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Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 62 and 63, tabled by the Ulster Unionist party.

Amendment No. 62 deals with the great danger that we see in the district policing partnership, which we believe will put the district police commander under great pressure, take up a great deal of his time and, indeed,

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make policing more difficult than it is now. Hence amendment No. 62 would insert a new subsection, which states:

Although community relations and seeking the views of the community are useful, they should not in any way compromise the effectiveness of the police in the area. That is why we tabled the amendment.

Amendment No. 63 is designed to ensure that the Policing Board would produce a yearly report on the effectiveness of policing. That report should also include comments on the effectiveness of the district police partnerships, how they operate, how they are received and how they affect good policing in a particular area. The amendment would make it part of the board's remit to report on

and on

That is essential. There should be continual supervision of the district policing partnerships so that they do not compromise proper and effective policing.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): The reasoned amendment on Second Reading tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) expressed the Conservative party's deep anxieties about the prospect of the political representatives of paramilitary organisations sitting on the policing board and the district policing partnerships without the decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives having started. We also expressed our anxieties about inadequate safeguards against people convicted of terrorist offences serving on the Policing Board or the DPPs. We did not vary our stance on Second Reading or in Committee and we have not done so on Report.

Earlier, my right hon. Friend made perfectly clear who should not serve on the bodies and why they should not serve on them. He spoke in support of amendments No. 303 to 307, and we were subsequently pleased to receive the support of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and the Ulster Unionist party for those five amendments. At no stage this evening--perhaps we will not hear it at any stage--have we heard any convincing rebuttal of the arguments behind the amendments.

I hope that it is not too much to ask the Minister to recognise the force of my right hon. Friend's arguments, which have been consistently maintained since Second Reading. I hope that the Minister will give us a pleasant surprise by accepting the amendments.

Mr. Ingram: We have a cluster of amendments before us, and it will be difficult to deal with all aspects of them. However, I shall try to work through them in a logical and structured fashion.

Before I come to the amendments, it is important to consider the debate that we have had on Government new clause 3. I gave an indication in Committee of how the

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Government were thinking, so the new clause should not have come as a surprise. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) suggested that it was a new concept, but I gave notice in Committee that we were thinking along those lines. We have reflected that thinking, and given the points that we made in Committee, reference should have been made to the Patten report.

I also tell the hon. Gentleman that we are not limiting the time for this debate; I am quite prepared to continue it. That may mean that we cannot debate other issues, but I am happy to debate this issue to a conclusion, because I recognise that it is important.

7.45 pm

Mr. Maginnis: I remind the Minister that my surprise was not of my own making. It derived from the fact that when the Secretary of State referred to Belfast in the debate on the Patten report, he said:

What the Secretary of State has given us is an apology for four separate partnerships--and he knows it.

Mr. Ingram: I do not accept that assertion at all. I said that the matter was alluded to in Committee. Members of the Democratic Unionist party and the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) have made a great song and dance about the need to debate this measure, but they are not here. For whatever reason, they have absented themselves from the Chamber. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, all parties--perhaps with the exception of those that are not here now--have made representations, and in the discussions, we have sought to find points of common ground. That fact was reflected in the changes made in Committee. All parties in Committee moved amendments, and we have amended the Bill based on reasoned consideration of the arguments put forward.

I cannot enter into a debate about the future of the district council structure, as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). The councils are no longer a matter for the United Kingdom Government. It is for the Assembly on which he serves to determine what the structure should be. If the structure evolves and develops in a particular way, that is an issue for the Assembly.

As the Bill stands, there is provision for 26 councils. However, we anticipate that two or three small councils may wish to come together. That is allowed for if they wish it and if everyone is satisfied that that is the way forward. Rearrangement of the existing structure can take place if there is agreement.

I do not accept the point made by the right hon. Gentleman that new clause 3 was not explained, but I shall explain it further, to help him to appreciate what we are doing. The Belfast district policing partnership, out of which will come the four sub-groups, will continue to have the powers set out in clause 16. Those are the same as for all other DPPs; there is no difference between Belfast and anywhere else. Those powers will not be delegated to the four sub-groups; there is no delegation of powers on that basis. The sub-groups will remain subordinate to the main Belfast DPP and they will have

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the function of providing views and holding discussions with the local police commander. They will also offer to the main Belfast DPP views on policing in their areas.

As I said earlier, the sub-groups will have no role in the main planning process for Belfast except in offering views to the Belfast DPP, of which they are an integral part. The local police planning function is for the Belfast DPP as a whole. There is no question of transferring power down to the sub-groups in that way. They have certain limited functions.

Mr. Thompson: Am I right in thinking that a DPP can delegate its responsibilities to a committee and give it the powers of the partnership? Can that happen in this case? Furthermore, the Minister has referred to six nominees to a partnership, so why does he not insist that three are elected and three are independent members?

Mr. Ingram: The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes, that is how the Bill can apply. Of course, there must be sensible arrangements to ensure the best and maximum point of contact and the best communications at local level between the local community and the police and vice versa. That is the underlying principle of the Bill, and it seeks to achieve that. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would disagree with the principle that the local community should engage with the local police. The problem in too many areas of Northern Ireland is that the local community does not engage with the police--[Interruption.] Well, to find ways to encourage that to happen was obviously one of the underlying motives and drivers of the Patten report and of what we are seeking to deliver.

As for the four sub-divisions of Belfast, there are already four police districts in Belfast. Clause 20 makes provision for police districts and the way in which they will be established. Each district commander should deal with a specific sub-group of the Belfast district policing partnership. That goes back to the point that I was making to the hon. Gentleman about the need for a close relationship with the local district commander, which concerns effective community policing as well as effective accountability for policing. The further that is from the reality on the street, the less effective it is.

As set out in new clause 3, each sub-group will have six members, so individual members of the DPP will be represented on more than one sub-group. The partnership itself will appoint members of the sub-group. As the Government do not intend to intervene in any way whatever, that is in effect a devolution of responsibility. If the Government intervened and were heavy-handed, that would work against the very principle which, I would have thought, we all seek to achieve. I repeat that the provision is about consultation on policing, not sectarian head counts, as has been suggested, or the cantonisation of policing.

Mr. Trimble: May I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), as there is an inconsistency in the Government's approach to the Policing Board for Northern Ireland and to individual district policing partnerships. The Bill contains elaborate provisions to ensure balance, and make sure that the board is representative of the Assembly, the partnerships of the district councils, and so on. The Government are not

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reluctant to impose on the Assembly and the local councils provisions that ensure balance. Why, then, is there no provision to ensure balance in the sub-groups? Why does the Minister forswear the desire to have balance there? It is important that that issue is addressed, as it would help to restore confidence if we were sure that the sub-groups were reflective of the partnership as a whole, and that the door was not being opened to the creation of sub-groups that were not representative of the partnership as a whole, which would lead to sectarianisation or cantonisation of the sub-groups.

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