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Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I have been fairly sympathetic to the idea of DPPs, and I find new clause 3 logical, in the sense that it fulfils some of the promises made in Committee. However, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) rightly highlights the danger of a compartmentalisation of police operations along the sectarian lines that he described. That would not be good for the effectiveness of the police. So I hope that the Minister can reassure us by explaining how the mechanisms in the Bill will ensure that compartmentalisation does not occur.

The other important point that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone made related to amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 61. We had an extensive debate in Committee on the subject of amendment No. 59, and we did not receive a satisfactory reply. Why do the DPPs need only to have regard to the code rather than to comply with it? As the hon. Gentleman said, either it is a code of practice or it is not. I do not see it as guidelines. The Minister would be well advised to consider accepting amendment No. 59 and recognising that the most effective code of practice is one that does not have to be bent to different circumstances: one that fits all circumstances. It may be more difficult to introduce such a code, but I assure the Minister that it will be an awful lot more messy if various DPPs justify exempting themselves from the details of the code on the grounds of the words "have regard to". They might simply say, "We were not forced to comply with the code; it was simply a guideline and we have handled it accordingly." The Minister should respond to that and to the sensible clarifications in amendments Nos. 60 and 61.

I have been slightly critical of the Government, but I thank the Minister for having listened and introduced amendments Nos. 215 and 216, as he promised he would in Committee. The amendments make it clear that some categories of individual do not have a place in the process of policing in Northern Ireland. Amendment No. 215 will exclude those who have failed to disclose a criminal offence, and amendment No. 216 will exclude those who commit an offence after being appointed. It is right that they should be excluded, and I am glad that the changes that we requested have been made.

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The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) raised an issue in the group of amendments tabled by the official Opposition. If one area was not sufficiently philosophically clarified in Committee with regard to where the Government stand, it is this. Although I have a view different from that expressed by the right hon. Member for Bracknell, it would be helpful to hear clearly why the Government are comfortable with the opportunity that various people who have clearly been involved in illegal actions will have to serve on the new bodies. For me, it is about forgiveness, trust and acting in good faith. If those things are not present, the whole process will not work anyway, and I have no problem with expressing that again. The right hon. Member for Bracknell has been clear about his reservations, as has the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor).

I am comfortable with moving forward on the basis that I have just described. It would help if the Minister stated unequivocally that the Government share my view, or that they have some other rationale. It would be helpful to have that on the record, not least because many people have exactly the same reservations as the right hon. Member for Bracknell expressed.

Mr. Trimble: I rise to support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) on new clause 3. It really ought to be considered again. We have grave concerns about it. Earlier, I asked the Minister just what the relationship between the sub-groups and the partnership would be. I did not appear to get a clear answer from him, despite the notes that were passed to him. Perhaps, now that he has had time to collect his thoughts more fully on the issue, he will go into the relationship between one and the other in greater detail. That ought to be teased out at length rather than rushed into the Bill at this last minute.

The Minister must recognise that there is real concern on our Benches that the new clause is a means of returning to the original proposal, to which we took strong exception, that Belfast should be split into four DPPs. We thought that that was a very serious mistake that would have serious consequences for the effectiveness of policing in the area. It would sectarianise policing in Belfast, and that would be a retrograde step.

7.30 pm

New clause 3 brings the danger that the Government, having realised that the original proposal was mistaken and having moved to a more sensible position, are now heading back by a roundabout route to their original mistake. That is why we need to know much more. This bears particularly on two of the amendments that we have mentioned.

In reply to my intervention, the Minister referred to the code of practice. We would love to see the code of practice being an effective safeguard in this matter, but the Bill does not make it so. The code of practice is something that the board may make; it is under no duty, as the Bill is drafted, to do so. If the board does make a code of practice, the DPPs are simply to "have regard to" it. "Have regard to" is a fairly weak link on this matter.

Our amendments would put the board under a duty to make a code of practice and require the DPPs to comply with it. They would bring about precisely the situation that the Minister hinted at in reply to my intervention, by

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saying that the code of practice could make provisions which would regulate these matters. It cannot regulate them unless there is a duty to make the code of practice and a duty to comply with it. From the point of view of achieving what the Minister himself set out, he should accept our amendments.

I wish to make some general points, touching on the existence of DPPs and on district council areas as the relevant local area of command in policing terms. One wonders about the coherence of that idea. In Northern Ireland we have 26 district councils, some of them very small. At the other end of the spectrum, we have larger ones, such as Belfast. I hesitate, lest I incur the wrath of my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, to point out that Belfast has a population of 300,000, not 500,000, unless my hon. Friend knows something about changes to Belfast's boundaries that I do not know.

The borough that I represent, Craigavon, has a population of 100,000. Lisburn has a population of over 100,000. Derry city has a population of over 100,000. Is there so much difference between 100,000 and 300,000? Why, then, break up Belfast? The borough of Craigavon has two local areas of command, the sub-divisional area of Portadown and the sub-divisional area for Lurgan. From what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said, I have the impression that there may be similar arrangements within Derry city council as well. There is a question here about consistency.

Then there is the question of what happens if, for example, there is a change in district council boundaries. This legislation relates to the number of district councils. Although no change in their number has been proposed, I have seen speculation in the press. For example, there was an interesting proposal in the editorial column of The Irish News several months ago suggesting that, instead of 26 councils, there should be only 14 or 15 in Northern Ireland. I do not know who inspired the editor of The Irish News to write that; it was certainly not me. Let us say for the sake of argument that that happened. The legislation would then automatically roll through and reduce Northern Ireland to 15 or 16 local areas of command and 15 or 16 DPPs.

I notice that heads are nodding on the Government Front Bench. I hesitate to say anything about how they are nodding! I take it that they are nodding in agreement and that the situation I have described is a consequence that the Government are entirely comfortable with.

That leads one to wonder why we have this arrangement. The Minister knows that one of our concerns about the district council areas being the local areas of command for policing is that there is then no tier within the police service between the local areas of command and headquarters in Belfast, or wherever it happens to be. We are concerned, as are others, about the effectiveness of policing; and this situation exposes a serious danger of a weakness in the command structure within the police service, a greater tendency for the local areas to act independently, and consequently a greater danger that the police officer in charge of each local area will be under undue pressure from a politically motivated DPP. That danger would be minimised if we had an effective structure within the police service.

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I know that over the years there has been an argument about the divisional command. Stripping out the divisional command has been suggested; from time to time even her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary has referred to that. Why not, then, provide a regional structure with, say, the equivalent of two or three assistant chief constables grouping the local areas of command so as to provide an effective structure? It is important that, as Patten recommended, we retain a unitary structure within the police service. That is endangered by the proposals before us. I should like to hear the Minister directly address that point.

Another matter of concern at the other end of the spectrum is local areas. We have an extensive structure of local police and community liaison groups. Obviously, with that structure, the community police liaison committees are somewhat uneven, but they bring local communities together, particularly communities that have significant problems. I do not wish to identify the area in question, but in my constituency I know of two housing estates with serious problems. They have formed their own CPLC, which brings together a number of community groups that interact with the local police officers very effectively.

Such CPLCs will disappear. Clause 16(1)(c) says that the DPPs

It is possible within those terms to make arrangements to hear the views of people in particular localities. That should be encouraged. Perhaps it could be covered in a code of practice, but if the code of practice does not have to be made and is not binding, there is not much point in making that provision.

I worry about all the good people in a number of localities who are engaged in handling serious problems in their neighbourhoods. In dealing with criminality and anti-social activity, which are serious problems in some areas, they will now find that the structure they have depended on to try to improve policing in their area will disappear and be replaced by an excessively politicised structure at district council level that does not effectively reach down into local communities.

It is not good enough to say that community groups can go to see the DPP. That does not meet the need. I am reluctant to go into greater detail, because we are so short of time, but there is a serious gap in the legislation, unless it is properly covered by codes of practice. I have heard nothing about that, however, and my colleagues who were on the Committee recall no discussion there dealing specifically with the matter. As I said at the beginning, unless those codes of practice are binding on DPPs and it is mandatory for the board to make them, they will not be effective; they will not be a tool to ensure that this local layer is in place and that the Minister's assurances on the sub-groups in Belfast are implemented.

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