HC Deb 14 January 1998 vol 304 cc333-4
2. Mr. Savidge

What steps are being taken to increase confidence in policing in Northern Ireland. [20852]

Mr. Ingram

The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill currently before Parliament introduces planning and objective-setting mechanisms and other measures aimed at increasing confidence in policing. It includes the establishment of a police ombudsman for the independent investigation of complaints against the police. The Police Authority and the Chief Constable have also introduced community police liaison committees and initiatives on the promotion of a neutral working environment, recruitment processes and lay visiting.

Mr. Savidge

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree with me that everyone, including the RUC, recognises the importance of changes to policing in Northern Ireland? Does he also agree that the Government's Bill merely provides the framework for those changes? Will he inform the House what plans the Government have to ensure that all sections of the community are properly consulted about the future of policing in the Province?

Mr. Ingram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I pay tribute to the RUC, who do a very good job in extremely difficult circumstances each and every day. My hon. Friend is right that the Bill provides a framework for the future of policing in Northern Ireland, but it is an important foundation on which new structures can be built if the people of Northern Ireland want more change. Obviously, the talks process provides an ideal opportunity for all sections of the community to have a say in the future of the policy. The Bill offers great opportunities for the future and poses a threat to no one.

Mr. Maginnis

Does the Minister agree that the confidence of both traditions in the community in the police is manifested regularly in a very practical way? Does he also agree that one must be careful not to carry forward arguments that are propounded by the most extreme elements in society when looking at changes that may take place within the RUC? Does he further agree that society's confidence in the police requires, first and foremost, a police force that is confident in itself?

Mr. Ingram

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman's last point is undoubtedly true: the police force should feel confident in itself. The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill will help the force in that objective because it is about increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability and, therefore, the acceptability of the RUC in the wider community. That is why I said in response to the question from the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) that it is about improving the basis on which the RUC operates because that is what the RUC wants. It wants to be a normal police service within a normal society.

Mr. McGrady

Will the Minister join me in sympathising with those who were injured in the two incidents last night in Belfast? In one of them an on-duty, out-of-uniform lady soldier was shot and critically wounded by an RUC officer after hot pursuit. In the second, an SDLP councillor, one Martin Morgan, was assaulted physically and verbally by the RUC in attempting to dispel a riotous situation. Does he agree that it is not sufficient for the RUC to investigate those two incidents and will he immediately put in hand investigations into both incidents to restore the great deal of public confidence that has been lost in the past 24 hours?

Mr. Ingram

Obviously, we all regret incidents in which people are injured. There are details about the second incident to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and that is not yet a proven case. There have been allegations, and all members of society in Northern Ireland have the opportunity to pursue allegations against the police through the normal process. If the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill is accepted by the House, there will be an independent ombudsman to deal with such complaints against the RUC, and I am sure that I can count on the hon. Gentleman's support for that measure.