HL Deb 02 December 1969 vol 306 cc13-28

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is not so very long since we had a very full and valuable discussion in your Lordships' House on the situation in Northern Ireland. In that debate the Government spokesman outlined a large number of measures that had been taken, mainly the ones that had been taken by the Government of Northern Ireland, and I do not propose, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, to go over the whole ground again because it was pretty thoroughly ploughed and we were able to look at all the recommendations of the Hunt Report.

The Police Bill in front of your Lordships to-day is not a large measure in itself; indeed, it is of a somewhat technical character and is limited in scope. Nevertheless, it is an important part of the series of legislative and administrative measures to which I have also referred involved in the reform of the Police Force in Northern Ireland. These reforms in themselves are of very great importance, concerned, as they are, with law and order. It is essential in any community for the machinery of law enforcement to command wide public confidence. In recognition of this, in late August this year the Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs asked Lord Hunt, together with Sir James Robertson and Mr. Mark, to examine the recruitment, organisation, structure and composition of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Special Constabulary and their respective functions, and to recommend as necessary what changes were required to provide for the efficient enforcement of law and order in Northern Ireland.

With a most commendable sense of the urgency that the situation demanded, indeed with that sense of duty which we all very fully recognise exists in the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who I hope will be able to take part in our debate to-day, Lord Hunt's Committee presented on October 3 a penetrating and constructive Report. This enabled the Report to be discussed between the Home Secretary and Northern Ireland Ministers on October 9 and 10, and the communiqué issued after that meeting sets out the principles accepted by the Northern Ireland Government. The Hunt Committee concluded that the main trouble was that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been asked to do too many different things. It was a para-military force as much as a police force, and the Committee recommended that its para-military role should be split away from its police duties. Only by doing this would it be able to restore its relations with the whole community. Broadly speaking, the Committee said the R.U.C. should be a civilianised and normally unarmed force, and that there should be a police authority, representative of the community as a whole, to which the Inspector-General should be accountable. A purely military force should assume responsibility for helping the Army to keep the border and key points secure against guerilla-type attacks, and a force of special constables on the English pattern should be available to reinforce the R.U.C. in police duties.

All this the Northern Ireland Government accepted. The Ulster Special Constabulary was to continue in being until a fully effective security force was available to replace it; and it would then come to an end. Your Lordships will shortly be considering the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill, which I understand another place has finished after somewhat arduous experiences, under which the new security force will be formed. The establishment of a new reserve for the Royal Ulster Constabulary is in the hands of the Northern Ireland Government following the publication of their White Paper on November 12.

The changes in the role of the R.U.C. are not by any means the end of the police reforms, which, so far as legislation is required, will be the subject of a Bill introduced at Stormont by the Northern Ireland Government. Legislation alone does not bring about that restoration of confidence which everyone wants to see. The new Inspector-General, Sir Arthur Young, has made it his object to create a spirit of confidence in the force; and it is apparent, as your Lordships expected, that Sir Arthur Young has made a very great contribution already. On November 11 the R.U.C. went on duty entirely without arms. The object will be that the only circumstances in which the force will carry arms will be those in which British police forces carry arms; namely, in dealing with suspects or escaped convicted persons who are carrying arms and, it is believed, will use them to resist arrest. Applications to join the R.U.C. are coming in well. The new recruiting forms that began to be used yesterday have no question about an applicant's religion. We are all rather anxious to study the effect of the R.U.C.'s new image on its recruiting, but it is too soon to say any more than that we are optimistic about the result.

This, my Lords, is the background against which this Bill needs to be considered. It does not itself make any reform in the R.U.C.; it is rather a measure of support for reform by making possible arrangements for a closer association between the R.U.C. and the police forces in Great Britain. The Hunt Committee stressed the mutual benefit to be gained from this closer association, which would widen the horizons of members of the R.U.C. and enable them to profit from the experience of forces in Great Britain. They pointed out that the R.U.C. ought to be able to profit by and participate in the extensive research being carried out in Great Britain in the methods of policing and new types of equipment. The Committee formed the impression that the R.U.C. felt isolated from other police forces, and that their morale would be raised by the forging of links with forces in Great Britain. They suggested that the R.U.C. might with advantage adopt the machinery of consultation with exists in Great Britain to ensure good communication between the Home Departments, Chief Officers of Police and other members of the service. Finally, they recommended that it should he possible for the R.U.C. to be reinforced in emergencies by police from Great Britain, and vice versa.

My Lords, not all of these recommendations require to be implemented by legislation. The Bill before your Lordships makes provision in Clauses 1 and 3 for mutual aid; that is, the arrangement for reinforcements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and vice versa. Clause 2 makes provision for British policemen more readily to undertake secondments to the R.U.C. Clause 4 makes provision for the Police Council for Great Britain to be extended to include Northern Ireland. Before turning to the Bill clause by clause, perhaps I may say that I appreciate there may be particular matters which noble Lords will wish to have dealt with, but for the sake of clarity I am not going to try to anticipate them; all the more so as my noble friend the Lord Advocate will be winding up at the end of the debate. I should now like to give what I hope will be a full enough description of the Bill itself.

Clause 1 provides for aid by way of temporary reinforcement to the Royal Ulster Constabulary by home police forces—that is to say, police forces in England and Wales in Section 14 of the Police Act Stormont Parliament power to enable the R.U.C. to give aid to a home police force. There is already provision for mutual aid of this kind between forces in England and Wales in Section 14 of the Police Act 1964, and between police forces in Scotland in Section 11 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. The object is to assist a force whose manpower resources are insufficient to meet an out of the ordinary commitment of short duration. Examples might be a major flood disaster, sporting event, political demonstration or Royal occasion—and we all recall a recent occasion when the Metropolitan Police were in fact fulfilling this role in Wales. Under these provisions, aid may be provided by the chief officer of one force at the request of the chief officer of another. If the Secretary of State regards aid as necessary, he has power to direct a chief officer to provide aid. There is provision for the police authority of the aided force to pay to the authority of the aiding force an agreed contribution in respect of the aid provided. Subsections (1) and (2) make corresponding provision for aid by a British police force to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It will be necessary for the Northern Ireland Government, in their Bill, to enable this aid to be paid for.

Subsection (3) of this clause provides that when a British constable is sent on mutual aid to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary he will be under the direction and control of the Inspector General. This corresponds to the provision made for mutual aid between forces in this country. There was a good deal of discussion in another place about the Special Powers Acts that are in force in Northern Ireland and it was made clear on behalf of the Government that there was no intention that visiting British policemen should exercise the special police powers that these Acts involves.

It would be right that arrangements should also be made for mutual aid in the opposite direction by the Royal Ulster Constabulary to a British police force. Subsection (4) extends the powers of the Stormont Parliament to enable them to legislate on this topic; they can at present legislate only for what takes place in Northern Ireland. The House may find it convenient for me to refer in this context to Clause 3, though it means taking it out of its turn. This deals with the British end of aid by the Royal Ulster Constabulary to a British force. Two provisions are required. The first is to enact that the aiding officers are under the direction of the chief officer of the aided force and have the powers of a constable in the aided area—as they have in the case of mutual aid within England and Wales or within Scotland. This is done by subsection (1). The second is to empower the police authority of the aided British force to make a payment for the aid to the Northern Ireland authorities. This is the purpose of subsection (2).

Before leaving mutual aid I should observe that I am aware that there is feeling in the service and among the police authorities that the provision for mutual aid should not be brought into force too soon. This arises from the possibility that police officers from Great Britain might be sent to Northern Ireland in circumstances in which they might have to serve alongside a constabulary whose relations with the public and methods of working might be very different from those with which we are familiar in Great Britain. I have already given an indication of the progress already made towards bringing the methods of working of the Constabulary into line with British methods and I am confident that this process will move steadily towards the situation which we desire. However, the Government understand the misgivings of those who are concerned that Clause 1 of the Bill should not be brought into force too soon, and the Home Secretary has given an assurance that this clause—apart from subsection (4)—will not be brought into force until conditions of police operations and service in Northern Ireland are more in line with those in Great Britain. He is also advising chief officers that when the clause has been brought into effect they should consult him through the medium of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary in case of doubt as to the wisdom of meeting a request for aid—particularly one with political implications.

I now turn back to Clause 2 which makes provision for facilitating short service engagements of members of British police forces in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There is already provision under the existing law for a member of a British police force, with consent, to leave that force and join the Royal Ulster Constabulary with continuity of service for pension. And where a member of the R.U.C. transfers to a British force, the Constabulary pension code provides for the payment of a transfer value and the previous service in Northern Ireland counts by virtue of our Police Pensions Regulations. It is thus already possible for a British police officer to leave his force and be accepted as a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary without loss of pension rights, and vice versa. But the present arrangements assume that the transfer will be permanent. The Hunt Report recommended that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary should be encouraged to apply for posts in forces in Great Britain, and vice versa. This involves permanent transfer, and the legislative basis already exists, although some changes in police regulations will be needed.

The Report went on, however, to suggest the interchange of personnel between the Constabulary and forces in Great Britain by means of attachments or secondments. In order to arrange for short service engagements of this kind, it is convenient to make use of these existing provisions for transfer in either direction. All that needs to be added is a right of reversion at the conclusion of the agreed period of short service. This is what Clause 2 provides. It is modelled on Section 2 of the Police (Overseas Service) Act, 1945.

Clause 4 gives effect to a recommendation of Chapter 7 of the Hunt Report that the central representative body of the Royal Ulster Constabulary should be given a statutory right to take part in negotiations about conditions of service. There is already in existence a Police Council for Great Britain established by Section 45 of the Police Act 1964. This is the negotiating body for the Police Service on specified matters—broadly speaking, pay and allowances and other conditions of service—and the advisory body on pensions matters. It consists of an Official Side—loosely speaking, the employers' side—including representatives of the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland and of the local authority associations; and a Staff Side, including nominees of the various bodies representing the police, such as the two Police Federations. What is needed to give effect to the recommendation is to enlarge this body into a Police Council for the United Kingdom by the addition on either side of representatives of the proposed new police authority and of the representative body of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. For technical reasons, it is simpler and clearer to replace Section 45 of the Police Act, 1964 rather than to amend it so as to extend it to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The purpose of Clause 5 is to facilitate the making of certain technical amendments to the Police Pensions Regulations. Clause 6 is formal, and Clause 7 makes provision for the fixing of appointed days for the coming into operation of the various provisions of the Bill. The Home Secretary has given the police organisations an assurance that he will consult them before fixing the dates of commencement for the provisions on mutual aid and the Police Council. My Lords, I began by saying that the Bill is limited in its scope. I have endeavoured to show the way in which it fits into and supports the wider programme. This is an immensely important programme for Northern Ireland. I have deliberately not sought to survey the whole of the Northern Ireland scene nor to conjure up some of the issues which have caused such deep anxiety. I believe that this is a useful and constructive measure. It is through measures of this kind that we shall hope to see the achievement of stability and peace in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.(Lord Shackleton.)

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for taking us through this Bill both quickly and clearly. As he says, there will be certain points raised during the debate and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will, I hope, deal with them. We on these Benches welcome this Bill. We think it a good measure. I am particularly glad to be able to welcome it in person, as to some extent the "father" of this Bill is my old brother officer, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

This is a measure which will help the Royal Ulster Constabulary, when they have finished giving up their para-military duties, to approximate to the police forces in this country. I think I am right in saying—I shall be interested to hear whether the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, confirms it—that one of the things which the Royal Ulster Constabulary would like to do more than anything else is to give up their para-military duties; and this Bill will help. When looking at the Bill we must remember that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is a very small force—I think that there are something like 3,000 of them—but they have a very large area to control; and on occasions probably they will need help, as was said by the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, for things like a Royal Visit, or perhaps a Springbok match, or a series of rather militant strikes.

In addition, under this Bill it will be possible for members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to come here to attend police colleges, to work with our police and to learn with our police, and for some of our police to go and learn with them. My Lords, I think that this is most important. In fact, this Bill will enable the Royal Ulster Constabulary to do what our own chief constables do. The head of one force asks the head of another force for help. If the head of the other force is able to provide it, he says, "Yes". If he does not think that he can provide help he says, "No".

When this Bill was first introduced many of us had doubts or reservations about parts of it. Many of those doubts and reservations have, I think, been allayed following the debate in the other place, for those of us who either listened to the debate or who have read the Commons Hansard. But doubts and reservations are still held by a great number of people outside this House and the other place who have not read Hansard; and I think, therefore, that it might be helpful if I were to specify, very shortly, what were the doubts we had, and which of them we think have been allayed, and why. There is one doubt which we still hold, and I shall ask the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Advocate, whether he will deal with it more fully when he replies.

The first doubt we had was whether, considering the shortage of numbers in certain police forces in this country, it was wise to expect them to provide help for Northern Ireland in an emergency or on special occasions; whether, in fact, we could spare the men. This provision is referred to in Clause 1(1) of the Bill. There might be a perfectly normal request from the head of one force to the head of another. I do not think that we need be unduly worried about that. If, for example, a chief constable in this country said he could not provide men, he would not have to do so. I think that provision ought to work quite satisfactorily. What worried us more was Clause 1(2) where, on the face of it, the Home Secretary could order a chief constable to send men to help in Northern Ireland, if the Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary asked him directly to do so. We thought that it would be putting too great a strain on our home police forces if the Home Secretary were able to say, "Well, send men; I do not care whether you can spare them or not." In fact the explanations given by the Home Secretary in another place are, I think, quite satisfactory.

The Home Secretary committed himself but, of course, he cannot commit future Home Secretaries. He, or the Minister of State, pointed out what would happen when there was a great urgency and there was not time to go through the normal channels. The Secretary of State could be asked to provide men, and what would then happen would be that he, or someone at the Home Office, would get on the telephone to a particular chief constable and say, "Can you send 200 men forthwith to Northern Ireland?". The Home Secretary said that so far as he was concerned—he thought that any other course would be inconceivable in the case of future Home Secretaries, and I must say that I agree with him—if. having telephoned to a chief constable and having said, "We want you to send 200 men", the chief constable said, "I have already stopped all police leave; we have two big football matches, a Royal visit and a large procession of some students in the next two days; I simply cannot spare one man", he would not say, to the chief constable, "You must do so". The present Home Secretary said he would not say that, but he cannot commit future Home Secretaries. So I do not think that we need to be too worried about that point.

The next worry we had was for how long would police be sent from this country to Northern Ireland. The wording of the Bill is, "to meet a special demand." The question is: how long is a special demand? The Minister of State went into some detail about this point and said that it was a matter of hours, possibly days; not really weeks. It would be for particular incidents—football matches, and so on. In view of that undertaking, I think the provision is reasonable; but one does not really know what would happen. We sent police to Anguilla for a week or two. I know that they were volunteers, but they went there for a week or two, so far as we all knew. But some of them are still there, after many months. I should like a little more information about this matter from the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Advocate, because there must be some protection for our police officers, to ensure that they are not sent somewhere else for too long a period. So perhaps the noble and learned Lord will comment on it. I am not unduly worried, but it is a point.

The Minister of State went on to say that in any emergency, such as there has been recently in Northern Ireland, which to deal with would take many months and which was very widespread, the Army would have to take over control, as they had done recently in Northern Ireland. That is all right, my Lords; but would the Army be there? As we all know, the Government have not yet stopped running down the strength of the Army. When troops were required for Northern Ireland, even in present circumstances—and there are more regiments still to be done away with—the Army was stretched pretty tightly to provide them. And that, my Lords, at a moment when we had no other urgent commitment elsewhere. One's mind boggles at the thought of what might have happened if the Northern Ireland business had blown up at the same moment as Anguilla. We could be overstretched and there might not be sufficient troops. I think that subject also ought to be commented on by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Advocate, because if there were not enough troops, whether we wanted it or not the police would have to be kept there longer than was intended.

I have only one more doubt which I should like dealt with. The noble Lord the Leader of the House dealt with it partially, but not fully, and it was not answered very satisfactorily in the other place. It is the question of the law under which our police would operate in Northern Ireland. The law in Northern Ireland is not the same in every respect as it is in this country. In his attestation a constable swears to do certain things, and his oath continues: And while I continue to hold the said office will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law. What law? As we know, it is the Government's intention that they shall not operate the Special Powers Act; but we cannot do away with the Special Powers Act overnight. Many of the laws in this country, such as those dealing with firearms and explosives, come under separate enactments; but in Northern Ireland they all come under the Special Powers Act, and many of the things that can be done under the Act in Northern Ireland are things which we do not like and which our policemen do not like. The Government have said that our police will not be expected to operate the Special Powers Act and, indeed, will not do so, as I understand that until Amendments have been made to the Act we are not going to send police to Northern Ireland. But we are told that police will be available to be sent there when their laws are in line with the laws here. I do not know what that means.

I visualise a young constable going along with a party of constables of the Royal Ulster Constabulary under the control of an R.U.C. officer, and when told to do something which is not in accord with our law he will do it, not knowing that it does not coincide with what he is allowed to do here. I cannot quite make up my mind about how dangerous a risk this is, and so far in neither House have we had a sufficient answer on how this will be prevented. I believe it to be important. Those are the only doubts that still remain. Apart from those doubts, I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading. There is considerable urgency. I think that it would be a great help to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in future and help to make them a police force such as we know in this country, which is what they want to be.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think that I should start with an apology in case it becomes necessary for me to leave your Lordships' House before this debate is concluded. I know that the hour is only half past three, and that there is only one speaker to follow me, so that this is relatively unlikely; but it will not depend on me, because I shall be brief. Indeed, I think that it would be presumptuous and improper on my part if I were to speak at any length in this debate, unless it were to speak in frank opposition to the Bill that has come before your Lordships. Perhaps it is superfluous to mention that I support the Bill and express my relief and delight that it has come into being so soon after the publication of our Report. It is gratifying to see that the great sense of urgency which was enjoined upon my Committee by both the Stormont Government and our own Government has been applied to itself by the Government in producing both the measure we have before us this afternoon and the one that we shall have before us next week.

I have only two points to make, knowing now that certain doubts and questions about this Bill have been voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, which no doubt will be dealt with by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, in due course. The first point I have is to give my personal testimony to the attitude of the rank and file throughout the Royal Ulster Constabulary towards the reform and the provisions in this Bill, which meet a deep and long-felt need on the part of the R.U.C. At every meeting of the county consultative committees in all the counties and cities that we visited, both at the long meetings of the central representative body and in the written evidence given to us by that body, the voice of the officers and men, ex- pressing their sense of isolation and the need for moral and practical support from their colleagues in blue on this side of the water, came through loud and clear. I would say that to a large extent the provisions in this Bill, resulting from recommendations we made on these points, and the other recommendations do little more, so far as the R.U.C. is concerned, than put into print, with the authority which my Committee was able to command, the feelings of the body politic of the R.U.C. That is my first point.

My second point, which is perhaps a more important one, is that, as I understand what the Home Secretary said in another place, it is only after this Bill is enacted that it will be possible for the Stormont Government to take further steps to implement certain other recommendations which require legislation over there. These recommendations include perhaps the most important of all—that is, the formation of a police authority. This is the body of civilians from various professions and public bodies which is to be responsible for the R.U.C. It is the vital link. It is also perhaps as well named the buffer between the Inspector-General, as he is presently known, and the Minister for Home Affairs, and the body to which, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, the Inspector-General will be accountable.

This is undoubtedly the central and most important part of our Report. it is the key from which a number of other views, on which we did not have time to make firm recommendations and on which in any case we felt it better perhaps to wait for final resolution in Northern Ireland, can be translated into action. If I may, I would mention a few of them, to stress the importance of the Bill we have before us going through to enable these other measures, particularly the formation of a police authority, to be brought into being. On the existence of the police authority depends the implementation in detail of the measures in this Bill, enabling legislation having been passed. The police authority it to be responsible for the oversight of the new procedure for dealing with complaints against the police which is now being put into being by the Inspector-General. It is only when the authority is in being that the Minister will be in a position, as we recommend he should be, to consult the police authority about the orders that he may wish to put into force under the Public Order Act for dealing with processions.

We have recommended a Police Advisory Board and that the police authority should be a member of that Board, which would enable the rank and file to be in direct contact with the Minister. There is the whole question of the nomenclature and rank structure, which will make the exchanges and mutual aid provided in this Bill much easier, once the police authority has made up its mind about the changes in this field. Perhaps the most important is the question of the size of the force. We pointed out how woefully below strength it is and how dangerous the situation could be if disturbances were to happen again—and I would not rule this out as impossible—on anything like the scale on which they happened last August, when the R.U.C. was stretched beyond the limit. The police authority will have to make up its mind what the establishment should be and what measures should be taken to bring the force up to that establishment.

There is the question of forming a Cadet Corps, which we thought was important, and a number of other measures (I will not weary your Lordships by going through them) which depend on the existence of the police authority to make the decisions. Clearly, until this body has come into being, not only the provisions of this Bill but the whole principle of the government of the R.U.C. must remain substantially as it is at present. I could not put it less strongly than that. So, to a large extent, the spirit of the changes in our Report depend on it, and this Bill is the door to all these other changes. I am very glad that this door is to be opened quickly, and I hope that the Bill will be speedily approved so that the rest of the reforms can pass through.

In conclusion, I should like, even though it is early days, to say a word in tribute to Sir Arthur Young. I had the good fortune to meet him yesterday. He was good enough to tell me how things were going. I had not met him before, but I was, as I am sure all your Lordships who know him would have been, immensely impressed. I am going to make so bold as to read a paragraph from my own Report which bears on this point, and which I found so useful when I met Sir Arthur Young. In the last paragraph but one of the first chapter we said this: There is one final point; it is perhaps the most important of all those which we have to make. We believe that the recommendations in this report will call for outstanding qualities of leadership to carry them out. There must be a conviction of the need for the changes and a due sense of urgency. There must also be an ability to appreciate the problems of Northern Ireland and the sensitivities of its people combined with a determination to chart a course towards the future, undeflected by the events of the past. My Lords, I am certain that we have in Sir Arthur Young a man to fulfil those requirements.