HC Deb 20 December 2000 vol 360 cc344-6
2. Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

If he will list by number and rank the serving members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who have applied for redundancy under the scheme to reduce police numbers; and if he will make a statement. [141752]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

I have placed the detailed information that the hon. Member requests in the Library. In total, 496 officers across the ranks have applied for voluntary early retirement under the scheme. The Government are committed through the early retirement scheme and the planned recruitment process to meet the composition targets of the new police service as set down in the Northern Ireland Office public service agreement.

Mr. Thompson

Given the increase in dissident republican activity and capability, and the failure, as yet, of nationalists and the republican community to endorse and support the new police service, is it not of grave concern to the Minister that so many senior and experienced policemen are opting to take the early redundancy scheme? Would the Secretary of State consider it prudent to postpone the early redundancy leaving date until matters become more clear?

Mr. Ingram

Of course, we take seriously the current threat—of which we see all too many manifestations. Earlier, I paid tribute to the efforts and successes of the RUC and the Garda in thwarting many attempted atrocities by particular groups.

As for the officers who have applied for inclusion in the voluntary redundancy scheme, that is clearly a matter for the Chief Constable and his management of resources. He has to make difficult and fine judgments as to when during the period in which they apply for early retirement he can allow his officers—senior and other—to leave the RUC.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Can my right hon. Friend tell us when the implementation plan for the new police service will be published? Does he surmise that now that the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 is in place, we might begin to see the gap in confidence between the two communities over policing start to narrow?

Mr. Ingram

We are consulting all the parties on the forward implementation of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act and we have been involved in intensive discussions with all the parties who could find themselves in a position to nominate to the new policing board. In recent days, the leaders of two of those parties—the Ulster Unionist party and the Social Democratic and Labour party—have made it clear that if good will prevails on both sides, progress can be made. It is down to those parties, with the Government, to find an answer to these very difficult issues.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

Is it not a great pity that a senior officer of the reputation of Superintendent Anderson, who is leading the Omagh bombing inquiry, has felt it necessary to take early retirement because he is disillusioned with the changes in Northern Ireland policing?

Mr. Ingram

That is not the reason why he is leaving the RUC.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

In considering the need to maintain the numbers in the police force in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the recent statements made by Dr. Maurice Hayes, a former member of the Patten Commission, and by Monsignor Denis Faul, urging Catholics to join the police force in Northern Ireland? Will he assure the House that he will continue his efforts to ensure that the police service there represents all sections of the community?

Mr. Ingram

I can give my hon. Friend that absolute guarantee. Of course, that is what the Police (Northern Ireland) Act sets out to achieve with the 50:50 representation principles that are enshrined in that legislation, which was approved by both Houses of Parliament. We obviously welcome the views expressed by Maurice Hayes, who has been a long-time contributor to the debate on policing, and the views expressed by Monsignor Faul, because he has also been a major contributor to this debate. We also welcome Chris Patten's contribution to the debate. All those contributions point to the way forward for a new and better future for Northern Ireland; a new type of policing is an essential feature of that new society.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Pursuant to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), what does the Minister believe Superintendent Anderson's reason was?

Mr. Ingram

I do not think that it is appropriate to—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I was asked a direct question as to the precise reason on the basis of press reportage. I am able to confirm that what was reported in the press, as far as I am advised—accurately advised, I believe—is not the case. [Interruption.] I am not prepared to discuss individual officers across the Dispatch Box, even with Members of the House as eminent as the right hon. Gentleman.

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