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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I shall be brief. It was reported in yesterday's press that Sinn Fein insists that any IRA re-engagement with de Chastelain will be contingent on the implementation of Patten on police reform, substantial demilitarisation and an amnesty for members of the IRA on the run. The only time that the IRA has ever made any kind of gesture in our direction was when the current Secretary of State had the courage and intelligence to call its bluff and stand up to it on the issue of disarmament in the Assembly. I feel that this is another such moment: the bluff should be called. Members of the IRA should be made to see that they cannot issue threats.
I should like to explore the Government's mind on one point. In order to justify our continuing journey down this road, can the noble and learned Lord rise to his feet and say that he is truly confident that, given the measure which we are now about to pass, there is a real prospect of peace in Northern Ireland? Furthermore, can he confirm that those who so far have made a success out of using the bomb, the bullet and every other form of violence, will be content to lay aside their weapons and live in peace in a way that so far they have not even attempted?
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, from this Dispatch Box, my noble friend and I have said constantly that this Bill contains important reforms which we support, as well as certain aspects which we have not supported. However, the questions of when and how these reforms are to be implemented are matters of crucial importance. That is why we support these amendments.
The Belfast agreement reached on Good Friday in 1998 promised a way out of the conflicts in Northern Ireland. That promise still exists, but it has not yet been fulfilled. Whatever my right honourable friend Chris Patten may have said personally, the Patten report constantly discusses matters such as "looking forward" to policing in a peaceful society. As we have heard once again during the past few minutes, we have not yet attained that peaceful society.
But there is also the politics of the situation. The amendment would make the Bill a promise to the terrorists and others of things to come when they lay down their arms and accept the democratic authorities. That way it would be a positive encouragement to peace, whereas weakness encourages violence.
I should at once make the point that this is not about unionists and nationalists, Protestants and Catholics. The police, the RUC--or whatever they are called in the future--have shown an exceptional even-handedness over the years, as I know personally from when I saw them at close quarters. They have had to stand up--and still have to stand up--to so-called "loyalist" violence as well as to republican violence, particularly in the past few years.
I referred earlier to the bomb at Castlewellan. I understand that forensic tests show that it is thought to be a loyalist bomb that blew off the leg of a policeman the other day. A little earlier, the latest policeman to be killed was killed also by a loyalist bomb. But, of course, the threat is just as great from the other side.
This is not only about the politics but, as I said, it is also about the rackets. At the moment, the rackets worry me quite as much as the political inspiration of violence. The RUC is not alone in the fight against the rackets. Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue and the Department of Social Security among government organisations, and many others, need to be, and are, directly involved. But the RUC is, quite properly, in the lead in the fight against rackets, and is crucial to it.
It is interesting that the Patten commission visited quite a few overseas police forces, but did not visit the Italian police or the authorities there. They have had considerable success against the Mafia in recent years--by no means total, of course--and make a highly relevant comparison. We should never forget that the Mafia started as a political organisation--the Sicilian Independence Movement--but it has long been involved in criminal rackets. The organisations in Northern Ireland have gone down the same road.
The basic point is that in politics, and in all kinds of negotiation, timing is all important. These reforms should be timed to encourage the move towards a peaceful society. It is that timing which the amendments seek to ensure.
Before dealing with the substance of the amendments, I want to record the Government's acknowledgement of the work of the RUC in, for example, intercepting the mortar at the weekend. It continues selflessly to protect the community. The Government are indebted to it, and to the army in support. We will not take chances with the lives of its members or those of the community as a whole.
These amendments are not necessary. If they were accepted, they would block changes which the Good Friday agreement, the Independent Commission on Policing, the Government, the police and all political parties--including those of the noble Lords who have tabled the amendment--see as welcome and positive. The amendments also ignore the fact that already certain aspects of Patten implementation--and that does not only include aspects in the Bill--are security dependent.
The Government are clear, and have always been clear, that there are a number of Patten recommendations which are dependent on the security situation. We made that clear in the Government's implementation plan published in June. Perhaps I may give some examples of the security-dependent provisions: phasing-out of the full-time reserve; amalgamation of Special Branch and Crime Branch; progress towards an unarmed police service; changes to police buildings and vehicles; repeal of emergency powers; and the need for Army support.
These amendments, however, would block any change for as long as there is terrorism of any kind. While, therefore, I am sure that it is a shared aim of every one of your Lordships that there should be--that there must be--an end to terrorism in Northern Ireland, I cannot accept that we should prevent non-security-dependent changes to policing, changes which the Good Friday agreement called for.
I ask the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, to consider those points and not to press his amendment to a Division. The Government have made it clear that they will continue to move on implementation only as the security situation permits. Changes which are not dependent on security should not be stalled.
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