Secretary of State's Powers to Prohibit Public Processions

Clause 10 – in the House of Commons at 11:45 pm on 4 February 1998.

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Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 11:45, 4 February 1998

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 7, line 14, at end insert 'and'.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 21 and 29 to 32.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

This group of amendments would remove the duty on the Secretary of State to consult, where practicable, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland public order committee before imposing a banning order. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 remove the obligation in the Bill, while amendments Nos. 29 to 32 are consequential on that. The amendments are by no means a vote of no confidence in PANI. Rather, they reflect its changing responsibilities as a result both of this Bill and of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, which we hope will be on the statute book shortly.

There are two main reasons why it is no longer necessary for the Secretary of State to consult the committee. The first is that establishing the Parades Commission has provided a forum for the sort of community representation work in this area that formerly fell to PANI. We have recognised the frustration from many people in the nationalist community that the legislative framework concerning parades has not enabled it to express its feelings adequately. The North report recognised—indeed, supported—the perception that a mainly public order-based approach did not enable wider considerations of the conflicting rights and responsibilities at issue to be taken into account.

The setting up the Parades Commission will enable extensive consultation and, we hope, lead to more brokered local accommodation. That is the central thrust of what we hope to achieve. Of course, that will be the commission's main objective. When the commission issues its determination, it will be able to do so with full knowledge of the views of all sides of the community, by the means that we have discussed in earlier debates. The Government believe that this is a considerable improvement on existing legislation, so consultation with another body with community-representation responsibility is no longer necessary.

The second reason is that the changes that the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, which has received its Second Reading, will bring about in structures governing policing mean that the PANI will no longer have responsibility for day-to-day resource issues. Under the old system, resource issues would, of course, have been one of the main reasons for consulting the PANI committee. That is not to say that PANI will have no interest in the policing of public processions and counter-demonstrations. Indeed, the Chief Constable will remain accountable to the police authority for the policing of such controversial events.

Some Committee amendments sought to extend the number of people whom the Secretary of State should consult before imposing a banning order. Our commitment to consultation in the Bill has been well rehearsed, both in Committee and elsewhere during the presentation of the Bill's main thrust, but we do not believe that extensive consultation over such sensitive and urgent decisions as imposing a ban would be sensible. Given the shortage of time in these exceptional circumstances, we believe that the Secretary of State needs to be able to make effective decisions quickly.

PANI was consulted—

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I may know the point that the hon. Gentleman is going to raise; I am perhaps reading his mind.

Before we tabled our amendment, PANI was consulted about the intention to remove the duty on the Secretary of State to consult it. It agreed and saw the sense in what the Government are seeking to do, so we have PANI's support for the amendment. I ask that hon. Members support the amendments accordingly.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

I was going to intervene on the Minister, but he did not give me the opportunity to do so. I am just delighted that he now seems to be second-guessing what I am going to ask.

Photo of Mr Ken Maginnis Mr Ken Maginnis UUP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone

The proposed change in the people who advise the Secretary of State is one of the most insidious and shameful. With respect, I wish that the Minister was a little less arrogant and a little more tolerant. He may be a Minister in a Government who have a large majority, but I have been a Member of Parliament since 1983 and I remember when another party behaved with the same arrogance—ultimately, it did not pay. Perhaps the Minister should take that on board.

In all the actions of the Government, past and present, I have seen something that has been engineered by the police division in the Northern Ireland Office, something which reduces the influence and authority of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. One has to go back 25 years to remember why the authority was established in the first place. It was established because there was a perception that the RUC was subject to political control. Everything in the Bill suggests that that is not far from the minds of those on the Government Front Bench.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) highlighted the new powers being given to the Secretary of State. When one combines the powers given to her in this Bill with those that she will have under the Police (Northern Bill) Bill, to which the Minister alluded in an earlier debate, one can see that she will increasingly have direct, effective control over the Chief Constable and the command of the RUC. The role of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland is being sidestepped to such an extent that there will be no protection for society in general in Northern Ireland because of political influence over that civil power.

It is not just the present Government who have been guilty of mistreating the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. I do not want to detract from the contribution made by the very competent people from both traditions who have served on the Police Authority down the years, but we have seen some apparently deliberately mischievous appointments to the authority. I am thinking of the appointment of people such as David Cook, for example, who is well known for his pompous, self-seeking role in society in Northern Ireland. He is someone who makes his living by being a member of various quangos.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Will the hon. Gentleman give one example of a mischievous appointment made by this Administration?

Photo of Mr Ken Maginnis Mr Ken Maginnis UUP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone

The Minister should listen more carefully. I did not pick out this Administration for its carelessness on the Police Authority. I hope that he will give me credit for that. Some of their policies this Bill and the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill are being pursued against sound advice, and will not leave them vindicated when the results begin to show.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The Government have removed members of my party from all quangos, including the Police Authority, because one of them was an ex-member of the RUC who would not be led by the nose. I have already told the Secretary of State about that. How dare the Minister say that all his appointments are fair?

Photo of Mr Ken Maginnis Mr Ken Maginnis UUP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. His suspicions are no greater than mine about how the Government are going about their business.

I was alluding to the appointment by the previous Administration of David Cook, who was appointed against very good advice and turned out to be an unsatisfactory chairman of the Police Authority. He had to be removed by the Secretary of State, along with Chris Ryder, who was also appointed against good advice. We believed that a practising journalist was not a suitable candidate to serve on the Police Authority. There was a conflict of interest in that appointment, because his journalistic interests could not be pursued alongside his Police Authority duties without one impinging on the other.

I shall not fall into the Minister's trap yet by talking about recent appointments, but they will come to light shortly. The Police Authority has been dealt a death blow by the previous Administration and this Administration. We shall find ourselves in a sorry situation when the chickens come home to roost.

The clause removes another substantive role from the Police Authority. The police will not have the cushion between their critics and their political masters that they have had for the past 26 years.

The issue is not particularly important on its own, but it is symptomatic of an attitude that is intended to damage the Police Authority and the police, so that the Government's proposals for the future of the RUC will appear justified. That is why I want to put that marker down. We are aware of what is intended by those in the police division of the Northern Ireland Office, and of the acquiescence of Ministers to the future dangers that they are creating. which have been pointed out to them.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Many of the comments have related to forthcoming debates in Committee on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill. That Bill is relevant in the sense that it deals with some of the matters with which it is worth while dealing in these debates. I am sorry that I set the hare running. I just wish that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone had listened to what I said.

The Police Authority was consulted and agreed with what we are seeking to do. The amendment does not strip away any powers. To take that argument forward and say that what the amendment proposes is the most insidious aspect of the whole Bill stretches my imagination. Perhaps the lateness of the hour is causing me difficulty in understanding the logic that is being presented to us.

On attacks on individuals who serve on public bodies and implied attacks on civil servants in the police division who—[Interruption.]

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I have heard the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone make some quite outrageous personal comments about such people. It is quite easy to do so under parliamentary privilege. If he continues to make such attacks, he will hear a robust defence in support of civil servants. Of course, they have no right to respond to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that, and that is why he usually comments under parliamentary privilege.

I commend the amendment on the basis that there has been proper consultation on it. The Police Authority is happy with what we are suggesting, and it sensibly amends the Bill.

12 midnight

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I do not know what the Minister is referring to when he comments on statements made about civil servants. I make my comments to civil servants to their face. We had a meeting with the Secretary of State. Mr. Steele told absolute lies. He was told by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) that he was a liar. He could not open his mouth—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member must be seated when I am on my feet. The matters that he is raising are nothing to do with the amendment.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister said that he would challenge us on certain things. The Government challenged us. When I got up to answer, I was ruled out of order.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 10.

Division No. 152][12.2 am
Alexander, DouglasJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Atherton, Ms CandyJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Atkins, CharlotteJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Austin, JohnJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Ballard, Mrs JackieJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Begg, Miss AnneKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Benton, JoeKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Blears, Ms HazelKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Boateng, PaulKumar, Dr Ashok
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)McAllion, John
Bradshaw, BenMcAvoy, Th omas
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)McCabe, Steve
Browne, DesmondMcCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Burgon, ColinMcGrady, Eddie
Burstow, PaulMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Caborn, RichardMcIsaac, Shona
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Campbell-Savours, DaleMcNulty, Tony
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)McWilliam, John
Chidgey, DavidMarek, Dr John
Clapham, MichaelMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Michael, Alun
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Miller, Andrew
Clelland, DavidMoonie, Dr Lewis
Clwyd, AnnMoore, Michael
Coffey, Ms AnnMountford, Kali
Connarty, MichaelMudie, George
Crausby, DavidMullin, Chris
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Norris, Dan
Davey, Edward (Kingston)O'Hara, Eddie
Davidson, IanÖpik, Lembit
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Palmer, Dr Nick
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)Pickthall, Colin
Dawson, HiltonPike, Peter L
Dobbin, JimPope, Greg
Donohoe, Brian HPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Doran, FrankPrimarolo, Dawn
Dowd, JimPurchase, Ken
Drown, Ms JuliaQuin, Ms Joyce
Ennis, JeffReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Foster, Don (Bath)Rendel, David
Foulkes, GeorgeRoche, Mrs Barbara
Fyfe, MariaRooker, Jeff
George, Andrew (St Ives)Rooney, Terry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)Rowlands, Ted
Gilroy, Mrs LindaRoy, Frank
Godsiff, RogerRuddock, Ms Joan
Grogan, JohnRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Hain, PeterRyan, Ms Joan
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Sanders, Adrian
Hanson, DavidSavidge, Malcolm
Healey, JohnSheerman, Barry
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Heppell, JohnSingh, Marsha
Hill, KeithSkinner, Dennis
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, LindsaySmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Spellar, John
Humble, Mrs JoanStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Hutton, JohnStinchcombe, Paul
Iddon, Dr BrianStott, Roger
Ingram, AdamStringer, Graham
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Stunell, Andrew
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Jamieson, DavidTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Jenkins, BrianThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Timms, StephenWebb, Steve
Tipping, PaddyWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Trickett, JonWise, Audrey
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Wood, Mike
Worthington, Tony
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)Wright, Anthony (Gt Yarmouth)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr RudiTellers for the Ayes:
Wareing, Robert NMr. Robert Ainsworth and
Watts, DavidMr. John McFall.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 21, in page 7, line 15, leave out from 'Constable' to end of line 18.—[Mr. Ingram.]