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As I have said before, there are many aspects of Patten and of the Bill which are positive, particularly those of an operational nature, and I have no difficulty in supporting them. However, there are areas of the Bill which I believe to be fundamentally flawed and which will not produce an effective police force. The proposal that Belfast should be divided into four district policing partnerships falls into that category.
These amendments are designed to rectify that and to ensure that policing the City of Belfast is not balkanised into four sub-divisions, which sadly afflict too many parts of the city of which I am proud to be a citizen.
In mainland terms Belfast is not particularly large; there are no more than 300,000 or so electors. While Belfast may currently be divided by the RUC into four local areas of command, they do not mirror the four parliamentary constituencies and they extend out far beyond the city boundaries.
I have no doubt that 300,000 could be more effectively and efficiently served by one police local area command. I am concerned about the likely consequences which would follow the establishment of four local area commands in Belfast. Those four commands will all be mirrored, monitored, potentially dominated and influenced by district policing partnerships. Four for Belfast is just too many.
At grass-roots level, the police would be put under intolerable sectarian and party-political pressures. If anyone doubts that, let them imagine for a moment just how the recent loyalist paramilitary feud in the
One can scarcely imagine just how keenly the paramilitary front parties would support the police in their attempts to crack down on drug dealing and racketeering. Furthermore, the west Belfast sub-committee of the DPP would be almost exclusively republican nationalists; effectively Sinn Fein/IRA. Just how would that square with police investigations into the recent murders in that area allegedly carried out by their allies and the Provisional IRA?
In a similar vein, the east Belfast DPP sub-committee would be almost exclusively loyalist and unionist; again with a substantial degree of input from the UDA and the UVF. The religious and political mix in the south of the city, an area in which I live, would at least ensure some measure of cross-community representation on the DPP sub-committee for that area, but there is no question that a city-wide committee would provide the best opportunity for diluting the insidiousness of the paramilitaries.
A Belfast-wide district policing partnership would dilute the influence of parties whose support is concentrated in particular areas. While Sinn Fein/IRA might have near 70 per cent support in west Belfast, the figure is much lower across the city. Just as it would be wrong to leave policing in west Belfast in the hands of republicans, so it would be wrong to place policing in east Belfast in the hands of loyalists. The decent law-abiding citizens of these areas should not and cannot be abandoned to their fate--and what a fate it would be if we allowed that to happen.
Perhaps I may leave your Lordships with this thought: the City of Belfast is divided enough as it is. It is scarred by peace lines and sectarian ghettos. Just about the last thing it needs is a police force divided into four and under the control of the malevolent forces which deal in the violence, fear and terror which have cursed its streets for too long. I beg to move.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment. I believe that the police district commands, as they were taken on from Great Britain police forces, are defined as being areas which can operate under normal circumstances without outside support. In no way can one consider dividing Belfast, which is a small area, into self-contained units which do not need outside support. Any crime committed in Belfast inevitably impinges on all areas of the city. And as regards terrorism, police commands of that size undoubtedly need outside support.
There are currently four police districts in Belfast and I do not understand why the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, would expect the Chief Constable to have one when that is not what he wants. Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Rogan: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I ask him to be aware that the current police forces are not confined merely to the city boundaries of Belfast. They spill well out into south Antrim and north Down. They are not confined only to the City of Belfast.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I shall return to that matter but move on to later amendments. Amendment No. 29 is related to Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 in that it reflects an opposition to Belfast sub-groups to which the main burden of the speeches related. The Government were pressed on this issue during their consultations on Patten and the Bill and they sought a sensible solution. They take the view that there should be sub-groups, also referred to by Patten as sub-committees, but that these should be based on the police districts under Clause 20, which Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 attack. The sub-groups will match police districts; the members will come from the DPP; there are no special arrangements for appointments to the bodies from elsewhere; and the four are part of and will account to the overall Belfast DPP.
I would further point out that the provision on the sub-groups reflects Patten; is for sub-groups to be in line with police districts; provides for limited functions so as not to detract from the overall DPP; provides for appointment to sub-groups from the DPP; and provides for the board's guidance to cover them.
Under the Bill, for Belfast the boundaries of the police districts must coincide with the district council area, but within that the Government have concluded that it is right that the Chief Constable should have flexibility to determine the number of police districts up to a maximum of four. He has four at present and I do not believe that he has any plans to change them.
We are aware that the sub-divisions are not entirely consistent with the Belfast council area, but there are only a few exceptions. That will not constrain the operational independence of the Chief Constable. In the light of that explanation, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I speak to Amendments Nos. 30 and 30A. Under Clause 22, before issuing or revising a local policing plan the police district commander must consult the local DPP and take account of any views expressed. Amendment No. 30, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, which is identical to one tabled in Committee, would oblige the police district commander also to consult any local consultative groups set up under Clause 23(2). The majority of such groups, if not all, should be established under subsection (1). It may be that the amendment is intended also to cover that. Notwithstanding that, we do not believe that the police should have to deal with DPPs and all the local bodies set up by the board or DPPs. We believe that the DPPs should co-ordinate the views of the latter; and, as we said in Committee, if the board is convinced that that is the right way forward it can include such an arrangement in its code. The code can cover the arrangements for monitoring the performance of the police in carrying out the local policing plan. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord does not feel it necessary to press Amendment No. 30.
I turn to Amendment No. 30A. I am happy to be able to reassure the noble Lord that the Bill does not prevent police consultation outside DPPs or other arrangements made under Clause 23. The Bill simply seeks to establish a framework for accountability and formal consultation as recommended by Patten.
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