§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Lord Tebbit rose to call attention to police numbers and morale and to the level of violent crime; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to police numbers and morale and to the level of violent crime. Perhaps a shorter title for this debate would be, "The preservation of the Queen's peace"—that being the second priority of government, second only to the defence of the realm.
§ We would all, I think, acknowledge that changing moral standards and social pressures have a huge influence on the propensity to violent crime. Criminologists and sociologists will argue about the causes of violent crime, but there can be no argument that the Crown should honour its side of the social contract with the people to preserve the peace. We heard earlier today during Questions expressions of grave concern about the state of the preservation of the Queen's peace in relation to the activities of animal 693 extremists. Nor can there be any argument that the numbers and the morale of the police are crucial in that operation.
§ Fortunately, the statistics on numbers at least are reasonably reliable and those on sickness and retirement rates shed some light on the otherwise subjective assessment of morale.
§ Statistics on crime are less reliable and much more difficult to interpret. Inevitably they are only statistics of reported or detected crime. I recollect that during the miners' strike when violent picketing called thousands of officers away from their normal work, crime apparently reduced. That was because there was no one to detect or to receive complaints of crime. Legislation criminalising what were hitherto lawful activities, whether selling bananas by the pound or beef on the bone, driving at 80 miles per hour (chief constables and Ministers excepted, of course) or hunting with hounds, is likely to increase the level of crime. Decriminalising the possession of drugs, late abortion or early sex is likely to reduce the amount of reported crime.
§ The statistics of violent crime may be more reliable than most, but their reliability and our confidence that we are comparing like with like is greatly affected by the willingness of victims to report criminal incidents. One need not go as far afield as Belfast or Londonderry to see that. In the third world societies of our inner cities, hostility to and lack of confidence in the police ensure that much violent crime goes unreported. In rural areas, the perception that to report lesser crimes will result only in time-wasting form filling has a similar effect. To that extent, the less effective policing is, the less crime will be reported.
§ Since a recent debate on these issues in another place was largely an exercise in attempts to beat one another into submission with statistical weaponry of great unreliability, I believe that I should issue a health warning: statistics of crime are addictive. They can have unexpected side-effects and dependency on them should be avoided.
§ Let us start with police numbers. Total police strength peaked in 1993 at 128,000 and is now around 124,000. There had been a huge increase during the Thatcher years: a rise of some 17,000 by 1987 when I retired from government—although I was not at the Home Office—then a fall during the Major years. Between the Thatcher victory of 1979 and the defeat of the government in 1997, total numbers rose by 16,000. Numbers were rising again towards the end of the Major years. Then there was a sustained sharp fall through the Blair years until the final half of the year 2000–01, which showed an increase of 444. Overall, police numbers have fallen by 2,500 and, since May 1997, the Special Constabulary has been reduced by 6,000.
§ Of course we can all pick and choose particular dates and numbers, but I think that I have given a fair summary of what has happened under the three administrations. We are told that numbers will now continue to increase, although the Prime Minister's 694 famous promise of 5,000 extra police by the time of the general election has now been completely withdrawn in favour of the promise made by the Minister of State, Mr Clarke, that by March 2002, with a fair wind and on a good day and a little luck, numbers will have moved back to the levels of March 1997.
§ Overall numbers, effective strength, wastage rates, sickness rates and morale are all clearly interlinked. Events in Northern Ireland and the Patten report have devastated morale in the RUC. I suspect that we shall hear more of that shortly. Morale in the Metropolitan Police in particular is extremely low. As a London dogwalker, I encounter and talk to police officers every day. An alarmingly large proportion of experienced and senior constables have told me that they are working out time and staying out of trouble until they can retire. Furthermore, many younger officers are looking to transfer to less stressful police forces.
§ Low morale breeds high sickness rates. That puts more pressure on those remaining at work, which in turn increases sickness. Quite properly, the rules on sickness and early retirement on grounds of ill health have been tightened in recent times. But in some cases they have been over-tightened and officers are pressurised to continue at work when they should be on sick leave.
§ I need hardly make the point that the Macpherson report has had a disastrous effect on morale in the Metropolitan force. The supine acceptance by senior officers of a quite disgraceful slander against the men for whom they are responsible has made matters much worse. In passing, I might add that the existence in Scotland Yard of what I am told is called the Lawrence steering group does not help. I could understand a steering group on the Macpherson report, but the existence of a Lawrence steering group raises the issue of whether there should be a PC Blakelock, or a Damilola Taylor or an Anna Climbie group. Should their relatives not receive the same consideration as those of Mr Lawrence?
§ I would not defend much of the Sheehy report, least of all the decision on the Metropolitan Police housing allowance. I welcome the decision made by this Government that a metropolitan allowance of £6,000 a year is to be paid, although of course that merely exacerbates the problems in the Home Counties forces around London.
§ The Minister will, I am sure, make the most of the recent increase in recruits. I hope that he will say something about their quality. Is it correct that a criminal record is no longer necessarily a disqualification? Have physical standards been maintained, and what is the rate of wastage in training? I am told that there has been a considerable increase in the extent of the practice known as "back classing" on the 18-week training course at Hendon; that is, where recruits cannot reach the standard, they are put back in the course to try again. Is that so? If it is so, is it because the standard of the instructors or that of the trainees has fallen?695
§ Officers also complain about the extent of paperwork. It is claimed that an officer who makes an arrest at the beginning of a shift is effectively hors de combat for the remainder, incarcerated in the police station, entangled in paperwork. Is that necessary?
§ What will be the effect of the wider-scope fixed penalty notices envisaged in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill? The Council for Civil Liberties has expressed concern over the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof. But if a police officer has to report and form-fill for each notice issued to the standard required to arrest and charge an alleged offender, he will not issue many notices in a day. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he expects the police workload to be increased or decreased by these proposals.
§ Another cause of concern, I am told, is the poor performance, insecurity and unreliability of police radios. My understanding is that the new TETRA digital system currently on trial continues to have problems. I am told that there is a health and safety issue to be resolved; that because it causes interference with other equipment it cannot be used near hospitals or police headquarters; and even that it may adversely affect speed cameras on motorways—not, to my mind, a grave disadvantage. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with these matters before the close of the debate.
§ We have a police force not only under strength and demoralised, but one facing an increasing workload. Some of that workload arises from our lawyer-driven compensation culture in which we see compensation claims from citizens who are dissatisfied with the inability of the police to arrest and charge those alleged to have done them injury. Those same lawyers may have their part in making it much more difficult for the police to identify and arrest those who have committed crimes. The net effect is to swamp the police with paperwork and to reduce the time and the effectiveness of their work in catching wrongdoers. Even when criminals are caught, convicted and sentenced, the Home Secretary seems to let them out rather early in order to re-offend.
§ Increasing crime and increasing awareness of crime are also adding to the police burden. In 1993–94, the earliest year for which I can find figures, there were 4.5 million 999 calls. By 1999–2000 that had risen to 9.5 million. While the recent slight fall in recorded crime is welcome, it remains at a high level, and violent crime is still increasing. Soft sentences and early releases are no doubt factors in this, but to what do the Government attribute the rise and who does it most affect? My impression is that the victims are principally those who live in our third world urban areas.
§ Perhaps here I may take up with the Minister a matter which continues to puzzle me. In June last year I tabled a couple of Written Questions concerning the ethnicity of the victims and perpetrators of racially-motivated crime in the Metropolitan area. I was very surprised to receive an answer from the Minister which told me that information on the ethnicity of victims 696 and perpetrators of racially-motivated crime was not kept. The Minister looks surprised. So was I. But when I subsequently saw the figures published in the Daily Telegraph, I wrote to him and asked why they had not been available in answer to my Question. He told me that the information I had read in the Daily Telegraph came from Scotland Yard figures. Does not the Home Secretary, as the police authority, ask what is going on and what figures it has? Is that not extraordinary? Could officials have prepared an Answer for the unfortunate Minister to sign on the basis of not telling him that the figures were available in Scotland Yard, even if they were not on the file in his office? I find that not only extraordinary but quite outrageous. I hope that the Minister will do something to ensure that nothing of that kind ever happens again.
§ As noble Lords will know, violent crime rose in the 12 months to last September by some 8 per cent, despite a slight fall in sexual offences. Assaults on constables rose by 12 per cent to 27,000 out of a total of 588,000 offences. That is not much encouragement to recruitment. Even the slight fall in sexual offences is slightly suspect in that there was a fall recorded of 38 per cent in offences of gross indecency between males. That would be very welcome if it actually happened, but I rather doubt it did. There was a record fall in the practice of buggery of 22 per cent. Rape, on the other hand, edged up by 3 per cent. I wonder whether those figures can all be correct.
§ Perhaps I may end with a verdict on these matters—not mine, which might be thought by some to have some bias, but that of the people as a whole as measured recently by MORI. Asked about the level of crime in their areas since May 1997, 17 per cent of respondents said it had got better, 36 per cent said it had got worse, 44 per cent said it was unchanged. On standards of policing, the verdict was similar: 16 per cent better, 33 per cent worse, 46 per cent the same. As to the number of police on the beat, 9 per cent thought there were more, 49 per cent thought there were less and 36 per cent thought things were unchanged.
§ It is worth noting that 20 years ago 70 per cent were satisfied and 25 per cent dissatisfied with the way their locality was policed, a plus rating of 45 per cent. In February 1999, the figures were 70 per cent satisfied and 22 per cent dissatisfied, a positive rating of 48 per cent. The Minister has a slight smile. I do not think he should have because as we go on we find that, as the Government's policies have begun to bite, the mood has changed. Now, fewer than 45 per cent are satisfied and 50 per cent are dissatisfied, a negative rating, for the first time, of more than 5 per cent.
§ How do Ministers explain this? Have the public become—what is the expression this week?—"detached" from reality? Are they having, like Ministers, "moments of madness"? Does Mr Straw think that the public at large have a collective inability to remember or recognise what is going on? Is there "something strange going on" in the collective head of the public? Or will the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, own up like a man and say, "Yes, this Government have brought about a crisis of confidence in the ability of the 697 police to combat violent crime in particular"—that they have, indeed, failed to preserve the Queen's peace? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, on choosing such an important subject for today's debate. As he suggested, it is very close to the top of people's concerns and fears. As to the point that he made towards the end of his speech about the surveys of people's satisfaction with policing, it will be of interest that the greatest satisfaction was achieved during the Home Secretaryship of the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, on the debilitating effect of the compensation culture. I do not demur at all on that.
The wording on the Order Paper states that the debate is to call attention to police numbers, morale and the level of violent crime, as though they are all connected. In my small contribution I shall attempt to prove that this is not necessarily so.
Dealing, first, with police numbers, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will know that the setting of establishment figures by the Home Office was abandoned by the previous government. Presumably, that policy was supported by the noble Lord. It was placed in the gift of individual chief constables. It follows that if some chief constables decide that money is better spent on new technology, air support or civilian support, there is precious little that Ministers can do about it.
There may well be a case for maintaining centrally a minimum "ground cover" figure, as we used to call it, for every force before siphoning off officers or cash for specialist departments, squads or national agencies. It is a matter that my noble friend the Minister may wish to consider in the light of my following comments.
The Motion implies that "more police on the beat" means less reported crime. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, noted that that is not necessarily true. Often, the opposite is true. The obvious truth is that, the easier it is made for members of the public to report crime, the more crime will be reported. It follows, therefore, that in order to reduce the crime statistics the trick is to make crime more difficult to report—one method is to have fewer police officers in contact with the public. I hope that I am illustrating the unreliability of the Home Office crime statistics and not suggesting a template for crime reduction!
That said, it is undeniable that the public get a sense of security from seeing the patrolling bobby, regardless of the effect on crime figures. The fear of crime is probably far greater than the reality. If we can reduce this fear by adding more foot patrols, any sensible government are right to underwrite such an increase. That is why I applaud the Government for ring-fencing funding for an extra 9,000 officers over and above the normal intake. I understand that these 698 recruits are now working through the training schools. The Minister may wish to give up-to-date figures in his response.
The difficulty in recruiting police officers is true of public services generally, not just the police service. I think there is no disagreement on either side about that. It is in a sense a measure of the Government's economic success because of a tightening in the employment market. It is universally accepted that a far more accurate measure of the volume of crime is the British Crime Survey, the latest edition of which was published on 17th October last year. It indicates clearly that in the two years between 1997 and 1999 the number of violent crimes fell by 4 per cent. Similarly, all crime fell by 10 per cent over the same period.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, mentioned assaults on police officers, which we all deplore. Police officers do suffer from assaults, and this has the effect of lowering morale. The apparent acceptance that the police, or indeed any other public servants, can be used as punch-bags cannot continue. I read recently that only 12 per cent of those convicted of assaulting police officers receive a custodial sentence. That is a disgrace, and the judiciary and magistracy should take note. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister could give the most up-to-date figures for custodial sentences following assaults on the police.
Noble Lords opposite should be careful in highlighting crime. The record shows that crime doubled during the administration that they supported. In contrast, this is the first government for 50 years to finish their term with less crime than when they came to office. The noble Lord will rightly say that specific categories of crime have risen: I refer to robbery and the theft of goods from the person. It is common ground between us that this area must be targeted and tackled. Part of the rise is accounted for by a sensible change in the counting rules. However, a great deal of such crime is attributable to the mugging of youngsters by other youngsters, usually for items such as mobile phones, which are almost becoming fashion accessories.
The Home Secretary was right, therefore, to call in the phone manufacturers to explore means of reducing such crime by making phones worthless to anyone other than the owner—in a similar way, the targeting of motor manufacturers reduced car crime. I am sure that noble Lords opposite would have expected nothing less.
I turn now to the important subject of police morale. Morale in any organisation can be affected by several factors. Remuneration, conditions of service, management style and complaints against the police are the obvious important factors. I shall deal with them briefly.
It was the previous government who removed the police housing allowance, in 1993—identified by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as the date when recruiting figures began to deteriorate. That had an immediate effect on recruiting and morale, and the service has never recovered. It was the previous government who removed overtime for the ranks of inspectors.
699 Consequently, senior investigating officers—officers working in excess of 60 hours a week, often heading murder inquiries—are taking home less than the junior officers working for them. To quote this week's Police Review,Inspectors in charge of up to 14 cases each are becoming human wrecks!It is becoming virtually impossible to find applicants for this demanding work. This lowering of morale was again caused by the Sheehy-type savings imposed by the previous administration supported by noble Lords opposite.
It was the previous government who abolished the rank of chief superintendent, thereby weakening the ability of chief constables to manage huge divisions, some larger than small police forces. Sense has prevailed, and the rank of chief superintendent is being brought back by the present Government.
The complaints system is not working. For some time, the staff associations have argued for the independent investigation of complaints. We have had, for example, the Lancet inquiry in Cleveland (of Ray Mallon fame) which has gone on for over four years, with many, including Mr Mallon, being suspended for over three years. The cost to the ratepayers of Cleveland is estimated to be in the region of £5 million to £7 million.
In 1996, the Police Superintendents' Association, of which I was then president, discussed reforms with the previous government and the Police Complaints Authority. Unfortunately, our pleas fell on deaf ears. The present Government are reforming the police complaints system.
In conclusion, as the Lancet inquiry has been completed, will my noble friend the Minister give the House some idea of when the Crown Prosecution Service will put the officers being investigated, the remainder of the force and the people of Cleveland out of their misery and announce the final decisions in the inquiry? Mr Mallon has already been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and this sorry mess needs concluding.
I think it is evident that this Government need no lessons in police funding, management or reform from noble Lords opposite.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for providing this opportunity. Needless to say, I may not agree with many of the things he has said.
Law and order repeatedly surfaces as a key issue that concerns the community. It is no secret that it will continue to remain higher on the agenda in readiness for the next general election. I see nothing wrong in that, provided that we do not use the police and policing issues as a political football.
700 Until recently, there was a substantial and steady fall in police strength. The fall in numbers, which began under the previous Conservative government, has accelerated under the present Government. The slogan,Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime",has an ingredient missing: those responsible for dealing with crime—that is, our police officers—are thin on the ground. The fall in the number of officers since 1997 is very serious indeed. Even now, there is serious concern about whether we shall be able to replace the officers lost since then. Of course, we welcome the recent recruitment drive, which looks promising. Let us hope that the Government will never again contemplate sticking to the spending plans—as they did during their first three years in office—which brought about the serious decline in police numbers.
There is no guarantee that the increase in police numbers will reduce serious crime. We need to probe much deeper into why our society, particularly our young people, have scant regard for the law. We need to probe more deeply into why, despite repeated criminal justice legislation and a record number of new laws to tackle crime, we have failed to tackle the increase in serious crime. An increase in police numbers alone would not solve our problems. The Government should have realised the folly of restricting their spending on police recruitment. No one has ever argued that crime reduction is assisted by a reduction in police numbers.
There are two reasons for the decline in police numbers. The first, undoubtedly, is the level of funding. The second is recruitment and retention. We can add to this the unfunded police pension scheme and the significant cost of new technology to keep pace with the sophisticated and international nature of crime.
The Government's own figures show that, after the proportion of police funding which is allocated to meet pension requirements is taken into account, in 1997–98 14 forces, in 1998–99 16 forces and in 1999–2000 15 forces had a cut in funding in real terms. The issue of pensions will not go away. It is time for us to know something about the Government's thinking on the subject.
Of course, there is some truth in the saying that fear of crime is greater than crime itself. It does not help the situation when all the evidence points to the declining public confidence in fighting crime, and the police being held responsible for what, ultimately, is the responsibility of the politicians. Ask any citizen and the complaint is that policemen are simply not visible enough in our communities and that the police do not even have the resources to respond to all the important demands made on them. Certain crimes no longer feature as important to the police, and yet they have a very profound effect on victims. Those of us who have items stolen from our cars can vouch for that statement.
Simply blaming the police service is not an answer. Talk to any police officer and you can see his or her frustration. Police officers care about public concerns 701 and they want to be the reassuring presence on our streets. We were repeatedly told that the amount of unnecessary paper work would be cut down and that that would release more officers on to the beat. However, this does not seem to have happened. Can the Minister say why not?
The history of law and order over the past two decades is so telling. Of course, the Conservative government could claim falls in recorded crime in the later years of their administration, but recorded crime was still 81 per cent higher in 1997 than in 1979. Violent crime rose every year between 1979 and 1997. Over this time, there was a 168 per cent rise, and the percentage is now rising again. Against this, the number of convictions in courts has fallen. I am referring not only to the proportion of crime leading to a conviction—the conviction rate fell—but also to the fact that the absolute number of convictions also fell. Whereas there were nearly 1.9 million convictions in 1979, there were 1.4 million in 1996. Crime nearly doubled during this time, but the number of criminals brought to account in the courts fell by 20 per cent. In 1985, there was a conviction for every eight crimes; in 1997, there was only one conviction for every 14 crimes.
The simplistic answer of creating more criminal offences has hardly helped. Is it not time for us to allow our criminal justice system to bed down before embarking on future laws? Should we not look to prevent offending in the first place?
Police morale is undoubtedly a real issue in many parts of the country. Genuine problems of numbers, recruitment and conditions also contribute to poor morale.
Perhaps I may congratulate the Home Secretary who set up the Stephen Lawrence inquiry—the request for which was, at one time, refused by Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary. However, it is important to resist the dangerous argument that the reforms instituted by the police service following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry are an important factor in denting police morale. In fact, I cannot recollect working in any organisation in my life where morale has ever been high. It is particularly specious and inaccurate to suggest, as some have done, that police officers have become so afraid to stop and search black suspects that this has produced an increase in street robbery.
The figures published earlier this month under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 show that there has in fact been a larger fall in stop and searches of white people than of black people, and that black people are still five times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. This is hardly compatible with the image of a police service paralysed by political correctness. The figures also show a larger fall in those types of crime for which arrests commonly follow stop and search than for those, like robbery, which stop and search rarely uncovers. Many of the arrests that follow stop and search are for drug offences, and the number of recorded drugs offences has recently fallen significantly. Far fewer arrests for robbery result from 702 stop and search, yet the robbery statistics have risen sharply. This suggests that there is little relation between the trends in the use of stop and search and the trends in crime rates. Stop and search may sometimes be necessary, but, frankly, it is overrated as a tool for reducing crime.
The results of recent pilot experiments in some parts of the Metropolitan Police district in making a more targeted use of stop and search are encouraging. These have reduced the overall number of stop and searches, reduced the racial disproportion in its use and, at the same time, an increased proportion of stop and searches have resulted in an arrest. So a better-targeted use of these powers has had more effective results. We need to build on the results of these experiments, and not return to the pre-Lawrence inquiry practices, which did so much damage to the confidence in the police service of minority ethnic communities.
We also need to question the peculiar argument that the racial disproportion in the use of stop and search can be justified because there are proportionately more black people on the streets in the areas concerned. Some senior police officers have started talking about the population "available to be searched". What is this supposed to mean? The fact that people are "available" does not mean that you have to search them. In order to justify a fivefold disproportion in the use of these powers, we would need to show not just that black people were five times more likely to be on the streets but that they were five times more likely to be on the streets and up to no good. Does anyone seriously argue that black people are five times more likely to commit crimes than white people? No statistics have effectively demonstrated that fact.
Let us stop looking at specious arguments of this kind that can only fuel racism, and look instead at some more valid reasons for poor police morale. One such reason is the tendency of many people to blame the police unfairly for high crime rates when these are in fact due to a range of social factors outside the direct control of the police. If we seriously want to bring down crime rates, we need a comprehensive strategy to tackle the root causes, involving all government departments as well as statutory and voluntary agencies. This means providing more support for families under stress. Research shows that effective family support programmes can pay for themselves five times over by reducing the rate of family break-up and delinquency by children of those families.
It also means tackling the problem of truancy and school exclusion, because research shows that persistent truants commit three times as many offences as children who attend school regularly. It means working to ensure that there are accessible work and training opportunities for the most disadvantaged, because young offenders commit three times as many offences when they are out of work as when they are employed. It means providing youth facilities and sporting activities for young people in disadvantaged high-crime-rate areas. Research into intensive youth activity programmes run by organisations like 703 NACRO (my own organisation) and Crime Concern shows that they can reduce different types of youth crime locally by between 30 and 75 per cent.
It means tackling problems of drug and alcohol abuse, because drug addicts who continue with their drug habit commit five times more crimes subsequently than those who enter treatment programmes. It also means working to resettle offenders on release from prison. Prisoners released homeless are two-and-a-half times more likely to reoffend than comparable offenders who have access to stable accommodation. Unemployed former prisoners are twice as likely to reoffend as those who get and keep a job.
In short, policing has a vital role to play in preventing and reducing crime; and where the police service has genuine grievances, these must be addressed. But, ultimately, a determined attack on the causes of crime will do far more to affect crime rates than the police service could ever hope to achieve on its own.
Last week I asked the Minister whether he would consider establishing a Royal Commission on policing to address the many and varied issues facing the police. This is also called for by the Police Federation. The Minister seems to have brushed that aside. Of course we discuss policing issues on a piecemeal basis but Parliament has failed to take a comprehensive look at policing. Is it not time that we took a more fundamental look at the police and at policing issues? Is it not time that we developed a much more effective strategy on crime prevention? Is it not time that we gave support and encouragement to the thin blue dividing line which makes a difference between democracy and chaos?
That requires valuing the independence of our police. We must not make them a political football. The public's consent to policing will be eroded if we fail to give a lead.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
My Lords, I am sure we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for giving us this opportunity to debate vitally important linked issues which are of great concern to the law-abiding citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom. We should all be grateful to the noble Lord for his detailed and thoughtful analysis.
I declare an interest as a council tax payer resident in London Monday to Friday. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I have been dismayed by the destruction of police morale throughout the United Kingdom and the consequent increase in violent crime. Despite what has been said by others, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is accurate in linking the two matters.
As a Londoner I offer two examples, one pre-Macpherson and the other post-Macpherson. Four years ago I encountered a young off-duty sergeant of the Metropolitan Police. After he had described his initial ambitions career wise, he began to recount how he became disillusioned and how his enthusiasm had been blunted by what he regarded as unnecessary 704 obstructions. I shall never forget his words as we parted. He said, "When I accompany two of my constables on patrol and we see a crime being committed, we are tempted to look the other way and thus avoid the likelihood of ending up in the dock instead of the criminal".
The other example concerns a rather more personal experience at a London Underground station Two sturdy, well built young ladies rampaged across the concourse screaming, laughing and hurling abuse at anyone within earshot. The first one shoulder charged an elderly lady immediately in front of me knocking her and her pathetic grocery bag to the floor. The second gave me the same treatment. I suppose that I should have been flattered by that. The two then joined forces and proceeded to charge the ticket collector who not unnaturally asked to see their tickets which they did not have. They butted him to the floor and charged through the now open gate on to the platforms.
A few good samaritans—I suspect that two or three of them were army officers in civilian clothes—offered their assistance to the rest of us and then went over in my presence, as one of the aggrieved parties, to sympathise with the ticket collector who was just recovering. They were prepared to offer their names and addresses to assist him in putting forward a claim. He declined their offer on the ground that some weeks previously one of his colleagues resisted the same two well built young ladies, was beaten up, complained and two weeks later was accused and found guilty of racism, and lost his job. Delicacy prevents me from mentioning the role of the Metropolitan Police in this context. That incident, of course, occurred post-Macpherson.
Yesterday your Lordships debated the Private Security Industry Bill. Today's debate is linked to the word "industry": the discipline industry, the inquiry industry and the complaints industry. The police always find themselves in the front line of attacks from all such bodies. By the nature of things the police are always on the defensive.
Noble Lords will remember that last year they voted through the Police (Northern Ireland) Act which included a provision for a police ombudsman—who now happens to be an ombudswoman; I do not complain about that—in place of what had been the independent commission for police complaints. The recent former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland explained that under the 1998 Act he had decided on a prescribed period for retrospective investigation. However, under the 2000 Act the retrospective period was two years for the first year of life of the new police service and one year for its second year of life.
Since then terrorist bodies have united—there are many of them in Northern Ireland of both shades—and are now pressing for retrospective investigation of many years (as far back as seven years) of complaints which they have unearthed, although all such complaints had been investigated by independent commissions and even in the courts.
In short, unless the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland adheres firmly to the stated intention of his predecessor, the new police service will be held 705 responsible by terrorists (not by the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland) for allegations—they are no more than allegations—made against the Royal Ulster Constabulary which were proved groundless by those independent bodies over seven to 10 years.
I understand that terrorists have already supplied the new ombudswoman with over 300 complaints before the new police body takes over with the intention, obviously, of clogging up the system. We can rest assured that that virus-that industry, as I call it—will soon spread to Britain. We would all be wise to heed early warnings.
While there may be disagreement over police numbers in England, there can be no quarrel over numbers in Northern Ireland. The unholy alliance between the Patten report and the Northern Ireland Office had the intended effect of slashing police numbers through pressure, incitement and destruction of morale, as the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, forecast, while the cream of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is as a result being lost. It is worth noting that those officers rejected by Patten on purely sectarian grounds are now being snapped up by constabularies such as Lothian and Borders, Suffolk, Tayside, Sussex, Strathclyde and Manchester. What is undoubtedly Ulster's loss will be Britain's gain.
When the police Bill was being processed by your Lordships' House last year, it was intended—noble Lords will remember the figures—that hundreds of police officers who were forced to leave would be replaced by Roman Catholic applicants to meet the 50:50 requirement. None of us, least of all myself—I was educated at a Roman Catholic school and, therefore, under the new guidelines would qualify as a Roman Catholic recruit if I did not have a sagging face and grey hair—made complaint of that. I supported it as a target and not a quota. It gives me no pleasure to report that what was made a quota is not working.
I shared your Lordships' hope and expectation that the 50:50 figure would be achieved voluntarily through co-operation with republicans, nationalists and, most of all, the Church. However, it is most regrettable that all three have in recent weeks publicly refused to encourage young Roman Catholics to enlist in the new force. It is heartbreaking to note that the excuse used to justify the refusal to advise young Catholics to join the force is that demilitarisation has not been achieved to the satisfaction of terrorists, nationalists and, very regrettably, the Church.
All three have explained exactly what they mean by "demilitarisation". It means the removal of all safeguards for law-abiding citizens—that is, the removal of all protection before all terrorist capacity to murder is demolished; no recommittal of the Army, as was necessary last year in the Protestant Shankill Road where civil war was raging; no more intelligence gathering which might abort a terrorist atrocity; no frontier surveillance which might hamper the Real 706 IRA or the Continuity IRA in murderous attacks like the Omagh bomb; and no security force patrol or checkpoints which might impede the racketeering and drug-trafficking now carried out on a large scale by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries.
Some noble Lords may ask why they are permitted to carry out those activities in addition to increased murder by Protestant and republican terrorists. The answer was given at a parliamentary press briefing last Tuesday by a Northern Ireland Office spokesman. To the question, "Why do you not regard them now as terrorists who have broken the ceasefire?", the answer was, "That is simply paramilitary housekeeping. We will not be concerned as long as it does not cross the sectarian divide". Some hope for the future, my Lords!
The last requirement for demilitarisation—it is an extremely serious one—is the demolition of the watchtowers on the South Armagh frontier. I fear very much that chiefs of staff have been broken under political pressure to approve the removal of two of those towers. That may seem small beer, but military men know only too well that if one removes two links in an intelligence-gathering chain, as these towers are—they are not offensive but for intelligence gathering and surveillance—the entire structure becomes ineffective. Taking away two out of six of those towers will horrify any military man: it creates dead ground between all six which terrorists can exploit at will.
I plead with the authorities even at this late stage to think again on that issue and to face the fact that the watch-towers have the intended effect of deterring terrorism; otherwise why would terrorists be concentrating on their removal? Surely the Army cannot welcome the removal of what are inoffensive structures. With the Army now at full stretch with commitments in many parts of the world, it will have serious difficulty in supplying new formations to replace the watch-towers with foot patrols.
The sad part is this. Do we want to commit ground forces again in an area where casualties will be inevitable on that South Armagh frontier which is tailor-made for snipers? It has proved to be so in the past. I beg those who share a responsibility, at whatever level, for ensuring that loss of life is not again permitted, to please think again on that crucial decision.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, before we move to the Statement, I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.