Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Minister of State, Cabinet Office 10:15 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, the Government have repeatedly given their support to the sentiments expressed in Amendment No. 72A, which stands in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rogan, Lord Laird and Lord Molyneaux, and which was so effectively spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Laird.

As we said in Committee, the Government have already fully met Patten's Recommendation 88 with regard to supporting the RUC Widows' Association with funding. This amendment will not add to what the Government are already doing in that respect.

With regard to paragraph (b) of the amendment, I am pleased to refer to an announcement made yesterday by my right honourable friend in response to the Steele report. Steele was asked to review the Patten proposal for a new peace fund. We have placed a copy of his report in the Library. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Rogan, for their effectiveness in pursuing this issue, which led to the setting up of the Steele inquiry.

The Government will now be taking forward implementation of this important report as quickly as possible. I know that that is my right honourable friend's intention. In the announcement that he made about the Steele report, he made it clear that the lump sum payments would be made to the widows of police officers killed by terrorist activity before 25th November 1982 without undue delay. I understand that he hopes to be able to make those payments before the end of the current financial year. He will also move to set up the trust fund proposed by Mr Steele as soon as practicable.

In the interests of getting on with implementation, my right honourable friend has chosen not to have a formal consultation period so that it can be moved forward as quickly as possible. But I know that he and my right honourable friend the Minister of State will be glad to receive the views of any interested parties as to the form and detail of the fund. I am sure that he would welcome any further input and co-operation from the noble Lords who have proposed this amendment.

The Steele report properly recognises the sacrifice of a part of society in Northern Ireland that understandably feels that its concerns have been neglected for too long. I welcome that recognition and I know that the House joins with me in that respect.

Amendment No. 72A seeks to bring together the role of the RUC GC foundation and the trust fund to which I referred. The Government believe that the two bodies--and the interests of those they will serve--are best kept separate. As I have said, the Government intend to press on as soon as reasonably practicable with the implementation of the Steele report.

The RUC GC foundation on the other hand will inevitably take a little longer to set up. A working group has been set up by my right honourable friend to come up with proposals. Clause 70 of the Bill sets out its general thrust, which is towards the professional development of police officers and innovations in policing. Representatives of the Police Federation and of the superintendents' and the chief police officers' staff associations have been invited to sit on this group and the Government look forward to hearing its views. There will certainly be a research element in its work.

To conclude, the Government appreciate and share the sentiments that underlie the amendment. What divides us is the means rather than the end. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.