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7 pm

Probably the most important aspect of our amendments is that which relates to people who--in simple layman's language--are committed terrorists. It seems wrong that anyone who has been found guilty of committing a terrorist offence should sit on the board or a partnership. When the Bill was published, it was made clear that, although elected representatives who had committed scheduled offences could sit on those bodies, lay members who had committed such offences could not do so. That was changed in Committee, as the Minister will confirm.

That is regrettable. It is wrong that someone who was a committed terrorist can sit on a police board or body. I hope that, when the Minister reflects on that point, he will agree and that our amendments will be accepted. I offer the Minister and the Secretary of State a gentle warning that, if the amendments are not passed, there will be no confidence in the new policing system--neither in the boards nor the partnerships. The partnerships will not work properly and security will be put at risk in the Province and on the mainland; the Minister is responsible for security in the Province and I know that is the last thing that he wants. I hope that he will realise that our amendments are moderate, sensible and realistic; they should be incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I shall be brief, so that we can move on to other matters.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said that many of the amendments are technical, and indeed they are. The amendments that I have tabled are straightforward. They would provide further reassurance to those people--in the House and elsewhere--who are concerned because the Bill does not fully reflect the recommendations of the Patten report, either in regard to openness and transparency or in ensuring the implementation of several issues relating to the establishment of district policing partnerships and the Policing Board.

The amendments would set a timetable for the DPPs--for the commencement of their powers, for their nominations and appointments and for the consultations held by the Secretary of State on those appointments. The second thrust of the amendments is to ensure that there is openness and transparency in the operation of the DPPs. They provide that the partnerships meet in public, that members of the public can put questions to the district police commander, and that there is full and open consultation on policies that have regard to the overall community.

The amendments would ensure that the composition of the DPPs is balanced and that the appointments of the chair and vice-chair of the board are made with the maximum involvement and consultation and have the support of all parties in the Assembly--and, especially, of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The amendments would strengthen the powers of the board in the establishment of DPPs.

The amendments are technical and relatively uncontentious. I welcome this opportunity for the Government to consider those matters before the Bill makes its way to the other place. The amendments strengthen the commitment to openness and transparency, while securing a timetable for the implementation of the Bill's provisions on DPPs.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): I want to speak to amendments Nos. 56 and 59 to 63. They have been tabled to tidy up the fairly flawed provisions on district policing partnerships. It will come as no secret to Ministers that I oppose the whole concept of such partnerships as detailed in the Bill.

We all know that the lowest tier of government is the most difficult place in which to control political ambition. The DPPs will be devised so that they reflect the electoral strengths of district councils, but individuals from those areas will be added to them. Such is the spread--or lack of spread--of population across the political divide in some parts of Northern Ireland, that the lowest common denominator will rule the day if we run with these DPPs. Such is the progress of the Bill that that is inevitable.

We want to put some constraints and controls on the DPPs. Clause 15 provides that if the Secretary of State

he can take certain steps to remedy the matter. That power is not broad enough, although I am not usually someone who argues for more powers for the Secretary of State. Although it appears that the provision places that condition only on district councils, I do not believe that is what would happen.

The political members of DPPs will come from the district councils; they will be nominated and selected under the d'Hondt system. If there is constant disruption

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and the DPPs do not fulfil a positive and constructive function, there should be some redress. It may not be possible to seek such redress from the DPPs, but it should be possible to ensure that district councils are subject to responsibilities and constraints for those whom they nominate to represent them on DPPs.

We suggest that the narrow provision that applies only to section 14(1) should be deleted and that the conditions that should apply should extend to the whole of part III. That would ensure that community activists such as those in the Omagh district--to whom I referred in Committee--who work voluntarily with the police, trying to represent society so that policing can function, are not bullied and browbeaten--if not physically beaten--by members of Sinn Fein, led by a Sinn Fein councillor. I gave full details of that incident in Committee, so I shall not repeat them.

Amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 61 are technical. I hope that the Government will accept them because they tidy up the Bill. Amendment No. 59 would amend clause 16, which says that the district policing partnerships

We want them to "comply with" a code of practice. I think that in fact they must be bound to comply with a code of practice--otherwise, why would we have a code of practice?

Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 would amend clause 19, which says:

I do not believe that it was intended for the board to have an option whether or not to provide and issue a code of practice. I believe that the wording that was intended--our amendment would achieve this--was:

and so on.

Most of our amendments are technical, and I hope that the Government will take them into consideration as a means of tightening up the legislation. I also hope that the Minister will consider the too, too narrow basis on which the Secretary of State is to make a judgment as to how district councils fulfil their function. It is not just that they have a responsibility to appoint political members to the DPPs, but that they have a responsibility to ensure that those members whom they do appoint fulfil the functions and the conditions that are contained in the rest of part III.

I shall turn briefly to the amendments that originated from the Conservative Front Bench, and simply and without further elaboration say that they appeal to us. We believe that they reflect some of those things that are necessary if DPPs are not to become the focus for dissension and disruption and, indeed, for the impeding of police in the execution of their duties to the whole of society in the areas concerned.

The Government will not be surprised, therefore, to hear me say that I am totally opposed to what is contained in new clause 3. I do not want to suggest that this is a sleight of hand, but if it is not, it is the next best thing to that. It is very clearly stated in clause 14:

It makes no sense whatever that Belfast, any more than Craigavon, Derry City or any other larger urban area, should be subdivided in terms of its district policing partnership differently from what happens within the city council itself.

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7.15 pm

The Government may argue that because Belfast has in excess of 500,000 people, and as four local areas of command meet within the city, there should be four sub-committees of the district policing partnership. I hope that the Government will explain why they think that it would be a good thing, in a city that is divided and ghettoised as a result of 30 years of violence, to have one area of the city with a sub-committee that will deal with an almost exclusively republican population and another area with a sub-committee that will deal with an almost exclusively Unionist population.

Is it not the desire of the Government that we move forward--that people stop thinking rigidly, antagonistically and confrontationally in terms of their own tradition? Is it not a fact that people should be reflecting on how the city council area of Belfast can be policed in a way that ensures uniformity, consistency and fair play for each and every citizen? If the Government--I doubt that they will dissent from what I have just suggested--believe that that is the case, why on earth would they want to subdivide a district policing partnership in which huge differences of opinion will have to be accommodated, and can be accommodated only if the individual members are willing to work constructively together?

If there are to be sub-committees, something needs to be said about whether they represent exclusively the tradition that dominates the area that a sub-committee represents, or whether the sub-committees would themselves have some sort of d'Hondt formulation, whereby each would reflect the main DPP overall--but the Bill quite simply does not do that. Instead, it panders, and panders dangerously, to sectarian and partisan points of view. That is a danger. We were given the impression on Second Reading and in Committee--indeed, until we saw new clause 3--that that would not happen. That is one reason why we should have more time to discuss the Bill, because this sort of surprise is more than a surprise--it is an inherent danger for the whole of society in Northern Ireland if, merely to satisfy a sectarian or political demand, we divide our population in this way.

If the Minister wants to find justification in Patten, I should draw attention to the fact that one thing that Patten made very clear was that the RUC was to be a unitary police service. It will not be a unitary police service if it is to be divided into 26--plus now another three in Belfast--virtually autonomous areas, none of which, under the proposals in the Bill, has any conjunction with surrounding local areas of command. If the divisional police stratum of command had remained, the local areas of command would have been conjoined to a degree. We have to remember that it was the present Chief Constable who proposed that divisional areas should be done away with. If we are to do away with divisional areas, the Chief Constable, to put it bluntly, has no right to do away with regional areas. A larger number of local areas of command could be coalesced under a regional command structure.

I hope that I have demonstrated not only the folly and the inept drafting but the inherent danger that derives from the new clause. I do not believe that an area of half a million people is too large to be dealt with under one body, just as every other council area is. If the Minister believes that there is some justification for what he

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proposes, he has to tell us how he will ensure that in an area such as republican west Belfast, predominantly Sinn Fein influence is not exerted on the police. Similarly for other parts of Belfast, where there is a different influence, the Minister has to explain to us what precautions he will put in place.

The new clause is dangerous, especially for an urban area such as Belfast where crime does not observe any boundary. The drug trafficking that the Minister will hear me speak about again and again and all the other social abuses, such as protection rackets and everything else, are not sicknesses that observe boundaries. The germ of criminality spreads far and wide across the boundaries.

I ask the Minister to consider not pressing this particular new clause to a vote this evening. It has been sprung on us, so we have not had time to consider it. It is full of danger, and the Minister would do well to look again at whether what is being created could be the catalyst for dissension within the city of Belfast.

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