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I have omitted an expletive. It is important to build on good relations. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said, relations have always been extremely good at inspector level. As my noble friend Lord Laird said earlier, there is an understanding between us on the modernisation and re-equipping of the Garda. The flourishing economy of the Republic of Ireland is very reassuring. We may have difficulty persuading Her Majesty's Treasury to meet some of the costs of the necessary upgrading of the Garda. But I am confident that the Irish Government will be convinced of the necessity to upgrade the Garda and, at the same time, reduce political interference in line with the observation of my favourite Garda officer. There will be an imperative if effective co-operation is the result. Co-operation would be damaged if there was any evidence of infringement of the operational independence of the Chief Constable of the RUC by any source whatever.
In a sense the clause, which the noble Lord quoted, smacks of political interference. The provision opens the way to unnecessary political interference. What else is one to make of the third line of Clause 54 which speaks of "co-operation on policing matters"? That is a definite invasion of the territory of the two Chief Constables, North and South. It is their job to organise and implement co-operation on policing matters; it is nothing to do with politicians, great or small. As to those aspects of the clause, the board and the Chief Constable are entitled to firm reassurance.
Viscount Brookeborough: I support the amendment, in that by inserting "promote, wherever practicable" it puts the objective in writing. Although certain arrangements are written down and dealt with officially they do not have much effect on the ground. From my service experience, the only arrangement that worked on the ground was almost secretive. When we or the Garda crossed the border in effect it had to be covered up, because if it had gone high enough up the ladder it would have created a diplomatic incident. I give two examples. At least 10 years ago in Fermanagh, unbeknown to us, there was a bomb on our side of the border near Rosslea. Luckily, the Garda found the command wire and followed it across the border until it reached the bomb. Obviously, that was a great benefit to us because we were not very close to it. The IRA did not take on the Garda, so it was a good way to find out where it was. Nothing was done about it. That happened on the ground and it was discussed between the police forces at local level.
Rather late one evening we defused a bomb in Belleek but could not be extracted by helicopter. ATO and his protection could not be moved. I was on the ground and conditions were extremely wet. Because of local chat between the two forces we were able to cross the border and enter the village of Belleek. The present arrangements are ridiculous; they should be pushed much further by government and the police forces so that those operations can take place without everybody being up in arms about encroaching across the border. I am all in favour of anything that
Viscount Cranborne: I am very confused by the existence of Clause 54 at all. At one level it could be read as anticipating that the two Governments might make arrangements to be imposed on the police force in Northern Ireland against the stated will of the board and the Chief Constable. I cannot conceive that any government should do that, particularly one that, from my reading of the Bill, appear to want to consult as widely as possible before bringing into operation any new arrangements. However, I sometimes wonder whether the Government will go their own sweet way whatever the results of the consultation. Perhaps that is what lies behind the clause.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord will provide me with a further explanation of this provision. I am entirely ignorant of the day-to-day circumstances, apart from once having had a modest interest in this matter as a junior Minister in the Ministry of Defence concerned with military rather than police matters. It is curious that we need the clause at all. It may be sensible for such matters to be taken out of legislative provision and for consultation on both sides of the border to continue on an operational level so that the objectives of the noble Viscount can be achieved in that way, rather than to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut and include a clause which creates more suspicions than it dispels.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I, too, strongly support the amendment because of my considerable concern about this matter. The Belfast agreement, very properly, speaks of co-operation and discussion, but this clause refers to,
The Irish Government have always had their own political agenda. At the moment that agenda points to pleasing Sinn Fein/IRA as far as they possibly, and decently, can. In the past they have discussed with Sinn Fein troop levels in Northern Ireland and a number of other issues which are the business of a sovereign country. I am deeply disturbed that we are about to enshrine in legislation the right of the Irish Government to impose any kind of decision or view on the RUC in what is part of the United Kingdom. I do not think that it has yet been made clear enough exactly what will be the powers.
Lord Dubs: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask her a question. Does she agree that the Dublin government have held meetings with practically all the political parties in Belfast, including that headed by Mr David Trimble? To suggest that the Irish Government have an agenda simply to support terrorists in Northern Ireland is not a fair statement of their position.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: Not for a moment do I suggest that the Irish Government support terrorism. However, I am saying that, no matter how much consultation has taken place, they have, on a reasonably large number of occasions, negotiated and talked to the IRA in Dublin--on our behalf, I hasten to add. Necessarily, however, their interests and ours will at some point diverge. Very frequently, their future interests--with Sinn Fein likely to enter the Dail and to become a political partner--will affect their point of view. I believe that it would be dangerous for that point of view in any way to impinge on the operational activity of the RUC.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, outlined, this amendment would remove the board's and the Chief Constable's obligation to implement arrangements arising from an agreement between the UK and the Irish Government on police co-operation and would substitute a requirement to promote co-operation where practicable.
Perhaps I may begin by making it absolutely explicit that the purpose of this clause is designed to meet the recommendations in chapter 18 of the Patten report. The only way in which that can be done is through this clause. It has absolutely nothing to do with interfering with the operational independence of the RUC and the Chief Constable. The agreement between the UK and the Republic will not direct the Chief Constable in any way.
The matters in the agreement will cover the areas outlined in the Patten report; namely, annual conferences, written protocols, personnel exchanges, secondments, liaisons and joint training. It does not cover the kind of issues mentioned by noble Lords, whose worries I hope to be able to assuage.
Patten made it perfectly clear that there should be written protocols on co-operation between the two police services, building on the good relationships. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, when speaking of his experience, would agree that it is preferable to establish a formal framework in which the kind of activities he described as taking place in a faintly clandestine way--I do not
I can reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that the Government would not reach an agreement without the Chief Constable being fully involved in the process. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that the areas likely to be covered by such an agreement are those set out by Patten. Perhaps I may refer to them in a moment.
I am a little confused by the concerns expressed by several noble Lords as regards any framework that would increase co-operation to cover areas such as tackling the dreadful problem of paedophile rings, in particular on how they operate cross-border. That is the kind of area that we envisage being addressed here, along with financial crime and co-operation on drugs issues. None of these areas is in any way a party political matter. Furthermore, such areas, which would inevitably benefit from co-operation, are not in any way areas where the integrity and responsibility of the Chief Constable and the RUC would be impugned by greater co-operation being achieved. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that this would be done through the protocol which sets out and establishes the framework under which such co-operation could take place.
We believe that this will be in the interests both of the police services and of good policing. I know from his contribution that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, recognises that an enormous amount of good practice is already in place. Perhaps I may reassure noble Lords that this does not in any way concern political interference. It concerns the establishment of a framework to build on the good practice and exceptionally hard work that has already taken place--without the benefit of the backing of the protocol.
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