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Statement by the Secretary of State Peter Mandelson to the House of Commons on the Patten Report, 19 January 2000

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson MP to the House of Commons, on the implementation of the Patten Report, 19 January 2000


With permission, Madam Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government's decisions on the report of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, known as the Patten Report after its Chairman, Chris Patten.

Of all the issues that have divided society in Northern Ireland, policing is probably the most controversial. In the last 30 years the Royal Ulster Constabulary has faced demands completely unlike those faced by any other force in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the developed world. I would like to place on record the Government's deep admiration for the courage, resilience and professionalism with which the RUC has met these challenges. The accounts I have heard of personal tragedy, pain and loss in the RUC family are profoundly moving and humbling. 302 officers have been killed, and many thousands injured. We all owe the RUC a huge debt of gratitude. The George Cross is a fitting acknowledgement of their sacrifice.

But in rising to the challenge, the RUC has inevitably, if unfairly, become identified more with one side of the community than the other. It finds it hard to recruit from the nationalist community and - with 88% of its members Protestant and only 8% Catholic - is not representative of all sides of the community.

This is not a desirable state of affairs. The RUC itself is forward-looking and accepts the need for change. It is eager to police a normal society in a normal professional way, but it is held back by the burden of history.

The talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement addressed but did not resolve these problems. Instead, Chris Patten and his colleagues were asked to design arrangements for, and I quote:

"a police service that can enjoy widespread support from, and is seen to be an integral part of, the community as a whole."

The Patten Commission rose to this challenge and I pay tribute to them. Their report covers, among other things, composition, training, culture, ethos and symbols. My Rt Hon friend the Member for Redcar accepted the report in principle, and launched a period of consultation about the details. Since my own appointment, I have met all the interested parties and police groups and have listened carefully to what they had to say.

The decisions which I am announcing today will be reflected in legislation which we will bring forward later in this session. In reaching them, I have been driven by, and have tried to keep in balance, three distinct but interdependent considerations:

- representativeness;

- effectiveness; and

- respect for the sacrifices of the past.

I say "interdependent", because only a police service that is accepted and draws members from both traditions and is therefore accepted across the community can hope to be fully effective. And it is only by recognising the sacrifices of the past that we can move forward together to meet the challenges of the future. I am determined that the police in Northern Ireland should be modern, representative and effective, and no longer the fulcrum of antagonistic debate.

However, Patten also points out that the implementation of some recommendations will, and again I quote, 'depend to a greater or lesser degree on how the security situation develops', and that judgements will need to be made on how and when they should be introduced. That is advice which the Government will, rightly, keep firmly in mind as we take this process forward.

Human Rights

Patten rightly places much emphasis on human rights . The Chief Constable and the new Policing Board together will be made responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive programme of action - including an audit to ensure full compliance with human rights requirements. We also accept a new police oath as proposed by Patten, which will be taken by all new recruits to the police service. I do not believe it appropriate for already attested officers to take the new oath, which would in any case raise significant legal difficulties. All officers will, however, receive human rights training, and will be required to behave in accordance with a Code of Ethics. This Code will be provided for in legislation, and will, like the new Oath, emphasise the priority to be given to human rights.


The Government accepts Patten's recommendation for the creation of a new Policing Board, composed as the Report recommends, to replace the current Police Authority. The new Policing Board will be responsible for securing the maintenance of an efficient and effective police service and holding the Chief Constable and the police service to account.

I am sure the House will wish to join with me in paying tribute to the work of the Police Authority over the last 30 years. Many have served with distinction on the Authority, and were prepared to come forward even when there was a direct terrorist threat against them. Two members of the Authority were murdered by terrorists. The contribution of the Authority, members and staff, will not be forgotten.

Police planning process

The Report recommends clarifying the roles of the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the Policing Board. The broad thrust of the recommendations is that the Policing Board should play a more developed role - setting objectives, priorities and performance targets while leaving operational control and direction of the police firmly in the Chief Constable's hands.

I entirely agree with the Report that the new Policing Board "should be empowered and equipped to scrutinise the performance of the police effectively". I therefore accept the recommendations and will introduce legislation accordingly, subject to the Chief Constable continuing to answer to me on all matters involving national security and the work of relevant agencies.


Patten proposed the creation of District Policing Partnership Boards to provide an element of local accountability. He envisaged that they should have a primarily consultative role with an ability to monitor police delivery against an agreed local plan, and I endorse this. He also proposed an additional community safety role, with powers to purchase services on top of normal policing. This latter activity is currently a subject being considered by the Criminal Justice Review. Until decisions are taken on this Review, which will be published shortly, I do not intend to extend their function in this way. It will be better, in any case, to concentrate initially on building up relationships at the local level in what I propose to call District Policing Partnerships. I also intend to consider further the arrangements proposed for Belfast, where I am not satisfied that it would be right to have four separate partnerships.

Style, structure, size and composition of the police service

Progress on the style of policing and the size of the police service will be critically dependent on the Chief Constable's assessment of the security threat and the public order situation. There will be no question of rushing forward with changes in the absence of a stable security environment. Subject to that overall proviso, in line with the Report, the Chief Constable has decided to re-organise the police service into District Commands based on District Council areas and geared towards policing in partnership with the community. District Commanders will have much higher levels of devolved authority under the overall command of the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable intends that this structural reorganisation will be underway by November this year.

The Chief Constable will also re-organise Police Headquarters to produce a slimmer structure. Headquarters will in future take a more strategic approach to management and Special Branch and CID will both be retained and placed under a single Assistant Chief Constable, as the Chief Constable believes is desirable, when the security situation permits.

The Government accepts Patten's recommendations on the future size of the police service - that is, a regular complement of 7,500 full-time officers - provided, as the Report says, that the security situation does not deteriorate significantly. We accept Patten's recommendation for the enlargement of the part-time Reserve and the discontinuation of the full-time Reserve - again, subject to the security situation.

The severance arrangements to enable serving police officers, whether regular or reservist, to leave the police service will be generous and sympathetic. The Government is committed to finding the necessary resources. Negotiations with the police staff associations are currently in progress. I hope that these discussions will help all sides to agree arrangements which will address the concern which officers understandably have about their future.

I attach particular importance to Patten's recommendations for action to transform the composition of the police service, which are essential to gaining widespread acceptability. I endorse the proposal for 50/50 recruitment of Protestants and Catholics, from a pool of candidates all of whom - I stress - will have qualified on merit. We propose that the requirement for this special measure should be kept under review on a triennial basis, with rigorous safeguards to ensure that the, rightly, challenging targets for recruitment do not diminish the standard required of recruits. There will be no question whatsoever of ex-terrorists joining the service.

Name and symbols

Madam Speaker, our aim is to develop a police service which is both effective and accepted throughout the community. This aim, as Patten recognises, also clearly bears on the name and symbols of the RUC.

The issue here is not whether the name of the RUC is wrong or something not to be proud of. I understand exactly why serving and former officers, their families and indeed widows are proud of the RUC and its name. The issue is whether a change in name, underlining a new start, is a necessary and indispensable part of attracting balance in recruits. Of course it is not the only barrier to recruitment. There has been at times disgraceful intimidation of nationalists who wished to join the RUC. But a change of name was in Patten's view essential, and I agree.

That change is needed to signal the new beginning which will, in particular, be symbolised by the arrival in the new training environment of the first recruits entering through the new independent procedures and selected on the new balanced basis. That point will come in the autumn of next year. At that point too, I will therefore bring into force the new title, which will be the Police Service of Northern Ireland, a name which I believe is preferable to that proposed by Patten.

At the same time, a service badge incorporating this title will be introduced, after the new Policing Board has had a chance to address the issue. In this context, the RUC will wish to consider how best permanently to record the award to them of the George Cross last autumn. And finally, existing police memorials will remain as they are, and the colour of the uniform will not change.

IT and Training

The Government also accepts Patten's important recommendation for IT improvements to put the police in Northern Ireland at the forefront of communications and information technology, and for police training. I am also delighted to tell the House that we have accepted the case for a new Police College, and appropriate resources will be provided. These are in addition to a range of other forward-looking recommendations on practical policing issues, which I will not detain the House by detailing here, which we will also be implementing.

Oversight Commissioner

Finally, Patten recommends the appointment of an Oversight Commissioner, to monitor the implementation of those changes agreed by the Government. This appointment will not in any way cut across the responsibilities of either the new Policing Board or the Chief Constable, and the accountability which I and my colleagues have to this House on policing issues will not diminish as a result. The Oversight Commissioner will help create a first rate police service for the future.


Madam Speaker, the implementation of these changes will entail a major and challenging programme of work for the Government, the Chief Constable, the Police Authority (and in due course the Policing Board) but, most of all, for police officers themselves. It is not an overnight event but a process of change which will extend over several years. I am confident that the police will meet the challenge of change positively and with commitment.

For those in the unionist community who have fears, I urge them to accept the need for significant change to create a police service in which all can feel they belong and with which all can identify. To nationalists who have for so long withheld their support from the police in Northern Ireland, I would ask them to reflect on the transformation that is planned and to reconsider their position. It is now time for them to support this programme of change; unambiguously to support the police; and to encourage young men and women from their community to join the police. The prize is a modern, effective police service drawing support and strength from all parts of the community. It is within our grasp. The proposals I have announced today should enable us to achieve it.

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