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10 Feb 2003 : Column 725—continued

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the policing of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Robinson: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back to the Bill. I urge the House to recognise the fact that the Bill does not address the issues that need to be addressed. It will further alienate those in the Unionist community in Northern Ireland who want only good, sound policing in Northern Ireland. One of the sad realities of the past few years is that police morale has plummeted because changes have been made for political reasons to the disadvantage of good policing in Northern Ireland. That has happened as a result of the Belfast agreement, the Patten report and the Government's action. There is nothing more hurtful to the Police Service of Northern Ireland than finding out that—after so many years in the front line of the conflict, defending the community in Northern Ireland—it is the terrorists against whom they held the line who are being rewarded and the police who are being punished.

9.22 pm

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): I am pleased to have the opportunity to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) in this important debate. I briefly want to make a few comments on the Bill. I suppose that "Here we go again" could be the title of the debate because this is, I think, the third time that the House has discussed legislation on the police in Northern Ireland in a little over four years. That any Government should have to legislate so many times on one issue really does raise some questions.

My hon. Friend has rightly pointed to the reason why this Bill and other legislation have been introduced. The Bill has nothing to do with the necessity to address issues to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of policing; it is a result of the need, in the Government's view, to introduce legislation to implement concessions to the SDLP and Sinn Fein, as part of the political process. That is the reality of why we are debating the Bill, which does not address the real concerns of our constituents in Northern Ireland. It will do nothing to improve the police resources, their effectiveness, their numbers or their morale.

I have to tell the Minister that a pipe bomb was thrown through the front living room window of three elderly pensioners in my constituency last night. The police have told me that that pipe bomb is different from those that have been discovered previously—it is more powerful. Had those people been in their living room at the time, they would have undoubtedly suffered serious

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injury if not death. Their living room has been wrecked. To hear some Members in this Chamber tonight, however, one would think that everything was sweetness and light in Northern Ireland.

We can add to that incident the rioting on the Limestone road in my constituency in recent days, and the dreadful and despicable events on the Shankill road and in other parts of my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members. We need only look at the reports of the dreadful rioting in the town of Omagh at the weekend, to which the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) referred. A Sinn Fein spokesman and a representative for that area—not a dissident spokesman, by the way, but a spokesman for the Provisional Sinn Fein movement, part of the Government of Northern Ireland—attacked the police. The police suffered 18 injuries in Omagh, and this man—Mr. McElduff, who is the MLA for the area—criticised the police, not those who were involved in the rioting. When we see those kinds of events—the number of shootings and bombings in the three years since the Belfast agreement was signed have increased in relation to the three years before the agreement—we must ask serious questions about the direction of Government policy.

It is clear that changes and legislation have been introduced as a result of Patten, which was designed to appease the SDLP and Sinn Fein. More changes have been introduced as a result of agreements entered into at the Weston Park talks, which, again, were to appease one section of the community. What kind of message does that send out to the ordinary, decent people of Northern Ireland who want effective law and order? When they ring the police station, they do not want to be told that there are not enough police vehicles to provide them with security and to answer their needs. The Government, however, only seem to be interested in legislating on political grounds and for political reasons.

Lady Hermon: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's unhappiness with the Bill and with the Weston Park talks. Will he outline to the House in what circumstances, if any, Democratic Unionist party members would take seats on the Policing Board with Sinn Fein members?

Mr. Dodds: Given the tenor of the contributions that have come from Ulster Unionist Members in the House tonight, I am amazed at that question. The reality is that Sinn Fein-IRA members are not acceptable on the Policing Board of Northern Ireland. That is the bottom line. In other spheres and in other realms in which terrorism is an issue, we are busy saying that we must hunt down and deal with those responsible. In Northern Ireland, however, an organisation is carrying out and is involved in terrorism as we speak, and as we sit here tonight. It is not something that they have left behind. They are still involved in and running these organisations. They are still racketeering and targeting. In republican areas, the IRA is as active today as it was before in implementing law and order, as it sees it, in terms of its own community. To suggest that somehow, in a week's time, two weeks' time or a month's time, such people will suddenly become acceptable as members who can have some say over policing in Northern Ireland will be at odds with the views of many people

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whom the hon. Lady represents, and, I hope—on the basis of the contributions that have been made—with the views of her hon. Friends in the Ulster Unionist party.

On the so-called text for consideration—the IRA-Sinn Fein clauses that the Government have waiting in the wings should the appropriate moment arrive—there is great concern in Belfast constituencies at the proposals for the four Belfast boards. They would put the police in a difficult situation, certainly in west Belfast. Serving police officers and senior officers have expressed concern about what that would mean in terms of accountability. They are worried about to whom they would be answerable if the Bill is successful and Sinn Fein-IRA and convicted terrorists and criminals take their places on those boards.

The idea that the Bill will do anything to improve police morale or police effectiveness has to be discounted. That is not the case at all. Police morale is at rock bottom. The Government do not have to take our word for it. If they talk to police officers directly they will tell them about the elevation of the terrorists, the appeasement of Sinn Fein-IRA and the fact that they have been set in positions over policing at a time when the police are starved of resources. Even able candidates who apply cannot get into the police for religious reasons. All of that is unacceptable. The Minister should address those concerns seriously for the people of Northern Ireland.

9.31 pm

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): I broadly agree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds): much of the problem on the ground relates to police resources and police morale. He put that well and it is not necessary for me to say it again. However, it may be useful for me to tell the House that I shall not detain hon. Members.

I should also explain why I have not been present throughout the debate. I was here at the start and, sure enough, I am here at the end. I do not know whether it is something that we have done to our hours and working arrangements, but for 20 years I have lived with the difficulty of being in two places at once. I now face the more difficult problem of being in three places at once and have not mastered it. It was my duty to be here today, but I also had a summons, with the authority of the House, to attend a Northern Ireland Statutory Instrument Committee of extraordinary importance. The order was 76 pages long and dealt with energy regulation in Northern Ireland. I had to be there, so it was not possible to be in the Chamber. As a consequence, I am ashamed to say that I missed half of what the Secretary of State had to say and, regrettably, all of what my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) had to say. [Interruption.] There is some ribaldry, but I am being perfectly serious.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is a thoughtful and brave man. He has lived through all the problems and I listen to him with respect. Our newer colleague, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who is a native of the beautiful island of Islay, applied his considerable skills as a lawyer and scholar in a fascinating contribution on the issues of civilianisation and intimate

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searches—a difficult and delicate subject for sure. He told us that a considerable volume of case law is being developed on that. It is essential that the staff involved in such searches, especially in drug-related cases, are well trained and meticulous or, to put it in the vernacular, they could easily throw an important drugs trial. He made that point well.

It was interesting to listen to the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who spoke with authority about checks and balances, not least between the ombudsman, the Policing Board, the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State. One of our anxieties is that the old so-called tripartite balance between the Chief Constable, the Secretary of State and the board is shifting.

That brings me to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool about never playing politics with the effectiveness of the police. I agree, but I am not sure that shifting the balance between the Chief Constable, the Secretary of State and the board is not political. The right hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford that people have to do deals in politics in Northern Ireland. There is a fine line between doing deals and playing politics. One day, someone will help me with a definition, but, having participated in politics for a long time, I can say that there is a shadowy interface between playing politics and doing deals.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) rightly said that civilians must have human rights training as well as practical knowledge of the rules of evidence. She also helped the House by clarifying the narrow and wider definition of a representative of the community. In fact, I thought that she and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made complementary speeches. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), who is not in the Chamber—I know why, because I should have been at the same dinner—spoke wisely about pre-legislative scrutiny, and his remarks may well repay reading tomorrow morning, because everyone in the House aspires to such scrutiny as a better way of legislating.

The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) hit the nail on the head when he said that although numbers are the real problem, the Bill says nothing about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford agrees with that and with his analysis of the real reasons for introducing the Bill.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) reminded us of his conversations with people who live in the Province. I thought that he brought a sincere note to the debate, but it became clear that some Members who have lived in Northern Ireland all their life may not thank those of us who have lived in England all our life for telling them what is good for them. I have always been shy of doing so myself, as hon. Members who have served with me in Committee will know.

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