Clause 23 — Disclosure of Information and Holding of Inquiries
Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]
Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland, Liberal Democrat)
Like Mr. Mallon, I shall confine my remarks on this abundance of amendments to a few specific areas that, I understand, are likely to cause the House to divide, rather than trying to emulate the tour de force of Mr. Taylor.
I turn first to the amendments in the name of Lady Hermon and her colleagues, of which I am broadly supportive. The restoration of the fourth ground for the non-disclosure of information is in my view important. In moving the amendment, the hon. Lady referred to the Patten report and to paragraph 6.22 in particular. It is worth emphasising the terms of that paragraph, which states:
"The grounds on which the Chief Constable might question this requirement should be strictly limited to issues such as those involving national security, sensitive personnel matters and cases before the courts."
In my view, the important phrase is "such as". It is clear that the detection of crime or the apprehension of offenders is very much of the same nature as the first three grounds.
That takes me back to a point that I made yesterday about how we should approach the Bill. We must consider the signals that we send out. The House must ask itself what signal it will send out to the community in Northern Ireland if we say that we want to remove this ground—to do with the detection of crime or apprehension of offenders—from the Bill. Removing that ground would be a retrograde step. The hon. Member for North Down said that the list in Patten was descriptive and not exhaustive. She was absolutely right.
The hon. Lady referred to the constitution of the special committees and reminded the House that the committees did not have their genesis in the Patten report. Yesterday, we spoke about sub-groups for district policing partnerships; today, we are talking about special committees. I am reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith's observation that the good Lord so loved the world that He sent His only son, and not a committee. Much of the Government's approach is bureaucratic and a little top-heavy. The special committees seem to be yet another layer of bureaucracy. I see no particular reason for them and I hope that the Government will reconsider their position.
The other matters on which I understand that the House may divide are Conservative amendment No. 86 and new clause 21. I made my position clear on this matter on Second Reading. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh reminded the House that, although it is possible for the decision to be made by a minority of the total committee, it still requires a majority of those who are present and voting. We should not lose sight of that important point. For that reason, the Liberal Democrats will support the Government should the House divide on this point.