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2 Dec 2002 : Column 636—continued

Rev. Ian Paisley: Has the hon. Lady forgotten that elected representatives on councils in Northern Ireland served on police boards and advisory boards in all council areas, and made a contribution that way?

Jane Kennedy: Not at all, I have not forgotten. I am grateful for the contribution of councillors, but the new district policing partnerships will take on new responsibilities and will play an important role in developing an immediate focus and feedback between local communities and district commanders as they develop community policing in a style in which, we all hope, it can grow and flourish in Northern Ireland. I have not forgotten the contribution that has been made in the past.

I am glad to note that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is continuing to develop the role of district command units and, in that regard, I have just referred to the role of the district commander and district policing partnerships. The service published a policy document on policing with the community last year, and an implementation plan is now being finalised for wider distribution in the very near future. It is timely, therefore, that one of the amendments to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 in the forthcoming legislation will reinforce the importance of policing with the community as a core policing principle.

Let me consider the forthcoming policing measure. The motion is somewhat puzzling. More than a year has passed since the Government published the revised Patten implementation plan in August 2001. In it, we made a series of commitments to legislative change. The Government's aim is to develop a modern police service that is effective and widely accepted throughout the society that it serves. The changes for which the draft clauses provide will achieve that.

Some hon. Members' reactions to last week's statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State disappointed me, but it would not be the first time that

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I had been disappointed in my life in politics. The draft clauses that we published last week contained little that was new. They focused on the commitments in the revised implementation plan and some specific points that were included at the request of the board, on which the Democratic Unionist party has three seats, in the context of the recent review of policing arrangements. All the issues were discussed in the context of the policing review. Again, I pay tribute to all those who contributed to the review, including the DUP.

The substance of the announcement was therefore yesterday's news. It simply set out the way in which the Government intended to deal with the commitments in legislative terms. Some hon. Members have tried to focus attention on the additional text for consideration that was published with the draft clauses. The hon. Member for North Antrim drew specific attention to it. Although I am the first to recognise that some of the issues are sensitive for many people in Northern Ireland, especially the question of whether former prisoners should be allowed to apply for appointments on district policing partnerships—there are different views throughout the House on the subject—its consideration is yesterday's news or even older.

Lady Hermon (North Down): I appreciate that the Government are wedded to implementing the Patten report in full. Can the Minister pinpoint the recommendation in Patten for convicted terrorists to sit on district policing partnerships?

Jane Kennedy: We undertook to review the question as a subject that emerged from the discussions at Weston Park. We published our intentions in August 2001.

In publishing two separate texts, we tried to be clear and open to the House and to the people of Northern Ireland on the way in which we would take the matter forward. My right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that we would do that only in the context of the acts of completion that we discussed last week and that the hon. Member for North Antrim debated with the Prime Minister.

David Burnside: I thank the Minister for confirming through her lack of response to my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that the recommendation was not in the Patten report. Will she also confirm that there was no agreement with the Ulster Unionist party on those proposals at Weston Park?

Jane Kennedy: We made commitments at Weston Park and we believe that it is essential that we honour them if we are to fulfil our aim of developing a police service in Northern Ireland that is effective, efficient and widely accepted by all the communities.

David Burnside: All except the Ulster Unionists.

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to make his point later. I appreciate—

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) rose—

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) rose—

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Jane Kennedy: Let me make the point that I appreciate the sensitivity of the issues for many in Northern Ireland. That applies especially to the question of the former prisoners. I am sure that we will debate it at length because it is such a matter of principle. However, the proposal is not new. In publishing two separate texts, we sought to draw the sting from the argument and avoid the accusation that we were doing a secret deal and planning to act secretly and in private. The proposal is published and hon. Members can read the way in which we would deal with the matter in the right circumstances.

Mr. Hunter: With respect, this is not just a matter for the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) to mention in his speech. Do the Government accept that the Ulster Unionist party agreed to the proposition that they are putting forward? What is the Government's understanding of the UUP's position?

Jane Kennedy: I think that the UUP will make its position clear.

Mr. Swire: Will the hon. Lady assure the House that there were no discussions at Weston Park that could lead to the possibility of an amnesty for prisoners on the run, or of that category of people being allowed to serve on policing boards in future?

Jane Kennedy: No, there were not, and if the hon. Gentleman reads the implementation plan, he will see that we also undertook to examine how we might resolve this issue. Everything that we have published in the recent draft clauses and in the text for consideration has grown out of that implementation plan. He will have noted that there is nothing in those texts that deals with those deemed to be on the run; that is a separate issue, which we are discussing and considering separately.

During the passage of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 my noble Friend Lord Falconer made it clear in defending the current bar on ex-prisoners joining the district policing partnerships that it was the Government's hope that the sensitivities surrounding this issue would eventually subside. Clearly, that is not the case at the moment, but we will discuss the issue at length as we debate the legislation.

Lady Hermon: As regards timing, it ill behoves the Government to table this amendment at this time, given that we have just had a series of very serious breaches of security, relating to the jurisdiction not only of Colombia but of the Republic of Ireland, and to Castlereagh, as well as the discovery of a serious spy ring at the heart of government in the Northern Ireland Office. Given that series of events, this is not the right time to introduce these proposals.

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. When we discussed these issues at Weston Park, we committed to considering this matter. Our consideration has covered both how the issues might be dealt with and whether the time is right to do so, which is the point that she has just made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not yet persuaded that the time is right to introduce changes in these areas, and it is precisely for that reason that we have published

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the text separately. We have draft clauses that we hope will form the basis of a Bill, and separate texts that we may consider taking forward. We are not, however, going to take them forward at this time.

Mr. McCabe: Will my hon. Friend explain how it can be tolerable for an ex-prisoner who renounces violence to stand for, and be elected to, the Assembly—and, perhaps, at some point, be responsible for policing in Northern Ireland—when it can never be tolerable for such a person to sit on a district policing partnership?

Jane Kennedy: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, no less, made it clear that the concept of Sinn Fein or of former republican prisoners participating in policing while maintaining a private army was absurd. We could not be clearer than that. It is within that context that we are having this debate, notwithstanding all the sensitivities that it causes to arise.

Helen Jackson: This is the crux of the matter. Will the Minister accept that the tabling of this motion puts the onus back on to members of Sinn Fein to include themselves—in the words of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in reply to my earlier intervention—and to take the crucial final steps towards moving into politics?

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