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Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): I think that the Secretary of State is asking why Sinn Fein-IRA do not take up their places on the Policing Board and support the new police service, and I thoroughly agree
Dr. Reid: First, if the hon. Gentleman does not know that I have been pressing Sinn Fein to join the Policing Board, he has not been listening carefully to what I have been saying for the past nine or 10 months not only privately, but very publicly. Secondly, if he persistsI make this as a general commentin trying to square the circle of saying that he supports the Belfast agreement as a whole but opposes every element of it on the basis that it is a concession to republicanism, the inconsistencies of his position will become even more apparent than the inconsistencies of Sinn Fein's position of demanding a more effective police force at the same time as it withholds support for that force.
Dr. Reid: I will give way but, after that, I want to make progress. My speech is longer than I should have liked because I want to go into detail. I also have to do the hon. Gentleman the discourtesy of leaving soon afterwards because of today's statements.
Mr. Davies: I must set the record straight. We are serious in our support for the Belfast agreement, and that is why we support the new police service. We also want to urge all parties to take up their seats on the Policing Board and actively support the service, which shows our support for the agreement. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, however, we are prepared to use some linkage. Instead of just expressing the vague hope that others might fulfil their commitments under the Belfast agreement, we link that to the concessions that Sinn Fein-IRA are seeking. He seems to shy away from the essential element of linkage.
Dr. Reid: I am glad for the clarification that the hon. Gentleman supports the practical implications of the Belfast agreement. Presumably he also supports the Patten review of policing on the grounds not only that it is an integral part of the agreement, but that it was carried out by a former Conservative Minister. So I look forward to the time when he and his colleagues stop referring to the changes arising from the Patten recommendations as concessions or the destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Depending on what he and his colleagues say in future, we will, no doubt, discover whether that is the case or whether the inconsistencies will continue to be laid before us.
Dr. Reid: The answer, as the hon. Gentleman says, is that Sinn Fein-IRA could join the Policing Board by applying to join it. They did not do that when we sent out the original invitations, so the opportunity was missed. At the moment, as he knows, a process is under way in which local councils will nominate people for the district policing partnerships. It remains to be seen whether Sinn Fein, while demanding more effective policing, again refuses to take up that opportunity at the level of councillor. The hon. Gentleman is right: the vacancies on the Policing Board have been filled and, unless there is a change in legislation, the opportunity to serve on it will not occur for some time.
However, it is not just a case of joining the main Policing Board or even the DPPs. Joining the Policing Board is the public and practical symbol that a party is committed to making the police in Northern Ireland effective.
My main pointon this occasion, perhaps unusually, the hon. Gentleman and I are in agreementis that it is inconsistency bordering on hypocrisy to demand more effective policing, continually to upbraid the police for not getting the results that they should be getting and, at the same time, not only to withhold support from but to oppose the policing service. Those who do so are not only eschewing their responsibility but attacking the police at every opportunity. I hope that that obvious inconsistency can be overcome, and we all look forward to the day when not only the nationalists and Unionists but the broader community, including republicans, take the responsibility for supporting the implementation of the means of law and order in a society to which they now say they are committed.
David Burnside (South Antrim): The Secretary of State is sending to my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) the mixed message that he sent to the Ulster Unionist party. It appears from what he just said that if Sinn Fein wanted to participate in the Policing Board, he would consider making the opportunity available, and that would include passing legislation to allow it on to the board before the date that has been laid down. He is sending a mixed message to the House.
Dr. Reid: I am saying no such thing. The hon. Member for North Antrim asked me what was the position in law, and I told him the positionit is as simple as that. I also told him that under existing legislation Sinn Fein councillors could, if they wished, be nominated for the district policing partnerships. Both of those are the case. That is not a mixed message; it is a factual statement of the present position.
I thought that it might be possible, just for once, for hon. Members to concentrate on the main message. I should have thought that the main message on which Members from both sides of the House have a common view is that when people demand rights, they have to be matched by responsibilities. There is therefore a gross inconsistency in demanding the right to have an effective police force and complaining that the police are failing, through incompetence or conspiracy, to achieve an extremely difficult task while saying, "We will neither
Mr. Campbell: For the avoidance of doubt, my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim asked the Secretary of State about the date by which Sinn Fein and other parties had to nominate people to sit on the Policing Board. That issue has been raised with my party and other parties. The Secretary of State replied to us, as he did to others, that if Sinn Fein had not made nominations by a certain time, we would move on. Is he saying that that is still the case or that if Sinn Fein wanted to make nominations now, next week or next month, legislation would be introduced to allow it to do so? Has it missed the boat?
Dr. Reid: The position in law has not changed. People have not made nominations. If the hon. Gentleman has any indication that Sinn Fein is about to join the Policing Board in return for anything, I hope that he will share it with the House. I stated that, unless the law is changed, there is no way in which Sinn Fein can join the Policing Board at present, and that is a fact.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that a review of the implementation of Patten and ancillary aspects, which will run for several months, is about to start. That review was discussed with the hon. Gentleman and his party and the Ulster Unionist party. That is public knowledge. It is public knowledge that we have said that if legislative changes are required as a result of that review, they would be put through. The position has not changed, nor has my view that Sinn Fein should join the Policing Board. I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is implying. I hope that he is not saying that he does not want republicans on the Policing Board; I am sure that that is not his intention. If it is, I should be obliged if he would let us know, because it changes the complexion. I thought that we all wanted Sinn Fein to take up responsibilities on the Policing Board; I certainly do. I want it to play a full part in meeting the responsibilities that naturally go along with rights in a modern, civilised democratic society.
Will the Secretary of State provide clarification? Am I right in understanding that at the moment there is no opportunity for Sinn Fein to take up places, even if it wanted to do so? Is the Secretary of State therefore saying that the issue is about focusing the next time that members of the board are appointed?