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4.42 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): There may not be many occasions when I can happily follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but I concur at least with his last point. The Leader of the House and his colleagues should seriously consider recalling Parliament to discuss the package that is being drawn up by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, especially if it includes a requirement to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly. Hon. Members may wish to comment on that.

The order is a monument to the intransigence of nationalists and republicans and evidence of the Government's inability to move without their consent. That clearly shows that there is a nationalist veto, although the Government are always happy to go ahead without the support of the Democratic Unionist party, which speaks for the overwhelming majority of the Unionist community on the issues that we are discussing.

My view is different from that of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). I believe that the Patten recommendations were in line with the remit that the Belfast agreement gave the commission. It is clear from the detailed terms of reference in the Belfast agreement that the commission was asked to devise proposals on composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols. The only restriction was that the outcome should enjoy widespread support from the whole community and the police service should be perceived as an integral part of it.

I challenged the hon. Member for North Down to say whether she was prepared to support the new police service. Both of us were called to order because we were straying wide of the subject of the debate. Of course, the answer is yes. Even though the hon. Lady does not like much of the Patten report, as an elected representative who supports law and order she could do no other than

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say that she supported the new police service despite her anxieties about the way in which it was set up and some of the changes.

The Patten report has therefore fulfilled the recommendations of the Good Friday agreement because the police force enjoys the support of the community. Even from my point of view, I have to say that people should support the police service, no matter how it is set up. That is the responsible position.

Lady Hermon: Does the hon. Gentleman remember that, on 9 September 1999, the day on which the Patten report was published, the Police Federation issued a public statement, which is in the public domain? The federation said that it was

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to comment on that?

Mr. Robinson: The hon. Lady knows that any report that contains hundreds of recommendations is bound to include something good. It would be a terrible travesty if not one of the recommendations was in the interests of the police service. I am content with the commission's recommendations on training and the new IT equipment. They are good for policing in Northern Ireland, but we must make a balanced judgment on the recommendations as a whole.

As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, as a whole the Patten report was "a shoddy job". The hon. Member for North Down recalls the view of the Police Federation clearly; I am therefore surprised that she cannot remember that of her party leader. The Belfast agreement gave the Patten commission a specific remit. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann did a shoddy job in agreeing to a remit that allowed Patten and his team to introduce such proposals.

The order reveals something further. It shows that although the Patten proposals and the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 made major concessions to nationalism, at the expense of good policing in Northern Ireland, nationalists are still not satisfied. Gaining 90 per cent. or even 99 per cent. of what they want is not enough. They will hold out until they get it all. Nationalists are not prepared to sit on the Policing Board and therefore the order has been introduced to allow the Government more time and the opportunity to make further concessions at the expense of policing.

The bottom line for ordinary citizens in Northern Ireland is an inferior police service because of Patten and concessions that the Government have yet to make. For example, we are told that the Government will consider whether all police officers, even existing members, should have to take the oath. I remember the Secretary of State telling us that we were not talking about the RUC being disbanded but about policing reforms and a moving on for the police service in Northern Ireland. There could be no clearer signal to policemen in Northern Ireland that the RUC is being disbanded than that they be required to re-take their oath of allegiance. That would be a clear signal to them that a line had been drawn under their past life in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and that a fresh and new start was being made with a new police service.

I hope that the Minister will address that issue, as it is causing major concern in Northern Ireland's police ranks. It would be greatly beneficial to policemen and

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policewomen in Northern Ireland if she could scotch that rumour, which started at the Northern Ireland Office, and say that they will definitely not be asked to re-take the oath to which they attested when they went into the job initially. That should certainly not be another concession to Sinn Fein-IRA.

Like the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), I tabled a question for oral answer on the future of the full-time RUC reserve, to which I am sure both the hon. Gentleman and I have both received a written answer. In reading that answer, I was very concerned that the clear inference was that there is no turning back on the Government's position on the full-time reserve and that they still intend to wipe it out. That message also will cause real concern in the RUC.

At this very moment in Northern Ireland, full-time RUC reserve men and women are out there protecting our society. Recently, many of them have been injured, in north Belfast, in east Belfast and elsewhere. They are prepared to put themselves on the line without knowing what their future will be. I really think that the Government have to stand by those men and women in the full-time reserve. I have spoken to the Chief Constable, and he recognises the very real contribution that they have to make to policing in Northern Ireland. They are an essential part of the police service in Northern Ireland, and the Government should not have them destroyed on the altar of political expediency.

I should like finally to address the issue of the police authority itself. The Secretary of State is required by law to appoint, so far as he can, a police authority that is representative of the community as a whole. That is a legal requirement on the Secretary of State. Repeatedly, however, he has refused to appoint members of the Ulster Democratic Unionist party despite the fact that they belong to one of the four major parties in Northern Ireland. He has appointed representatives of the Alliance party—the 2 per cent. party in Northern Ireland—to the authority, but he has excluded from it a party that is able to obtain 22 per cent. of the vote in Northern Ireland.

Those people are willing to serve their community on the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, with all the risks that that entails in a society such as Northern Ireland, but the Secretary of State is not prepared to appoint them because they do not share his political views. That is contrary to the legal requirement that has been placed on him. If for a further time we remain with the Police Authority for Northern Ireland rather than going to the Policing Board, as envisaged in the recently passed Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, there will remain on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland a duty to ensure that that board is representative of the community as a whole. He cannot fulfil that legal duty unless he appoints representatives from the Democratic Unionist party to the board.

4.52 pm

David Burnside (South Antrim): Following the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), may I ask the Minister to comment on the position of the Royal Ulster Constabulary's full-time and, potentially, part-time reserve? Currently, 43 per cent. of constables in west Belfast are full-time reserves, and

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25 per cent. of mobile support units in Northern Ireland are full-time reserves. Surely it is a dereliction of duty for the Government to wind down the full-time reserve and the RUC's operational capability at a time when the Provisional IRA—I stress the Provisional IRA, not Real or Continuity IRA—is engaged in procuring arms from continental Europe and the United States of America to re-arm. As the Minister should know, the IRA army council includes Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein; Martin McGuinness, current Minister of Education at the devolved Administration at Stormont; and Pat Doherty. They are procuring arms illegally from continental Europe. How can the Minister preside over the running down of the Royal Ulster Constabulary's manpower and its reserve when crime and the threat of terrorism are increasing? I ask for the Minister's reply.

4.54 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): It is interesting to ponder just for a moment the provenance of this order. The Minister slightly glossed over why the order is here and where it came from. There are some clues, of course, even in the instrument itself. It says:

So there was some urgency, and we have been given a hint as to why. It states on the Order Paper that the motion has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

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