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House of Lords

Tuesday, 17th July 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Lord Condon

Sir Paul Leslie Condon, Knight, having been created Baron Condon, of Langton Green in the County of Kent, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Janner of Braunstone and the Lord Sharman.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

Robin Corbett, Esquire, having been created Baron Corbett of Castle Vale, of Erdington in the County of West Midlands, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Dubs and the Baroness Crawley, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Northern Ireland: RUC Funding

2.48 p.m.

Lord Glentoran asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the £117 million shortfall faced by the police in Northern Ireland revealed in the final annual report of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, how they propose to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the £117 million shortfall referred to by the chief constable in his 2000-01 annual report covers a three-year period from 2001-02 to 2003-04. The possible funding deficit for the current financial year as highlighted by the chief constable is approximately £20 million. However, I must emphasise that the Government remain fully committed to ensuring that the RUC has all the resources necessary to continue to deliver a high quality policing service to the community.

Ministers are aware of the chief constable's views. Officials continue to discuss the issue with both the chief constable and the police authority.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister in part for that Answer. The chief constable in relation to this shortfall in his annual report said:

    "Should appropriate additional funding not be made available, I have no doubt the required cuts would severely impact on our ability to maintain basic services over the three-year period".

Does the Minister accept that policing with inadequate resources leads to ineffective policing? That is well-proven in many parts of the world; the reverse being the

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case more recently in New York. Does the Minister also accept that the Patten report clearly states that its recommendations assume a peaceful and normal environment for policing? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that any further concessions to Sinn Fein over policing in Northern Ireland would make this small sum of money as a shortfall totally irrelevant?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, first, if there are inadequate resources for policing, policing suffers. The issue of the right level of resources is being discussed between the police authority, the chief constable and the Government. That is how it has always been and that is how it should continue to be. Secondly, the noble Lord asked about Patten. Yes, certain elements of Patten require normality, but as the chief constable has himself accepted, some of the elements can be implemented straight away. That process continues. Thirdly, the process of negotiation continues and it is hoped that the Good Friday agreement will be implemented in all its parts.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord satisfied that there is enough money fully to implement the Patten proposals?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred does not deal with the funding of Patten. Once Patten begins to be implemented in full it is important to ensure that there are adequate resources to do that. That is for discussion on other occasions.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, given that terrorist organisations, both republican and loyalist, remain armed to the teeth, does the noble and learned Lord share my concern over the current campaigns to reduce still further the numbers and the effectiveness of the Royal Ulster Constabulary?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, just as in relation to resources, the Government remain committed to ensuring that the police force and the security forces remain at levels to deal with the security threat in Northern Ireland. That has always been the Government's position and that will remain the Government's position.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the cost of the rioting in July alone was £5.5 million, that 483 experienced officers have already left and 800 are to go, that Sinn Fein is asking among many other things for retrospective inquiries into RUC behaviour and that meanwhile the cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry is running at £50 million? I should be interested to have that final figure confirmed. In the light of all that, is this not an extraordinary moment to be allowing any doubt whatever to rest upon the ability of the RUC to do its job? I recognise that the noble and learned Lord has given us some assurances. I hope he will able to assure us that I am wrong in supposing that we would ever consider having a Bloody Sunday-type inquiry retrospectively into the activities of the RUC.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Baroness asked about leavers. In year one of the voluntary scheme, 483 officers left between January and March 2001, which is the same figure as that given by the noble Baroness. Year two runs from April 2001 to March 2002. Eight hundred and twelve officers are expected to leave during that period. The chief constable is comfortable with that process. As I have always said, the level of policing must ensure proper security in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness asked about the cost of the disturbances in July. I do not have the answer to her question and so I shall write to her. The noble Baroness asked about the cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry. I do not know what the cost is and so I shall write to the noble Baroness on that as well. The noble Baroness asked about inquiries like the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Each case has to be looked at on its merits. There was merit in having a Bloody Sunday inquiry. I do not think that I should go any further than that.

Lord Blease: My Lords, have the Government had any information or approaches from the Northern Ireland Police Board? Has the police board issued any public statement about these matters?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have had approaches from the police authority in relation to the issue of funding. We are talking to the authority in the same way as we are talking to the chief constable. I am not aware that it has made any public statement in relation to these matters.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord be kind enough to answer my third question? Does he agree that any further concessions to Sinn Fein over policing in Northern Ireland would make this cash shortfall irrelevant?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I indicated that there had been talks at Weston Park when a whole range of matters were discussed. Those discussions included the Ulster Unionist Party. The talks were designed to ensure that the Good Friday agreement will be implemented in full. In relation to Patten, we believe that the Act implements it in full. But if people come forward with proposals saying that we are wrong, we shall listen to them.

Road Traffic Charging

2.55 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to move forward on proposals to tax cars on entering traffic-congested urban areas.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Transport Act 2000 provides enabling powers for local authorities in England and Wales to introduce a congestion charging scheme as part of a local transport

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plan to relieve traffic problems and fund improvements to public transport services. The Greater London Authority Act 1999 gives similar powers to the mayor of London. The mayor and a number of authorities outside London are considering using these powers to develop charging schemes.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. Will he tell us frankly whether he is in favour of the proposals put forward by Ken Livingstone over the past 24 hours and in the papers last night and today? Does he expect them to be repeated in other major cities? Does he think they will help? What effect will queues and delays have on cars entering the central zone, from Knightsbridge to St James's or Green Park, if they have to stop to pay £5 as they go through a check-point? Would it not be better to concentrate on the earlier plan of getting the utilities in London--electricity, gas, water and cable TV--to dig their holes in the main road at the same time rather than one after the other, seriatim, as they do at present?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am all in favour of the holes being dug at the same time to try to reduce delays. I do not think that the mayor's plan involves people stopping and paying £5. Cameras will take photographs and drivers can either pay in advance or pay afterwards. The Government have given local authorities and the GLA the power to bring forward proposals in relation to charging schemes. That is what the mayor of London has done. He is now consulting on those proposals. It will be for the Government to consider those proposals when he puts them to us. And he has not done that yet.

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