusions are reflected in our submission to the Patten commission, which we published last September. We look forward to the commission nailing the lies and distortions of those who wish to discredit the RUC and those such as Sinn Fein-IRA which would like it to be disbanded.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the RUC. My party is unstinting in its admiration and praise for that force. We shall do everything to uphold the integrity and reputation of the most courageous police force in the United Kingdom. For 30 years it has been in the front line against terrorism, protecting democracy. It has stood between the rule of law and the descent into anarchy in a part of the United Kingdom.

The RUC has paid a terrible price: 302 of its members have been murdered and nearly 9,000 have been injured. Intimidation continues, with many families driven from their homes. In 1998 alone, 71 families of past or serving RUC officers were rehoused owing to intimidation. Only a few weeks ago when I visited South Armagh, I learned of another police man and his family who have had to be moved under extreme circumstances.

Responsibility for that lies mainly with the Provisional IRA and other republican terror groups, although officers have suffered also at the hands of so-called loyalists. All hon. Members have seen the disgraceful scenes at Drumcree, where members of the RUC have been attacked and brutalised in quite unreasonable circumstances.

When Sinn Fein calls for the RUC to be disbanded, it is pursuing a long-held republican ambition that the IRA should be allowed to police nationalist areas. That would mean replacing the rule of law with knee-cappings and beatings with baseball bats, as we have seen in recent months. In carrying out its duties, the RUC has never been above or outside the law, but always subject to it.

It is important that there should be change, and every hon. Member who has contributed to the debate has confirmed that. Let us not forget that the RUC has been a willing instigator of change. The force is unrecognisable from the force of 30 years ago, when the present troubles started. In recent years there has been a fundamental review of policing, the adoption of an annual policing plan, a three-year strategic plan, local strategic plans, the creation of local community police liaison committees—I was pleased to hear of the evidence that the Select Committee collected from those committees—and the setting of targets for sub-divisions and sub-departments.

In a survey carried out in September 1997, 78 per cent. of the people thought that the RUC does a good or a very good job. Significantly, 55 per cent. of the nationalist community came up with that response. That must be underlined and not forgotten.

The greatest change that the RUC requires is a permanent end to terrorism. That will allow the flak jackets, the guns and the armoured vehicles to go. It will allow the RUC to develop into a police force truly working in partnership with the community. No organisation would welcome that more than the RUC.

At the heart of my party's approach to policing is a belief that change should not be made for its own sake, and certainly not for political reasons. Conservatives believe that nothing should be done that undermines the effectiveness of the RUC in protecting the public and upholding the rule of law.

There should be no question of disbanding the RUC. It should remain the legitimate police force in Northern Ireland and it should remain a united force. The proposal to establish local forces or to separate the anti-terrorist function from what we would call normal policing would be inefficient, lead to two-tier policing and encourage those who wish to supplant the RUC.

The operational independence of the RUC must be retained at all costs to prevent the police ever becoming the operational tool of politicians of whatever political party—a problem that nationalists will recall from the Stormont period. That is not to say that accountability does not exist. The Chief Constable is accountable to Parliament, to the Police Authority and, above all, to the law. The Police Act 1998 introduces a police ombudsman and clarifies the tripartite relationship between the Secretary of State, the Police Authority and the Chief Constable. It should be given time to work.

With regard to control of the police, once the Assembly is working thoroughly, there is a case for transferring responsibility to Stormont for some matters currently carried out by the Secretary of State, but with strong safeguards, especially of operational independence. No change should be made to the tripartite structure without the consent of the House. No transfer should take place until the decommissioning of illegally held weapons has been completed, and until the routine support of the Army is no longer needed.

The crucial and sensitive issue raised by so many hon. Members in the debate is composition and recruitment. The RUC, as we have regularly been told, is 92 per cent. Protestant. We all want a police force that more accurately reflects the make-up of society, but the Minister and I know that there are no quick fixes. The biggest deterrent to Catholics joining the force, as has been said in all parts of the House today, has been intimidation and threats from the IRA and other republicans.

Peace will help, but it will not bring results overnight. Merit must remain the basis of recruitment. The goal should be to recruit a much higher proportion of Catholics than exists in the population as a whole. I hope that that will happen.

The other sensitive issue is symbols, culture and ethos in the force. Like the Select Committee, we see no justification for changing the name of the RUC. It is a name granted by royal charter of which the force is justly proud. As the Chief Constable has pointed out, there is no evidence that the name is a significant barrier to Catholic recruitment. If there were, we would be prepared to be more flexible, to stamp that out. There can be no place in the RUC for religious or sexual discrimination. We applaud the efforts of the Chief Constable to stamp out that evil.

We support the view of the Select Committee that the Union flag should not be flown on 12 July. The Chief Constable's decision that flags should not be flown at all from police stations in the Province seems sensible, sensitive and the correct way forward.

The size of the force will be a problem. Any reduction in size from the present 13,000 members must be gradual. Even when peace is established, there will still need to be a larger force than the forces serving a comparable population in other parts of the United Kingdom. We strongly support the Chief Constable's estimate that owing to exceptional demands, the RUC should in future be, in his words, in the order of less than 8,000 strong". It would be remiss of me not to conclude by condemning—I know that I do so on behalf of every hon. Member—the dreadful incident in Bessbrook in the early hours of the morning. It is another example of mutilation, beating, torture and intimidation in the Province. A young woman was attacked by eight hooded psychopaths. When they could not find the man whom they were looking for, and with her four young children lying in bed, they inscribed a death threat across her arms and legs. That is a vivid illustration of the dreadful problem of those who have not renounced violence, as the hon. Member for NorthEast Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) mentioned.

The conclusion is that one of the principal reasons for the continuing violence is that paramilitaries on both sides of the sectarian divide wish to control their own communities to such an extent that they will be able to persuade others that there can be a reform of the RUC and no need for the legitimate police force to be present in those areas. I believe that all hon. Members present totally reject that. That must a clear message from the debate today.

10.50 am
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) on bringing this subject to the Floor of the House and on his skilful chairmanship of the Committee. It is a measure of his chairmanship that there have been so few recorded differences between members of the Committee, given the highly contentious issues with which they have to deal. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this important debate.

The volume of written and oral evidence to the Committee clearly bears testament to the fact that the subject matter is extremely complex. The Committee's work in taking, testing and probing that evidence could not have been easy. I know from the experience of having given evidence to the Committee, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, how much effort went into the Committee's work, and I shared a very concentrated afternoon with them. I should like to say that it was an enjoyable occasion, but would not want knowingly to mislead the House. I have appeared before the Committee on a number of occasions and I know how thoroughly and exhaustively it goes about its task.

I have listened very carefully to what has been said this morning. Let me begin by paying tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I have noted the tributes paid to members of the RUC and its Reserve for what they have endured and achieved during the past 30 years. I should like to echo those tributes, which have been hard earned over many years of service and sacrifice in the interest of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. It is important that those sacrifices are not forgotten or diminished.

The RUC has played a crucial part in maintaining stability through the past difficult 30 years. All those who have served over the years, and their families, will take comfort from the sentiments expressed today about their role.

Before I come to the core of the report, I want to put my response in context. This will show that the Government's priorities reflect the Committee's timely recommendations. The Belfast agreement of 10 April is an achievement that provides the opportunity for a peaceful future based on an agreed political settlement. Although much progress has been made to date, a number of fundamental difficulties remain, although those should not overshadow what has been achieved.

The endorsement of the agreement in referendums, the election of a new Northern Ireland Assembly, the passage of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the establishment of a Human Rights Commission and an Equality Commission will put Northern Ireland at the forefront of protecting people's rights. The Government have established the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland and a criminal justice review, and we have seen the ending of routine military patrols in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland and other moves towards a more normal security environment.

The Committee said that some changes in policing—for instance, overcoming the RUC's religious imbalance, which formed recommendation No. 16—would follow change in the political background in Northern Ireland. The Government agree with that view. The Committee's recommendation No. 27 that the status of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary in Northern Ireland be regularised has also been taken on board. That function will become a statutory requirement as from April this year.

The Government agree with the Committee that changes to police governance are key to creating greater public confidence. That is set out in recommendation No. 30. We agree, too, about the need for clarity in accountability, set out in recommendation No. 31.

Those issues are fundamental to establishing confidence in the police service, which is why the Government are engaged in a wide-ranging programme of reform and modernisation of policing in Northern Ireland. We have carried through changes to strengthen accountability, clarify roles and responsibilities, and enhance confidence by the passing of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. For example, as hon. Members have recognised, the establishment of a wholly independent Office of Police Ombudsman is a ground-breaking, confidence-building reform. Its aim is to secure police and public confidence in the impartiality of the new system, and it is unique within the United Kingdom. We are in the process of appointing the ombudsman and hope to make an announcement next month.

Measures to enhance accountability by setting aims and targets for policing and the production of a policing plan were implemented in October 1998. The results of that will be made public next month when the first statutory annual policing plan will be issued by the Police Authority. Other changes clarifying the roles and management responsibilities of the Police Authority, the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State, with consequent benefits for efficiency and effectiveness, are on target to be implemented in April 1999 and are set out in the 1998 Act.

On the subject of accountability, I also welcome the rapid expansion of community and police liaison committees—from some 30 to 100 in the past two years—presided over by the Police Authority and the RUC.

The Committee was also concerned with issues of impartiality and the removal of disincentives for Roman Catholics to join, set out in recommendation No. 3 of the report. As other hon. Members have noted, the flying of the Union flag was an issue, and the Secretary of State said in her response to the Committee that the Chief Constable has brought practice in Northern Ireland into line with that in Great Britain.

On another symbolic issue, measures in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 to modernise the RUC "oath" were implemented in October last year. The Secretary of State recently laid before Parliament a statement of policing principles agreed between the Secretary of State, the Police Authority and the Chief Constable, highlighting the importance attached to the issue of impartiality.

I want now to deal with the future and the Patten commission. We cannot stand still on an issue as important as policing, but must take a balanced and evolutionary approach. It shows the willingness of the Government and the RUC to embrace sensible change. It is worth noting that some of those who call for the most drastic changes are not prepared to accept change in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement. If the RUC is prepared to embrace change, so should others. Those critics should move away from empty rhetoric and accept the democratic process. There can be no justification for bullying, intimidation and harassment, or for brutal summary justice on the pretext that the RUC is an unacceptable police force. Even if people want to see further changes, that is no excuse for failing to co-operate with the police.

The Committee has, quite properly, expressed its views on what is referred to as "two-tiered" policing. It is not appropriate for me to guess what the commission might recommend, and I suggest that that should be left to the commission to report on. However, the two extremes of no change and total disbandment of the RUC are not likely to be on the commission's agenda, and they are not on the Government's.

The Government's goal is to have the best possible police service for all of the people of Northern Ireland. We want policing that is acceptable and effective; impartial and accountable; truly representative; and takes account of differences within the wider community on this issue.

The focus should be on producing solutions that will meet the practical needs of the people of Northern Ireland, as the Committee has done in its report, rather than based on any sterile, ideological analysis. That is why the Patten commission was set up. It is an independent body that can approach the subject objectively and constructively. Its task is to take us from where we are at present to where it judges we should be in the future.

Change is inevitable and the RUC recognises the need for change. It wants to be a normal police service. How quickly that can be achieved will depend on how long the terrorist threat remains. Even set against the huge sacrifices that the RUC has made over the past three decades, its ambition is to use the skills that it has quietly developed over the years in non-terrorist areas to provide a policing service relevant to everyone in the community.

I have given examples of how the RUC is developing that approach. There are others. For instance, in the international arena officers have recently trained in the United States of America with colleagues from the Garda Siochana, and in April RUC officers will bring their expertise to help the efforts of the United Nation's international task force on policing in Bosnia.

Nearer home, I am sure that Committee members were as delighted as I was to see an RUC officer win a top UK award for community policing. It was a first-class achievement and belies those who seek to portray the RUC as a hostile force, remote from the community it is charged to serve. The Government's aim, guided by the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing, will be to build on those skills as we develop a policing service for the Northern Ireland of the future.

Many other areas require to be touched on, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with those in her response to the Select Committee—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We must conclude the debate at that point and proceed to the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture. I call Mr. Luff.

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