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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, in Committee some of us expressed unease over the possibility that, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has said, we might have to return to the proposals in this Bill after the Patten Commission reports in perhaps a year's time. That remains a valid consideration. It would make good sense to avoid something like a repeal of this Bill, or large portions of it, after Patten reports.
It may be that the commission's work can be accelerated so that the report may be completed and published in perhaps six months rather than the 12 months originally envisaged. It will have been accelerated in its work because of recent events. It has to be recognised, if not officially admitted, that the appointment of the commission was a gesture to those who demanded confidence-building measures or sending signals--which I suppose is the Northern Ireland equivalent of "Cool Britannia"--to various terrorist groupings to keep them on board the circus.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, raised the question of what is likely to happen to the known IRA gang which murdered a Catholic republican, a former neighbour of his, in north Belfast. Perhaps I may venture to inform the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that the procedure is not quite what he envisaged. The chief constable will receive all the forensic and evidential reports and he will make a judgment. He will report that judgment to the Secretary of State and probably--although one cannot forejudge--as the noble Lord envisaged, it will be found to be the work of the IRA. That has broadly been admitted by those in the know on the republican side.
Having reported, the chief constable's job is finished, but the Secretary of State does not then direct the offending organisation--in this case, the IRA--to move out of the Assembly. She invites the Assembly, by cross-community consent, to assent to the expulsion of
I am sufficiently cynical to believe that the premature publication of probable scales of salary and allowances for some Assembly members worked wonders in terms of confidence-building even before the referendum--and certainly in advance of the Assembly elections!
More seriously, a second reason for the establishment of the Patten commission was the clamour for a wide assortment of local or community police services, as opposed to the one monolithic structure that we have at the moment. The law and order crisis of the past few weeks demonstrates the wisdom of the retention of a unified structure for Northern Ireland, all over the Province.
It is widely recognised that the Army and my old regiment, the Royal Air Force Regiment, provided the Royal Ulster Constabulary with indispensable back-up. All those elements, through close co-operation, upheld the civil power in Northern Ireland in a way which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and I might not have envisaged being so successful even three or four years ago. That could not have been achieved had the General Officer Commanding had to consult and relate to a multitude of what one might call a "do-it-yourself" grouping of community police services. A complete breakdown was avoided by reason of the chief constable and the GOC, their respective staffs and their men on the ground participating in a command structure for which there will be a continuing requirement in view of the regrettable resurgence of terrorism in the past 10 days or so by groups mistakenly referred to in the news industry as "dissident groups", but which are really terrorist subcontractors, supplying the muscle which has been so rewarding in wringing concessions from successive governments.
Finally, I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister will quietly whisper to Mr. Patten that events have dramatically altered his job specification and the terms of reference of his commission. It might also be prudent to consider whether control of intelligence-gathering in Northern Ireland should be restored to the chief constable. In Great Britain, with its multiplicity of constabularies, it may be that the role of MI5 may be successful and may still be required, but that would not be of advantage except where we have a single, compact police force working with the Army in support of the civil power.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, I feel compelled to support many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. That may seem strange, given our respective political backgrounds. The noble Lord referred to some rumours which have abounded in Northern Ireland recently, that we are to have what is called community policing. Those rumours have circulated, particularly from the nationalist areas, and
My noble friend may not have all the answers because these matters will be referred to the Patten Commission, but recently organisations representing the police force had a meeting with the Prime Minister at Downing Street. What he said indicated that he had full confidence in the RUC as at present constituted. I take succour from what he said at the conclusion of that meeting.
What my noble friend can say this afternoon is that there is absolutely no validity in the rumours abounding in Northern Ireland of any attempt to set up community policing, because if it is done in West Belfast it will be done in East Belfast and Portadown. If one imagines what community policemen with paramilitary records would have done at Drumcree only last week given their activities in the past, that would rule out any chance of such people having any part to play in the legitimate police service in Northern Ireland.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the effect of this amendment would be to delay, with the exception of the provisions of Part VII, the commencement of this Bill. That is clearly the noble Lord's intention. While I accept that many of the key features of this Bill are identified in the principles set out in the Belfast agreement and in the terms of reference for the independent commission, I do not agree that it is either prudent or necessary to delay commencement pending the outcome of Patten. The commission will be considering the essential ingredients of sound, effective and widely supported policing arrangements for Northern Ireland. I believe that this Bill will be a cornerstone of those considerations.
As I have said many times before, this Bill is a building block on which other improvements to policing can be made. Noble Lords will be aware that this Bill contains key reforms on police structures. It clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the Police Authority. It introduces significant planning and objective-setting mechanisms, and it introduces reforms on police ethos which are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In essence it puts into statute structural changes upon which, should it consider further change necessary, the commission can build.
This Bill also introduces important financial reforms. The Chief Constable is to be given day-to-day control of finance so that he can manage his resources and devolve responsibility to local commanders. This is the current practice in Great Britain. It will allow for better local services while at the same time introducing proper managerial and financial accountability. These provisions were arrived at after extensive consultation and there is widespread support for many of them.
In reply to a comment by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, I shall ensure that Mr. Patten's attention is drawn to the deliberations of this House so that he understands the concerns that have been expressed today and on previous occasions when the Bill has been before noble Lords. I am confident that the commission will take account of the positive comments made on the Bill on Third Reading and at Report stage in another place.
The people of Northern Ireland deserve the best possible policing services. I am confident that the Bill will improve efficiency, effectiveness and accountability and as a result increase confidence across the whole community.
I should like to deal briefly with some of the specific questions that have been asked. I believe that the implication of my noble friend's remarks was that paramilitaries might serve with the RUC. As the Prime Minister said in an article for the Newsletter on 18th April,
The Government have said that they will not ignore the basic standards and principles of policing to which they as a government are committed. Those convicted of serious offences (whether scheduled or otherwise) are not to fit to be in the police. This is foreign to our thinking. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that as an emphatic reassurance.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, asked about intelligence gathering. It is my understanding that intelligence gathering is under the control of the RUC and that there is no intention to change that. Of course, the Patten Commission may have other views, but that is the position at the moment.
There are important reforms in this Bill that Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary has endorsed. It would be a retrograde step to put all the reforms on ice and say "Let us wait for Patten." These are important changes which perhaps seem overdue. They will increase the efficiency of the police in Northern Ireland and, as such, are to be welcomed. Delay on the basis proposed is unnecessary and I invite the House to reject this amendment.
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