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Statement by Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam on the Patten Report, 9 September 1999

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Statement by Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State, on the Patten Report, issued Thursday 9 September 1999

Can I begin by thanking Chris Patten and his team on behalf of the Government for the fifteen months of hard work they have put into this report.

I know it has not been easy. None of us under-estimate the challenges they faced. Nor the strength of feeling they encountered across Northern Ireland.

The Commission heard arguments for the disbandment of the force and for no change at all. They have rejected both.

But, in doing so, they have resisted the temptation to simply compromise between the two extremes.

Their approach has been to ask the fundamental question, what is the best police service for Northern Ireland?

This report is about policing. As Chris Patten said, it is not about politics.

The Commission have addressed what people want and need from a normal policing service :

To feel safe from crime;

To combat drugs;

And above all to feel safe from violence and those who use it.

The report sets the standard by which it should be judged - based on principles set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Principles of policing that is:

  • Effective, efficient, and impartial;
  • Accountable, representative and free from partisan control;
  • working in partnership with the community and supported by the whole community - as any police service should be.

The RUC has been working with these principles for many years.

As the Patten Commission recognise, the Chief Constable, has had considerable success in moving towards a service which does work in partnership with the community.

Building on that, I believe the Commission have charted the way forward for the best possible police service in Northern Ireland.

The Government, therefore, accepts in principle the findings of the Patten Commission.

But with 175 recommendations there will clearly need to be further consultation on the implementation of the Report - with the political parties and the Irish government as the Agreement requires - but also with the wider community.

It's their police service.

As Chris Patten says he believes the main thrust of his proposals can be justified by looking at the challenge confronting policing in any modern society.

I have already spoken to Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and he has told me that he will be considering whether any of the recommendations could offer benefits to policing in England and Wales - including the reference to human rights in the proposed new oath.

There are also lessons being learnt elsewhere for us here in Northern Ireland. In particular, the Commission reflects the McPherson Report after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in saying that "real community policing is impossible if the composition of the police service bears little relationship to the composition of the community as a whole".

For policing to change, it is vital that, as Chris Patten said earlier, the whole community is involved in taking a new approach - not just the police themselves.

This is a two-way street.

And again as Chris Patten said, these are issues to be addressed regardless of the broader political context in Northern Ireland because they impact crucially on "the efficiency, acceptability and accountability of the police service".

However, other recommendations in the Report clearly relate to changes in the political and security situation here.

These range, for example: from changes to police stations, police vehicles and police numbers; to the amalgamation of Special Branch and the CID; to the eventual devolution of responsibility for policing.

And let me make it entirely clear that in implementing this Report, we will take account of the need to maintain the effectiveness of the police in countering any terrorist threat. There will be no question of relaxing our vigilance against any who still cling to violence.

With still other recommendations, there will be a lot of detailed work to do.

For example, those relating to the position of full time reserves.

Having talked to many reservists, I know they are greatly concerned for their future.

The Commission's report talks of giving such officers a "reasonable notice period" before their contract ends.

I can assure them that no decisions on full time reservists' contracts will be taken until we have consulted widely across the police family.

We know that the timescale of the proposed changes is crucial to many of them. So I would ask people not to prejudge that consultation, but to take an active part in it.

We are also exploring training and financial packages. That again is something I will be consulting on - especially with the police associations.

The RUC reserve have played their full part in support of the regular force over many years.

Indeed, the Commission and the Government know how much we all owe to every man and woman in the RUC who continue to work tirelessly, under very difficult and dangerous circumstances.

It has been the RUC who have held the fabric of this society together over the past 30 years.

The hurt they have suffered, the sacrifice they and their families have made, will never be forgotten. 302 officers have been killed, and 9,000 injured.

We will always respect the courage, dedication and professionalism people in the RUC bring to the job - and will continue to do so.

We will need that commitment just as much in the future as in the past.

The report calls for more help for injured police officers, retired officers and their families and RUC widows.

Some of their needs are already being addressed through the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust. But of course we will be looking again in detail at the work we are doing in light of this report.

The report addresses many issues, which I know cause concern to serving officers and their families.

Crucially their job and their financial security.

Some time ago the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that he would respond to those concerns "with sympathy and generosity".

Today let me say that I will match those words with actions.

As the Commission acknowledges, it will be expensive. I am consulting with my colleagues in the Treasury about resources. But the report offers the opportunity for a new modernised service and I will want to ensure that it has resources to match.

That is not just about funding redundancy packages.

It is also about finding the money to meet the costs of:

  • The comprehensive new training and development programme that is at the heart of the proposals;
  • A new police college;
  • The new IT systems;

And all the costs of restructuring the service.

The result will be to give police officers the opportunity to serve in a police service, which uses best practice and the best equipment, and can become a model for other police services anywhere else in Europe.

There is a big job ahead of us and it is important that we begin to work towards the police service the community as a whole want.

I want to hear from people in the community - as well as the professional and political groups - in response to this report.

The RUC are providing information to their officers.

For members of the public I have established a freephone number - 0500 000 167 - where they can call to make their views known in the consultation process and to find out how to get the report. The whole report is also on the Internet. {external link}

The process of consultation will begin as soon as people are ready.

In some areas there'll be negotiations to be had on matters like financial packages before further consultations can go ahead - so they'll need to start very soon.

I don't think prolonging uncertainty is helpful to anyone - especially not the police.

So I aim to complete the discussions by the end of November, and then publish a full implementation plan in December.

But at the same time, this can't all happen at once.

In line with the report, some changes can be made without legislation, some as soon as legislation is in place, others will take time - years - to complete.

The legislation will be a substantial Bill, and I am discussing with my colleagues finding the necessary Parliamentary time.

In preparing this report the Patten Commission have drawn on experience of good contemporary policing practice from across the world.

And brought what they have found to meet the challenges of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. The result is a positive outcome for police and people.

We could not have asked for more.

This is the chance for a new beginning. To set the standard for policing in the new millennium.

I urge everyone involved to read it;

To reflect on it;

and to seize the opportunity it offers for the whole community here in Northern Ireland.

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