HL Deb 05 April 2001 vol 624 cc911-3

3.32 p.m.

Lord Glentoran asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the replacement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary officers of superintendent rank and above who are leaving the force within the next 18 months.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, replacement of officers of superintendent and assistant chief constable rank are matters for the Chief Constable and the Police Authority for Northern Ireland respectively. All sides welcome the Government's generous severance terms for the RUC. The offer has been taken up by 54 officers of superintendent rank or above during the period January to March 2001. A further 42 officers of these ranks are expected to avail themselves of the offer in the next year. The introduction of district command units by the Chief Constable has reduced the need for superintendent ranks by 34, and his review of the headquarters structure is expected to lead to a further reduction in the number of officers of this rank. However, the Chief Constable intends to hold assessments to create a pool of successful candidates from which vacancies arising for superintendents can be filled.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. Does he not agree that the pace of restructuring of the Northern Ireland police force in order to meet the Patten requirements should take account of the lack of decommissioning and the serious increase in organised crime? Will the Minister assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will take whatever action is necessary to maintain a police force with the necessary skills, experience and resources to police Northern Ireland, with all its particular difficulties?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I unhesitatingly give the assurance that the Government will take no chances with security and will continue to protect the people of Northern Ireland. The Government do not believe that the need to protect against the dissident terrorist threat is a reason not to modernise the police service. In all matters such as this, the Government will take the advice of the Chief Constable. He has made clear in recent remarks that he believes that the police service can certainly cope with the current challenges, in particular the challenges brought about by the changes involved in implementing the Patten recommendations.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that a certain amount of command resilience is absolutely essential in the police service because of unexpected and sudden demands? Will he join me in paying tribute to the thousands of officers who have served in the RUC throughout their working lives—and, in many cases, given their lives—in the service of all communities in Northern Ireland?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I unhesitatingly associate myself with my noble friend's remarks. I also agree that command resilience is incredibly important. I am quite certain that the Chief Constable will ensure that that exists.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, in view of the alarming domination of the civil power by drug baron paramilitaries, will the Government keep in mind the possibility—and perhaps the necessity—of increasing Army strength to prevent a complete breakdown of order?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I have repeatedly said that the Government will take no chances with security. They will continue to be advised by the Chief Constable and the Army in relation to that.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord reassure the House that the Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, will permit senior staff to take early retirement only if it is consistent with the management needs of the RUC?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the Chief Constable, among others, has welcomed the generous increased severance package that has been on offer for the past few months. He will, of course, ensure that the numbers remain consistent with security requirements.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, what percentage of the middle and senior ranks of the RUC will have left the force by March 2002?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, on 31st March 1999, there were 170 officers of superintendent rank and above; on 31st March 2000, there were 172; at the moment there are 130, which means a reduction of 40 between the 31st March 1999 and the 31st March 2001. A further 42 officers of that rank and above are expected to leave by 31st March 2002, but a number of those who retire will be replaced by people who will be promoted.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend say a little more about the RUC's recent successful recruitment campaign?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, in the past few months, the RUC has embarked on a recruitment campaign. There were in excess of 240 applicants, and choices in relation to that will be made in the next few months.