HL Deb 27 July 2000 vol 616 cc635-703

6.30 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill comes from the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which has its basis in the Good Friday agreement. The Government have committed themselves to the implementation of the Good Friday agreement—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we are beginning the debate of an extremely important Bill. I would ask noble Lords who wish to converse with each other to leave the Chamber.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the Bill comes from the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which has its basis in the Good Friday agreement. The Government have committed themselves to the implementation of the Good Friday agreement in all its aspects. One of these, and an extremely important one, is a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland.

In this context, it would be helpful to remind the House of what the agreement says on this issue. It is important because the agreement gives the Government and should give all democrats in Northern Ireland, a message of what is expected of us.

The agreement states: We should recognise the sacrifices that have been made, including by the RUC, GC. This Government does recognise all the sacrifices, but in particular when considering a Bill dealing with policing I would like to pay tribute to the work and courage of the RUC in defending democracy, to the 302 men and women who lost their lives and the many thousands injured". The Government recognise the trauma and suffering caused to individual officers and their families as well as police widows. The Patten report drew further attention to that and the Government accept the case for a substantial fund to help police widows, injured officers, injured retired officers and their families. That matter has been raised in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, who has asked oral Questions about the matter and who has bombarded me with Written Questions because of his particular concern in relation to the issue. It is time for progress to be made.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State appointed the former senior civil servant, the director of security and policing in the Northern Ireland Office, John Steele, OBE, to conduct a review into Patten's recommendation for a substantial fund to be set up to help injured police officers, injured retired officers and their families as well as police widows. He was appointed yesterday, 26th July, with the aim of presenting a report to the Government by the end of October. This should make recommendations on the purpose and administration of such a fund. This is a means of making progress on an issue which the noble Lord has pressed for a considerable time.

The Good Friday agreement also recognises that policing is a highly emotive subject. No one who knows anything about Northern Ireland could deny that. But there is an opportunity for a new beginning to policing. An opportunity which I know the police want to embrace. They are ready and willing to change and have already begun the process of doing so. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in recognising their positive approach.

In the context of the agreement, what does a new beginning mean? It means an opportunity to create a police service which is representative and, to quote from the agreement, capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole". Perhaps I may dwell on two parts of that for a moment or two. The first is a call for a new beginning. We all have an opportunity to contribute to that and I know we will act accordingly. Indeed, the people of Northern Ireland have overwhelmingly told us to do So.

The second point is on the support of the community as a whole. There is no doubt that in looking at the recommendations in the Patten report the Government have faced very real challenges when measuring the proposals against this test. The debate on the name and symbols of the police service exemplifies this. But the Government believe that they have sought to deal with this issue in a sensitive manner; in a way that recognises the linkage between the RUC and the new police service that we want to see and in a way which should command the support of all.

Furthermore, we should not lose sight of the fact, as the Chief Constable has said, that, the vast bulk of the recommendations in the Patten report are about good and effective policing". The police want to move forward. They want to become more representative of the community they serve. They want to be able to modernise and normalise their approach to policing.

I note in this context the very helpful comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, when he said in this place in response to the Government's Statement on the Patten report, that while he had a few criticisms of a huge report … it is worth saying that much of the report was lifted from the Chief Constable's own review", and that his party, share the Government's objective of changing the policing environment".—[Official Report, 19/1/00; col. 1168.] On that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, said, we recognise the need for fundamental change of the kind that Patten proposes".—[Official Report, 19/1/00; col. 1169.] I look forward to hearing and responding to the views of noble Lords, but would ask them to consider what the Government are hoping to achieve and what they are looking for in the new policing service for the people of Northern Ireland. The key elements are, first, a police service which is effective and efficient. It should be one capable of dealing with the public order situation and with terrorism, which we are sadly still facing, as well as dealing with what are known as "normal policing functions". I want to emphasise that the Government recognise the significance of the security environment. They have made clear, as indeed did Patten, that certain recommendations—for example, on phasing out the reserve—are security dependent. I can assure noble Lords that they will not gamble with the lives of people or officers.

The second element is a police service which is accountable to the community it serves and responsive to its needs. The Bill has considerable focus on this. The third is a police service which is representative of the community. As the Chief Constable said in April, the RUC is, greatly under-representative and anything which can put right that under-representation is to be welcomed". Fourthly, we also want a service which is focused on a human rights based approach. The Human Rights Act, which applies to the police, comes into force in October. Fifthly, we want a service to be delivered in constructive and inclusive partnerships.

All of those issues are found in the Good Friday agreement. The Bill before your Lordships lays the foundations for this approach.

When the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill was introduced in another place on 16th May, the Government acknowledged that it would need some changes, some adjustment. They said that they would readily accept changes if they added to the aims of the Bill and the Good Friday agreement but not otherwise.

My right honourable friend in another place repeated the point at Third Reading on 11th July. He said that the Government remained, open to argument, to further debate and change, which no doubt will take place … That is because I recognise the historic importance of this opportunity and of this legislation".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/7/00; col. 819.] I can tell noble Lords, therefore, that while the Government believe that the Bill meets the key elements or objectives that I have set out—it will modernise and enhance policing in the interests of all in Northern Ireland—we remain open to persuasion and prepared to consider constructive changes.

Perhaps I may touch briefly on the detailed provisions in the Bill. Part I, which I hope will not obscure our vision of the Bill as a whole, deals with the name. The Government thought long and hard on the name and have established a link between the RUC and the new police service.

As my right honourable friend said in the other place at Third Reading on 11th July, The body of constables known as the RUC will form part of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and it will be incorporated in the new police service. At the same time we have introduced a new name—the Police Service of Northern Ireland … [This] will be used for all operational and working purposes, wherever and in whatever circumstances when the police interface with the public".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/7/00: col. 818.] The Bill has very many other important measures. Part II creates the Northern Ireland policing board in place of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland and sets out its general functions. Schedule 1 sets out the arrangements for appointments to the board. Part III provides for district policing partnerships and other local consultative arrangements, with Schedule 3 governing appointments to district policing partnerships.

Part IV provides for the police planning process. Part V introduces measures to require the policing board and the Chief Constable to secure continuous improvement in the efficient and effective exercise of their functions. Part VI sets out the general duty of members of the police and the duties of the Chief Constable. It deals with recruitment and severance arrangements. It also covers the new declaration, the registration of interests of police officers, the code of ethics, a regulation-making power on police flags and emblems and arrangements for co-operation with the Garda Siochana.

Part VII sets out the policing board's power to request reports from the chief constable on any aspect of policing and to cause inquiries to be held. Safeguards are set out in the part, although the Government propose to make further changes to those in Committee. Part IX provides for the appointment of a commissioner to oversee the implementation of changes in policing in Northern Ireland and enables the Secretary of State to establish a Royal Ulster Constabulary GC foundation to mark the services and sacrifices of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The Government are committed and determined to create a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland and one in which we all have a stake. They want to see reciprocation from others through support of the new arrangements. As my right honourable friend said in another place on 6th June, the Bill sets out, a radical vision of modern civic policing that is rooted in the whole community—and will draw its legitimacy and strength from its support in all parts of the community".—[Official Report, Commons, 6/6/00; col. 177.] I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

6.41 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the measures in this important Bill. For the past 30 years the RUC has stood as the thin green line between the rule of law and the descent into anarchy and, in doing so, has borne the brunt of the most wicked and vile acts of cowardly terrorism. Without the RUC, the opportunities for a lasting peace created by the Belfast agreement would, quite simply, not exist. It is largely thanks to the RUC, supported by the Armed Forces, that we can be confident that the future of Northern Ireland will be determined only by democracy and never by violence.

The RUC has responded to that violence with the highest standards of discipline and professionalism, and I utterly reject the claims of those who describe it as a sectarian force. In our view, the RUC has more than demonstrated its even-handedness and impartiality. Most recently, it stood literally in the middle between loyalists and nationalists at Drumcree. All of us should be profoundly grateful for the way in which the RUC has policed the situation at Drumcree in the past few weeks, often in the face of the most appalling provocation.

The contribution of the RUC has been apparent not only in Northern Ireland itself; it has stood as the first line of defence against terrorism here in mainland Great Britain and in the Republic, where it has thwarted many potential loyalist atrocities.

The sacrifice of the RUC is without equal. That is why the award of the George Cross by Her Majesty in a deeply moving ceremony at Hillsborough in April was so richly deserved. No one is more deserving of our praise and no one stands to gain more from the establishment of a lasting peace. It has been a real force for stability in Northern Ireland. The RUC is a police force that after 30 years can truly walk with its head held high.

This Bill, of course, gives effect to the recommendations contained in the Patten report on policing in Northern Ireland. One of the most serious deficiencies of the report is its failure to give all but the most cursory recognition of the achievements and sacrifice of the RUC. Overall, the bulk of the Patten proposals formed a useful basis for what policing in Northern Ireland could be like when the main terrorist threat is finally over. However, there are other areas, such as the scrapping of the RUC's royal title, to which we are implacably opposed, and those such as the security-sensitive recommendations that should be considered only when there is a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Much of the Patten report was foreshadowed in the Chief Constable's fundamental review of policing, initiated following the first IRA cessation in 1994. That review was predicated on three scenarios: first, a continuing high level of terrorist activity; secondly, an end to bombings and killings, but with the terrorist organisations remaining fully armed and engaging in shootings, beatings, mutilations and racketeering; and, thirdly, an end to terrorism, with the terrorist organisations dismantling and decommissioning their weapons. Only in that scenario was it envisaged that there should be a fundamental change to policing and, importantly, significant reductions in the size of the RUC.

Regrettably, we are still a long way from scenario three. Despite the re-establishment of the Executive and the Assembly, coupled with the offer of the IRA to put its weapons "completely and verifiably beyond use" and to engage in a confidence-building measure, there has been no decommissioning and the main terrorist threat remains. Even in the event of a permanent end to violence by the main terrorist organisations, the threat from the dissidents— especially on the republican side—will remain potent. We know that they are currently recruiting members; that they have access to more sophisticated weaponry; and that it is only through the skill of the police and the Army that recent attacks have not resulted in more serious damage and loss of life.

While any of those groups remain active aid retain their capability, it would be absolute madness to introduce any of the controversial security-sensitive measures recommended by Patten. That is why we do not believe that the time is right to make cuts in the strength and capability of the police, or at this stage to begin phasing out the full-time reserve; nor do we believe that it is right to tamper with Special Branch in a way that could undermine its intelligence efforts and effectiveness.

Above all, no changes must be made for political reasons; changes must be made only with the full support of the Chief Constable. Nothing must he done that in any way undermines the ability of the RUC to uphold the rule of law and to protect the people of Northern Ireland. We believe emphatically that the continued operational independence of the Chief Constable is vital. Operational independence remains the single most important feature of policing in the United Kingdom. The Chief Constable must be allowed to run the police service without interference from any politician or group of politicians. That goes, too, for the new policing board that the Bill sets up to replace the existing Police Authority.

The new policing board will consist of a majority of politicians from parties represented in the Executive. As we said in our submission to Patten: We do not in principle set ourselves against the greater representation of locally elected politicians on the Police Authority, though with safeguards". However, we have grave anxieties about the scope for political interference by the board that could result from Patten's recommendations, especially when we consider that they will include parties which even now cannot bring themselves to support the police. The problems will be even more acute on the district policing partnerships (DPPs), especially in areas where one political party or tradition might be dominant. Rather than satisfying Patten's aim of taking the politics out of policing, they could have had exactly the opposite effect and politicised the police to a greater extent than at any time since before 1970.

We remain totally opposed to the inclusion on the policing board of members of political parties who remain inextricably linked with terrorist organisations that have not even begun to decommission their illegally held arms and explosives. We find it completely unacceptable that the Bill will not provide explicitly for the disqualification from the board of political or independent members who have been convicted of terrorist offences.

Similarly, we are concerned about the district policing partnerships to be established by the Bill, which mirror the reorganisation of the police into districts based on the existing local government boundaries. We welcome the fact that they will have only a consultative role, but we remain concerned that they will still seek to interfere in the operational decisions of a district commander. We oppose the Secretary of State's decision to leave open the option of increasing their powers, including the possibility of giving them the ability to raise money to buy in additional policing services.

We believe that it is wrong for any party—loyalist or republican—to be represented on the DPPs if their paramilitary associates have not decommissioned a single gun or an ounce of Semtex. The provision to disqualify any person from sitting as an independent member if they have been convicted of a scheduled offence should also apply explicitly to any political members with previous terrorist convictions.

Patten's proposals to rid the RUC of its proud name and cap badge are, of course, the most controversial aspects of the report. They have caused significant hurt and anger, and are wholly without justification. We profoundly disagree with the assertion that the police service should be free of any association with the symbols of the state, particularly as acceptance of the Belfast agreement means acceptance of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's constitutional status.

On the cap badge, I can only repeat what has been said many times before: it would be difficult to come up with anything that better encompasses the British and Irish traditions than the current one.

In Committee, the Secretary of State accepted a Unionist amendment that incorporates the name of the RUC in the so-called title deeds of the new police service. That amendment went on to say that for operational purposes the name used would be the "Police Service of Northern Ireland". That goes some way to addressing our concerns about the royal title being lost, although we should have preferred it to have gone further and established a dual title—the "Police Service of Northern Ireland-Royal Ulster Constabulary".

On Report in the other place, the Secretary of State proposed a further amendment that defined operational purposes in such a way as to make it impossible ever to use the name RUC again. That amendment was not moved. If the Government seek to bring it back in Committee here, we shall implacably oppose it.

We all agree that there has to be change in the RUC. The RUC, under Sir Ronnie Flanagan's fine leadership, recognises that. It is wrong that the force is so overwhelmingly Protestant. The RUC has for many years sought to recruit more Catholics. But let us be clear; the biggest single disincentive to Catholic recruitment remains intimidation and the threat of murder. Anybody who doubts that should recall how the number of Catholic applicants to the RUC doubled after the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, only to fall back again when the ceasefire broke down.

The situation has not been helped by the refusal of nationalist politicians and members of the Catholic clergy to recommend that young Catholic men and women join the police force. I very much hope that will change. There can be no justification for it.

We all share the objective of seeing the composition of the police more accurately reflect the make-up of the community in Northern Ireland. We all want the RUC to be routinely unarmed, with no need for flak jackets and armoured vehicles, and able to patrol all parts of Northern Ireland without the need for the support of the Army.

The biggest single contribution to that, and to transforming the policing environment in Northern Ireland, would be for the paramilitaries—republican and so-called loyalist—to end terrorism for good, dismantle their organisations, and begin to decommission their illegal weapons. When that happens, it should fall to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, with its proud name and symbols preserved, to rise to the challenge of policing the peace just as valiantly as it has policed Northern Ireland throughout the darkest days of terror. The RUC deserves our support. The Bill, without amendment, does not.

6.54 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, I associate myself with the Minister's remarks about the casualties sustained by the police service over the past three decades. The RUC has made an enormous sacrifice by any standards.

This is a significant Bill that will have a profound influence on future developments in Northern Ireland, so it is important that we get it as right as we can. The Liberal Democrats strongly support the broad thrust of the Bill. It is in accordance with the Belfast agreement and implements most of the Patten report.

The Bill is a compromise between the concerns of the nationalist and Unionist communities. As such, it will attract criticism from the more extreme elements on both sides. Compromises are a hallmark of democratic politics. That is why, as devolved government gets under way in Northern Ireland, the arrangements in the Bill will gather increasing support from the majority of its citizens. The key to that lies in the provisions for community co-operation and involvement and in the checks and balances, including the ombudsman and the commissioner.

While we welcome the Bill and broadly support it, the Liberal Democrats still have some concerns. If they could be satisfactorily addressed, the Bill could be further improved. We shall move amendments on those issues in Committee, when I shall be greatly assisted by my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond, who has considerable experience of police matters.

The major worry that I shall concentrate on is the issue of recruitment quotas, as detailed in Clause 45. The provisions now in the Bill are worse than when it was first introduced in another place. Originally, the quota provisions had to be renewed every three years, together with a sunset condition under which quotas would cease to operate after 10 years. That sunset clause has now been removed. That means that unless the triennial orders renewing the provisions are defeated in Parliament, quotas can be employed indefinitely. That would be a matter for despair.

I should explain why the Liberal Democrats strongly oppose quotas per se. We fully understand the Government's motives, which are highly commendable. They want to achieve an equal balance in the police between the two communities. Well before the Patten report, the Opsahl commission observed in 1993 that, As with political structures, the key question about policing is how to ensure its acceptance by the nationalist community". The use of quotas is one of the confidence-building measures aimed at ensuring that acceptance. However, we do not believe that they are the best way to go about it. Indeed, they could well be counter-productive. While I fully understand the symbolic significance of a 50:50 quota, I query its practicality. What would be the consequences at the triennial review if recruitment fell below the designated 50 per cent Roman Catholic enrolment? We may well be storing up trouble for the future, which could be avoided if targets were substituted for quotas.

The Home Secretary has laid down targets for the recruitment of ethnic minorities for constabularies throughout England and Wales. He specifically ruled out quotas in a speech on 14th April 1999 to the national conference for recruitment, retention and progression of black and Asian officers. He said: But let me be clear about what I am not doing. I am not setting quotas and saying that you have to take somebody on because of the colour of their skin. I am setting targets to enable the police service to more fairly represent the community you serve". The advantage of targets over quotas is that they allow for greater flexibility in monitoring the new recruitment process. High targets can be set—even 50 per cent—but any shortfall in reaching a set target is much less damaging than a failure to achieve a rigid quota. I fully appreciate why the Secretary of State adheres so strongly to the quota option at this point in the legislative process, but the crunch will come at the first triennial review when, if the recruitment quota has not been fulfilled, it will be a major problem for whoever is the Secretary of State at that time. Although we all hope that an equal balance in recruitment will have been achieved, we shall need to anticipate the situation if it has not. Targets will help us to aim for success. Quotas are more likely, albeit inadvertently, to prove a recipe for failure.

We also have other concerns. In view of the time and the many speakers to follow, I shall refer only briefly to them. They will be taken up by my noble friend. We have a number of concerns regarding the relationship between the board, the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State. The Patten report expressed the hope that the new police board would be considerably stronger than the police authority that it replaced. However, the Police Bill assigns many powers to the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable rather than to the board. We do not, however, question the need for a role for the Secretary of State in policing. What we are concerned about is that the relationship between the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the board is out of balance in favour of the Secretary of State.

With the exception of these reservations, which we will address further at the Committee stage, we strongly support this Bill. The Liberal Democrats believe that the Bill aims to preserve the best of the old, while addressing the imperatives of the new.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, few people can produce any real justification for the Patten report and this Bill. It is rather as though in 1940 Churchill had decided to set up a commission to recommend drastic changes in the composition and structures of Royal Air Force Fighter Command and investigate the political and religious views of the pilots who won the battle. I wonder whether we can assume that Churchill would then have appointed Oswald. Mosley to that board to ensure a fair balance and arranged for the Luftwaffe itself to be represented, perhaps even by Herman Goering, if he could have spared the time, so that allegations of undue force used by the spitfire and hurricane pilots could have been thoroughly investigated. Had there been a Northern Ireland Office in those days, of course, it would have been only too happy to organise the release and repatriation of the German pilots. After all, the Northern Ireland Office has doubly excelled itself today by releasing the Docklands bomber and making concessions and promises in other ways as well.

Some contributors give the impression that they are thinking of a body akin to traffic wardens. Regrettably, we in the United Kingdom cannot afford that kind of luxury. When the Patten report was being shaped well over a year ago, there was a belief that because 70 per cent of the electorate voted for peace, there would be peace. There was an innocent belief in the assurances of Her Majesty's Government, and particularly those of the Prime Minister, in the campaign to secure a "yes" vote in the referendum. There was an expectation that the published Patten report would ensure that nationalist and republican leaders would encourage Roman Catholic recruits to enlist in the police force and thus achieve a sectarian balance.

I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, about the hideous danger of quotas as opposed to targets. Unfortunately, that all-important aim was recently dashed by both elements following the passage of this Bill through another place. They have made it quite clear that they will not encourage Catholic recruits to join even the restructured force. Those four Patten assumptions have simply disappeared and are no more valid than the excessive spin doctoring that has damaged faith in democratic government in the minds of the United Kingdom electorate in general.

I realise that most Bills evolve over a period of consultation and discussion and that inevitably the situation could be transformed by the time any given Bill receives Royal Assent. However, in the case of the Patten conclusions not only has the landscape already changed but the very foundations have simply disappeared. One of the causes was the blatant and naked pressure applied by America to secure acceptance, of a sort, of the Good Friday agreement. People have now had their eyes opened.

I frequently expressed grave reservations many years ago about the intolerable pressure used when Israeli and Palestinian representatives were shipped across the Atlantic, were given the pressure cooker treatment and starved of sleep until, in desperation, they accepted what was termed an "agreement", which endured until they returned home to face their respective hostile people. Now President Clinton has this very week washed his hands of a situation made worse by his dazzling high wire acts.

On this side of the Atlantic, the British and Irish Governments imported the very same devices and methods and, with highly questionable means, achieved an illusion of success. But when the conjuring tricks were revealed, great was the disillusionment on the part of tens of thousands of people who now bitterly resent being deceived. They have resolved never to be conned a second time, which creates a very difficult situation for anyone engaged in future experiments. A few weeks ago the Irish Foreign Minister mocked the victims of deception by revealing that the entire process is designed to eliminate all traces of Britishness from Northern Ireland. That was an eye opener to all who had placed their trust in princes and politicians.

Therefore, like the innocents who were told that they were voting for peace, your Lordships will rightly resent having been invited to join in that conspiracy, directed against what I have always termed "the greater number of all faiths and none", who have one simple desire—to remain within the same kingdom. We can be certain that in the next two months until your Lordships return to the consideration of this Bill, the terrorists will have been granted still further concessions, because it is an unstoppable flow, and many more traces of Britishness will have been removed before we return in October. In like measure, resentment in the minds of that betrayed "greater number" will have increased.

In October that greater number, Protestants, Roman Catholics, other faiths and none, will be listening to your Lordships focus on those clauses in the Bill that are designed to eliminate Britishness and certainly not intended to improve the quality of policing in a part of the United Kingdom. It will therefore be the task of your Lordships to disregard all the threats of all shades of terrorists and their allies in drug dealing and protection rackets. Our duty will be to make a splendid police force even better.

There are those who would seek to mutilate and dismember the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which has protected the greater number of citizens to which I have already referred. Your Lordships' role will be the opposite. As has been said, we shall need to look at crucial points such as the title of the force, the command structure, political oversight, retention of the necessary equipment and financial accounting and budgeting.

I am sorry that because a commotion was caused by those doing their best to obstruct our proceedings this evening, the noble and learned Lord had difficulty in making himself heard. But if I heard him aright, he suggested that the Bill had a certain parentage because it was a recommendation of the Belfast agreement. I do not think that I am misquoting him. That was the gist of what he said. But he will realise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, that we are not there yet. Page 23 of the Belfast agreement said about the setting up of the Patten commission that it should include, proposals on any necessary arrangements for the transition to policing in a normal peaceful society". That was what it was commissioned to do. It was not to disarm the police; to change the name of the police force; to mutilate its whole structures and make them impotent. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, we are not there yet and that is the problem. So the Bill gets the wording wrong because it starts the wrong way round. We are not in a normal peaceful society as yet. We all hope that we shall be. At that time, many of us would be prepared to support some other features which are currently objectionable. But I repeat that we may have a long way to go before it is possible to implement those provisions.

Fortunately, our two months of Recess provide your Lordships and the Government with ample opportunity to examine the Bill; to remove the numerous flaws which there are because of the timetabling which the Bill suffered in the other place; and to introduce constructive amendments, it is hoped in co-operation with the Government—and we all look forward to that. Most importantly, we must do nothing to weaken the capacity of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to play its part in protecting the nation from the various active terrorist units prepared to strike at will. The Provisional IRA remains in possession of its arsenal, which arsenal is constantly updated and reinforced. Parliament and your Lordships' House have an overriding responsibility to secure that counter-terrorist capacity of the police is in no way impaired.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I regret that due to the lateness of the proceedings, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, could not take part in this debate. I should have liked to hear his remarks.

First, I quote to your Lordships what the Good Friday agreement said about policing. It stated: The participants [in the negotiations] believe it essential that policing structures and arrangements are such that the police service is professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control; accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the community it serves; representative of the society it polices, and operates within a coherent and cooperative criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights norms". The same paragraph goes on to say that any structures and arrangements should be, capable of delivering a policing service, in constructive and inclusive partnerships with the community at all levels, and with the maximum delegation of authority and responsibility consistent with the foregoing principles. These arrangements should he based on principles of protection of human rights and professional integrity and should be unambiguously accepted and actively supported by the entire community". I say that because it is very important to remember—I have said this before in this House—that the Good Friday agreement was an international agreement. It was signed not just by the UK Government but also by the Government of the Republic of Ireland and with the active support and presence of the Government of the United States.

That is very important because it was in pursuance of that paragraph in the agreement that the Patten commission was appointed. It is something of a paradox that someone who was a former chairman of the Conservative Party is certainly unpopular in ways that I would not have anticipated.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Fitt is more qualified to speak on this than I am, but the basic problem, as we know, is that Northern Ireland is a divided community. It has been divided for not just the past 30 years but for the past 80 years. We must not forget that background.

Perhaps I may quote from the evidence which the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland gave to the Patten commission. Two remarks were made which reflect that division. On the one hand, it was said about the RUC that there was "a deep legacy of distrust" and on the other hand that there was, the deep sense of possession of the police force by the Unionist community". I join those noble Lords who have paid tribute to the RUC for its gallantry and bravery. It is a very uncomfortable position to be caught in the middle of a divided political society and to have to defend not just the people but very often yourself under difficult circumstances.

The Patten report stated that, the issue of policing is at the heart of many of the problems that politicians have been unable to resolve in Northern Ireland". If we are to tackle that problem head-on, and not just for the next two, three or four years but permanently, we must do so in the spirit in which the police force becomes a policing service. Of course, it must be effective, efficient and accountable. It must be accountable not only to a certain formal body but in ways that are transparent so that it becomes accountable to the entire community.

I do not want to speak on the issue of targets versus quotas or anything like that. But in that respect, it is extremely important to say that even the composition does not matter so much as winning the confidence of the community. That is an extremely important point. Permanent peace will come when that is achieved.

I want to say something about accountability. Paragraph 1.15 of the Patten report refers to, effective and democratically based oversight of policing". "Democratically based oversight" does not necessarily mean "politically interfered with oversight". It means that the community's involvement through democratic procedures and processes is taken into account so that people feel that the police belong to them. That is the sort of policing that we have been able to achieve here on the mainland and I do not see any reason why that should not he our goal for Northern Ireland.

I do not want to go into the details of the Patten proposals and so on. If I thought that the Bill did not follow Patten, my direction would be exactly the opposite to that of some noble Lords who have already spoken. So I shall not go into those details. But it is extremely important that the issue of human rights should be addressed absolutely head-on, not only because the European Convention on Human Rights is about to come into operation in the UK, but also because the issue of human rights embodies many of the fundamental concerns which any policing force must address in a modern society. It is in a difficult situation like this—I agree that it is a difficult situation because peace has not come yet—that human rights are most likely to be violated. We must be vigilant. If the community does not see the policing service as its policing service, operating in its interest, we shall not be able to achieve the peace and prosperity that we want for Northern Ireland.

7.20 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, at the start I should declare an interest as the recipient of hospitality in Dublin a few weeks ago. I acted as host for the Police Federation of Northern Ireland at a deeply moving occasion when a number of those who were widowed and a number who were crippled as policemen during the past 30 years were received with great kindness and imagination by the Taoiseach, the entire political establishment in Dublin, as well as a goodly proportion of the Irish press.

It is a great pleasure to have the privilege of following the noble Lord, Lord Desai. It is some years since I have had that privilege in your Lordships' House. He always presents a case that is difficult to answer. In this instance, I wholly agree with what he said about the need for transparency. However, I draw his attention to chapter 4 of the Patten report which, among other things, deals with views throughout the nationalist community of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong, but a remarkable phenomenon was noted by my right honourable friend Mr Patten in which it was generally accepted by a large majority in the nationalist community that the RUC was biased against them. But in every community a clear majority felt that that was the case in the whole Province but that it did not apply to the RUC in their particular area.

My right honourable friend concluded differently from me, that that meant that perhaps there was a bias. I concluded that from their own experience they felt that there was not one, but that they had been told that there was a bias in the community as a whole and they accepted that general view. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, may feel that that may be worth some consideration.

Turning to the Bill, your Lordships will agree that we consider this Bill at a time when explosions and attacks on security forces have, thankfully, declined dramatically in Northern Ireland. The Province seems to us, and to most of its inhabitants, to be more nearly at peace than at any time in the past 30 years. Countless lives have, therefore, been saved and in many parts of the Province prosperity has either returned or has made an appearance for the first time, particularly in the western part of the Province.

On this side of the water, both press and public take that impression at face value and, as we all are, they are grateful that the threat of explosion and assassination seems, for the moment, to have all but disappeared here as well. Although as my noble friend Lady Seccombe pointed out, and as those of us who unfortunately have professional relations with the Special Branch know, that is more because of the efficiency of the security forces in protecting us than because the threat has disappeared.

In the context of this Bill I ask whether this apparently happy state of affairs is real, or is it a delusion. Of course, we long for it to be real and we long for the terrorists to long for it to be real. Indeed, it seems to me that the whole peace process has been based on the expectation that the terrorists can be seduced into surrendering the uncomfortable politics of the Armalite in exchange for the comfortable politics of the ballot box and the ministerial limousine.

What is the reality on the ground in Northern Ireland? The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is in a better position than most to tell us about this and we greatly look forward to hearing what he has to say on the subject. My Northern Irish friends tell me that the reality in many parts of the Province is still extremely grim. It seems that increasingly the poorer areas are becoming ghettos. Many areas have always been ghettos, whether loyalist or republican, but the mixed areas are becoming fewer. I use the word "republican" rather than "nationalist" deliberately because, as I understand it, the SDLP is now too soft to count for much any more in the mean streets or in bandit country.

These ghettos are ruled by terrorist organisations. They exact total obedience through brutality and the fear of brutality. Like all terrorist organisations, both loyalist and republican, they have become indistinguishable from organised criminals. Some, of course, continue to finance a portion of their operations from the donations of deluded romantics in the United States of America, but increasingly both sides finance themselves by becoming mobsters. Their rackets are drugs, extortion, protection, prostitution, taxi services and all the paraphernalia of organised banditry which we associate more with 1930s Chicago than with a modern United Kingdom. Genuine peace and the rule of law will seriously damage those bandits' financial health and luckily for them, but not for us, we have not yet achieved genuine peace.

The Government, through the RUC, have to provide us with statistics and if noble Lords visit the website of the RUC, they will find that in the year so far to 2nd July there have been no fewer than 125 paramilitary-style attacks, compared with 136 in the comparable period last year. In parenthesis, it is interesting to note that both for last year and this there was a higher recorded incidence of loyalist attacks than republican attacks. That is perhaps because the republicans are less divided on the ground, have greater control over their own people and do not need to intimidate them. In the four years to December 1999 recorded paramilitary attacks—we know about the recorded ones only—fell from 326 in 1996 to 196 in 1998, but they rose again to 206 in 1999. I believe that many of those incidents reflect the fact that the godfathers intimidate their own communities rather than attack the other side.

Your Lordships can only imagine how that regime restricts the liberties that we fondly imagine every citizen of the United Kingdom enjoys. Just in case we consider that for the police and security forces the situation has returned to normal, the RUC's website is equally instructive. It is true that, thank God, in 1999 and so far during the current year, no security force deaths have been attributed to terrorism. However, between 1st and 15th July this year alone, there have been 332 attacks on the security forces, including 13 shootings; 88 RUC officers and six soldiers have been injured. There have also been 313 petrol bombing incidents and 611 incidents of criminal damage of various kinds.

Clearly, from those statistics alone one can see that large areas of the Province are still controlled by terrorists. I fear that that is hardly surprising. This is where I begin to become rather controversial. It is a province whose newly devolved government contains representatives of terrorist organisations whose very presence there has been engineered by the threat of a return to full-scale terrorist war.

For anyone who doubts that, noble Lords have only to contrast the public statements of the British and Irish Governments with the contents of an internal Provisional IRA document known in the trade as "TUAS" and circulated before the first ceasefire referred to by my noble friend Lady Seccombe. TUAS is an acronym that stands for "tactical use of armed struggle" and boils down to one thing: if the British Government do not give way, threaten a resumption of the bombing campaign and then they will. Contrast that with British and Irish Government pronouncements, which seem to me to reflect all too clearly the success of TUAS.

In the Dail, on the day that the Downing Street declaration was promulgated what now seems many years ago, Mr Spring, the then Republican Foreign Minister, said, We are talking about the handing in of arms and are insisting that it would not be simply a temporary cessation of violence to secure what the political process offers. There can be no equivocation in relation to the determination of both governments in that regard". Yet in spite of those admirable sentiments, in the wake of a resumption of violence followed by, a complete cessation of military operations"— a declaration in which the word "permanent" was conspicuously absent—the government of whom I was a member decided to assume as a "working assumption" that the ceasefire was indeed permanent. The retreat from our insistence on an unequivocal surrender of the Armalite in favour of the ballot box has continued since then, accelerating rapidly since May 1997.

I shall not weary your Lordships with a repetition of the various formulations which have been drawn to our attention during the ensuing years and months. But your Lordships will know that, as a result, Sinn Fein was able to enter talks without handing over a single weapon, and then enter the Executive itself.

We are all aware of how, in order to preserve the ceasefire, the Government have failed to stick to any of their demands that weapons should be surrendered before the peace process began. TUAS has worked; and seeing that it works, the loyalists are gearing themselves up to be able to respond in kind. Instead of strengthening the centre of the political spectrum—something which all of us in this House want to see and which so many people, particularly representatives present from all sides of the community in Northern Ireland, have endeavoured to achieve—governments of both persuasions have achieved exactly the opposite. They have hollowed out the centre and strengthened the extremes instead. That may secure a temporary respite. But in the end it leads to trouble, particularly when large numbers of the most dangerous terrorists are being let out without any guarantee that they will not return to their past.

This Bill must be viewed in that context. Those of us who believe in parliamentary government and its consequences for the rule of law must believe that those who govern us and sit in our representative institutions will not use violence or the threat of violence to achieve their aims. We must also believe that the government we elect will use every means to ensure that that is so and remains so; that they will be prepared to draw a bottom line if it is not so and to defend the ballot box against the Armalite by any means at their disposal if it cannot be done by sweet reason.

If there is no sanction that parliamentary government is prepared to use to force the men of violence to rely exclusively on Parliament and the ballot box, I suggest that the men of violence will always win. In spite of the feebleness of British governments of all political complexions and their readiness to give in to the threat of violence, the RUC has become an increasingly effective first line of defence against terrorism, as my noble friend so eloquently told us. As she also said, that is true not only for the inhabitants of the Province, but also for those of us on this side of the water and the inhabitants of the Republic as well.

This Bill, in a number of ways, undermines the capability of the RUC as an effective anti-terrorist force at a time when terrorism and the threat of terrorism are at least as potent as they have ever been, certainly in their effects if not in the number of victims that they are taking, which seems to be no longer necessary. I shall look at three examples in addition to the points made by my noble friend Lady Seccombe. First, the name and oath as set out in Clauses 1 and 38 are not merely cosmetic: they affect morale in a way one has to have been shot at to understand. Anybody who knows the works of Sir John Keegan, particularly In the Face of Battle, will understand the importance of symbols of this kind.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, the imposition of quotas is counterproductive and shows clearly that the Government have ignored, as my right honourable friend Mr Patten did, the role that intimidation plays in preventing Catholics joining the RUC.

Thirdly, the composition of the district policing partnerships could all too easily allow representatives of terrorist groups who have no convictions to become members. Of course, we shall return to those matters in the remaining stages. I hope that it will be possible, before Committee stage, to see the regulations anticipated in Clauses 44 (on recruitment) and 52 (on emblems and flags) at least in draft before we come to discuss the clauses in detail.

However, I must place on record my own fear that, although much of this Bill is welcome, as many noble Lords have already said—indeed, the RUC welcomed at least 70 per cent of the recommendations of the Patten report—there are parts of it whose consideration, let alone introduction, I am sorry to see before the ghettos are once again free, while the Government continue to submit to terrorist threats, and before the terrorists have thrown away the Armalite in favour of the ballot box. If that happens, it is right that we should examine many matters and be prepared to treat former terrorists in a spirit of generosity and reconciliation, which is absolutely essential if peace is to return to the Province.

Until we are sure that terrorism has really disappeared from the Province and that the men of terror are really prepared to give up violence, I wonder whether we are aware of the delusion from which we are suffering. Indeed, I wonder whether my old friend Mr Patten does not feel, in his heart of hearts, the same. I noticed in a report in The Examiner dated 17th February this year that he was quoted in the context of the suspended Assembly. Some of his strictures in that press report apply to what happens in the Province when the Assembly is suspended. However, there are other strictures which do not seem to apply to that circumstance. For example, in setting out the central arguments for his policing reforms, my former right honourable friend stated that the arguments, are affected if some people now eschew their obligation to give primacy to democracy". He went on to say, While some of our proposals would depend on what happened on the ground, some of our proposals would clearly affect for the better what was happening on the ground. But it is difficult to make those judgements when one isn't entirely clear where the security situation is going to develop". He adds, Now, clearly, a commitment to the democratic process involves an equal commitment to taking the gun out of politics, and I don't see how any number of elaborate casuistries can avoid that simple proposition". I hope that my right honourable friend can be persuaded to repeat that remark in the context of this Bill.

As your Lordships will have ascertained, I agree particularly with that last sentence. Until the gun is taken out of Irish politics, North and South, we need a police force in Northern Ireland with the morale and capability to continue doing the job it has been doing for the past 30 years with increasing success and courage. If we act in the way we are acting now before that happens, we are in danger of breaking the very foundations on which this House acts and which another place supports as the foundation of our own polity, let alone anybody else's.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to address your Lordships' House tonight on a subject in which I have a keen and very practical interest. As many noble Lords know, I am chairman of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and deputy chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, the body that represents all police authorities in England and Wales as well as the current Police Authority for Northern Ireland. Therefore, I hope that I can share a little "insider knowledge" with noble Lords in this debate.

As my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton made clear, we wish to see a single, integrated policing service that has the confidence and the respect of the whole community in Northern Ireland. I am pleased, therefore, that the Government have recognised the need to specify a minimum as well as a maximum number of members for the policing board. That is essential under any political circumstances. I am also encouraged by the enhancements that have been made to the code of practice for district policing partnerships, the provisions for police officers to register their associations and the increased emphasis on human rights.

We very much welcome the introduction of a new code of ethics as proposed by Patten. We are pleased that the Government have recognised that it should be the responsibility of the police board to issue the code and assess its effectiveness. But how effective can the code be if officers are only asked to, "read and understand it"? Surely, we must, as a minimum, expect officers to carry out their duties in accordance with the code—just as they are required to do in respect of the oath. We also welcome the decision to remove some of the wholly unreasonable restrictions placed upon the board's ability to ask for a report of the chief constable, or initiate an inquiry. But there remain fundamental concerns in this area, about which I shall say more in a moment.

I make no apologies for reminding your Lordships that policing by consent—meaning the consent of all our communities—is the touchstone of the UK system; a system of which we are justifiably proud. But that can only be achieved by putting in place a series of checks and balances which ensure appropriate accountability both to central government and, crucially, to the local community. The right balance has to be struck in the relationships between the Secretary of State, the policing board and the chief constable. As it stands, the Bill has not, in our view, got the balance right. Of course the Secretary of State must have a role; indeed, that is right. We look forward to the future when that role may be devolved to a Minister of Justice. But, at the moment, the role of central government is rather too great.

It is in this respect that the Government have so far failed to address a number of key issues. In my research into these key issues, not only have I found support on a Cross-Bench basis in this House but also that a broad political consensus exists among the parties in Northern Ireland. That support should, in itself, have commended the necessary changes to the Government. I am optimistic that the Government will find time to listen and heed those points.

I return to the policing board's powers of inquiry. While the Government have removed one of the restrictions, we believe that the stranglehold is still too tight. The Patten report was clear about this. It said that the board should, be able to follow up any report from the Chief Constable by initiating an inquiry into any aspect of the police service or police conduct". But the Bill imposes significant restrictions on the board's decision-making capabilities—not only in the specified majority for taking such a decision, but also in the detailed requirements that must be followed before a question can even be put that an inquiry be held. I was delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord say that he would make further changes. I hope that he will address some of the points that I have highlighted. I look forward to further discussion on these issues.

However, perhaps I may make this simple point. Even if the board manages to persuade the Secretary of State that an inquiry is needed, it will still have to pay all the costs. That could be almost impossible, given its modest budget. Therefore, I urge the Government to look again at this point. I should remind the noble and learned Lord that the Patten report was quite clear that the powers of the Secretary of State were already too great and should be reduced. It said: In Northern Ireland the Secretary of State is much more directly involved [than in England and Wales in policing]—these arrangements are not a basis for democratic accountability in the sense of the police being … responsible to the community". Best value is a prime example. Since 1st April of this year, all police authorities in England and Wales have had to ensure that local people get best value from their policing services. It is a challenge that we are meeting with commitment and enthusiasm. As one who is now wrestling with this new duty, I can say that one thing is crucial: there must be absolute clarity about roles and responsibilities. In England and Wales, the duty is placed squarely on the police authority. But as the Bill stands, both the policing board and the chief constable are to be responsible for best value in their respective spheres. The chief constable is to be answerable for improving police services to the Secretary of State, instead of to local people through the policing board. I do not feel that it is overstating the case to say that I believe that that will be a recipe for disaster, because of their divided responsibilities.

The policing board's primary duty is to secure an efficient and effective police service. Consistency demands that the obligation to secure best value—that is, economy, efficiency and effectiveness—rests with the policing board. How else can the board fulfil its key statutory responsibility? How else can the board ensure that local people get improved policing services? As the Bill stands, I simply cannot conceive how those points can be answered.

Similarly, in the provisions covering the police planning process, the Secretary of State takes to himself the power to regulate the content of the board's policing plan, in a way that is at odds with the position in England and Wales. I can tell the Minister that that will be bitterly opposed by police authorities in England and Wales.

The strength of the police planning process lies in setting broad performance targets. But the existing powers given to the Police Authority under the 1998 Act are removed. Again, as chairman of a police authority, I know only too well how critically important it is for the new board to be able to set clear targets reflecting the priority and effort that local people attach to particular aspects of police work. I make no apologies for referring again to the Patten report, which said: We see no justification for the Government to second-guess the Board in these matters". Again, this is an issue to which we shall return at a later stage.

Finally, and extremely seriously, the ability of the board to hold the chief constable properly to account on financial matters has been removed. By placing accounting responsibility for the police grant on the shoulders of the chief constable, the Government will not only damage the board's credibility but also take away from it the valuable right of internal audit, which is crucial. It is a crucial investigatory and oversight function. This departs from long-established practice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is opposed by all the major political parties in Northern Ireland and by the Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

I have only had time to highlight some of the most obvious and serious concerns. There are many other detailed points to which we shall need to return, including the board's role in consulting local people. But our concerns are clear. The system of checks and balances is out of kilter in that it concentrates too much power on the Secretary of State and the chief constable, thereby negating the role of the board. The consequence of those shortcomings is that we have a genuine fear that the new board: will not have the power that the Independent Commission intended; will not command the support of either the police service or the community; and that, by this somewhat parsimonious approach, the Government will, in reality, undermine the thrust of their own legislation. I look forward to hearing the Government's response and to further, and more detailed, discussion on these important issues when we reach the Committee stage.

7.49 p.m.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, at the outset one has to say that there are aspects of Patten and aspects of the Bill which are positive. Many recommendations of an operational nature I agree with. Many recommendations members of my party agree with. But, perhaps more importantly, many recommendations the RUC agrees with and welcomes—indeed, many it proposed through the chief constable's review.

However, there are many other areas where I have grave doubts and objections. Noble Lords sitting close to me may have noticed that I am wearing a rather distinctive tie. It is an RUC tie, specifically woven to commemorate the rightful and justified award of the George Cross to the RUC. Is it not ironic that a few short months after that award we should debate such aspects of future policing in Northern Ireland as a change of name?

We cannot legislate for what is in people's hearts and minds. Whatever we decide, just as the names "bobby" and "Peelers" remain in use in areas of the country, so also will the name of the RUC, at least for my generation and my son's generation. Can one really foresee someone in trouble in Northern Ireland calling for help and saying, "I'm going to phone the Police Service of Northern Ireland"?

In addition to the removal of the proud name "Royal Ulster Constabulary", I believe that this Bill is fundamentally flawed in at least two other aspects; namely, the proposed district policing partnerships, especially the proposals that Belfast be divided into four sub-bodies, and the proposal for 50/50 recruitment. I have grave reservations about creating 29 local area commands corresponding to the 26 local council areas, plus an additional three for the City of Belfast. With the loss of a whole tier of management in the RUC via decentralised command, I fear that that bodes ill for the future and will serve to balkanise the police force in Northern Ireland.

The population of Northern Ireland is only 1.6 million. We do not need 29 local area commands. I believe that there needs to be a regional level of command above the local areas and that the unitary nature of the RUC must be preserved.

In mainland terms, the City of Belfast is not particularly large, with no more than 300,000 or so electors. While Belfast may currently be divided by the RUC into four local areas of command, these do not mirror the four parliamentary constituencies and extend far beyond the city limits as far as Lisburn to the south, Antrim town and Carrickfergus to the north, and Bangor to the east, incorporating parts of the constituencies of South Antrim, East Antrim, Lagan Valley, Castlereagh and North Down. I am confident that 300,000 people could more effectively and more efficiently be served by one local area command.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The noble Lord is possibly not aware that the City of York, which has a population of about 100,000 people, is divided into four commands, as it were. That system works effectively. The noble Lord may like to consider that point before he comments further.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. However, the City of York may not have the divisions of the City of Belfast, the consequences of which for policing are a matter of great concern to me.

I do not wish to labour this particular operational point at this stage of the Bill. I am, however, concerned at the likely consequences which would follow the establishment of 29 local area commands, and especially four in Belfast. These 29 area commands will all be mirrored by, monitored by and potentially dominated and influenced by district policing partnerships. Four such commands for Belfast is just too many, unnecessary and plainly planned for political reasons and not operational policing. But, what is worse, it has the potential to subject the police to intolerable sectarian and party political pressures at grassroots level.

As the Belfast Telegraph of 21st July stated: Can anyone imagine the chaos which would ensue if the policing of Drumcree or contentious events in Belfast were fully at the behest of local policing boards? It does not require an Honours degree in current affairs to realise that a West Belfast sub-committee of the DPP would be almost exclusively republican and nationalist—effectively Sinn Fein/IRA. The East Belfast DPP sub-committee would be almost exclusively loyalist and Unionist, with a substantial degree of input from the UDA and the UVF.

The religious and political mix in the north and south of the city would at least ensure some measure of cross-community representation on the DPP sub-committee for those areas, but that is scant consolation. The idea behind this seems to be to create a Protestant/Unionist dominated DPP for Protestant areas and a Catholic/nationalist dominated DPP for Catholic areas. This simply cannot be acceptable. This is cantonisation of policing of the worst kind and would facilitate paramilitary linked parties increasing their influence over certain areas.

At least a Belfast-wide district policing partnership would dilute the influence of parties whose support is concentrated in particular areas. Sinn Fein/IRA might have nearly 70 per cent support in West Belfast, but across the city as a whole the figure is much lower. Just as it would be wrong to leave policing in West Belfast in the hands of republicans, so it would be wrong to place policing in East Belfast in the hands of loyalists. I want to see an effective district policing partnership and police force for all the people in every part of the City of Belfast and Northern Ireland.

If the purpose of the Patten report was to take politics out of policing, one needs only to look at this proposal to see just how completely it has failed. Instead of taking politics out of policing, it seeks to place politics at the very heart of policing. Whatever happened to the concept of treating people equally as citizens rather than as members of a particular religious or ethnic group? I believe that the more we focus on divisions in society, the more we risk reinforcing those divisions by constantly emphasising them, rather than seeking to concentrate on those factors which unite us. Twenty-nine sub-committees of the district policing partnership will hardly encourage unity. They will merely promote and reinforce ideas of separateness.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, over the years the City of Belfast, and indeed other areas of Ulster, have seen the creation of far too many ghettos—Protestant and Catholic alike. It is my belief that in the new dispensation we should do all we can to create a new community in Northern Ireland. The proposed large number of DPPs will hinder that. They will be divisive; they will foster community tensions and, yet again, the police will be piggy in the middle.

I now turn to the matter of 50/50 recruitment. I am opposed to the concept of 50/50 recruitment to be introduced in the Bill. It is positive discrimination. I oppose all forms of statutory discrimination, whether positive or not. I wish to see any police force in Northern Ireland—indeed, throughout the United Kingdom—reflect the society that it polices: 50/50 recruitment will not remedy Catholic under-representation in the police force because it attempts to address the symptom rather than the cause.

We are all aware of the cause of Catholic under-representation in the police force—the lack of Catholic applicants and the pressures they were under. During the period between the cessation of military operations by paramilitary organisations and the suspension of police recruitment, Catholic applications to the RUC doubled from 11 per cent to 22 per cent. This desirable trend was achieved not by positive discrimination but by encouraging young Catholic applicants.

Perhaps I may illustrate the point by reading a letter which was published in this morning's edition of the Irish News, a newspaper with a mainly nationalist readership. The letter was written by an officer of the RUC. He writes: I want to make my position clear to my co-Catholics in this part of Ireland. I joined the RUC in 1971 when living in Derry with my mother. My father died in 1964, leaving us a poor family financially. I joined the police to help my mother 'make ends meet'. When a prominent republican heard of this, he and three of his 'henchmen' called at my mother's house in the dead of night and threatened her, physically, over my job. She was told what they would do to her if I wouldn't resign, and her windows were broken to emphasise the point. That's the type now in government, that's why Catholics don't join the RUC. Pity these 'henchmen' don't have the background and good character required for the RUC". The letter was signed simply "Good Catholic".

Targets and affirmative action measures encouraging applications from under-represented groups—from all under-represented groups—are the only means of securing a police force that reflects the society that it polices. Indeed, targets and affirmative action could include targets for female recruits and for recruits from ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland, thus redressing under-representation in other areas, not only Catholic under-representation.

It may have crossed the minds of some noble Lords, why not extend the quota system to female recruitment or to the recruitment of ethnic minorities? There are two points to be made in regard to this question. First, it would seem that it would be illegal under European law, in contravention of Council Directive 76/207/ EEC on the Implementation of the Principles of Equal Treatment for Men and Women, to have this quota recruitment scheme apply to male/female recruitment. Secondly, many ethnic minorities would fall under the grouping of "other". Fifty/fifty recruitment is not 50 per cent Protestant and 50 per cent Catholic; it is 50 per cent Catholic and 50 per cent "other".

Therefore, not only will young Protestant applicants suffer reverse discrimination, but so will young Muslim applicants, as will young Jewish applicants, Hindu applicants, Sikh applicants, Baha'i applicants—need I continue? These are all religious groups prevalent in Northern Ireland society which will be discriminated against by being labelled "other" for recruitment purposes by this Bill.

The question of legality will be raised again in December 2002, when two directives flowing from Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty will be implemented. It appears from the draft of these directives that the 50/50 recruitment in this Bill would be contrary to these directives. I question the morality of legislating in the interim.

I know that the hour is getting late and that I have been speaking for some time, but I am going to be pedantic and further demonstrate my concerns by an example. The police have 100 vacancies for recruits: 150 "others" apply and there are 50 Catholic applicants. Fifty/fifty recruitment dictates that if all 100 vacancies are to be filled, 50 must be from Catholic applicants and 50 from "other" applicants. However, there is a standard for successful applicants and let us assume for a moment that 60 per cent of the "others" grouping and 60 per cent of the Catholic grouping make that standard. We now have 120 applicants who make the grade for 100 vacancies. This would be fine—except that only 30 of the 50 Catholic applicants, being 60 per cent, have made the grade. So, although we now have 90 applicants from the "other" group who have made the grade, only 30 can be employed.

The police force requires 100 recruits so it has a choice: it either accepts an under-strength force or lowers the standard for applicants to permit all 50 Catholic applicants to be recruited. This totally corrupts the merit-based system of recruitment; it is clearly unacceptable.

The only situation in which 50/50 recruitment would not cause reverse discrimination would be where 50 per cent of the population are Catholic and 50 per cent are "others" and where 50 per cent of the applicants are Catholic and 50 per cent are "others"— and if 50 per cent of the applicants were Catholics there would be no need for targets or affirmative action, never mind quotas.

This 50/50 recruitment will fail to tackle the problem of low numbers of Catholic applicants and can lead only to resentment within the police force. Inevitably one recruit will perceive another recruit to be there, not on merit but because of his religion.

As I have said, I wish to see a police force that reflects the society it serves. This can be achieved by affirmative action measures; it can be achieved in a morally and legally correct manner and it can redress under-representation in terms of sex, race and religion. In this regard, opinion formers from within the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland and from within the nationalist community must play their part. Roman Catholic church leaders and nationalist leaders must encourage their young people to apply to join the police in Northern Ireland, and do so in the knowledge that all we want is a neutral, fair police force, accountable and respected. That is what we should aim for in policing in Northern Ireland, not statutory discrimination.

Patten wanted to put human rights at the heart of policing. Paragraph 4.1 of the Patten report states: It is a central proposition of this report that the fundamental purpose of policing should be, in the words of the Agreement, the protection and vindication of the human rights of all". This Bill puts statutory discrimination at the heart of policing rather than human rights.

Perhaps I may leave the House with one final thought. On 12th November 1997, the Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir Ronnie Flannagan, gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. One of the members told him: I think you are absolutely right that positive discrimination is totally counter-productive, based on my experience in other areas. People have to be advanced on merit". That member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was none other than Ken Livingstone, MP.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I deeply regret that this debate is taking place today. In the 36 years that I have been in this building I cannot recall a Bill of such significance getting a Second Reading on the day that the House was to break up for the Summer Recess. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland will see it that way; that the House is treating the people of Northern Ireland with contempt.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, if I could just remind my noble friend, the House is not finishing today; the House finishes tomorrow.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I think my noble friend may regret having said that because tomorrow the last of the murderers will be released from the Maze Prison. This is a deeply emotional week in Northern Ireland. We have to think of the people, the victims, who have lost their loved ones, not only the RUC—although 310 of its men have been brutally murdered—but the 8,000 who were injured as well. We have to think of the civilians who were murdered. In this country we have to think of the 600 servicemen who were murdered. This has been a deeply disturbing week in Northern Ireland. This week, as I have read the newspapers—coming from Northern Ireland—I can feel the emotion. I know what is happening to the people over there as they see the brutal murderers of their loved ones being released. Is that price too high to pay for peace in Northern Ireland? There are many people who think so.

We have heard that the Good Friday agreement is meant to charter the future of Northern Ireland and that we should attempt to move on. It is only the living that can move on. The dead cannot move on. The hundreds of people who have been murdered in Northern Ireland cannot move on and neither can their relatives who watched them die in such horrible circumstances.

Many people quote the Belfast agreement. The Belfast agreement contained three main controversial points: first, the release of prisoners, to which I have just referred; secondly, the decommissioning; and, thirdly, what we are discussing today—the reform of the police. My noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench spoke. The noble Baroness said that she was on the police authority for North Yorkshire. North Yorkshire has absolutely nothing to do with policing in Northern Ireland. The police in North Yorkshire are not about to murder their way out of the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland we do not vote on Conservative and Labour terms, much to my regret. We vote on Unionist and nationalist, terms. The Unionist wants to remain within the United Kingdom. The nationalist wants to break away from the United Kingdom—at least we are so told. Northern Ireland is never very far away from elections. We have local government elections; we have the Assembly elections; we have the European elections; and we have the elections to this House.

I shall tell your Lordships what is happening at the present moment. There are two nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the party of which I was a former member, the SDLP. They are nationalist parties. I should explain what nationalism means. The other two parties are the Official Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party.

Both those elements are fighting the next Westminster election. I believe that, particularly on the nationalist side, some of them are acting quite irresponsibly. We know that the SDLP is now following a republican agenda. Sinn Fein has attempted to demonise and to humiliate the RUC. It has a very good reason. It was the RUC which was responsible for arresting those terrorists, bringing them before the courts and having them sentenced to long terms of imprisonment—the same terrorists released this week. So it is in the interests of Sinn Fein and the terrorists to demonise the RUC.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland only yesterday broke the Anglo-Irish agreement. There was one notorious prisoner called McArdle who was detained for a few days. He did not qualify for release. The Secretary of State went to Her Majesty to ask for the royal prerogative to be used to let out one of the most notorious prisoners who had ever been in the Maze prison. That is a direct attack on the integrity of the Anglo-Irish agreement. The Bill is hugely political. Let us not underestimate the politics of the Bill.

I say to the noble Baroness again that there is absolutely no comparison between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and any other police force within the kingdom. Unless one knows the history, the background and the ethos of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, one will not understand anything about it. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was created in 1920 by the partition of Ireland. The previous police force was known as the Royal Irish Constabulary. It was the Royal Irish Constabulary which had the badge that is now with the Royal Ulster Constabulary—a shamrock and a crown. Nothing could be more instructive to the two communities in Northern Ireland. In fact Sir Richard Dawson Bates, Minister of Home Affairs in the first government of Northern Ireland when the state was set up, attempted to do away with the Northern Ireland badge, the badge that has been so courageously worn by the RUC.

The RUC was formed after many scores of RIC men were killed in the years between 1918 and 1920. They were given two jobs. One of them was to detect crime and criminals, the same as in any other police force in the United Kingdom. The other one—the one that led to their death, and the one which has led to this humiliation—was to protect the integrity of the state of Northern Ireland. It is because of that responsibility that the IRA has been killing RUC men over so many years.

Sinn Fein is nationalist. The SDLP is nationalist. Let us look at the interpretation of that word. "Nationalist" means that they do not accept the state of Northern Ireland. They want to take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. That is the meaning of nationalism. It is for that reason that so many terrible tragedies have taken place.

Now we have this Bill. It is hugely political. It is recognised to be such by the majority of people in Northern Ireland. I have already stated that the SDLP is following the agenda set down by Sinn Fein—Sinn Fein/IRA—the party that has murdered policemen and many others. I do not believe that Sinn Fein/IRA and the SDLP represent the true feelings of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. Every Catholic is not a nationalist. Every Catholic in Northern Ireland does not want to see the abolition of the Border. But parliamentary elections have determined those people who would have us believe so. I suggest that the Bill has been brought forward in a very emotional week. I read the papers today and saw photographs in them of people who have been released—people who murdered friends of mine. Therefore, I do not discuss this issue in a vacuum. I discuss it in the terms in which it is seen by the people of Northern Ireland.

The provisions on 50/50 representation were brought forward with the best of intentions but they are totally unrealistic. In 1976 I sat at the other end of this building putting through the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. It was meant to deal with discrimination between Catholics and Protestants at the time. After all these years there is still an imbalance. A balance has not been achieved since 1976 and it will certainly not be achieved within the time limit of Patten. How do you discern a Catholic? When he applies to join the RUC, is he a Catholic because he went to mass on the previous Sunday? Perhaps he did not go to mass at all. Perhaps he is a lapsed Catholic. If he was lapsed, would it mean that he could not be taken in as a Catholic? I do not think that a solution can be found to that problem.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, about the district partnerships. I have lived in Belfast and represented West Belfast for many years. I know every district in West Belfast. District partnerships set up in estates like Turf Lodge, Ballymurphy, New Barnsley and Andersonstown will be wholly dominated by the men with guns. They will not accept a police force. There will be no opportunity for anyone living on those estates to join the police force or the new police service without the sanction and approval of the men with guns. Even as things stand, the Catholics who are in the RUC—I recognise the courageous stand they have taken—cannot live in the ghettos. They have to live far way from their districts and far away from their relatives. They cannot even visit their parents because they are members of the RUC. There is still a great deal of intimidation.

We learnt from our papers all last week and from contact with the RUC of the terrible number of brutal beatings. People are having their ankles and elbows blown off. They are not being killed, because that would break the IRA ceasefire, but the mutilations continue. I can tell the House—I say it with a great deal of realism—that there is no way in which the IRA or the loyalist paramilitaries will give up control of their areas. There is absolutely no chance of that happening.

The Bill may be visionary. I should like to see much of what it proposes come to pass. I approve of many of the elements in the Bill. Many of them have been brought about by the chief constable himself. Perhaps I may say that the present chief constable is the best chief constable we have ever had in Northern Ireland. I know that he is desperately trying to go along with the Bill. But can noble Lords imagine the position he is in? He wants to see the provisions of the Bill implemented. He wants to see an acceptable police force. But it would be less than human to expect him to forget the murders of members of his own force—the ones with whom he served, from the time he was a constable to when he became chief constable of the RUC. I believe that Ronnie Flanagan will do his best to implement these proposals.

Tomorrow the House adjourns for two months. That adjournment provides an opportunity for the Government to look at all the imperfections in the Bill and to recognise that nationalists will never accept the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. All Catholics are not nationalists. Northern Ireland is not like North Yorkshire and is not like some parts of London. Northern Ireland is a place apart. We have had to live with the awful circumstances of the past 30 years. I hope that we can do something with the police force through the Bill. But I would say, with rather more hope than optimism, that we need to bring about the right circumstances. I wish the chief constable God speed.

8.24 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I feel rather inadequate in following the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I only hope that the situation does not turn out to be as depressing as some of us have reason to believe it might.

I welcome the Government's willingness to improve the Bill at later stages. The vast proportion of the Bill is most welcome and comes from the chief constable's review, which was not complete when Chris Patten was moved in. I and many others object to and oppose the change of name from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I oppose it very strongly indeed. I am full of admiration for the dedication, professionalism and sacrifice of its members over the past 70 plus years and especially since 1969. In the security forces I served beside them on a daily basis for 17 years and I know the sacrifices they and their families made during that time. I may say that among the very best were some from the minority side of our community. I stress that. I entirely support all the tributes paid to them.

I agree with most of the reservations that have been expressed in the debate. I should like to highlight a few additional concerns that I have on other parts of the Bill. The Northern Ireland policing board will take over from the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. I have no problem with that. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, mentioned the division of responsibility. As she was the first and only speaker to do that, I thought that I would reiterate the point with regard to one particular circumstance. Under Clause 3, the board will continue to be responsible for the efficiency and effectiveness of the police, the police support staff and the traffic wardens. However, under Clause 12, the chief constable will take over financial accountability. That is a change from the present position whereby that responsibility is vested in the police authority, as it is in England and Wales.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, does he agree that responsibility for efficiency should not be divorced from financial accountability, as that is the very means of control through value for money and so on? Secondly, why should the position be changed if it is considered good practice in England and Wales? Why should the position be different in Northern Ireland? Surely those who hold the purse strings call the tune. I would not insist on those two responsibilities necessarily being with the police board. I would leave that up to someone else to decide. But there must be outside auditing, no matter who has those responsibilities. I believe that they should be vested in the same place, wherever it is.

Before leaving the subject of policing boards, I have one matter to raise in comparing the board with the district policing partnerships in Part III of the Bill. At present, members of the police authority, which is to become the policing board, sign a notice declaring their awareness of the Official Secrets Act. They also agree to a code of practice and the seven principles of public life. In effect, they undertake, among other things, to observe confidentiality. I have reservations about the establishment of district policing partnerships. However, I know that many other people have concerns about their composition and, in particular, about the backgrounds of the people involved. I share that concern. Can the Minister assure the House that those individuals will have to undertake the same commitments to confidentiality and good practice as those members of the policing board? If he says that the police board will bring in regulations, I will not be satisfied. I should like to know that it will occur. That would perhaps allay some of the fears which have been generated by these partnerships.

The reorganisation of the structure of the police force into police districts, as provided in Clause 20, will bring our policing structures into line with the remainder of the United Kingdom. Some may have a fear of this. However, I have read Police Force Reorganisation—Getting it Right by Jonathan Nichols, a report published in 1991 on behalf of the Home Office by the Police Research Group and I am quite impressed with it. I shall not venture into discussing the situation in Belfast, although I know of the problems. However, I do not live there and we have just heard a far more expert account of it than I could ever give.

Nevertheless, the report is excellent and stresses the difficulties of reorganisation into the United Kingdom equivalent of police districts, which are known as BCUs—basic command units. A quotation is cited at the beginning of the report and is worthy of note: We need to meet any new situation by reorganising. And what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress by producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation". So pronounced Gaius Petronius, writer, satirist and organiser of Nero's personal revels in the Roman Empire. Not much changes. It is a warning; it will take a great deal of good leadership and professionalism successfully to carry this out. It will not happen overnight.

Although I support this change, I must ask if we are doing it at quite the right time. I am not against the change, I am for it, but perhaps not yet. In an Audit Commission report, Paper 9 of the Police Papers in England 1991, such commands are defined as, the lowest level in the command structure which can provide a 24-hour policing service able to respond to all incidents and deal fully with most of them without frequent external support". That is key to a breakdown of that kind of command structure. It is a fact that the type of problems that occur frequently in Northern Ireland—marches, bombings and shootings—all require more resources than those held at divisional level, let alone at the envisaged smaller district commands. In principle I am supportive, but is the time yet right?

On that question, another problem lies in the offing. Assuming that the reorganisation is put in place, it may not be long before it will have to be reorganised. It is common knowledge, now that we have an Assembly, that it is likely to look at reducing the number of district councils in local government. However, police districts are to conform with district council areas. Again, I ask the question: are we being a little premature in bringing about this change by enacting the Bill?

I should like to discuss for a moment the 50/50 quotas. Noble Lords will be glad to know that I shall not detail half of the matter. My noble friend Lord Rogan has covered it well. We all understand his figures and will understand them even better when we come to read them. I shall leave out my contribution on that point. However, they emphasise the fact that, first, we should seek targets and not quotas. I wish to examine this briefly in relation to police recruits and thus add a little to the words of my noble friend. Secondly, I should like to discuss the police support staff, who have not yet been mentioned.

If we meddle with the acceptance of recruits by accepting outside of the order of merit to achieve our quotas, then—assuming that the order of merit is some indication of the merit of policemen and women in the future—by taking people of lower ability, we are creating a less able group of police. In the longer run that will create what will amount to a two-tier system. Noble Lords will note that I am not saying that Roman Catholics are less intelligent than Protestants. I say merely that, with the numbers coming forward, that will be the effect of taking people from further down the order of merit.

In addition to creating a level of, perhaps, less able policemen, we shall also create a problem for the future. Future promotions will be made on merit. That will not reflect either a 50/50 or any other form of quota. How will we get around this? Perhaps the Minister could suggest a strategy that will solve the problem. I should also say that similar circumstances have prevailed in America with the black population and, I believe, in Canada with French Canadians in Quebec. This has been demonstrated in other areas.

My next point is not mischievous. It may be a reality. A recruit's religion is taken as being that which he or she enters on a form held confidentially—and signed in confidence so that no one will witness it—by the equal opportunities branch of the police force. No proof is required and it can never be questioned in the service. Thus, if a Protestant or one of the "others" that make up their side of the 50/50 division, feels that he or she would have a better chance of being appointed if he or she were a Roman Catholic, all they need to do is to sign a form saying that they are Roman Catholic. No one can question it, even if that person walks out of the base on a Sunday morning and attends the Protestant St. Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. I appreciate that that is simplicity in itself, but in Northern Ireland people get around much more complicated situations. It is not even a criminal act, because the applicant could change religions in 20 minutes flat.

I wish to mention quickly in the same context the position of the police support staff. At present they are made up of some who are employed directly by the Police Authority and some who were seconded from the Civil Service. The latter have now been incorporated into the Police Authority. In future, employees will come directly to the police board, as it will be constituted. In practice, this will make the present imbalance in that department even worse because the proportion of Catholics in the Northern Ireland Civil Service is higher than that in any policing body.

There are those Catholics who may have joined the Civil Service in preference to a police body because they may have felt intimidated had they joined any organisation involving the police. In the Civil Service, they are asked to tick a box to discover whether they would be prepared to be seconded to the police. Some may not have ticked the box initially, but, after experience, some of those Catholics have done so and have then gone to serve with the RUC in that context. However, under the new arrangement, this option will no longer be made available and the imbalance in the police support staff will become even worse, even though it forms a part of the Northern Ireland police service. That was confirmed as a possibility to me this morning by the Police Authority.

I should like to say that I am a strong supporter of the motive that lies behind the 50/50 principle. However, the Bill will be successful in that respect only if the SDLP and—dare I say it?—the Roman Catholic Church actively support their members in joining such a service. I have not heard that they have done so yet. Until that is done, there is not a hope on this side of kingdom-come that Sinn Fein will do so. I call on the SDLP and the Roman Catholic Church to make the move. The Bill goes as far as it is possible to go; it goes far further than would most reasonable people.

In conclusion, I support the Bill and I hope that the Government will respond to the concerns that have been voiced today. I hope too that over the Recess they will think carefully and come back with some amendments of their own.

8.38 p.m.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, perhaps I may join first in the tributes that have been paid to the courage and bravery of the men and women of the RUC. I should like also to join in the tributes paid to the Chief Constable who, I agree, is the best chief constable to have served in Northern Ireland. He is leading the police in a most excellent and far-sighted manner.

I am conscious of the 302 deaths—murders—of RUC officers during the Troubles. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the last officer to die did so as a result of the bomb at Drumcree two years ago. He was, as it were, enforcing the law against loyalist paramilitaries. That shows that the RUC has been behaving, and has had to behave, in an even-handed manner. I am sure that it has been very difficult for members of the RUC to deal with some of the difficulties that they have had to face, particularly at Drumcree in the past few years. Therefore, we all agree that the George Cross was a well deserved tribute.

I have sensed a great deal of pessimism in this debate. I have not detected much confidence about the future for Northern Ireland. I have heard rather gloomy prognostications. I am more of an optimist, although I share an awareness that there are many difficulties still to be overcome.

I should like to comment briefly on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, about prisoner releases. My view differs from his. Of course, the re lease of prisoners has been the single most difficult issue arising out of the Good Friday agreement. It has been painful for many. I recall the debates in this House when we dealt with the legislation for the release of prisoners. We all found it a painful prospect. Nevertheless, without prisoner releases, there would have been no Good Friday agreement, and without an agreement there would have been no prospect of peace for Northern Ireland. Admittedly, there is an unacceptably high level of paramilitary attacks within the communities, and these must be condemned absolutely and totally. No such attack should ever lake place; the level is far too high. But the release of prisoners is something that we had to do as a government. I refer to the time when I was a Minister helping to further the policy. Without such prisoner releases, difficult as the matter is, the prospects for Northern Ireland would be much gloomier. I give way to the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I agree with the point that he making, painful though it is. But will he deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt; namely, that in securing the use of the prerogative yesterday, apparently, in the case of McArdle, the Secretary of State breached the wording of the Good Friday agreement, which we have all been told must be upheld to the letter, by securing the release of McArdle some seven months before the proper application of the agreement would have released him?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, that is a question that should be directed at the Minister. It would not be proper for me to speculate on the series of events that led to that release. I would rather leave it to the Minister. I understand what the noble and learned Lord is saying, but I am sure that the Minister will be back in his place shortly and will be made aware of the question that has been asked.

Perhaps I may comment briefly on one positive feature: the co-operation between the Garda and the RUC. It is not always widely appreciated. For example, at the Templemore training centre in the Republic there is a joint training programme for RUC and Garda officers, preparing them for service in Kosovo, where many are at present. When I was a Minister I met Garda officers in Donegal who told me about the joint project with RUC officers providing holiday facilities for children from Northern Ireland who had learning difficulties and other handicaps. I am aware that there is co-operation also on such issues as road safety. Co-operation in tackling the problems of drugs could usefully be developed further. The Patten report says that co-operation could be more formalised; nevertheless, there is a high level of co-operation. It is important that that should be understood.

Looking at the Patten report and the Bill that is before the House, what are we seeking to achieve? There are clearly two aims. One is that there should be a higher share of Roman Catholics in the police force in Northern Ireland. No one quarrels with that. People say that the Roman Catholics' share of RUC membership increased at the time of the first ceasefire. All I would say is that in the period before the Troubles, in the late 1960s, there was a low proportion of Catholics in the RUC, so this is a long-term problem. I agree that intimidation is a serious factor. I have discussed the matter with individual RUC officers. But there are other reasons. One is surely that there is not the context and climate of opinion within many Catholic communities which encourages young Catholics to join the RUC. They do not have the support of the politicians or the good will that would be necessary if they were to take that step. I hope that that will change.

The second aim of the Bill is surely that nationalist parties and Churches, the Catholic Church in particular, should all be prepared in the future to recommend that young people should join the police in Northern Ireland if that is the career that they want. That will be a key test of the overall success of the policy.

I had quoted to me recently the words of the headmaster of a Catholic school in Northern Ireland. He said that there is no difficulty for his school leavers in joining the police; they do join—but they join the Strathclyde police, the Garda and the Metropolitan Police; they do not join the RUC. That is what must change if we are to have a proper basis for policing and peace in Northern Ireland. I learnt a long time ago that for the police to be effective anywhere, they must have the consent of the majority of people in the communities that they serve. That is what members of the Metropolitan Police have always said to me when I have discussed the matter with them. Because that consent is not as forthcoming in some parts of Northern Ireland as it ought to be, the task of the RUC is made much more difficult. If members of the RUC are to provide the professional policing that they want to provide, they need to have that support in their own communities. That means that they must have more support among the Catholic population than at present. I know that many Catholics support the RUC, but they voice that support in opinion polls; it is not done vocally, through the community leaders in that population.

When the Bill is bedded down and becomes law, it is important that we get the police in Northern Ireland out of party politics. Nothing can be more damaging to professional policing than for the nature of the police service to be the subject of constant party-political argument. It does not lead to good policing. It is not fair to the police or to the people of Northern Ireland.

My understanding is that every one of the 175 Patten recommendations had the endorsement of at least a police officer who put it forward to the Patten committee. I mention that because it is sometimes thought that the recommendations do not have any support among police officers.

When I had the privilege of serving in Northern Ireland as a Minister, the Secretary of State suggested at the time of the publication of the Patten report that we should all visit individual RUC stations and discuss how officers felt about the report. I visited four RUC stations and at each I met 20 or 30 RUC officers. I visited Enniskillen, West Belfast, Dungannon and Newry. In each, I had an interesting, fascinating and difficult hour-and-a-half or two-hour discussion with the officers there. My sense was that, although they were not happy about the Patten report—they did not like the idea of a change of name or a change of badge, or some of the other points that have been raised in this debate—in the end they felt that if implementing the Patten recommendations would achieve the intended aims, they would go along with it, albeit reluctantly. That was the main sense of my discussions, although there were clear voices to the contrary, saying, "Under no circumstances". I felt, both at those meetings and in discussions that I have had with other RUC officers, that that was the way they saw it: "We don't like it, but if that's the way forward, we'll go along with it".

I am aware that attitudes to the RUC among some people in Northern Ireland are polarised. Some people say that the police are always in the wrong; some say that they are always in the right. But, of course, common sense suggests that the truth is somewhere between the two. I take the view that when the police show that they are impartially upholding the law, they are entitled to the support of everyone in the community.

The RUC officers in Northern Ireland to whom I have spoken are much more relaxed about the Patten report and about this Bill than are some politicians in Northern Ireland. At times the police have a more mature attitude to this matter. They know that they operate in a democratic society and have said to me that if a democratic parliament wants to change the way that the police service operates, they will accept it, even if they do not like it. I believe that the task of negotiating these changes with the police is a good deal more straightforward than are negotiations with some politicians.

There are signs that some nationalist politicians and the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland are very unhappy with the Bill. My concern is that if in the end they are not willing to encourage young people to join the RUC, one of the main objectives will be negated. I appreciate that the Secretary of State has had very little margin for manoeuvre. He is hemmed in between the views of Unionist politicians who do not want to go an inch further than they have gone—they do not even like the fact that they have had to go so far—and nationalist politicians who do not believe that all of their concerns are being met.

I turn briefly to the name. I understand why the RUC does not want to lose its name. Equally, at the time of reorganisation of the Army, in some cases British regiments also lost their names through mergers. They did not like it, but they accepted it. It did not imply any denigration of the traditions, courage, VCs and other decorations earned by those regiments; it was simply a necessary change. I urge those who are concerned about the name to look at the precedent set by people from those regiments.

In future where will the name the "Police Service of Northern Ireland" appear? Will the name be used widely?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is the noble Lord sure that the analogy he draws between amalgamated regiments and the change of name of the RUC is an accurate one? After all, there is no doubt about the national allegiance of an amalgamated regiment. The implication is that those who support the change of name and the new badge will refuse allegiance to the Crown and that we are accommodating them.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I believe that the noble Viscount goes rather far down that path. In quoting that example I seek merely to demonstrate that painful decisions had to be made and accepted by those associated with British regiments with long traditions. There is some analogy to be drawn between that difficulty and the difficulty faced by people who respect the long tradition of the RUC.

I asked where the new name of the service would appear. At the moment police vehicles do not bear the name of the force. For example, I do not believe that in London police vehicles bear the name "Metropolitan Police". The name RUC is not in evidence on vehicles anyway, so I am not sure that the change is as significant as some make out. I understand the concern expressed by nationalist politicians about the use of "PSNI" for operational purposes and not others. However, I am also aware of the difficulty that faces the Secretary of State who has had little margin for manoeuvre.

I am conscious that I have gone on for longer than I intended. I should like to make one key point and then bring my remarks to a close. One wonders whether anything else can be done to seek a more positive attitude to this legislation on the part of nationalist politicians, particularly the SDLP. Many say that they want more of the Patten recommendations in the Bill. Although I realise the difficulties, I wonder whether there is any way in which the Bill can provide future flexibility. The oversight commissioner, for example, has a particular remit. Could his remit be widened to give a little more flexibility to enable him to make recommendations to the Secretary of State about further managerial changes that may be introduced into police operations in Northern Ireland? I put that question to elicit the Government's view on it.

Finally, the council of the isles is a new structure to be set up under the Good Friday agreement. I hope that policing can be on the agenda of future council meetings. That would enable all of the territories — England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man—to discuss joint problems and approaches to policing within that council.

I am aware that the Secretary of State has endeavoured to meet many criticisms. I am also aware that many remain outstanding. I hope that they can be resolved and that, in the fullness of time, the SDLP will find it possible to be more supportive of this legislation than it has been able to be so far. I see the reform of policing in Northern Ireland as one of the biggest challenges of the peace process and an essential ingredient in making the Good Friday agreement effective to ensure long-lasting peace for the people there.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Laird

My Lords, I recognise that the hour is late and we have covered a good deal of the ground. It is not my intention to weary noble Lords any more than is necessary by regurgitating what has already been dealt with. However, I should like to pay a great tribute to a number of noble Lords who have spoken tonight. I refer to my noble friends on these Benches. I also refer to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—he is not present at the moment—who is a gentleman of very high integrity. I spent 20 years trying to keep him out of this building, because the noble Lord would regard himself as one of my political opponents. However, his contribution tonight on the issue of the police must be taken very seriously, and I commend it to your Lordships.

Before I move on to a number of topics in this debate, on a night like this I should like to provide the Government Front Bench with a little relief. I pay tribute to the Minister for one matter which pleases me very much. The noble and learned Lord said today in response to a Question for Written Answer that the Government now recognise the plight of police widows and the difference between those who were widowed before 1992 and those widowed after. I should like to dwell on that for a moment or two. To be fair to the Minister, when I discussed this matter with him on a number of occasions he was most sympathetic and understanding. I am ashamed that I was not aware of the circumstances of these gallant ladies until recently. In fairness, when it was put to the Minister he recognised the situation immediately.

This matter was drawn to our attention by a series of articles in the Belfast Telegraph written by the UK's regional feature writer of the year, Gail Walker. She is one of the best known and best established feature writers in Northern Ireland. She drew attention to the plight of widows. I seek the indulgence of the House to highlight one case which is humbling and shows how much we owe to the RUC itself and officers' families. In last night's edition of the Belfast Telegraph Gail Walker profiles the case of a woman who has been widowed for 31 years and is in receipt of a police pension. After inflation, that pension is now £137 a month. I am ashamed of that and the fact that I was unaware of it. To be fair to the Minister, he has taken the matter on board and appointed Mr John Steele, a gentleman of high integrity who is known to me, to look into these matters and report back at the end of October.

With the Minister's permission, I should like to put the case to Mr Steele on behalf of the small group of widows who have been kept by us in penury. Their only sin—it is no sin—was to lose their loved ones who were protecting me so that I could sleep at night, and protecting all of us in no matter which part of the kingdom. That is a salutary lesson for us all. I know that the Minister will join me in saying that it behoves us to look at those who protect us in a different light. A few lines from Rudyard Kipling always come to mind on this issue: The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace, For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!' But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot". That is something we should remember about all those people who protect us and look after us, whether in the RUC or the Army.

I support changes in organisations. There must be changes in the RUC if and when we move towards a peaceful society in Northern Ireland. I do not think that noble Lords on these Benches or anywhere else would disagree with that. I still have reservations. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, referred to the state of society in Northern Ireland and debated whether we have a true state of peace. Ninety-five per cent of the Bill is excellent. However, 10 per cent is badly flawed and will be subject to much scrutiny in Committee and later stages.

On the arguments about the 50/50 recruitment issue I make only one point. As the noble Lord, Lord Eames, knows, I am associated with one of the major grammar schools in Northern Ireland. Because it is classified as a state grammar school everyone who goes there is classified as Protestant—yet we do not know what proportion are not Protestant. I suspect that it could be 15 to 20 per cent. But the question is not asked; it is not relevant. An education is supplied. Those people will be disadvantaged if one adopts the 50/50 arrangement.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the definition of a Roman Catholic. Is he someone who goes to mass? Is he a Roman Catholic if he is a lapsed Roman Catholic? If he is a lapsed Roman Catholic, is he eligible only for the part-time police? Where do we stop this nonsense? There is an honourable, fine, small Jewish community in Northern Ireland which has given great service to the community, including the police force. Where are they in all of this?

Like all noble Lords who have spoken, I want to see more members of the minority Roman Catholic community in the RUC. I join with others in paying tribute to the work that they have done. But 50/50 recruitment is not the way. I suspect that that measure will be heavily attacked at a later stage.

My noble friend Lord Rogan discussed the business of district boards. He is right. It is an issue which will be addressed in due course.

The name and the badge are emotive issues. We should not underestimate their importance. We want politics and police separated. At this point in time they are not. While the various relationships of politics and police in Northern Ireland are still intertwined, it is important to remember that at this point in time the Good Friday agreement and the executive are not stuck together with superglue. They can come apart. For instance, too much stress on the community that I represent and the house of cards could come down. I fire that warning shot in the air.

9.5 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, after the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I shall say little or nothing about the strategy of the IRA. It has been covered. However, because of the security situation over the past 30 years, the RUC has had to develop a counter-insurgency capacity and to operate, unlike any other police force in the UK, as an armed force which is itself a prime target of the paramilitaries. It is recognised as the most dangerous police force in the world in which to serve. It is also, despite that necessary extension of its role, one of the police forces of the United Kingdom. Incidentally it is the front line for the UK and it has special tasks.

The Belfast agreement recognised the choice of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland to maintain the Union. The RUC is thus one of the legitimate manifestations of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, just as the Garda is of the Irish State.

The Belfast agreement also states that the objective is, As early a return to normal security arrangements as are consistent with the level of threat". The Patten report also recognises that the implementation of the report must depend on how the security situation develops. We have not yet developed that peaceful environment. Do I need to remind the House of Omagh or of the bomb threat in London this year? The hydra-headed IRA, as Gerry Adams famously said, has not gone away and the loyalists are making their own unwelcome contribution to the threat to the peace. One visit, two years after the agreement was signed, to an IRA arms cache by two distinguished men who are scarcely expert in assessing armaments does not balance the scales when, in the other scale, we see several hundred tried and convicted murderers freed into the communities where the families of their victims live. We see no decommissioning and in my view very little likelihood of it, since it remains the bargaining chip that Sinn Fein/IRA will and must use to extract yet further concessions. It is called "a creative climate for change". Sinn Fein/IRA might be said to have created a modern version of jam tomorrow, or a perversion of a scheme under which poorer families buy furniture and are given two years to pay, only in the IRA version we pay first for what we are never to receive.

When I say "we", I believe that I am speaking for many of the people of Northern Ireland for we are all citizens of the same country. But we, here, do not suffer as they do from the consequences of the steady appeasement under both governments which has continued and of which parts of this Bill are the latest manifestations. I wait with interest to see what further concessions are to be made as the Bill goes through, as a result of the meetings between British and Irish officials which were reported to be taking place in London two weeks ago to consider what more could be done to appease the nationalists. The Minister indicated that he expected further changes to be made to the Bill here. I wonder whether that is what he meant.

The Bill is premature. We should not be demobilising, or at the very least disarming our frontline troops, the police, when the war is far from over. And we are not bound to do so, even by the Belfast agreement. Northern Ireland is not yet a normal, peaceful society and we must ensure that the same mistakes are not made again in terms of accelerated devolution. We are not yet ready, as the agreement requires, in the context of ongoing implementation of the relevant recommendations, to devolve responsibility for policing and justice issues". and particularly not after consultation with the Irish Government. We should not forget, either, that the Sinn Fein/IRA notion of complying with the agreement so far is clearly to say that their only policy is to abolish the RUC completely—presumably to replace it with a people's police. Their attitude does not augur well for a 50/50 police force and they should be challenged about this. We must strongly support Clause 52 of the Bill which protects the chief constable's right to report to the Secretary of State, and not the board, on issues where national security and related matters are involved. For the board, 10 of whose 19 members are to be nominated by the Assembly, is already a predominantly political body, a microcosm of the Executive. So far, the Government's own implementation plan stands firm on no devolution of national security, but for how long?

Festina lente, hasten slowly, should be our approach to any measures that weaken our only defence against a still active terrorist threat. We should firmly reject any proposals which might tend to weaken the efficiency of the Special Branch, as is envisaged in the Government's implementation plan. We should also ensure the continued accountability to Parliament proposed by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, with reference to Clause 46(3) on recruitment, Clause 49 and Clause 52—the sensitive issue of emblem and flag—where the committee advocates the affirmative procedure.

As the Government have chosen to accept and to translate into legislation a report which has sometimes treated the RUC as a political football rather than a highly professional and valuable police force, they must consider carefully the wider political impact of how the Bill is handled. As it started as a political issue, we have to consider it in political terms. Many of the recommendations made in the Patten report and reviewed in the plan are sensible. Many are welcomed by the force. Some of them, such as community policing on a larger scale, were already operating. Where the Government risk failing is in forgetting what the agreement—usually their bible—says: All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes". Surely, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The RUC itself, and not just its badge, is such a symbol, not for an angry minority but for the majority of the people in Northern Ireland.

Fortunately, Clause 52 of the Bill reserves to the Secretary of State the right to make regulations as to emblems and flags. When the time comes for those decisions they will send a very potent signal.

But meanwhile the man in the street looks round and sees the continuing brutal intimidation of the paramilitary—and the Prime Minister, when he pledged no more violence after the agreement, included the beatings and the exile. The mart in the street is living in a world where, since the Belfast agreement was signed, there have been 215 shootings and mutilations, 507 beatings, 2,579 families rehoused because of intimidation and 1,932 families exiled for ever overnight from their homes in Northern Ireland on the arbitrary decision not of the law but of the paramilitaries.

Into that world a large number of killers have now been released. An alien government, the Irish Government, can, by agreement, intervene and claim the right to be consulted on how the police force of those Northern Ireland citizens should be recruited and run. That is very different from the existing and excellent co-operation between the Garda and the RUC. That Irish Government have presumed in the past to negotiate with Sinn Fein/IRA on reductions of our troops. That Government would like all issues of policing and justice to be devolved to a body, the Assembly, where the mortal enemies of that force, who openly wish to destroy it, are represented and have Ministers.

Northern Ireland is full of victims, past and present, of the paramilitaries, many of whom, including members of the RUC and the reserves, received derisory compensation for often terrible injury. So far, the Government will not consider retrospective changes in compensation. Many of the pensions are derisory, too. Someone of the age of 21 will not have clocked up many pension years. However, I welcome what the Minister had to say about new developments on that front.

I hope that we shall examine more closely in Committee exactly what the redundancy terms are to be for the many experienced RUC officers being offered voluntary retirement to make way for the presumed new intake of "persons treated as Catholics" to make up the required 50 per cent quota. What happens if that quota is not reached? Who does the work? I wonder whether noble Lords have considered sufficiently—if not, we must do so—how training will be carried out if too many experienced officers are lost too soon.

Meanwhile, the man in the street sees that the Government so far have spent £12.5 million on the Bloody Sunday inquiry and estimate that a further £19.4 million will be needed in 2000–01. On the other hand, victims are to have £3 million over a two-year period and £1 million for a memorial fund. The European Union Peace Programme, interestingly, is giving £2.8 million to victim groups—very good—but £4.3 million to ex-prisoner groups. Therefore, the man in the street sees how the victims are valued.

Meanwhile, many of those brave and experienced officers who have not done a bad job protecting the community from terror and have suffered while doing it—that includes many Catholic officers—are to retire to make way for an as yet unsecured quota of "persons to be treated as Catholics". It is generally recognised that what has prevented Roman Catholics from joining the RUC—although some brave men have—is intimidation, peer pressure, loss of contact with family and friends and the permanent threat to the lives of their families. That was the decision of the House of Commons Select Committee on the recruitment of the RUC. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what imposing a quota will do and yet more interesting to see whether Sinn Fein/IRA will allow anyone to seek to be a part of that quota.

It is worth noting also that under Clause 45 both the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order and the Race Relations Act (Northern Ireland) will have to be amended or disregarded. When one looks at the RUC as a highly professional organisation which has already done so much to develop and change, it is clear that the issue is partly one of timing. It is simply that the time is not yet.

The RUC has accepted much of this Bill and much of what it is trying to achieve. There is no doubt of its earnest wish to be a fully accepted force of law and order in a peaceful community and to prevent the paramilitaries from keeping their own arbitrary and brutal order. Incidentally, I find it extremely difficult to understand why the SDLP is not able to encourage people into the RUC. How does it expect things to change if that does not happen? Because of that, we must support the RUC's efforts to make things work.

However, we must also make no more concessions that threaten its professional task. We must recognise that it takes two to tango. We must wait until the conditions of peace obtain before we take irrevocable steps. Unless and until Sinn Fein/IRA abandons its present uncompromising position and in its turn delivers the decommissioning without which there can be no peaceful, normal world, we must give no more ground and we must help the Secretary of State to call Sinn Fein/IRA's bluff whenever he needs to do so. He did it once with very good results. I should like to see it happen again from time to time. He is defending something vital, valuable and irreplaceable. In my view, the only acceptable reason for changes in the Bill at the behest of the nationalists is that they are acceptable, valuable and useful operationally and professionally and not for political reasons.

9.17 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I say at the start how much I appreciated the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who spoke with his wealth of recent ministerial experience. I know that he had many contacts not only with farmers but also with policemen.

Your Lordships will possibly have noticed from this evening's debate that there can be little doubt that Northern Ireland has been, and still is, a deeply divided society. The divisions relate to religious beliefs and to political aspirations. They are often so deeply entrenched as to affect individual and group perceptions of identity. In such a society, policing is almost bound to be a highly contentious issue.

In considering the future of the police service, your Lordships' House is at a slight disadvantage. I say that because the nationalist Irish tradition is almost totally unrepresented here, whereas the Unionist Irish tradition is rather strong. That imbalance becomes somewhat greater when Unionists, sitting as Cross-Benchers, sometimes combine with Conservatives to present a case. That is why I should like—

Lord Laird

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is a pity that people of the nationalist tradition in Northern Ireland do not take up seats that are offered to them in the House of Lords?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I very much hope that the noble Lord will encourage them to do so.

Lord Laird

But does the noble Lord agree with me?

Lord Hylton

Up to a point.

I should like to make a double appeal, first to your Lordships and, secondly, indirectly to the two main political traditions in Northern Ireland. In considering the Bill, I trust that it will be possible to bear in mind the principles underlying the Belfast agreement: consent and the upholding of the human rights of the whole population. If we can always seek the common good of all, despite the many fears and distrusts that still exist, we shall make progress.

Everyone needs the services of the police at some point in their life. They will be grateful when a missing child is rescued or help comes quickly after a car crash. Not everyone will be wholly satisfied, but we should seek solutions which meet real human needs and which try to maximise the win-win outcomes.

It will be important to distinguish between the symbolic, identity-related issues, which are divisive by nature, and the practical issues, around which it should be possible to build consensus and common acceptance of a remodelled police service.

Concerns have been expressed that the Bill waters down the recommendations of the Patten commission. I trust that the published implementation plan and the appointment of a distinguished and neutral oversight commissioner go some way to allay those concerns. Accountability will be a key principle of the future system, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has already explained clearly. It will be helpful in Committee to strengthen the powers of the police board and the ombudsman, particularly their powers of inquiry.

I note the reorganisation of the police service in units corresponding with the existing district council areas. I trust that district police partnerships will build on the successes of local partnerships' dealings with the European Union's peace and reconciliation funds. The DPPs are likely to be crucial to the acceptance at local level of the new police service. For that reason, we shall have to look carefully in Committee at the proposed disqualifications in Schedule 3(8), which exclude from membership anyone who has ever received a prison sentence anywhere. The drafting seems to be contrary to the existing law on the rehabilitation of offenders. I know a number of ex-prisoners who do excellent work in a variety of community organisations. Others have been elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly or to district councils. I am glad that the Northern Ireland Association for Care and Resettlement of Offenders, of which I have the honour to be president, has already drafted an amendment, the text of which I can supply to Ministers, to mitigate that total bar.

Local community restorative justice is outside the terms of the Bill, but it has already been successfully pioneered in Unionist and nationalist areas. I emphasise that it is not a replacement for police services, but rather a complement and supplement to them. It involves offenders and troublemakers, as well as those aggrieved or victimised. It enables damage to be repaired, restitution to be made for offences, and relationships to be healed. What is more, it often works much more quickly than traditional police and court procedures.

I wish the Bill well. I am glad that there will be a long pause for reflection before the Committee stage. The Bill can and will be significantly improved. I repeat my earlier plea that we should examine it in the light of the common good of the whole of Northern Ireland. We should guard against any dilution of the Bill, remembering the advice of the Patten commission: We counsel strongly against cherry-picking from the report, or trying to implement major elements in isolation from the others".

9.25 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, we have had in this debate some powerful and moving speeches from noble Lords who have lived all their lives in the Province of Northern Ireland. I thought long and hard about taking part in this debate at Second Reading of the Bill, as I have much less experience of the Province than almost all the contributors to the debate. However, although I have never lived in Northern Ireland, it has featured strongly in my past. My father was born in Belfast. Sadly, my memories of that beautiful part of the island of Ireland are not all joyous.

Growing up in the south of the island of Ireland, I was always conscious that north of the Border there were stresses and strains of a nature that I was unable to comprehend. Listening to adults talking, I heard tales of bombings, arson attacks, people having to move to other parts of the United Kingdom or to the south. To an impressionable child, this was more than slightly frightening.

That, of course, was a long time before the events of 1969. Many people do not realise that, to a greater or lesser extent, the troubles have been part of the island for almost the whole of the 20th century. Indeed, we have this evening heard a passionate speech about that fact from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. It was a very depressing speech, with almost no hope, and I can absolutely understand why. But now I want to believe that there is a real chance that the Province can and will be seen as the magical and peaceful place that it should and could be. This may seem utterly unrealistic, but please let us be hopeful. It requires genuine goodwill, a sense of repentance for past wrongdoings on all sides, and an attitude of change, encompassed by the words, "Today is the first day of the rest of our lives". This may be difficult; it is not impossible. I believe that the police in Northern Ireland can play an absolutely pivotal role in this regard.

We all recognise that, rightly or wrongly, the police force in Northern Ireland has been perceived—and I stress the word "perceived"—as being aligned to one section of the community. This has to change. It is imperative that all sections of the community should regard the police force as utterly reliable, supportive of justice, fair and belonging to them.

Living in the United Kingdom for the greater part of my life, the very presence of a policeman or a policewoman instils in me a sense of security. I instinctively know that they are there to protect me. It is my fervent wish that every inhabitant of Northern Ireland should feel the same. The police have to be seen to be a part of every section of the community. When they are, my wish will be well on the way to being granted, but there are no fairy godmothers to make it happen.

As a committed Christian, I fundamentally believe that only through the working together of the separate members of the Christian churches can this happen. I am not, of course, excluding members of other faiths, or indeed of none. But the fact is that much the greater part of the current suspicion and latent (and not so latent) animosity in the Province derives from a conflict between the two main branches of the Christian Church. It is surely time for both to adopt a forward-looking approach and to support the police in such a way that their respective flocks will do likewise.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, called upon the Roman Catholic Church effectively to stand up and be counted. The power of the Roman Catholic Church is still massively influential in the nationalist community. It is in the potentially powerful position of being an overwhelming force for good, if it would enthusiastically encourage recruitment from its flock into the police.

The generations of my father and grandfather have long since gone. There is a new, lively, world-aware generation in Northern Ireland which can be encouraged to think about the police as a real career opportunity—an opportunity not only for personal advancement but also an opportunity to do something for others. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church could be that encourager. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has already referred to that.

The Roman Catholic Church has rightly on occasions been vociferous in its condemnation of the past demeanours of the police. Now is the time to show Christian forgiveness, always remembering the stricture: Judgment is mine, sayeth the Lord", and to look ahead. The past is past; the future lies before us. Let us not allow the sins of the past to be visited time and time again. I have always believed that one must look to the past to acknowledge those sins; learn from them; and then, for everyone's sake, forget them. I sincerely hope that the Roman Catholic Church can feel able to give a lead in that.

What must be avoided, of course, is an over-identification of one part of the Christian Church with an attempt to get the nationalist community to consider the police as a career choice. All church leaders—not just the cardinal, the archbishop and the bishops—should together take a stand to encourage all sections of the community to identify with the police and to see them as a respected, necessary and supportive band of people who can instil the feelings of security which I have already described.

This month, we had the experience of seeing the leader of the Protestant Church, the noble Lord, Lord Eames, denouncing the attacks on the RUC at Drumcree. I just wonder why Cardinal Archbishop Brady did not do likewise. Perhaps he felt he could not support the noble Lord. What a pity that is. That would have send a powerful message to the whole community.

I feel passionately that the answer to unblocking the history of years of suspicion and doubt lies with the recruitment of a much greater number of people from the nationalist community into the police force. It will be difficult to achieve that. I make a plea that quotas should not be employed. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, made the case against quotas. They are almost always a failure. One has only to look at the history of positive discrimination based on quotas for women in senior positions in the United States. That is not a happy story. Targets are a different matter and they should encourage new recruits who may not apply if they feel that they are merely part of the numbers game of quotas.

Finally, I hope that the Roman Catholic Church will have the courage to encourage young people to aspire to a career in the police. This is truly a new beginning, a new chapter. Let us give it a chance.

9.32 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, I hope that the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, when passed, will have a great influence on the progress to a peaceful and law-abiding Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, it has had a bad start. To drop the name "Royal Ulster Constabulary" has caused much hurt to the majority in both religions in Northern Ireland who have had a great regard and respect for the RUC and the steadfast manner in which it has for many years defended communities against the mindless attacks by the IRA.

Over the past fortnight, the RUC has acted similarly against absurd attacks by so-called loyalists, who have sought to bring the Province to a standstill. More than 100 members of the RUC were injured by those so-called loyalists.

This week there is also great concern about the early release of prisoners. Many, both IRA and loyalist, were convicted of the most horrendous crimes. They will all be released at the end of this week and it will be surprising if some of them at least do not return to what they do best.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was quite right to emphasise the feeling of pain in the Province this week. There are few people who have not some connection with casualties or had relations and friends murdered during the Troubles. That early release of prisoners brings it all back. Unfortunately, the fact that we are no longer treated as part of the United Kingdom helps to promote that feeling among the pro-Unionist majority in Northern Ireland. The Government will do everything that Sinn Fein and the IRA ask, despite receiving nothing in return. It seems that we now have a joint authority for the government of Northern Ireland, with the Dublin Government having considerable influence on our affairs, which is most unhelpful. Of course, that is no way to treat citizens in the United Kingdom, but at the moment people feel pain and despair, which is not good. Note should be taken of that and steps should be taken to improve the situation.

It is a credit to those who feel pain and despair that they know that violence is not the answer despite the fact that the Government have shown the IRA that it pays. I ask the Secretary of State to take care that he does nothing to make it more difficult for our First Minister or Deputy First Minister of the Executive. We desperately need local democracy in Northern Ireland and, without the Executive and the Assembly, the Good Friday agreement would soon unravel.

I believe that it is ironic that by removing the name "RUC", the Government are in breach of the Good Friday agreement. Article 1, Section V requires full respect for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.

This Bill assumes that the police service will work within communities at peace and it sets out in great detail how organisations and relationships will be set up. I believe that it is too early for that and I am glad that we have two months between now and Committee stage.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, spoke accurately and feelingly about the terrorist organisations that control areas, the so-called loyalist and IRA organisations. They are determined to retain control of those areas. First, the IRA has a political objective. Although officially there is a ceasefire, it is doing its utmost to ensure that it controls areas in order to prove that the Province is ungovernable. I see no sign that that attitude is changing.

In addition, the financial rewards from racketeering and drug running are very attractive. Perhaps that says something about the difference between the IRA and the loyalist terrorists: loyalist terrorists control drug running themselves, but the IRA franchises it. The brutality of both paramilitaries makes it difficult for the police to obtain evidence to convict the criminals responsible. It may not be generally known that since April 1998, when the agreement was signed, six murders have been attributed to the IRA and 12 to the loyalists, and 87 shootings and mutilations have been attributed to the IRA and 128 to the loyalists. Beatings and hospitalisations are different and 281 are attributed to the IRA and 276 to the loyalists. The IRA have exiled 917 and the loyalists have exiled 1,015.

Those horrendous figures have been collected by Vincent McKenna who works day and night for the Human Rights Commission. The figures are not known to the police because they do not hear of many of these instances. I forgot to mention the 2,579 families who have had to be rehoused elsewhere due to intimidation.

Those figures indicate the scale on which the terrorist organisations on both sides control their districts. The first objective must be to overcome and break up those areas before proper peaceful policing can take place.

I have been surprised that that situation has been ignored by the Northern Ireland Office. But I was pleased on Tuesday of this week when the Secretary of State spoke out about the menace of terrorists. It must be the first task for the police and the community generally.

The Bill contains serious flaws. But they have been highlighted and well explained by other noble Lords. The 50/50 quota system is reverse discrimination, which is illegal in the UK. It is also unworkable for the reasons already explained. Whatever encouragement is given to Catholic young people to join the police, they will not want to join immediately for fear of being set upon by those committed to violence. So it is unlikely that 50 per cent of recruits will come from the Catholic quarter and therefore the number of recruits coming from other quarters must be reduced accordingly. The system is unworkable.

If we have 29 district police partnerships in the form proposed in the Bill, we will in fact have 29 police services. I am sure that we need to work on that in Committee.

I listened with great interest to the debate. We heard some excellent contributions from many noble Lords. But I humbly suggest that your Lordships' attention to the Committee stage of this Bill will be necessary. There is much work to be done on this Bill, as has been done on other Bills recently brought before this House.

9.41 p.m.

Lord Eames

My Lords, the hour is late and great patience has been exhibited throughout the House. I shall therefore be as brief as I can.

It was in 1964 that the then Attorney-General of the United States, the late Robert Kennedy, attempted to philosophise on the links between society and policing in a lecture to the American Bar Association. In the course of that lecture, he said: Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on". Rarely has any legislation on policing before this House brought nearer the surface than at the present moment the connection between the society that the police seek to serve and the necessities of that police service. For we heard tonight vivid explanations of the problems of Northern Ireland, among which many of us live. We heard descriptions of how those problems arose and there have been many grave attempts in your Lordships' House to describe the solution.

Perhaps I may be a little objective and ask the House to consider not just the past, but the future. I do not believe that a more sobering lesson comes out of the past 30 years for all of us in Northern Ireland than this: in relation to policing, what the whole of the community of Northern Ireland asked of the Royal Ulster Constabulary was more than any other police force could reasonably be asked to respond to, to exhibit or to carry out. I believe that the whole of the community asked of the police force what it was either unable or unwilling to solve itself. Time and again, stretched between the extremes of two divided communities, also subject day and night to the philosophy and sophistication of one of the most well-organised terrorist organisations in the world, is it any wonder that mistakes were occasionally made that should not have been made? But, in the cause of natural justice, is it any wonder that this House should put beside those mistakes a tale of intimidation, injury, murder and suffocation of rights, not only to policemen and women but also to their families?

I speak with some feeling because, as many noble Lords will gather, most of my leadership has been exercised within that community. Until the day I die, I shall not forget my memories of the numerous funerals of policemen and women that I have had to conduct with my clergy. I have had to get to know the children who would grow up without a father and the young widows. Here I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and to the Minister in this respect. I speak of a persistence with which I am very familiar because of the school that he attended; namely, the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, in relation to police widows. It will be excellent news for Northern Ireland when it is known that the noble and learned Lord has responded in the way that he has.

I have also had to try to bring what I hope is Christian pastoral care to young adults who were, perhaps, aged about three or four when their father was taken from them simply because of the uniform that he wore. Therefore, is it any wonder that whenever I think back to those 30 years that have been referred to so often tonight, I have to say again—indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, reminded us some time ago—that, so often, the RUC was asked to do what the whole of society could not do? That must be borne in mind in as objective a way as possible when we consider this police Bill.

Am I alone tonight in detecting something close to hypocrisy from any part of the community which claims loyalism, which claims allegiance to its dying breath to the British Crown, which wants to bring to the attention of the world the injustice of the removal of a badge or a name and, yet, is silent when the effigy of a policeman is burned in a bonfire; and when families of policemen who are on duty at Drumcree are chased out of their homes in the name of loyalism? The noble Baroness who spoke a few minutes ago was kind enough to refer to the actions that I took at Drumcree this year. There was quite a cost to pay. But I am absolutely convinced that the way forward is not the way of dragging the name of "loyalism", whatever way it is defined, into the muck and mire by actions such as those that I have described.

Therefore, when people talk about the sacrifice paid by the Royal Ulster Constabulary over the past 30 years, I beg noble Lords to put that in its context; to put it into its human context, because they are real people. They have their own fears, their own financial worries and their own education problems for their children. We have asked the RUC—I include myself in this; indeed, I venture to suggest, all of us living in Northern Ireland are as guilty as I am—to do things that society either did not wish to do, or did not have the courage to achieve for itself. That is the police force. That is the police family that is under scrutiny in this House tonight and will be so, again, when we reach Committee stage.

So what do we say about that? In preparation for this debate I talked extensively to Unionists and to nationalists and, yes, to republicans. I have talked to policemen of all ranks and ages; and, indeed, with all experiences. I have also spoken to police widows. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that the reactions were varied. However, I am convinced that a substantial number of current members of the police force in Northern Ireland would say, "We regret deeply and we feel hurt that we may lose our badge and our name, but we are professionals who have come through the fire and the fury of the past 30 years. We long to have the confidence of the whole community and to get on with a professional job for the good of that whole community". That is the test of the legislation before us. That poses the question that we should ask: does the legislation take us further down that road?

There is also the question of the perception of the community. It is a divided community. A book was written not so long ago about the history of the RUC entitled A Force Under Fire—what an understatement! Many noble Lords may have read that book. In it Chris Ryder spoke vividly of the kind of emotional reaction that I have tried to describe tonight. He states that if there is a future for the current RUC in Northern Ireland, it is a future that will go forward through various stages of change. I thought of those words when one of the widows to whom I spoke last week said, "Of course, I want to see the police move forward, but please God, tell them in London to be careful as you walk on my memories".

I believe that this past summer Northern Ireland has taken a turn for the better. That may sound strange in the light of the pessimism of which we have heard a little too much tonight. But I am conscious that, bad and dangerous though the situation has been this past summer, we have turned some kind of a corner. However, I beg Her Majesty's Government not to consider for one moment that we have reached the Utopia of lasting peace. As we saw at Drumcree earlier this month, there is still the threat of the paramilitary forces, and they are not all republican.

I am sorry that a certain noble Baroness is not sitting on the Back Benches, for she would have spoken vividly to us tonight of the Shankill. We know that the intimidation that was exhibited in the Shankill among loyalist paramilitaries at the height of the Drumcree crisis has not gone away. We also know from the experience of RUC officers that the intimidation continues in many instances.

As I have tried to illustrate, I have a personal reason for saying something about the experience of the police. I was disappointed when I read the Patten report. That sentiment has already been expressed this evening by several noble Lords. I did not expect Chris Patten to use colourful language in paying tribute to those who had died or been horribly injured in service; I just looked for recognition. But I am sorry to say that I did not find it. That is the reason that I paid tribute just now to the work of some noble Lords with regard to widows who have been dreadfully penalised.

The Belfast Telegraph of 21st July stated: We have far from arrived at the utopian situation whereby we can say terrorism is over evidenced by the displays of loyalist paramilitary strength this July, the continuing failure of the IRA to meet the requirements for decommissioning and the on-going threat of dissident republicanism". It is for that reason that I want to give voice at this moment—for they are not here to do it—to those who are not politically or party politically oriented in Northern Ireland; to the ordinary, decent majority of Protestants and Roman Catholic people who would say and beg with us, "Please do not reduce the level of protection or the sophistication of that protection until we can sleep in our beds in peace". I cannot say it more strongly. As I have said, I do not speak in a party political sense; I speak for those I know and work with.

So much more has been said, and I shall not go over it again in what I want to say. The future Northern Ireland that so many of us pray for and work for with others is a Northern Ireland that is at peace with itself, at peace with its memories, at peace with its future, and, above all else, at peace without fear. But fear has not yet been removed from our Province and, as long as that maintains, we shall still look to the bravery of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to look after the society in which we live.

I wish to put two questions to the Minister in relation to the legislation. He will forgive me if I dwell on them before I conclude. First, does the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill lead us towards those demands for which the ordinary people are asking—a peaceful society? Secondly, is our community prepared to play its part in what Robert Kennedy spoke of as the, law enforcement it insists on"? As a Churchman dedicated to reconciliation and committed to what I can do myself with others towards gaining a just society for Northern Ireland, perhaps I may mention briefly two aspects of the Bill. I refer first to recruitment. On 25th July, Mr Mandelson, the Secretary of State, said in my own city of Armagh: I am determined that the new Police Service of Northern Ireland, born out of and incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary, will mark a radical new beginning as the Patten report intended—the start of a journey which will lead to a service which will truly reflect Northern Ireland as a whole". I can understand the thinking which has gone into the way in which the Patten report has been produced and the thinking that Her Majesty's Government have put forward in this legislation, but after very much thought—I underline that—I have to ask Her Majesty's Government: is quota more important than targets to aim for? Have the Government duly and adequately considered the European legal situation in this regard? I am rusty on all this now; I simply mention it.

I have seen the outline curriculum for training of the police service for the future. I am most impressed. It is enlightened, extensive and takes account of a pluralist society. I commend it.

However, on a more practical level, perhaps I may refer to the remarks that have been made about the influence of the Church. One of the finest moments for me in regard to my colleague, Archbishop Sean Brady in Armagh, was when he walked with me on the lawn in Hillsborough the day that the George Cross was awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It was an action of bravery and I pay tribute to him for it.

But, as the noble Baroness reminded us, it is incumbent on all Church leaders in the society of Northern Ireland to ask about fundamental issues at this time; about what is their obligation in encouraging young men and women to join the police. Irrespective of its name; irrespective of its badge; irrespective of the society in which it serves; what is our Christian obligation in terms of community responsibility? I have no doubt what mine is. I simply say to my colleagues that they should think long and hard about what they can say.

My second point relates to accountability. That is the key to the misfortunes and problems of the RUC over the years. I have to ask myself whether the present legislation contains the potential to improve police accountability in Northern Ireland. I have to ask her Majesty's Government whether they really are satisfied that the policing board, as described in the terms of the legislation, can operate as a strong, independent and fully accountable body which will benefit every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland, to say nothing of the police themselves. That will come up in Committee. I simply put the pointer down in the context of what I have been saying.

Your Lordships have been very patient I want to wind up my remarks. It was Kennedy who said: every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on". Many of us in the House tonight live and work and pray for the future of Northern Ireland. It deserves the highest possible standard of policing which truly reflects each tradition of its population. It deserves police accountability which is above suspicion. It deserves a police force which maintains the highest professional standards. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that those standards were already being examined before the Patten report. But Northern Ireland must never again ask its police to solve problems it is itself unable or unwilling to face. We must never again, by our own indifference or failure, allow one more police life to be lost simply because we did not remove our own divisions.

10.1 p.m.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, I rise in trepidation to speak about Northern Ireland and its proposed new police service. I say "in trepidation" because I look at the gallery and galaxy of speakers in tonight's debate whose knowledge of Northern Ireland is unparalleled and way beyond my reach. I am very aware, as one of my noble colleagues kindly put it, that I am not one of the usual suspects on the Northern Ireland speaking list. Indeed, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if during this speech I make a mistake, like Ali G, of confusing the RUC with the RAC.

But perhaps because I have no first-hand experience of living in or indeed of the policing of Northern Ireland, I can voice some of the thoughts of my fellow countrymen on the mainland—that absent majority who wish the people of Northern Ireland well but whose regular fare, as provided by the media, has been the diet of violence and mayhem of past years and more lately the scenes of politicians experiencing frustration in trying to implement the Good Friday agreement.

Even my pre-conceived notions about Northern Ireland took a knock on my one and only visit to the Province. It was for me an inspiring experience and one about which I want to tell your Lordships. Three years ago, as an MEP and associated with the British presidency of the European Union, I attended a conference in Belfast dedicated to the welfare of children and young people in Europe. One evening, the conference done, I left my hotel—the appropriately named Hotel Europa, reputedly the most bombed hotel in Europe—and crossed the street to the bar opposite, a bar seemingly devoted to young people half my age and younger. Perhaps I should add here that Lady Harrison is fully aware of my nocturnal wanderings, especially in search of truth, enlightenment and Guinness.

The bar was so crowded and so noisy that I could hardly hear myself order. Nevertheless, pint in hand, I fell into conversation with a young Protestant woman who doubtless pitied this grey-haired Englishman lost in Belfast. As we shouted at each other in conversation, she suddenly waved to a stranger across the crowded room. It was her boyfriend, a handsome Catholic lad who, she told me, was profoundly deaf. But—here is the rub, my Lords—she then conversed and communicated with her boyfriend using the sign language skills which she had picked up from her father, who worked with the hard of hearing.

That is the marvellous paradox. These two young people, from the two different traditions in Northern Ireland, had found a language in which to speak to each other across the divide; across the clatter and chatter of this packed bar. For me, these star-crossed lovers represented a symbol of hope for a better future and a peaceful Northern Ireland.

Our chance encounter concluded with her plea to me to tell my friends on the mainland that Northern Ireland's media image of guns and destruction was a distortion of the truth and failed to report the warmth and welcome of the people of Northern Ireland, something I myself experienced at first-hand. I promised her that I would fulfil her request. I have recounted that story of this Juliet and her Romeo in one parliament. I do it in a second tonight.

The people of Northern Ireland need a police force, where all its citizens can go up to a policeman and ask the time; a police force which treats all its customers on a first come, first served basis; the kind of policing that we, on this side of the water, enjoy for the most part without giving the matter a second thought. At this point I place on record my profound awe and admiration of the job done by the RUC. No body of men or women could have traversed better the bitter 30 years of war that has riven the Province. The ultimate test of what I say is that I would not have had the courage to do what they have done. That their name should be enshrined in the title deeds of the PSNI is an unambiguous testament to that legacy. But out of the shell of such sacrifice and dedication must emerge something new and distinct; a modern police force in a modernising land. The pattern of change must be the Patten report; a police service which serves all its people; retains the confidence of all its people; and which, ultimately, in its make-up, reflects the diversity of its people and their traditions.

The ambition to achieve 50/50 recruitment in the new police service will feature strongly in our debates at the Committee stage. I look forward with your Lordships to playing a part in improving the Bill, which has already undergone constructive refinement in its passage through another place. We will need to look at the question of accountability of the new force. I applaud the fact that it will be the most scrutinised force in Europe, but I do hope that, in fulfilling these democratic imperatives, the police will still have time to police.

We will need to look at the role of the Secretary of State and his long-stop powers. I welcome the moves towards greater devolution. But we cannot absolve the Secretary of State from his responsibilities to the Treasury. The PSNI will be unique in the United Kingdom in being wholly funded by central government.

I salute the work of the Secretary of State and his team for the sensitive and sensible way in which they have gone about the task of implementing Patten. But I want to use my last few minutes in highlighting one other set of challenges confronting the new police service of Northern Ireland which might otherwise go unremarked. The new force must be a modern police force in a changing Britain and a developing Europe. Indeed, in its engagement with the challenge of Europe, including the single market, the PSNI has the opportunity to become the market leader, to show the way for other police forces in Britain and Europe to follow.

I shall explain. In the Belfast conference to which I alluded earlier, I was invited to speak on the subject of the safety of children in the single European market. It was thrilling to see Northern Ireland children visiting the conference mix and mingle with their contemporaries from across the European Union, but the police know only too well how vulnerable are children and their families in a world of greater travel, change and rootlessness. A cornerstone concept of the single European market is of course the free movement of people, which brings new challenges to our police forces across the European Union.

The complementary concept of the free movement of goods also has implications for the police in the forms of smuggling, drugs and organised crime. Such challenges are particularly alive in Northern Ireland where such nefarious activities habitually use as cover the cloak of sectarian violence. The PSNI will need to be vigilant to new and intensified threats brought about by the deepening single European market and by the sweeping away of borders and barriers impeding the free flow of business, trade and commerce. In this, it will need to strengthen links, not only with the mainland police forces and the Garda, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Dubs, but also with their continental counterparts.

In 18 months' time the arrival of euro notes and coins will furnish new opportunities for fraud and deception to be practised on an unsuspecting public. After all, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom which shares a land border with Euroland. The new police force must be ready for the currency counterfeiters.

Inland tourism, an industry which grew by 27 per cent following the first ceasefire, and of great interest to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, will require the protection of the police, guaranteeing the safety of foreign tourists who, incidentally, are likely to be the bearers of those self-same euro notes and coins.

Inward investment from the European Union, in the wake of the European Union grants that have funded peace initiatives— those were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—and economic reconstruction will continue to be secured for Northern Ireland only if there is a secure environment for such investment. The police are crucial to the economy. That cannot be said too often.

The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into the PSNI will be pivotal in fostering change. Indeed, it is likely that the police service of Northern Ireland will be pioneers in the United Kingdom and in Europe in this welcome development.

Like others, I also foresee a leading role for retiring RUC officers to redirect their considerable skills, honed in the art of peacekeeping, in advising and participating with other continental police forces in the European Union and in NATO initiatives related to peacekeeping duties. The announcement made at the EU Lisbon Summit of the formation of a 5,000-strong EU peacekeeping police force may turn out to be the ideal vehicle for redirecting the skills and experience of RUC officers at the European level, while also abetting the task of equalising representation from the two traditions in the emerging PSNI. The putative EU police college for teaching serving officers may also be a new and welcome outlet for promoting change.

Finally, I am struck by the ambition of the European Union to recognise that diversity is strength. Ever closer union is built on recognising the histories, traditions and cultures of Europe's many different nations and regions. Am I alone in hoping that Northern Ireland and, indeed, all the people on the island of Ireland, growing in an expanding Europe, may also take the opportunity to do things together which strengthen local communities, while continuing to acknowledge and, indeed, celebrate the cultural diversity which is their inherent strength?

The new police service in Northern Ireland will be instrumental in bringing about that wished-for change by being truly a police force by the people, for the people and, indeed, of the people.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, in contrast, I fear, to the two previous speakers, perhaps I may start on a slightly grating note by echoing the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I am not blaming any individuals, but it is somehow symbolic of the subconscious patronising attitude of metropolitan England towards Northern Ireland—I am not just thinking of the Guardian newspaper—that the debate on this extremely important Bill did not start until half-past six on virtually the last day of the term and was scheduled to follow mini-debates on what, objectively, were much less important topics. The result was that two or three distinguished noble Lords have had to scratch. I had a rather more relaxing engagement lined up for this evening and had not intended to speak—until I looked at the provisional list of speakers some days ago. It has since changed, but then there were extremely few English, Welsh or Scottish speakers on the list. I thought it vital that there should be at least one more representative from the rest of the United Kingdom to pay tribute to the brave men and women of the RUC and to deplore the effective consignment to history of that admirable institution.

The deplorable aspects of the Bill—I readily concede that it has a number of good points—have their origin in the Patten report. My views on the report would not be fit for your Lordships' tender ears. I was interested, when going through my files this morning, to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, had the same reaction when she first saw it. But what can one expect, given the composition of the committee?

Can one imagine the French—a people who have pride in their nation and its institutions—contemplating for one single second allowing the Americans and the Italians to help dictate the future composition of the Corsican police force? As for the idea of the Americans allowing foreigners to reform the New York City or Los Angeles police forces, the mind boggles!

Of course, the Patten report is a fait accompli and, as such, cannot be ignored. But despite what republicans both north and south of the Border claim, no British Government are legally or by convention under any obligation to accept the recommendations of a Royal Commission or any other sort of commission set up by government in full or with only a few technical amendments.

But the Government have gone even further than the Patten report in claiming that intimidation by the IRA and INLA plays only a subsidiary role in the reluctance of Catholics to joint the RUC. Frankly, that claim will not stand up. Just as hundreds of mainly Catholic members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were murdered, wounded and driven permanently from their homes by the IRA throughout Ireland 80 years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, reminded us, so in the past 30 years intimidation has played a major role in deterring Roman Catholics from enlisting in the RUC.

Moreover—and this is highly significant—an opinion poll in the Belfast Telegraph earlier this year (one of several polls which produced similar results) revealed that only 31 per cent of Roman Catholics found the RUC name and identity to be offensive. In other words, all the proposed hurtful changes to the name, badge and other symbols are designed to placate a mere 12 to 13 per cent of the population of the Province (those with strong republican traditions), totally ignoring the feelings of the 87 to 88 per cent who either positively want the status quo or at least are comfortable with it. In proportional terms, the 87 to 88 per cent whose feelings are ignored are equivalent to the population of apartheid South Africa 10 years ago who were black, coloured or Asian. In the same way, the views of the 13 per cent prevailed over the majority, which is an interesting statistic to ponder.

There are other worrying aspects of the Bill, many of which were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and others. A most interesting article by Eamonn McCann, who is not a Unionist of any description, appeared in yesterday's edition of the Independent. That article rather reinforces some of the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Mr McCann deplores the way in which government policy is, perhaps unwittingly, reinforcing sectarianism: The Belfast Agreement isn't a device for ending communal hostility, but for the more efficient management of it. It doesn't invite people to come together but promises to police them apart. The agreement … condemns us to communal existence for as far forward as it is possible to sec … Never in the history of Ulster … has the 'tribal' basis of our politics been so frankly acknowledged and arrangements put in place for its perpetuation". For all its doubtless good intentions, I fear that the effects of this Bill, unless heavily amended, may simply reinforce that dangerous trend.

10.21 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I hope that, despite the lateness of the hour, I may have leave to speak briefly in the gap. I had hoped to speak earlier but, to my great regret, duties connected with the call of students to the Bar in Middle Temple tonight made it absolutely obligatory for me to be there. I had very much feared that my perceived silence in this Second Reading might be taken as indifference on my part to the future of the RUC. That is the last thing that I want because I owe the RUC far too much for that.

Tonight there is time for me to express only one thought, save to add my expression of immense gratitude at having had the opportunity to listen to many fine speeches in this debate. My principal hope is that whatever police service, under whatever name, emerges from this legislation it will none the less permit those who serve in it to find the motivation to be as professional, fair and brave as the RUC that I had the privilege to know.

I am sure that your Lordships will vividly remember the photographs—if your Lordships did not see it in the flesh—of the pageant in celebration of the centenary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Noble Lords may also recall a little earlier the sight of an RUC police constable receiving the George Cross. That police constable, Paul Slane, is known to me. Shortly before I arrived in the Province in 1992 he had lost both legs and sustained a severe injury to one arm. His companion female officer had been murdered beside him. After that I saw him in church frequently at Hillsborough—he was my neighbour—and I never forgot him. For me, he epitomises the courage of the RUC and the cost of its George Cross. I was deeply touched to receive a Christmas card from him last year. That is the kind of memory that we must keep well in mind as we focus in greater detail, as we shall, upon the detail of the Bill.

10.24 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, this has been a truly memorable debate in the tradition of debates on Northern Ireland. It has been blessed with some wonderful speeches, in particular that of the noble Lord, the Archbishop of Armagh, who reminded of us of the Christian principles involved in our thinking for the future and as regards the past.

It is not one of the most pleasant Bills I have had to deal with; in fact rather the opposite. However, the Government's handling of it has been appalling when one considers how many people's lives and emotions the Bill will touch. It might interest noble Lords to be reminded that the Patten report was published on 9th September 1999. On 11th July, last week, the Bill went to the Commons for Report stage and Third Reading. At that stage the Government, in their wisdom, thought fit to guillotine the Bill. That guillotine meant that only three people were able to speak at Third Reading. That excluded the First Minister for Northern Ireland.

Important government amendments were tabled in another place. Because of the guillotine they were not debated. We do not know whether the Government intend to reintroduce them. The Bill has not had a proper examination in another place. It is, therefore, difficult to know the Government's position on the Bill.

The Bill comes to your Lordships' House at the end of the last week before the Summer Recess, which is always a long and difficult week in the parliamentary calendar. We had this afternoon a two-hour debate about files and office space. The noble Lord, Lord Eames, passed me a note during that debate which said, Filing cabinets (this debate) v. Lives (next debate)!! That sums up the situation.

I have been upset considerably by other matters which have come to my attention regarding the Bill. It might interest noble Lords to know that during the Committee stage in another place a delegate from the Irish Government, an official well known in this Palace, was in the gallery. The PPS to the Secretary of State was seen regularly to be discussing amendments with the member of the Irish Government. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. What right, I ask your Lordships, do the Dublin Government have to be directly involved in a Committee stage in this Palace of a Bill about Northern Ireland?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. In view of the great importance of cross-Border co-operation for security, trade, tourism and almost any subject you like, I fail to see the impropriety of what he describes.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I am sorry the noble Lord fails to see it. I do not understand the connection between trade and the other issues to which he refers and the name, the hat badge or the recruiting figures of the RUC, or the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

My view is that where we are today, post the Good Friday agreement, is not where we would like to be. I believe that we have had far too much appeasement and far too big a part has been played by the Irish Government. The noble Lords, Lord Cooke and Lord Rogan, mentioned that today.

Many issues have been raised which I hope will be the subject of amendments. Many noble Lords discussed quota versus target. When looking at the Bill and its proposals for the Northern Ireland police force, or the RUC, one must be realistic and look at the climate. Many noble Lords have said that they agree with much of the content of the Bill and the Patten report. However, in several places the report specified certain necessary timings; that certain situations had to prevail.

As was made clear by many noble Lords today, we do not have bombs and bullets in this country but we still have them in Northern Ireland. They are not apparently PIRA but the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and others. We have terrorism, whether we like it or not, but worse—we are talking about a Northern Ireland police force having to police what is probably the most difficult part of the UK to police, and not only because of the religious divides. There are serious turf wars between groups of paramilitaries, or former paramilitaries, and there are serious drug smuggling and fraud problems. In fact, there is every kind of crime in a small community. It has been said several times today that there are still no-go areas for the police force. That is one aspect of the climate.

A second aspect of the climate is that members of the communities want to be policed, want peace and believe in the Good Friday agreement but now, sadly, are frightened to join the force. Many noble Lords have said that the problems of balancing the police force with different parts of the community is not an unwillingness to join but the fact that people are frightened to join. But they have to join in order that change can take place.

We all believe in community policing. We would like to feel that the local constable was our friend. But if members of the communities in West Belfast are not allowed—I might go so far as to say are forbidden—to join the police force by their church and by the leaders, possibly being threatened with death or expulsion, how do we break the circle? We are setting a quota or target for a new police force, which is the same one but under a different name, with a different shape and guise and probably lower morale. Who knows how it will work out? That is the environment in respect of which we are passing this Bill. Noble Lords must take that on board.

As regards policing, terrorists on both sides, and in particular the republican terrorists at the time of the Good Friday agreement, had only one objective; that was to get rid of the police force in order to give them more freedom to move. There is little doubt about that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, talked about policing in York. Clearly she has some expertise in that field. I hope that we shall hear more from her and have closer arguments in Committee when we try to improve the Bill.

As I believe was made clear by my noble friend Lady Seccombe, this party supports the Bill but does not support it in its present state. There are certain key areas on which we must concentrate. Most of them have been raised by noble Lords around the House. We have discussed timing and recruiting. With regard to the name of the police service, I should like the Minister to give us an undertaking as to where Clause 1 stands; that is, whether the Government intend to amend it further, as put forward and then withdrawn in the Commons. I hope that Clause 1 will be allowed to remain and that "operational" will not be more clearly defined than it is at the moment elsewhere in the Bill.

A number of points have been made with regard to the DPPs—the district policing partnerships. This party is absolutely determined that those who have a prison or police record should not be allowed to sit on the DPPs, whether they are from political parties or privately elected. The same applies to the policing board. We hope that the Government will not proceed with giving the DPPs more powers or the right to raise taxes in order to pay for external policing.

It has been a long debate. I fear that this has not been one of the greatest summing-up speeches in a debate in your Lordships' House. However, as I read my notes, I see that most of the points that I had intended to raise have been covered from all sides of the House. I merely suggest to the Minister that there is much to be done between now and the Committee stage. I hope that in Committee the Government will come forward with amendments on the various parts of the Bill that we have discussed; in particular, the name, the DPPs, the membership of the partnership boards and the structure of the management of the new police service.

10.38 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that this has been a most impressive debate. It has been extremely informative and has, I believe, contained speeches of real power. It has indicated clear areas of concern in relation to the Bill to which no doubt we shall return in Committee. However, I believe that it is also fully recognised that the Bill contains many important building blocks for policing changes for which there appears to be widespread support on every side of the House.

Without doubt, one thing that came out loud and clear throughout the debate was the universal recognition of the sacrifice made by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and by the relatives and families of its members. I hope that I made it clear in my opening remarks that the Government explicitly associate themselves with that recognition.

It was hard not to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Eames, the Archbishop of Armagh, who spoke openly and honestly about his relationship with members and former members of the RUC and their families.

It would not be wise or sensible for me to go through every point that has been raised in detail, but I should like to pick up on some of the main points and concerns to set a framework for our debates on subsequent stages.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, and the noble Lord, Lord Eames, all urged us not to introduce the Bill too quickly and to have regard to the security situation in Northern Ireland. I hope that this does not need saying, but I assure the House that the Government take very seriously our responsibility to protect the people of Northern Ireland. We shall not shirk that responsibility.

Moreover, I reassure the House that we agree with Patten's recognition that a number of his recommendations would require an enabling security environment before they could be implemented. That is why we have specifically recognised in the implementation plan that a number of recommendations, including many of the specific ones mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, cannot be taken forward yet. The Secretary of State gave many assurances in another place that the Government would take and accept the advice of the chief constable on the timing of the implementation of those recommendations. I repeat those assurances.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, made a similar point, with a heartfelt plea that the counter-terrorist capability of the police in Northern Ireland should not be impaired. That was supported by many noble Lords. The Government will not expose the people of Northern Ireland to any risk from terrorist violence. There is an acceptance and acknowledgement in the Belfast agreement that the police service in Northern Ireland: must be capable of maintaining law and order including responding effectively to crime and to any terrorist threat and to public order problems. A police service which cannot do so will fail to win public confidence and acceptance". The Government entirely agree with that. We will not run risks with people's lives. We will ensure that the police service is as capable of dealing with the problem of terrorism as with all other types of crime.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, raised the operational independence of the chief constable. We believe that the powers of the policing board do not detract from that. As Patten said: Neither the Policing Board nor the Secretary of State … should have the power to direct the Chief Constable as to how to exercise those functions". The Government have therefore provided in Clause 33 that the police shall be under the direction and control of the chief constable. That meets the concerns of the noble Baroness.

The noble Lord, Lord Eames, raised a slightly different point about the policing board. He said that accountability was the key. Looking at the issue from the other end of the telescope, he asked whether the board had sufficient powers. The Government have sought to implement Patten, including creating a new policing board that, as Patten said, is empowered and equipped to scrutinise the performance of the police effectively". In another place, we accepted some changes to the powers that improved the Bill. Other powers, such as those on best value and inquiry, will be subject to further change in Committee in this House. We are determined to ensure that the board has the powers that it needs and that the operational independence of the chief constable is not unreasonably interfered with.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, expressed concern about the membership of the board and also of the district policing partnerships. We think that it is important to recognise that the Government have included safeguards in relation to that, where these are appropriate. But the Bill is about inclusivity. We have to move forward. We have to accept the democratic wishes of the people. That is why Patten recommended the involvement of elected representatives. In doing so, he was reflecting his terms of reference as set out in the Good Friday agreement, which was overwhelmingly supported by the people of Northern Ireland and which states that there should be, clearly established arrangements enabling … political representatives, to articulate their views and concerns about policing and to establish publicly policing priorities and influence policing policies …". On the appointment of the independents, I am aware particularly of concern in this area as regards district policing partnerships. In that respect, however, there are sensible and proportionate safeguards in the Bill—for example, disqualification and removal provisions and the ability of the Secretary of State to issue a code on appointments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, raised in respect of the policing board—

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, will the Minister reply directly to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about whether people with a terrorist record would be excluded from the local police boards, the DPPs? Perhaps I may also ask the Minister whether, if a man with no previous convictions for football hooliganism can be deprived of his passport merely on the grounds of intelligence, could not people also be excluded from such boards merely on the grounds of intelligence background.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, before the Minister replies, will he bear in mind the number of completely reformed ex-terrorists?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I was about to come to the specific question that has been asked. I will answer it in the order of my speech and deal also with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The question goes to the point about the policing board.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, raised the question of best value. The provisions are technically very complex. We intend that the policing board should take the lead on best value and that the Secretary of State should intervene only in the event of default. However we will bring forward some amendments in Committee to try to clarify that position.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, also raised issues about the power of inquiry and the obligation of the board to pay the costs of such an inquiry. The Government have accepted that the safeguards originally put on the board's exercise of the power were too great. As I said earlier, we will table amendments building on those already made in another place. We believe that the board should, as a matter of proper financial accountability, be responsible for meeting the costs of an inquiry. If the board finds that it needs additional funds, it can, of course bid for them.

Particular issues were raised by the noble Baroness on financial accountability arrangements. I think it would be much more appropriate to deal with those in Committee rather than now. Similarly, I shall deal in Committee with the point about the code of ethics.

Many noble Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, the noble Lords, Lord Rogan and Lord Laird, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Eames, raised problems in relation to 50/50 recruitment. The questions related to a variety of points but they were to a large extent points along the lines of, "Do not have reverse discrimination, simply have a target" or, alternatively, "This is not practicably enforceable".

The Government's aim, and the aim set out yin the Good Friday agreement, which said that the police service should be representative of the society that it polices, is to have a police service which is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.

It is acknowledged by all that the current composition of the RUC is unbalanced. Only 8 per cent of its officers are Roman Catholic. Affirmative action, or targets, would take too long. The Police Federation has calculated that it will take 30 years to achieve a balance through affirmative action alone. We want all community leaders to encourage people to join the police, as Patten recommended, but we are aiming for a combined impact to bring about a sharp upturn in Catholic representation in the short term.

Patten records in his report the view of the Equal Opportunities Commission that it is not enough to have a few Catholic recruits entering the service. As long as the figure is less than 15 per cent, they will never have a substantial influence on its culture. That is why the methodology that the Bill has adopted has been adopted.

We are quite satisfied that the provisions that we put forward are in accordance with the law, both in relation to European Union law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, as to whether a terrorist record will mean exclusion from the board. Where a person has been sentenced to imprisonment, he will be excluded. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, approached the issue from a different direction. I should tell him that we do not believe that the time is right at the moment to relax those provisions which exist at present in the Bill.

A number of speakers—the noble Baronesses, Lady Seccombe and Lady Park of Monmouth—said that they thought the problem would not be solved by quotas because it is intimidation and threats of murder which prevent Catholics from joining the RUC.

Intimidation is undoubtedly one important fact. We want to see an immediate end to that. But there are other factors which include a lack of identity with the RUC; fear of loss of contact with family and community; and lack of encouragement from community leaders. The Government encourage all community leaders to remove barriers to those wishing to join the police. They believe also that the technique adopted in the Bill is something which will make a real difference to the composition of the police force.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, gave the House his picture of what Northern Ireland is like at the moment. He gave a rather gloomy picture. I took the noble Lord, Lord Eames, to disagree with that. He said that he thought, despite what we may have read in the papers, that there is a turn for the better in Northern Ireland.

Lord Eames

My Lords, if I gave the impression that the turn for the better this year was something which changed all the problems that we are facing, then I overstated my case. I was simply saying that I was hopeful that this summer, we had seen a turn for the better. But the description which the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, gave of some of the problems which we face is the real reason that I went on to say to the House that I felt that we should not be allowed to rush the reforms which would in any way reduce the protection which law-abiding citizens have from the police service. I should like to correct that, if that is the impression which I gave.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I certainly was not seeking to overstate what the noble Lord said about the turn for the better. Without in any way overstating the position, I took the noble Lord to say that there are signs that things are getting better.

The particular point on which I take issue, with great diffidence, with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is his description of the sense that the men of violence were winning. That is not the sense at all that we should wish to think is right. We believe that normality is returning to Northern Ireland. It is not as quick as everybody would like but we should not ignore the fact that there are signs of progress and that progress is being made.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, also raised the issue of decommissioning and the status of the ceasefires. As my right honourable friend in another place constantly makes clear, he keeps the status of all ceasefires under continual review. He will not hesitate to act against any organisation not observing a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. He receives regular briefings on the security situation from the chief constable and senior security advisers.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, does that mean that the statistics which I quoted and, indeed, statistics which other noble Lords quoted do not represent a breach of the ceasefire?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I was not seeking in any way to challenge the statistics. I do not know whether they are right or wrong. I have not had an opportunity to check them.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, they are from the RUC website.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I have not had an opportunity to check them. I obviously accept what the noble Viscount says, that they come from the RUC website. The particular issue with which I take issue is the picture that the men of violence are winning and that no progress is being made towards a more peaceful society. Progress is being made, not as quickly as everyone would like, but there is progress.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked whether the regulations under Clause 44, which deals with recruitment, and Clause 52, which deals with flags and emblems, would be available at Committee stage. A draft of those on recruitment will be available; those on flags and emblems are dependent on the outcome of the consultation with the policing board, therefore they will not be available before the Committee stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Rogan—"complained" may be the wrong word—drew attention to what he described as the "Balkanisation" of the police service. With respect to the noble Lord, he is seeking to substitute his own judgment for the professional policing judgment of the chief constable. The chief constable supports the creation of district commands, as recommended by Patten. I believe that that idea originated from the chief constable's own review of the policing service. He supports the removal of the regional tier and he supports the four police commands proposed for Belfast as operationally necessary. So, with apologies, the Government will not follow the approach of the noble Lord. I can reassure the House that the police service will remain a single unified police service. There is no basis for claiming that those changes are about the "Balkanisation" of the police service.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in a moving and effective speech, referred in particular to the prisoner releases that have been in the news this week. Of course, I understand why the releases that took place earlier in the week and those that will take place tomorrow are difficult for many to accept. However, I believe that prisoner releases remain an essential part of the Good Friday agreement, without which a settlement would not have been possible. They were endorsed by the people of Ireland, north and south, not because they want to see prisoners go free, but because they realise the need to move on and to put the violence of the past behind them.

Time is moving on and it would be wrong for me to deal with each individual point. I am sorry that I have not dealt with every single point raised by noble Lords, nor dealt with the speech of every noble Lord. Perhaps I can return to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Eames. He asked two rather powerful and pertinent questions: does the Bill help us to move towards a peaceful society and is the community prepared to play its part? We believe that the Bill takes us towards a peaceful society by laying the foundations for the new beginning to policing called for in the Good Friday agreement. The Bill lays the foundations for a police service that is representative of the whole community and which commands the support of the whole community. I cannot quote the exact words, but that reflects the description of what the noble Lord, Lord Eames, said that the RUC wanted.

On the second question, I strongly believe that the community is prepared to play its part in policing in Northern Ireland. Through the Bill and through the implementation of the other elements of the Patten report, we have a unique opportunity to create a situation where, for the first time ever, all parts of the community in Northern Ireland are prepared to play their part.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, can the Minister reassure us that he will answer the questions that naturally he has been unable to take the time to answer now, not in papers in the Library, as many of us will not come over from Northern Ireland or elsewhere during the Recess, but in writing to us?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, certainly I shall write to the home addresses of noble Lords. I shall also put the answers in the Library. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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