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My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)
My Lords, before that Motion is agreed to, I should just like to make a few points in relation to the Bill. It is more than three months since the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill received its Second Reading and it is considerably longer since it started its course through Parliament.
This is an extremely serious Bill and many things have changed. It has caused considerable concern within the police force in Northern Ireland but, during the whole of that period, the force has served its community with its usual professionalism and impartiality.
Also, many noble Lords will know that the government amendments to the Bill were tabled exceptionally late, the last ones coming on Thursday evening and being printed on Friday. I suspect that many noble Lords did not see those amendments on the Marshalled List until this morning. That has made it particularly difficult to respond as carefully and professionally as we might have done in different circumstances.
However, I understand and accept from the Government that the reason for that is that the amendments were being negotiated by the Secretary of State and his team right up until the last minute, with the parliamentary parties and others concerned in Northern Ireland.
However, we are today legislating for the policing of an integral part of the United Kingdom. However, it is the peace process which makes this legislation so delicate and difficult. There is a need for the balance of discussion to be so carefully weighed.
I submit, though, that the Government are now running to the end of the road on this Bill. I suggest that they have until Report stage to make some extremely key decisions. I hope that we shall have some very good debates in Committee which will allow Her Majesty's Government to make the right decisions in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the understanding that he has shown in relation to the amendments coming from the government side. The Second Reading of the Bill took place on 27th July and the vast bulk of the time since then has obviously been taken up by the Summer Recess.
Today, we are focusing on individual amendments to the Bill. I wish to spend a few moments, in response to the noble Lord's remarks, setting our discussions in a wider context.
This legislation flows directly from the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland--the Patten report. That commission took its terms of reference directly from the Good Friday agreement. Following publication of the Patten report, the Government have carried out a wide range of consultations. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland believes, as I do, that this is a balanced Bill. The Government have listened very carefully and have demonstrated that we are prepared to make changes where it is right to do so. Every proposal has been assessed against the key test: will it contribute to making the police a more effective representative service, a service which commands the widespread support and confidence of the people of Northern Ireland?
Patten himself recognised that his report would not be mechanistically implemented and that some fine-tuning would inevitably be required in translating some of his recommendations into legislation. This legislation is a key element in taking forward the Good Friday agreement. The goal--and it should be a shared goal for all the differences of opinion in relation to individual facets of the Bill--is to achieve a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland.
The Bill offers a unique opportunity for policing in Northern Ireland to move forward. All noble Lords share that aspiration and I welcome their support in helping the Government to deliver it.
In calling this amendment, I should point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 2 to 7 because of pre-emption.
This amendment has an obvious purpose; namely, to create a double-barrelled name for the police service in Northern Ireland, that new name being the Royal Ulster Constabulary-Police Service of Northern Ireland. In my view, that is the best title for a police service in Northern Ireland and the best means of ensuring widespread cross-community support for the police.
I have said before that many aspects of Patten are to be welcomed and many are by no means objectionable. However, the few aspects which I find objectionable I find deeply objectionable. Those deeply objectionable aspects are only so because they are founded on misinformation, false logic and a misinterpretation of the Belfast agreement.
A point of misinformation is that young Catholics will not join the police service as they find its current title offensive. If that is true, why in the period between what paramilitaries term the "cessation of military operations" and the suspension of recruitment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, did Catholic applications to the police double from 11 per cent to 22 per cent?
That figure of 22 per cent is only the start. However it is clearly an impressive start and one not precipitated by any name change or name alteration. That fact should not be ignored. It should be given due weight in any discussion on the future name of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Exactly what is offensive about the title "Royal Ulster Constabulary"? Is it the fact that that name is associated with a police force that has protected both Catholics and Protestant people in Northern Ireland, providing that thin green line throughout 30 years of terrorism? I think not. So, it must be the "Royal" prefix. Are we to believe that young Catholic Irish men and women will not join a police service in Northern Ireland because it has a "Royal" prefix? The Republic of Ireland has many organisations that contain a "Royal" prefix. I have heard no reports of them experiencing recruitment problems because of that. There is no shortage of sailors at the Royal Cork Yacht Club; architects at the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland; or surgeons at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. There is no shortage of physicians at the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, possibly only a shortage of beds at the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook. Indeed, there is no problem of people failing to attend events at the Royal Dublin Society.
In the past, the Royal Irish Constabulary attracted Catholic recruits despite its name, as some may now suggest. Of course, the Royal Irish Constabulary began to suffer recruitment problems only when intimidation of its members became prevalent. If it is now clear that the prefix is not the central cause of the low number of Catholic applications to the police, an alternative cause must exist. That brings us to the central and widespread problem of intimidation.
For a long time young Catholics have been intimidated into not joining the police. Now, to a lesser extent, illustrated by the doubling of applications, that intimidation continues. The eradication of such intimidation and disbandment of paramilitary organisations will precipitate the continuing increase in Catholic applicants to become police officers in Northern Ireland and create the police service we all desire; one that reflects the community it polices in all its areas.
It must be remembered that any alteration to the name of the police service in Northern Ireland must be founded in logic. Yes, it is important to increase overt support for the police in nationalist and, if possible, republican communities. But one must maintain the level of support for the police from among Unionists that has existed until now.
The principle of consent is central to the Belfast agreement. Northern Ireland shall remain within the United Kingdom while the majority so desire. Northern Ireland is not state neutral, neither is the police. It is not unreasonable to maintain the name "The Royal Ulster Constabulary" because it is a British police force. However, our amendment offers more. It offers a new name that recognises the importance of the RUC, a double-barrelled name that symbolises something new and one that both communities in Northern Ireland should support. I beg to move.
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 2 and others tabled in my name in this grouping. At Second Reading I stated that, unlike many other noble Lords who spoke, I like the Patten report and would like to see it fully implemented. I do not believe that it is one-sided. It is a well worked out compromise. Fully implementing the Patten report is part of implementing the Good Friday agreement.
I have said before in this place that the situation in Northern Ireland is very peculiar. Although the events are taking place within the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government in a post-colonial situation, we are in an international context. The Good Friday agreement is an international treaty and we are bound to implement it, as we agreed to, with the Republic of Ireland. I am sure that Members of the Committee hardly need reminding that the Republic implemented its part of the bargain and changed its constitution. Therefore, one cannot say that this is a one-sided agreement.
Perhaps I may make one or two comments about the principles at stake. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, is right that a principle of consent is part of the crux of the matter in Northern Ireland. Nothing in the Bill or in my amendment detracts from that principle of consent. But there are other principles outlined in the Good Friday agreement. One is that we should recognise the right of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish, British or both. Another is that the agreement will guarantee parity of esteem and just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.
We have to strike a good balance. I agree that it is puzzling for people to object to the word "Royal" in the title of a police force within the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government. However, that has been part of the problem for the past 70 to 80 years. That is why we have been fighting this particular half-battle, half-truce in Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is not possible for us to say that we can forget about all that.
I agree with the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, to the excellent work done by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I completely share that. It has done a great job. However, we have to look to the future. If we are to have a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland, we have to make a new beginning, follow what we achieved in the Good Friday agreement and work out its consequences.
Last May Chris Patten stated:
"If you are going to get a police service which young Catholics as well as young Protestants ... are going to join, then it can't be identified with the central political argument in Northern Ireland and it is as simple as that".
I do not think that it is simple; it is complex. However, it is a central political argument. We cannot forget that. To stay with a half compromise of Patten will just not do.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan--I concede he has more first-hand knowledge of this matter than I do--stated that young Catholics would be willing to join the service. On 11th June an opinion poll in the Sunday Times stated that 72 per cent of Catholics agreed that the RUC name should be changed to the Northern Ireland Police Service.
The differences are pretty straightforward. The present formulation tries to straddle both alternatives. I say we must make a clean break. We must call the new service the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That incorporates the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as my amendment says. But we have to have a clean break and go to a new era, a new regime in which all the parties agree to co-operate, as they did with the Good Friday agreement.
I greatly regret than an inescapable duty in Middle Temple, where I hold an office, will prevent me from playing as much of a part in today's proceedings as I should like. It makes me all the more glad that these amendments appear first on the Marshalled List.
It is always helpful at the outset of any discussion to try to identify the common ground, and it is not difficult to find the common ground that unites us all in this Chamber today; that is, that we all want to see more Catholics proportionately represented in the RUC. We all recognise that they are at present in the minority. The question is how we achieve that proportionality. The reasons for the present situation are too plain to need stating.
The Government's proposal for a new name in place of the RUC is designed to bring more Catholics in and to do it, so the argument goes, by removing something which at present keeps them out. But is that a sound argument? And even if it is, will the resulting pain and resentment running over into a loss of confidence be worthwhile? We need to be fair about this. For my part I am prepared to concede that there have been times, fortunately now long distant, when the RUC--not altogether unintentionally--was associated with the Protestant majority. We do not need to dwell on the reasons. It was harmful and it was wrong. In those days that would have deterred many a well-qualified Catholic from wanting to join.
But the driving factors for Catholic antipathy in those days were these: the political control; the management; the make-up of the RUC; and, it has to be said, on occasions the conduct of individual members. I suggest that the name itself scarcely signified, any more than the prefix "Royal" signifies today in those institutions in the Republic which were alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Today, it is surely common ground that those blemishes are things of the past. The old political control of operational decisions has gone; the management of the RUC is quite transformed. Nobody today argues that there is sectarian favouritism. As for the conduct of the RUC, we need only need go back to the television pictures of the RUC standing eyeball to eyeball against the Orangemen at Drumcree year after year, losing in one year one officer who was murdered and scores more being gravely injured, to realise how the RUC today upholds its duty of impartiality. That is to say nothing of its record of this past 30 years of violence.
I would argue therefore that there has already been a new beginning of great significance to policing in Northern Ireland, and that is before one takes on board the fact that 85 per cent of Patten's recommendations are already implemented or in the pipeline to be so.
So what is it that still keeps Catholics away? How much, if anything, is it the name? Again, one cannot dispute that it plays some part, but I believe that it is a tiny, residual part. Much more serious is the part played by the failure--or is it the refusal?--of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, regrettably, to endorse service in the RUC as a worthy calling for a good Catholic. Much more is represented by the failure--or is it the refusal?--of leaders of the SDLP to urge membership of the RUC as a proper thing for good nationalists, as so many nationalists have already shown. Likewise--it has already been alluded to--is the part played by intimidation, not only of the candidate for the RUC who happens to be a Catholic, but of his or her family with dire consequences. What a difference the removal of all those factors would make in bringing us forward to what all of us in this Chamber tonight desire.
Today we must balance against a possible gain of slight proportion, the great wound to serving and past members of the RUC and to their families that will be caused by amputating their force's name and, as it were, chucking it into the waste bin as though it were some gangrenous material. The foundation proposed by the Bill is welcome and is a salve. I hope it will be fortified by a Royal Charter. Of course the name will live on in the RUC Widows Association; that cannot be taken away. But the trauma and pain will be very real, as will the consequential resentment and loss of confidence, which we can well do without. For my part, I feel it is quite disproportionate to any gain that we may reasonably expect in persuading more Catholics to join the RUC.
In conclusion, I realise--and I shall not forget this as the debates continue--that the Chief Constable of the RUC expressed the view that his men and women desire above all things for this issue to be brought to a speedy conclusion; they do not want it to become a political football. But today, for the reasons I tried to put before the Committee, I support Amendment No. 1.
I too rise to support Amendment No. 1. My name is attached to Amendment No. 6 which proposes a slightly different solution. However, my arguments are that the republican and nationalist movements have, through the peace agreement, agreed to serve and take part in the government at Stormont for governing Northern Ireland, a Province of the United Kingdom. When I met with their representatives, I was told that they want ownership, in real terms, of the police so that their constituency can feel comfortable and at home with the people whose job it is to police their communities.
That is all very worthy. But if they want ownership and if they are prepared to take an active sharing part in the governance of Northern Ireland, then they should be prepared to give and take in the things that really matter to their communities as much as does the Unionist community.
One such matter is the name of the new police force which is destined to police Northern Ireland.
Let us not forget that the peace agreement, almost on the first page, states that Northern Ireland will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom while consensus for that remains; in other words, while a majority of people want it to be so. That indicates that more than 50 per cent of the people living in Northern Ireland want that to be and want to have a share of the police force.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, have made clear the non-effect on recruitment of Roman Catholics, nationalists and republicans into the police force as a result of the name. The name is a symbol and a part of history. It is to be hoped that the new name will become an integral part of history. I believe that for the peace process to continue--and I put it as seriously as that--a balance, a compromise, must be arrived at or a brave, courageous and firm line must be taken by Her Majesty's Government to ensure that there is seen to be a fairness and compromise in the naming of the new police force.
Not only are the members of the force excited about this part of the Bill; so are the electorate. They are those people who make up that 54 per cent; those people who did not vote for the Unionist party in South Antrim who are, what one might term, the soft, moderate, sensible, well off, middle-class of Ulster unionism. Those people feel very strongly, and I make the point to the Minister that we on this side of the Committee believe that there must be a compromise which in some way reclaims in part the name RUC GC or similar.
I recognise that had I been brought up in Northern Ireland I would have been part of the Protestant community. Now I try hard to stand in their shoes and understand.
For a good many years, together with Free Church and Roman Catholic leaders in Liverpool, I met twice a year with our opposite numbers in Belfast and Glasgow. I understand the deep feelings about the symbolism of the name and the badge of the RUC; the deep but different feelings held both in the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. In the Protestant community, there is pride in the record of the RUC, often one of very great cost, and the change of name may seem to denigrate that record. But if I were part of that Protestant community in Northern Ireland I would want to build on all that is good about that history. Most of all I would want to know that the rule of law should run throughout the Province. I would know too well that the RUC was not accepted as "our" police service in many parts of the Catholic community.
In Britain, we have always believed that the rule of law needs mutual co-operation between public and the police. When that trust breaks down, citizens cease to think of the police as "our" police service. The issue of recruiting, mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, and others, follows--but it is not the only one--from confidence in "our" police force. Will citizens come forward as witnesses when there exists the crucial issue of whether or not they trust the police force as "our" police force and when people even start to talk of an army of occupation? We know that all that has happened in substantial parts of Northern Ireland.
In debates in this House in June or July last year some noble Lords spoke of the innocent being made to suffer along with the guilty. Which of us is innocent in Northern Ireland and in Northern Ireland history? It is not the English who brought in a community of settlers, giving them unjust advantages in employment, land and law. No, none of us can claim to be innocent. We need a fresh start which will win the assent of the whole community to the rule of law and the agents who enforce it.
We had an example in Liverpool. It is not quite the same but there is sufficient parallel to make it worth quoting. After the Toxteth riots in 1981, leaders in the Liverpool black community approached Church leaders asking whether we would help them to establish a law centre. They had not believed that policing was even-handed. In all our discussions, a simple hope led us forward; that this deprived community could come to see that the law could be a friend. It would have been a tremendous change. That hope needed to grow if, crucially, people were to give evidence and if black police officers were to be recruited.
Let us suppose that I had been brought up in the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland and that I had felt moved to become a police officer. Would my friends believe that I was joining "our" police service; that the law could now be a friend? Or would old memories that the RUC was really part of the Protestant community override that? If I had been brought up in the Catholic community, I would know that for many people the name and the badge have been regarded with great hurt.
Patten was right; there has to be a fresh beginning for policing that the whole community can accept. There is a lot of compromise about Patten and about this Bill. Unionists have often said that they want closer ties with Britain; the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, twice spoke today about Northern Ireland being an integral part of the United Kingdom. Yes, it seems to me to follow that the Northern Ireland police service should be placed on the same basis as other police forces in the United Kingdom. One does not have a Royal Metropolitan Police, with all the costs that it has suffered, or a Royal Merseyside Police. That title belongs to an old situation and Northern Ireland urgently needs a new beginning for the rule of law to be accepted in all parts of the community.
Before the noble Lord sits down, will he accept that public opinion polls in Northern Ireland have revealed that the majority of Roman Catholics do not object to the title Royal Ulster Constabulary? They may not be madly enthusiastic about it but they are not particularly opposed either. There are those who are opposed but they represent well under 20 per cent of the entire population.
I do not know from where the noble Lord has obtained his figure. My advice is that it is a cause of very real and wide offence in the Catholic community in Northern Ireland.
We are in danger, as we often are, of subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of the minority and forgetting the majority. The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted for the peace agreement because they believed that there would be peace. They are still in a situation in which, if the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, will forgive me, many innocent victims are having to suffer the law of the paramilitaries and are unable to have recourse to where they should be able to go because the paramilitaries have decreed that no one may work for the RUC or join it. That is where the problem lies. Catholics have never had a problem in wanting to enter the RUC but they have a problem with the consequences for themselves and their families.
I cannot understand why we are constantly concerned about the wishes of the paramilitaries. A majority of the population--I am sorry to say it, but there is still a majority--want things to go on so that there will be law and order. The RUC has signally succeeded in providing that law and order: whether it confronts loyalists or anybody else, it has performed that duty.
One of the big problems so far is that IRA/Sinn Fein will not endorse even the new service. It wants the whole of the RUC, whatever its title, to be abolished and its own people's police. One cannot expect the majority to contemplate that with calm. The SDLP, according to press reports--I shall be happy if the noble and learned Lord is able to contradict me--has said that it will not join the police authority if invited to do so until it is satisfied that the new organisation will work well, which is a completely circular argument.
It was expressly said in the Belfast agreement that all parties acknowledged the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems, including the title which that force has had since its inception. That body, and the majority of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, believe that the retention of the reference to the Crown is one of the very few indications (I am sorry to say) that they, let alone Dublin, recognise that Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom. It is a very important symbol to them. If we are to respect the symbols of the other side, why can we not respect the symbols of the vast majority, particularly since many honourable and brave Catholic members of the RUC wish that force to succeed, prosper and behave well, as it has done.
We should not allow ourselves to be manoeuvred by the excellent media tactics of the paramilitaries into depriving the country of its due, which is law and order and a proper and well supported police force. As my noble and learned friend said, the RUC has already done most of the things that really matter in the community which Patten wanted. I hope that the Committee will help the RUC to retain its title and not allow itself to be manoeuvred into giving it up as yet one more minor concession. It is not a minor concession but a major symbol.
I see the change in the name of the RUC as an integral part of the Government's approach in this Bill. I do not believe that the change of name is anything to do with appeasing paramilitaries or terrorists; it is to establish a police service in Northern Ireland which has the consent of the vast majority of law-abiding individuals in both communities. That is the aim, and I believe that this Bill will achieve it.
I am not sure that I should bandy opinion poll statistics, but I am prepared to deal with the opinions of people to whom I have spoken in Northern Ireland on both sides of the community. There are serving officers in the RUC and others who have said that the name does not matter, as long as they have a proper police service which has the consent of the people whom that service seeks to serve. Not everybody makes so much of the name. I agree that there are those who believe that the name is important, but we must look at what the Bill seeks to do in the round and how we should take it forward.
I do not suggest that. There are even officers in the RUC who do not believe that the retention of the name is that crucial. I use as an analogy the British Army regiments which lost their names when they merged 10 or 15 years ago under the previous government. There was a good deal of feeling that the traditions of many brave and illustrious British Army regiments would be lost if the names were changed. Eventually it was argued out, and most people associated with those regiments, which had a long history, accepted reluctantly that it was necessary to change the name and did not maintain that that meant a denial of the traditions of those regiments. I make a similar argument with regard to the RUC. In changing the name to meet the new situation as described in the Patten report one is talking about moving towards a police service in Northern Ireland which has the consent of the vast majority of people there.
I worry about the reference by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to the amputation of the name of the RUC. With all deference to his long experience of and service to Northern Ireland, I am not sure that that kind of terminology is helpful: it implies that somehow one is damaging the history and traditions of the police in Northern Ireland, and I believe that that is not so.
I remind the Committee of one or two passages in the Patten report. I quote from paragraph 17.4 on page 98:
"Many people in Northern Ireland from the Irish nationalist and republican tradition regard the name, badge and symbols of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as associating the police with the British constitution and state. This contributes to the perception that the police are not their police".
That is crucial. We want to achieve a situation in which people, from whatever part of the community they may come, believe that it is their police. The Committee may regret that that is the situation, but we are dealing with a situation that has arisen over many years.
At the end of the same paragraph, on page 99, the report states:
"The argument about symbols is not an argument about policing, but an argument about the constitution".
In paragraph 17.6 it goes on to say:
"In our judgment that new beginning"-- which we are now talking about--
"cannot be achieved unless the reality that part of the community feels unable to identify with the present name and symbols associated with the police is addressed. Like the unique constitutional arrangements, our proposals seek to achieve a situation in which people can be British, Irish or Northern Irish, as they wish, and all regard the police service as their own".
It is crucial that the police in Northern Ireland have the support of the SDLP and the Catholic Church. One of the real challenges that face the Government is to ensure that that support is forthcoming. If it is, it will be much easier for young Catholics freely and willingly to join the police and serve the people of Northern Ireland. I am reminded of a story that I heard about the head teacher of a Catholic school in West Belfast. He said that there was no difficulty about his school leavers joining the police: they joined the Strathclyde Police, the Metropolitan Police and the Garda Siochana. The challenge is to ensure that those young people who want a career in the police are willing to join the service in Northern Ireland.
Before the noble Lord sits down, does he believe that if the name is changed, as in the Bill, the nationalist and republican community will come forward and take part in that police force?
It is one element in a package of measures described by Patten, to which this Bill gives effect, that will help to secure the confidence of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland.
I support the amendment. A considerable amount has already been said about this matter, and I am sure that a good deal more will be said. As a preamble, for the past 31 years the RUC has defended virtually the undefendable in the Province of Ulster. During that time 302 RUC officers and men have died and countless numbers who have been wounded will carry their scars and disabilities to the end of their lives. One has in mind also the widows and children of officers who have been killed in the troubles in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said that at this stage we need a new beginning. I believe that during the past 31 years a new beginning has emerged. It began when the whole Northern Ireland peace process started to take a positive hold in one's mind. The fact that, from the time of the cessation of terrorism, Catholic recruitment to the RUC has increased from 11 per cent to 22 per cent--recruitment has now been suspended--shows that there has been a new beginning. We need to balance that--it is not a compromise as such--with how far we are prepared to kick in the teeth the families of those who have given their lives.
It is quite unacceptable for people to say that unless we change the nomenclature of the police force in Northern Ireland, we cannot achieve the peace that we all dearly want. It is intimidation and not nomenclature that is at the root of the problem. But it is easy for us to say that we should change the name of the RUC.
I have spoken before in the House about the sad lack of active support by the Catholic hierarchy towards those of their flock who want to join the RUC. Greater efforts should be made by everyone involved to try to get the Catholic hierarchy to say, "Of course it is our police force".
People say that the only hurdle against continuing firm peace in Northern Ireland is the name of the RUC. That is not true. We need to root out the support for the paramilitary and terrorist organisations which is only there because of intimidation. Changing the Royal Ulster Constabulary's name to the Police Service of Northern Ireland will not achieve that.
I should just like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that, yes, it is vital that the widows of the RUC and its wounded members are properly cared for. That is precisely what is provided for under the terms of the RUC George Cross Foundation.
I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, that what is needed is a new start and a new name. It would be a great mistake to have a name which is controversial to some people. It would be better to have a name which is neutral and which hopefully all sections of the community could support. Therefore, I support the Government on the amendment.
Before addressing the detail of the amendment, I should like to draw the attention of noble Lords to two general points. First, the majority of clauses in the Bill were proposed by the Chief Constable and members of the RUC. They are welcomed in many quarters and have much support on these Benches.
Secondly, there are still a number of controversial issues which will be discussed during the Committee stage. I believe that it is timely to remind noble Lords that this legislation was rushed through the other place with undue haste and insufficient debate and scrutiny. Therefore, it is beholden to Members of the Committee to allow sufficient time for careful scrutiny of the Bill and to keep in mind that the controversial issues of the Patten report will not be implemented until the level of violence has ceased and policing activity has returned to normal. This has not occurred.
I strongly support Amendment No.1. The Patten report stated that it was important that the link between the RUC and the new police force should be recognised. However, at the same time, the report says that many people in Northern Ireland from the Irish nationalist and the republican tradition regard the name, badge and symbols of the RUC as associating the police with the British constitution and state, contributing to a perception that the police are not their police. Ulster is part of the British constitution. Therefore, it is right and proper to associate the RUC with the British constitution, especially as the Belfast agreement means acceptance of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom. It would be improper and weak to adopt any other line.
A recent survey of attitudes in Ulster in the Belfast Telegraph found that 61 per cent of Catholics are not offended by the RUC identity and name. That is in direct contrast to the Patten report statement.
While in the Army and patrolling in Belfast and in the countryside many years ago, apart from in the hardline areas, there was seldom any occasion when people showed hatred or dislike for the RUC. The Government are taking into account the views of a small element of extremists. One is drawn to the conclusion that the decision to change the name of the RUC is intended to appeal to that small element of hardliners who will never support any police force.
There is no greater or quicker way to demoralise a force than to remove its badge and change its title. That is the exact road that the Government have chosen to go down. A police force with low morale immediately becomes inefficient That leads to increased crime and greater acts of terrorism.
Clause 1 of the Bill lays down the provisions for the RUC's new name. I remind the Committee that Clause 1(1) states that,
There is no need for any brackets or to change the name of the RUC. There is worse to come. Subsection (2) states that for all operational purposes it will be known as the Police Service of Northern Ireland. "Operational purposes" includes all working, public, legal, ceremonial, administrative, presentational and recruitment purposes. I have a strong belief that in the future the only place where the name will be seen in full will be on the statute book. It will not be used on the heading of writing paper, as the title outside police stations or referred to verbally.
It is for all those reasons that I strongly support the amendment.
I support the amendment. The name of the police force is extremely important, not only to the force but to the people of Northern Ireland.
When we talk about a new beginning, we are talking about two new beginnings. The Government are talking about a new beginning where they hope--we all hope--that Roman Catholics will join the RUC. Sinn Fein/IRA is thinking about a different beginning. It is talking about a beginning without a police force.
At the moment, we do not suffer from as much terrorism as we did, but ordinary crime is on the increase, especially in rural areas. I live in Fermanagh and the whole county is rural. There crime is escalating. Who will solve the crime? Who believes that a police force can be plucked out of any community and be capable in a short length of time of so doing? Sinn Fein/IRA does not want ex-RUC members in the police force. It does not want a police force that is capable of solving ordinary crime. Indeed, in the urban areas one gets the impression that no Roman Catholic wants a police force. Sinn Fein/IRA or the loyalist organisations--I treat them equally--do not wish to have a police force that can sort out the crime level which has become endemic in those areas. An FBI report was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph last week as saying that the crime level is based on terrorist organisations. I suggest that if one asked the criminal underworld in London what they thought about the police force, one would hear a roughly similar point of view--do away with it and start again.
There are emblems in the badge of the RUC for all Ireland. If we think that we have a new beginning, how is it that the number of calls from Catholics from very hard areas of Northern Ireland--from Newry, the Creggan and the Falls--requiring the help of the police is increasing? The latest figures show a 20 per cent increase--25 per cent in some areas. Is the RUC really not accepted for sorting out the crime that is taking place? I would disagree with that. We are talking about a new beginning. The new beginning is partly there, but we cannot have that new beginning until the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland, the SDLP and Sinn Fein support a modern police force that is capable, unfortunately for those involved, of taking on terrorist- related crime and ordinary day-to-day crime in Northern Ireland.
To those who say that they have never heard of a Roman Catholic speaking to the police or getting their help, perhaps I may say this. This morning, 100 yards from home, 38 sheep were killed through dogs worrying them. They belonged to a good friend of mine--he is a Roman Catholic from Brookeborough. Who was first on the scene? It was the RUC. What will my friend be demanding on television this evening? I say that because the television people came down. He will be demanding that the RUC get out there and deal with the normal, day-to-day problems. I totally refute the idea that Roman Catholics do not want anything to do with the RUC, although it may be so in areas where they are canvassed and intimidated and fear is instilled in their communities by those who do not wish to be caught in their acts of crime.
Those who have never lived or served in Northern Ireland probably see these problems in a different light from those who have. It is now 18 years since I was there and therefore my perceptions are clouded. But I hope the noble and learned Lord the Minister will accept that there are many who would like to consider the proceedings today before coming to a conclusion as the alternatives were only recently put before us. That is not a request for delay; it is a request for a chance to absorb what is being said, some of which is very powerful stuff.
I was very much touched by what the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard--I am never sure whether to call him a right reverend Prelate or a right reverend Lord--said about what we are trying to do. We are trying to produce a police force which is not only accepted but owned by--that is, felt to belong to--all the communities in the Province. What is the principal barrier to that? It is not the force's title; it is its composition. It is the lack of Roman Catholic representation among the membership. What is the cause of that? From what I have heard, it seems to me that there are two causes. The first is the lack of commendation on the part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and other bodies in the Province that young people should regard membership of the police as an honourable career; and the second is intimidation by terrorist forces. As long as those persist, it will not make a ha'p'orth of difference what we call the force; and that is not going to change.
We have the horse behind the cart. As one has, in legislation, to drive both the horse and the cart through the same gate at the same time, if this has to be done now, it should not be done in haste. I was very much impressed by what my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden and other noble Lords said about the emotive effect of a title. If the title is to be changed, it must be done in a manner which does not dishonour the dead. If one is changing the name of the Birmingham police force, one does not do anything to the amour propre of anyone in a sense where it really matters.
Perhaps I may break off to quote, almost irrelevantly but I cannot resist it, my favourite misprint of all time which appeared in the Coventry Evening Telegraph many years ago:
"The editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph wishes to apologise for his reference in last night's edition to the Birmingham polite force. This, of course, should have been a reference to the Birmingham police farce".
I say that merely to lighten the tone of the afternoon. But these are serious matters. We should not get them wrong.
The RUC is very like a regiment. I can understand that it has the feelings of a regiment. I have been in a regiment during an amalgamation and I understand how tender those feelings can be. But if all ranks share a determination to make the new body work, it will work. We have first of all to address the question of commendation and intimidation. This is a secondary matter.
Had I been looking after my personal interests, this is a debate which I could very well have avoided. If I as a Catholic--I am still a Catholic--educated by the Christian Brothers in Northern Ireland, were to say that I support the retention of the name of the RUC, as I intend to do, I can imagine the headlines tomorrow morning in the nationalist press in Ireland. I would be regarded as a traitor, as someone who had sold out my principles and as someone who was no longer a nationalist. All that would be said about me tomorrow morning. I could have avoided this debate. However, I think it right that this Chamber should be made fully aware of the complex issues involved in one's attitude towards the police of Northern Ireland.
I remember leading a civil rights march in Derry on 5th October 1968, a march which had been banned by the then Minister of Home Affairs, William Craig, because we were demanding civil rights in Northern Ireland which he found repugnant. Because we wanted to march down a certain street, we were beaten up by the police. I was one of the first to be beaten by the police. The pages of history will record that as a fact. So people have said to me within the past week, "How can you support the RUC when they hit you on the head with a baton on 5th October 1968?" Many years have elapsed since 1968 and many attitudes have changed. Most of the civil rights I was marching for in Northern Ireland have been granted. All the issues that were so paramount then have now come to be true in Northern Ireland.
Let us look clearly and distinctly at what the debate is about. The debate is in many ways a debate about the constitution of Northern Ireland. We cannot run away from that fact. It is a debate about the constitution and the existence of Northern Ireland as a state within the United Kingdom; a state which many people in Northern Ireland do not accept. During the course of my Second Reading speech I said that the Northern Ireland police are unlike any other police force in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is the only state in the United Kingdom that has a land border with an independent country--the Irish Republic. That does not apply to the police in Yorkshire or any other police force.
Northern Ireland came into being as a six-county state in the wake of an awful amount of bloodshed. In the years before partition, members of the old RIC--the Royal Irish Constabulary--were brutally murdered because they were seen to be an arm of the British domination of the Irish Republic and, indeed, Ireland.
After partition, the RIC was reformed to become the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The force was given two facets to focus on in its policing work. The first was to find miscreants who robbed meters, to investigate house burglaries and to impose parking fines as well as dealing with the other elements of conventional crime. The second facet of its work concerned its obligation to defend the state of Northern Ireland. That was why it was formed as Northern Ireland's police force. The force was given the obligation to defend the six counties' border of Northern Ireland. No other police force had such responsibilities.
Certain positions were reserved for Catholics to join the RUC. It is not strictly correct to say that Catholics do not support the existence of Northern Ireland as a constitutional entity. That is simply not true. Survey after survey has proved that many Catholics do support the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Perhaps those Catholics come from what might be called the middle classes. They are people in employment and those who, if the state were to be abolished, would find themselves in a very difficult position.
I ask my noble friends in this Committee to recall that one of the great supporters of the RUC over many years has been a very courageous priest by the name of Monsignor Dennis Faul. He has repeatedly come out in support of the RUC. Where has Father Faul been over the past two or three months--indeed, since the publication of the Patten report? I have not heard from him. I do not believe that Father Faul has been intimidated into silence by the IRA because he has shown so much courage over the past 30 years. Therefore we must address another question: has some other force told Father Faul not to say anything in support of the RUC? I find that extremely unhelpful and despairing in the present situation.
There we have it. As I said earlier, after partition vacancies were kept for Catholics to join the RUC. However, for Catholics that move was tantamount to agreeing to the declaration that: "If you join the RUC, you are a traitor to the ideal of a united Ireland. You are allying yourself to the unionist cause. You are a traitor to your religion." Very little has changed. That is what will be said about me by tomorrow morning in the pan-nationalist press of Northern Ireland. However, many Catholics think as I do; namely, that in the present situation, the RUC has been humiliated and demonised by a bloodthirsty band of murderers who have been carrying out the most atrocious crimes on the island of Ireland over the past 30 years.
But those Catholics who think as I do hesitate before they would say anything in public. They would hesitate before writing a letter to the Belfast Telegraph or the Irish News, because they know what would be the probable results. Let us not say that every Catholic is clamouring for the abolition of the RUC as regards its name, badge and insignia. Many Catholics in Northern Ireland have never had any difficulties with the RUC.
One could pursue the emotional vein and examine what has happened to the RUC over the past 30 years: 302 killed and 8,000 wounded. I have said before in this place that, had it not been for the RUC, Northern Ireland would have descended into a state of total anarchy. It was the RUC which prevented that happening.
Before 1968, namely, before the onset of the civil rights movement and the present troubles, why even then did not Catholics join the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Between 1922 and 1968, all kinds of doors were opened to help enable Catholics to join the RUC. However, they did not. Why not? I must observe that on occasion I have heard other speakers in this place demonstrate their infuriating ignorance of the situation when they declare, "If this Bill goes through, republicans and nationalists will join the RUC." That is a contradiction in terms. What does republicanism mean? Republicans do not wish to see the continuing existence of Northern Ireland. What does nationalism mean? Nationalists wish to see a united Ireland, but they wish to bring to an end the six counties of Northern Ireland. How can nationalists--who hold to their beliefs--and republicans--who want to see a resolution far more quickly than the constitutional nationalists--join together in a force which has declared that it is a part of the United Kingdom and has the royal insignia on its cap badge?
All the difficulties that have existed in Northern Ireland for many years are being opened up by this Bill. I do not believe that we shall see a rush of Catholics to join the RUC. Indeed, only over the past week or so in the Irish legislature, an SDLP councillor from Ballymena, Declan O'Lohn, came out and said that he would lend his support to Catholics who wished to join the RUC. He further said that a prolonged and vicious attack had been made on every aspect of unionist culture in Northern Ireland. The unionists now feel as I felt in 1968 when I marched for civil rights to be instituted in the state of Northern Ireland. They feel that their entire culture is being taken away from them, that pan-nationalism is ranged against them and that they have no one who can speak in their defence. A fortnight ago I saw what happened to Declan O'Lohn. As soon as he made that statement, all the SDLP members immediately rounded on him and declared that he was not speaking for them. He is a Catholic and an elected councillor for the town of Ballymena. For that reason, I have no doubt about how I shall be treated tomorrow in the pan-nationalist press.
Last week a vicious murder took place in Ballymurphy. A young man by the name of O'Connor was killed by the Provisional IRA. The organisation has denied it, but everyone knows that its members were responsible. The fact is that when their members took off their masks, they were identified as members of the Provisional IRA, an organisation which allegedly is on ceasefire. However, no one will go to the police and say, "I saw those men kill that other man. I saw them without their masks on." No one would be prepared to give such evidence in court, which is the only way to convict the murderers. It is simply not going to happen. As we have already seen, and as highlighted on the recent "Panorama" programme, people both North and South of the border on the island of Ireland know the identity of those who were responsible for the brutal tragedy in Omagh on 15th August 1998. But no one is prepared to go into the witness box. Anyone who did so would be putting his life in jeopardy.
I have noticed certain subtle differences of which noble Lords may not be aware. "The Good Friday agreement" is a term used by nationalists. Maybe it has something to do with Good Friday. It is used by Sinn Fein, by the SDLP, by the government in the Republic and by the Irish Americans. But the unionists in Northern Ireland, who find some of its recommendations very hard to stomach, call it "The Belfast agreement". So they differ even in the terminology and naming of the agreement.
Surveys which have taken place in Northern Ireland prove that there is not total objection to the RUC in the Catholic community and indicate that the change of name has been brought about by people who are determined to humiliate and condemn the RUC.
I repeat something that I said in my Second Reading speech. I shall say it again on Third Reading and go on saying it. There is a Mafia in Northern Ireland at the moment. An assistant chief constable said yesterday that three-quarters of Belfast is under the control of a Mafia, be it loyalist or republican; three-quarters of Belfast is, to some extent, caught up in the Mafia war which is currently taking place.
We only have to look at what has happened on the Shankill Road over the past two months with so-called loyalist organisations. "The Ulster Volunteer Force". Volunteers against what? "The Ulster Freedom Fighters". Freedom to do what? From whom do they want their freedom? If we look at what they call themselves, we can see what the police force in Northern Ireland has had to contend with.
When Patten was given this undertaking he was told to try to find a resolution to the divisions which were taking place within the RUC. In one part of his report he said that his job was to take the RUC out of politics. He has done exactly the reverse. He has brought the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the forefront of political divisions in Northern Ireland. If these are his conclusions, they do not augur well for sanity in Northern Ireland.
At the beginning of my remarks I said that you will get unionists, Protestants, maybe lapsed Catholics, who will speak out in support of the RUC. I am a Catholic; I have a Catholic education and a Catholic belief in the present and the hereafter, and I speak with a conscience in regard to this clause. I support the retention of the name of the RUC.
I am conscious that I am following the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I pay tribute to his remarks. He is correct: his remarks will cause him trouble from the pan-national press and pan-national people back in Northern Ireland. It is important for the Committee to recognise that the noble Lord has made an extremely brave speech.
This is a very sad period. I identify myself with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, when he says that opinions have moved on over the past 30 years. I am one of those who have developed their thinking over that period in a way perhaps not dissimilar to that of the noble Lord.
But this is a difficult day. It is a day of considerable political significance. We all want peace in Northern Ireland and all that that means. Some of us are supporters of the Belfast agreement--with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But the political realities are that if the unionists, who have a culture based on their Britishness, continue to be marginalised in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, if they continue to have their culture broken and denigrated in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, we shall not get unionist participation in the Belfast agreement. It will be for others then to decide whether there is a Belfast agreement. You can push people only so far.
I was saddened and disturbed to hear a man of the stature and standing in the community of the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, speak about statistics and the information he had gleaned from individuals. No statistics I have come across show that the majority of Catholics in Northern Ireland take offence at the name "RUC". I was also disturbed by the noble Lord's interpretation of history, which, on reflection, he will recognise was terribly one sided and offered offence to people like myself. That is a part of the problem.
Many friends of mine were among the 302 members of the RUC who have been killed. Significantly, a number were members of the Roman Catholic faith. They were some of the finest people you could ever hope to meet, serving their community and serving it well. Their only crime--it is not a crime; the only thing they did wrong--was to be Catholic members of the RUC. My next door neighbour was shot for falling into that category. People living a number of houses away from me had their brains blown out by the IRA. If you have ever seen someone's brains over the road and over the furniture--the fate of some of my close friends who were Catholic members of the RUC--you possibly have a little more right to talk about policing in Northern Ireland. No one is keener than I to see more Roman Catholics join the RUC.
Perhaps I may draw a parallel with the Battle of Britain, which has been celebrated in some areas in the past couple of months. What would have been the reaction throughout the United Kingdom and in this Chamber if the few who stood as the thin line between peace and chaos and the chance of winning the war had been disbanded, disregarded and had had the names of their squadrons changed within months of fighting in the Battle of Britain? That is what you are asking the unionist community in Northern Ireland to accept. The RUC was the thin green line. I stand here today only because my life was saved time and time and time again by the RUC.
If you want statistics, if you want opinion polls, it is quite simple: go to the South Antrim constituency where we, as Ulster Unionists, lost the safe Unionist seat which my noble friend Lord Molyneaux of Killead represented with distinction for many years. That seat, in which the Ulster Unionists formerly had a 16,000 majority, was lost mostly on the issue of constant concessions. The perception at present is that the Belfast agreement does not deliver a two-way process.
I ask the Committee to consider these amendments long and hard. We are not talking about some faraway place--despite what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, this is not some colonial area. This is part of the United Kingdom, where British citizens like myself are proud and pleased to live. We want to live there, and we continue to do so by choice. But the indications are that if we do not achieve an equitable solution in regard to the name of the police force in Northern Ireland, it may be one bridge too far. I support the amendment.
There is a difference between continuity in terms of people moving from one force to another and the name. The name is important. It has been made considerably more important by the activities of the Dublin Government, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and even the Roman Catholic Church. It has become an issue for the unionist community and for Northern Ireland. Dabbling with the name of the RUC might have difficult consequences for the Belfast agreement.
I hesitate to speak in the wake of the two previous speakers to the amendment. Not only were they born and bred in Northern Ireland and still live there, but they have given their lives to the politics of the Province and I have not.
One clear point unifies the debate. All in this Chamber and in Northern Ireland seek unanimously to make the RUC an even more effective instrument for the delivery of the peace.
The issue for me as an outsider--and I hope that the Committee will forgive my ignorance--is: what will render that state of affairs more likely? What underlies the present "inadequacy" of the RUC. It appears to be a matter of confidence. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, made the telling point that since the Belfast agreement the number of applications from Catholics to serve in the RUC has risen from 11 to 22 per cent. It is striking that one needs to make that point, given that the Catholic community in Northern Ireland is not far short of half the population. Even now, we are talking about only 22 per cent of applicants being from that part of the population. It must be asked why that is. Then one gets into impossibly difficult historical waters--totally contested, totally without any form of agreement between the two principal sides.
My point is that 22 per cent is not nearly enough. What can be done to make it more? If the name of the RUC--which arouses such passion, and therefore carries such symbolism--is not changed as the Bill proposes, might that deter even 22 per cent of applications from the Catholic community in the future? I suggest that it well might. I suggest that the doubling of applications following the Belfast agreement was on the back of the optimism generated by that agreement.
If we follow Clause 1 of the Bill and change the name, will it undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of the RUC? No one, least of all those who have spoken against the change of name, has suggested that such a change would cause the Protestant community and existing RUC officers to withdraw their support in terms of their tremendous service to the RUC. No one has suggested that for the good reason that it would not be the consequence. There would be a great deal of hurt and hard feeling; some would feel rejected, some that their loved ones who died in the cause of duty were being spurned. But it would not be the case that changing the name would damage the legitimacy or effectiveness of the force.
On the other hand, if the name is not changed, could that affect support for, and hence the legitimacy of, the new police force in terms of the future in Northern Ireland for which we all hope? Because of the passion aroused by this debate and the symbolic significance attached to the name by both sides, it seems to me that retaining the name will damage that which we all want; namely, the adhesion of the Catholic community.
It may be that the Roman Catholic Church will change its policy and will cease to persist in what seems an outrageous refusal to grant that service in the police force in Northern Ireland is an honourable occupation.
Will the noble Lord forgive my intervening? I do not want to spoil the flow of his speech. However, he has just used a turn of phrase that I keep hearing: "It may be that something will follow", "Let's do it and perhaps something will follow". But we have done so many things and nothing has followed. Is it not foolish not to wait for an undertaking by those concerned?
To deny those who are legislating the right to speculate on the consequences of that legislation would be to kill debate. I merely put it to the Committee that the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Northern Ireland might now feel extremely embarrassed by the fact that its failure to endorse service in the police force as an honourable occupation is being held up in this debate. I hope that it does feel embarrassed. It is permissible to speculate that if this further concession to the Catholics in Northern Ireland were to be made, they might change their view. If they did so, as is clear from all the contributions, it would have an effect. Similarly, it is not unreasonable to hope and expect some response as regards intimidation--although I am under no illusion as to the refusal of the real men of violence to change their mind.
On those grounds, despite the unanimity of view expressed by Members of the Committee from Northern Ireland, I look forward and I believe that this symbolic change would be of small but significant assistance in making this great force an even greater one in the future.
I did not intend to take part in this debate, but rather to speak to a later amendment. However, perhaps I may say a few words in support of the proposal before the Committee
It seems strange, given that we have debated this matter for almost an hour and a half, that no one has yet convinced me that a change of name will bring in more people. I find that the young people among whom I work go to the employer who will give them the best opportunities: the best salary and the best chances of promotion. Looking at the new RUC as envisaged by Patten--and reference has been made to the fact that 85 per cent has already gone through--we would see it as a possible step for young people to join the police force.
As the Committee is aware, I am a community worker. Like most of my other colleagues, I live on the peace line in Belfast, so I am well aware of the feelings around the RUC. I am well aware of the fact that, for five years, I had to have an RUC Land Rover sitting practically outside my door for 24 hours a day to keep the two communities apart. I am also well aware that there is, perhaps, bad feeling on the other side of the baseline. However, as I travel around Northern Ireland--as I do on a weekly basis--I must tell noble Lords that I cannot find any support for the idea that Catholics do not like the RUC. I will give the Committee a very simple example.
I was speaking recently in what would be considered a Catholic stronghold. I went to a women's meeting, at which just one man was present. It was absolutely amazing; indeed, I thought that he was very brave, but I did not know who he was. It turned out that he was a local chief inspector of the RUC who had come to the meeting to present the women with books for their library. I did not hear one woman at that meeting say anything about Catholics not liking the RUC. I have travelled around Northern Ireland and I believe that we are moving away from the issue here.
Obviously, we want the RUC to remain and to retain its title. That is neither a Protestant nor a Catholic point of view: it is the fact that the RUC deserves that recognition. The force deserves it for no other reason than it deserves it. We could all talk emotively about friends and neighbours who have been murdered. We have all been through that and have attended such funerals. That is not what this is about; this is about bringing forward a police force that young people can feel confident in joining. I fully support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. I believe that this could be a new beginning. We must get away from talking about that.
One of the things that is happening, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, mentioned, is that this mafioso has grown up in our community. The RUC has been used as a political football for almost the past two years--"Will they?", "Won't they?", "Are they?", or "Aren't they?" In the mean time, my community is suffering. We have just been through the most horrendous imploding of a community, a Protestant community, simply because this kind of thing is going on. This Chamber must make a decision. I urge noble Lords to think carefully. If I can be persuaded that changing the name will mean that Catholics will flock to join the force tomorrow, I will agree to it. But I do not believe that that evidence is on the table.
Perhaps I may detain Members of the Committee for a few minutes. At another time I should feel that there was a good deal of logic about changing the name of this force. As far as I am aware, it is the only police force in the United Kingdom that carries the designation "Royal". There is a good reason that other police forces do not do so: first, it is very important that the police force should, above all, be seen as being the servant of the people; and, secondly, the area which it polices is not coterminous with the traditional boundaries of Ulster. Therefore, in those two respects at least, it is--or might be said to be nowadays--a misnomer.
However, from what we have heard from noble Lords this afternoon, there is no denying that the name carries great symbolic significance for both communities in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I may invite the Minister to consider whether we could take two courses of action. First, we could change the name not to what is proposed but to the "Northern Ireland Constabulary", which would put the force on all fours with other forces in the United Kingdom. Secondly, we could provide for the new name to come into effect on a day to be designated by statutory instrument at some later date, so that we do not insist upon the change at this particular moment in time in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
It might be thought surprising that a comparatively simple amendment should bring such a long debate on something which really gets right to the bedrock of the constitution of Northern Ireland. We have heard all elements of it this afternoon. I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, for straightening out a great deal of the debate. Although my background is different from his, I support all that he said: first, that all Catholics do not hate the police. Indeed, my experience is that that is certainly not so. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, gave the example of a meeting he had this morning with a Roman Catholic farmer who was looking for the police.
Secondly, no matter what we do with this name to suit Sinn-Fein/IRA, I am pretty certain there will be no more jumping to join the police as a result. Those in the republican Sinn-Fein/IRA do not just want to change the name of the police; it is their job as paramilitaries to destroy the forces of law and order. That is what they have been doing. For them it is only part way to a united Ireland. They have made that quite plain. This change in the name will not help at all. It will just let them believe that they can have whatever they want.
In my view, it should have the natural title of "The Royal Ulster Constabulary--Police Service of Northern Ireland". I do not believe that it will have any significant, adverse effect on the recruitment of Roman Catholics, which we all want. The only thing that will bring them forward is time and the advances that the police force, the RUC, will make--which it is determined to make--in the way that it polices communities. Incidentally, that is a real problem because we are not at peace.
When Patten wrote his report, he assumed that the Good Friday agreement would be fully implemented and that we would be at peace. He assumed that it would be a simple matter of police service in communities. But, I am sorry to say, that is far from being the case. Indeed, in the past two weeks the Secretary of State drew our attention to the very serious situation that now exists. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, it is a mafia in three-quarters of Belfast where those concerned are controlling groups of people for their own reasons--partly by drug running and other racketeering. If anyone does not fit in with their wishes, that person is punished in some way, such as being knee-capped or having his bones shattered. Incidentally, 2,000 people have been banished from their neighbourhood and a few have been murdered.
I also understand that the IRA believes that murder is perhaps counter-productive and that it has taken medical advice to discover how much damage can be done to the human form without actually killing a person. It will take a long time and it will be very hard work for any police force to get over and deal with this mafioso; indeed, the force will need all the intelligence and all the hard work, of which I know it is capable. Those in the force will move as quickly as they can. It will not be soon enough for them when they are able to throw away their arms and walk singly wherever they wish through any community.
To change the name and leave out the "RUC" will not help the situation one little bit. However, it could do great damage because, as has already been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and others, the unionist community--that is to say, the community in favour of the Union--now believes that so much has been given away; for example, the fact that prisoners were released, the flag issue and now, apparently, the RUC is to be thrown away and become something else. That has had a very serious effect on the attitude of the community. That is something about which we should be very concerned. There is good reason to suppose that those in the community would be desolate to lose the name of the police force that has saved them from heaven knows what. There is no doubt that all of us in Northern Ireland recognise that the RUC has, somehow or other, helped keep the Province in some sort of state; indeed, more than 30 years of murderous attacks by the IRA would be unbelievable to anyone who did not live there. I support the amendment.
Once the Patten commission had been appointed I suppose it was inevitable that it would recommend the virtual destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. When I say "destruction" I mean eroding its morale, authority and everything else. After the publication of his report Patten defended his decision by asking, "What did the authors of the Belfast agreement expect me to recommend?" At least he was honest. There is a lesson there for all of us because that is exactly what the Bill invites us to do; namely, to comply with Patten but to cover up the destruction of a constabulary with layers of weasel words. The words are recycled from those which were used, for example, to destroy the Parliament at Stormont, the Special Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment. The same nicely concealed camouflaged terminology is always used.
However, as we embark on Clause 2, we are entitled to inquire whether the Government are preparing, or thinking about establishing, a new counter-terrorist constabulary in the light of the resurgence of terrorism in Northern Ireland and the alarming development of Mafia organisations. We have just heard on good authority that they now cover three-quarters of the City of Belfast.
The three brands of republican flavour and at least two of so-called loyalists are guilty--they are very guilty as those who have first-hand experience, particularly in the City of Belfast, will confirm--of putting an end to civilised behaviour and civilised communication as we had in Northern Ireland and as we hope to rebuild in the future.
The Bill is not final; it is only a step. The police service created by the Bill is modelled on a kind of super traffic warden. It could not be expected--and we should not expect it--to contain and defeat current terrorism and current Mafia behaviour, as did the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which of course is the very reason why terrorists on both sides want to get rid of it; it is self-evident that no criminal likes a policeman.
Today the Committee is invited to acquiesce in creating a vacuum. We are entitled to inquire gently about the replacement which the Government may have in mind. The Army in these days of over stretch cannot be expected to bear all of this developing new burden. Already back on the streets the Army is experiencing problems with over stretch, manning and everything else. But how can the Army support the civil power through co-operation with a police service--not a police force, not a constabulary--which will be hampered, hamstrung and continually weakened by government concessions to the demands of terrorists, paramilitaries and the new Mafia groups condoned or ignored by three governments and a misnamed process as phoney as its counterpart in the Middle East only yesterday proved to be?
The demands for a quite unnecessary change of title are designed to weaken morale and authority--that may not have been the intention of the Government but it will be the net result--but will depict the Government as a soft touch for all lawbreakers who will indulge in further mutilation of the constabulary as fresh demands are made.
We would all do well to reflect on the preliminary exchanges between the two Front Benches before the House went into Committee in regard to the delicacy of peace processes. In Northern Ireland we are doing rather better than our opposite numbers in the Middle East. For example, we have not as yet consigned anyone to Hell. Moderation still exists in Northern Ireland but the balance is delicate. The position of David Trimble is delicate by reason of the fact that he has been forced over the years by three sovereign governments to make concession after concession and has been hung out to dry with absolutely no reciprocity for those concessions. My plea is, do not push Mr Trimble over the edge for mere imaginary gains. Do not encourage Her Majesty's Government to endanger all that has been achieved over the past few years.
All of the amendments in the group we are discussing relate to the name of the police in Northern Ireland. In addition to those which have been debated there are a number of technical amendments in my name which I shall discuss at the end of my remarks. Apart from those technical amendments, all of the amendments tabled oppose the Government's position and all of them would amend the current provision in Clause 1 which was tabled by the Ulster Unionist Party in another place and was accepted by the Government.
Of course the Government acknowledge that this is a deeply contentious issue and that for many it involves a painful change. The Patten report recognised that encouraging Catholic recruits to the RUC was not as simple as changing the name or removing the "Royal" prefix. Patten said that symbols associated with one side of the constitutional debate inevitably went some way to inhibit the wholehearted participation in policing of the other side. He did not recommend either no change or a complete change. He said that the name should change but that continuity should be recognised. That is what Clause 1 seeks to achieve. The Government accept that. Of course we accept that the reasons Roman Catholics do not join the police are many and complex. Of course we accept that they include intimidation. As has been said by a number of noble Lords, we also accept that the SDLP and other community leaders should encourage people from all communities to join the police force. But to achieve a new beginning we believe that it is necessary to have a new name.
As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said when the Bill received its Third Reading in another place, we have introduced a new name--the Police Service of Northern Ireland--and that name will be used for all operational and working purposes, including whenever and in whatever circumstances the police interface with the public.
Our intention has also been to ensure that the RUC is evidently incorporated into the new service in its founding legislation. As has been stated by the Secretary of State on several occasions, the purpose of the reference to the RUC in Clause 1(1) is to demonstrate with absolute clarity, and as a matter of fact and of law, that the RUC is not being disbanded, as the Patten report made clear should not happen.
At the same time it has to be acknowledged that the body of officers comprising the new service, like any body of officers, needs a clear identity to be effective and to which all can relate. That is one reason why the name is changing to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has stated many times before the Government's view that introducing a dual name would not be good for the cohesion and unity and therefore the effectiveness of the police--a view which I understand is shared within the RUC.
Concern has been expressed that the Bill as drafted could possibly result in the name not being used in the manner I have outlined. We shall, as with all aspects of the legislation, keep this under review. We shall expect the oversight commissioner to include the issue in his regular reports and shall be willing to return to it if necessary. Although I recognise the strength of feeling that has been expressed, I ask the Committee to reflect on what I have said and consider the purposes behind Clause 1(1).
I turn briefly to the Government's own amendments. Clause 1 was added to the Bill on Report in another place. The changes made to Clause 1 entail many consequential amendments throughout the Bill. It is a tribute to the skill of the parliamentary draftsman that these technical changes were effected in so short a time. Nonetheless a handful of amendments are required to tidy up stray references in consequence of the additions to Clause 1. When the time comes, I shall move the amendments in this group from Amendments Nos. 157 onwards concerning the consequential changes. I ask noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
This is really a probing amendment and my main interest is in hearing what the Minister has to say. My research tells me that this clause was also in the 1998 Act; I assume that it was lifted straight out of that Act. It seems to me that, read in one way, it is another swipe at removing allegiance to and links with the Crown inasmuch as it says clearly that the board shall not be a servant or agent of the Crown. It says that property shall not be held on behalf of the Crown and proceeds in some detail to remove any links between the Crown and the new police force. I wonder why it was felt necessary to put this wording into the schedule. I beg to move.
The provision referred to in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 is a standard provision: there is nothing sinister about it. It clarifies that the board is an independent body, which is the position. The same provision appeared in the 1998 Act for the authority, as the noble Lord acknowledged. It is perfectly standard to have such a provision in a schedule such as this, and I would ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
I refer to Amendment No. 18 which is in this group. It is a technical amendment to make clear that the board has the powers of a body corporate in Northern Ireland in relation to its own resources as well as police resources. I shall move it in due time.
Will the Minister say whether the paragraph which is the subject of my amendment is common to other police forces and whether other police forces within the United Kingdom do or do not have such a clause, either denying the fact that they have a link to the Crown or vice versa? Perhaps the noble Lord would like to write to me, as I do not wish to delay the work of the Committee.
In moving Amendment No. 19 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 22. Amendment No. 19 corrects a drafting error. The wording should say "prescribed" rather than "specified" so as to be consistent with other references in the schedule.
With regard to Amendment No. 22, the intention is to make a similar amendment to the removal provision for a board established during devolution. Government Amendment No. 22 does that, and I shall move it in due time.
It is not often these days that I intervene in matters relating to Northern Ireland. Those who know me will know that that does not reflect any diminution in my affection for my former friends in Northern Ireland. It simply reflects two anxieties which press upon me.
The first is that I am not so closely familiar now with events there as I was some years ago, and there always is a great danger of relying on yesterday's knowledge in addressing today's problems. Secondly, while there is great concern and sympathy in England for the people of Northern Ireland, I believe that those people are the best judges of their own welfare and it may be that those of us here who wish them well might do better sometimes to restrain our loquacity.
Of course the Government have to be a catalyst in the peace process and in bringing a healing to Northern Ireland, but for the rest of us it is sometimes easier to cause more harm, to widen the breaches and deepen the wounds, than it is to do the reverse. I am not saying that contributions should never be made. Those like my noble friend Lord Dubs who have been much concerned with events in Northern Ireland may well have something very useful to say but the rest of us can sometimes best serve by a self-denying ordinance
As I say, it is not often now that I intervene. I appreciate the very delicate task which confronts the Government. It is vital to any accord that there should be a police force which is subject to the law, and only to the law, which accords to every citizen the protection and respect to which they are entitled and which does so without distinction as to class, culture, religion, colour or sex. That will not be easy, because we are all prisoners of the past and the past has not been kind to the people of Northern Ireland.
However, there are those whose concerns I am trying to express because they invited me to raise today some of the issues which they think might be helpfully discussed. That is why I set down Amendment No. 20. I do not seek to improve either on the drafting or on anything said by my noble and learned friend on Amendment No. 19.
There is a great deal in the Bill about achieving a balance in recruitment to the police force between the various traditions within the community. That is wholly commendable, but surely it is equally important in determining the composition of the board, and that is the purpose of my amendment. Of course we assume that in making appointments for independent members the Secretary of State will have that principle very much in mind; but that may be said about any of the tasks addressed in the Bill. They are, nevertheless, in the Bill to emphasise their importance, to serve as a reminder to those who are given the tasks; and, in the last resort, to offer a prospect of challenging an action which simply ignores them. If the Bill provided only for the present Secretary of State, I should be more relaxed about the situation. But Secretaries of State come and go. Some future holder of the office may be less assiduous as to that principle than my right honourable friend.
I assume that the Government intend that there should be the balance which my amendment addresses. I simply ask: should it not be written in the Bill?
I welcome and support the amendment. I again remind the Committee of my credentials. I am chairman of a police authority, albeit an English one. I am also deputy chairman of the National Association of Police Authorities which includes the present Police Authority for Northern Ireland. It is our great hope that the future Northern Ireland police board will also be among its members.
I recognise that there is already provision in paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 requiring the Secretary of State to ensure that the board is representative. The noble and learned Lord's amendment adds a specific requirement to ensure that there is the right ethnic and gender balance. My experience of many years in the police will confirm that such a specific requirement is necessary.
It also sends a positive message to those who are normally under-represented on such bodies--women, minority communities, young people and so on--that their presence is positively welcomed and encouraged.
The whole purpose of the police board is to secure accountability to the community for the police service. That should be accountability to all sections of the community. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of women and minority community representatives who would be only too well qualified to sit on the board. We must ensure that they are suitable role models so that others may follow. I ask the Committee to give the amendment full support.
I am entirely happy with the wording of the two government amendments which, as the Minister said, follows from previous discussions.
I am not sure that Amendment No. 20 adds very much to the Bill but the noble and learned Lord makes a valid point. If we take the amendment literally with regard to ethnic constituents of the board, we should present the Secretary of State with a difficult problem. I understand that less than 1 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland is from the ethnic minorities. Less than 1 per cent of nine appointments is a small figure. I imagine that someone from the ethnic minority would have to attend for the odd week to fulfil that criterion. However, the principle is right and is more applicable to membership of the RUC itself.
I accept that. The figure of less than 1 per cent relates to all the ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland.
I wish to draw the Committee's attention to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 which are of considerable significance. They seek to prevent the appointment to the police board of those with criminal records--in particular terrorist records. We do not believe that it is right for those who have such records, or who are active members of political parties linked to paramilitary organisations, from either side of the community--they have failed to begin decommissioning and have a so-called ceasefire, but we all know that it is frail, and broken at frequent intervals--to sit on the police board and to hold the chief constable and the police force (whatever it is called) to account.
As I have said previously, I do not think that anyone who has been involved in security in Northern Ireland believes that decommissioning is a complete solution to the security problem. Of course it is not. Apart from anything else, one cannot decommission some of the components of bombs--for example, fertiliser. As regards the handing in of weapons, others can easily be purchased. Nevertheless, the failure to decommission at all by PIRA and so-called loyalist organisations is a clear and definite statement that they are not prepared to give up the use of force: indeed that they are prepared, and remain ready, to take up force again very quickly. By "force" I refer to additional force to the force they have already been using to which reference was made in our previous debate.
I believe that this is of the greatest importance for the future of the police force. It looks certain that even if the most optimistic scenarios come to pass in Northern Ireland there will be some continuing terrorism. That has always been so in the past and I have no reason to think that it will not be so in the future. That means that the RUC (whatever it is called) will have to continue combating a serious terrorist threat. We do not think that anyone who has been involved in that is qualified to sit on the board. If such a connection arises, that person should be removed from the board. That is what our amendments seek to achieve.
There is also the bargaining effect. I take one example. I believe that one of the mistakes made in the early part of the process was that the release of prisoners went ahead according to the two-year timetable even though other issues--in particular decommissioning which was supposed to go ahead under the same timetable--did not advance. At every stage the concessions have been made from the unionist side and the government side--and very large concessions too--with none from the other side. If republicans and terrorists can get what they want without having to give anything away, they will do so. But if they had to give up something themselves, if the prisoner releases had either not started or had been stopped because the remainder of the process was not taking place, then the bargaining counters would have been different. The biggest single bargaining counter that remains is the effectiveness of the police, particularly against terrorism. To weaken the effectiveness of the police is one of the great goals of terrorists on both sides of the divide. It is one that can still be achieved. The police would be weakened if the board contained those who still supported terrorism or were in close touch with terrorist organisations. That is why the amendments are of the first importance.
I shall speak to Amendment No. 21, which is in this group on the selection list. It is a probing amendment on a serious issue relating to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State may well be minded to include the Equality Commission under
"such other bodies as he considers appropriate" in line 48, but I should like it specifically mentioned alongside district councils, because it plays such a vital role and has the primary responsibility for assisting with the pursuit of equality. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that it will be in the mind of the Secretary of State to include the Equality Commission.
I support Amendments Nos. 23 to 25. I agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley has said. Without the amendments, current or ex-terrorists could become members of a board and there would be no legal power to remove them. That could lead to a corrupt police force, which would undermine and weaken the authority of the police and make the task of the Chief Constable virtually impossible.
I, too, support Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, on three grounds. First, if there were people on a board with past connections with terrorist organisations on either side, the likelihood of the police being able to recruit and retain sources on terrorist operations would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, because the sources would constantly fear that those members of the board would have access to certain knowledge and that their identity might be revealed. That would have a serious effect on the possible recruitment of sources.
Secondly, I should be glad to hear how it will be possible to avoid having such people on the board if some of them are to come from the Assembly, where, at least among Sinn Fein, there must be a number who, for one reason or another, have such connections.
Thirdly, when Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness have been asked over the past year whether they would encourage witnesses to come forward to testify on the Omagh bombing, they have said that they do not recognise British justice and can therefore see no point in doing such a thing. With that attitude, it might be difficult for the police, as the guardians of law and order, to work with them.
On those three grounds, it is essential that the amendments should be taken seriously.
I shall deal first with Amendment No. 20, spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. I assure the noble and learned Lord that the Government are committed to ethnic and gender balance every bit as much as to political and religious balance. However, we are not convinced that the amendment would add to the effect of the current wording. "Representative" includes all constituents, including ethnic and gender constituents. The amendment could lead to a preference towards ethnicity and gender over, say, disability. I repeat that we are committed to ethnic and gender balance, but we do not support the amendment.
Amendment No. 21, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, is not required, because paragraph (8)(2)(c) enables the Secretary of State to consult
"such other bodies as he considers appropriate".
That includes the Equality Commission. The Secretary of State has already consulted the Equality Commission on the occasion of the recent appointment process for the board. I ask the noble Lord not to move the amendment.
I apologise for interrupting, but I wonder whether the Minister is satisfied with the wording. The Equality Commission is an amalgam of various commissions--at least four of them. Those of us who have had contact with the commissioners have got the impression that they feel somewhat aggrieved and slighted. They feel that they have been downgraded because they are not mentioned by name. That is not a quibble--they have a point.
I note what the noble Lord says. We did not think it necessary to make a specific reference. We consulted the commission on the recent appointment process for the board. That should encourage and reassure those concerned that they will be consulted.
Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, take us back to amendments that were tabled by the Conservatives in another place. I share their wish for safeguards in the appointment of independents and the removal of the independents and political members. The Bill provides such safeguards. The amendments would go too far.
We want a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland. Patten did not come up with the idea of political parties being represented on the boards of his own volition. The Good Friday agreement is clear on the issue. It says that the commission's proposal should be designed to ensure that there are clearly established arrangements enabling local people and their political representatives to articulate their views and concerns about policing. That means that those elected to the Assembly and selected under d'Hondt have a right to serve on the board because they have a mandate.
The Government have explained consistently that there are safeguards on the appointment of independents. For example, character checks will be conducted and appointments will be based on high standards of probity and integrity, as required by the guidance for public appointments.
Furthermore, the Bill has strong removal provisions. Members who commit criminal offences may be removed by the Secretary of State. Unlike the current police authority, members of the board are required to pass the test of upholding the principles of non-violence and commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means. That is already in the schedule. If they do not, they can be removed by the Secretary of State.
"There is a need to establish a Policing Board that is inclusive and forward looking and for appropriate safeguards to ensure a high standard of board members. Transgressions or wrongdoings can be dealt with under the current arrangements".--[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B; col. 100.]
I ask noble Lords to accept that we understand their concerns, but we believe that the provisions to which I have referred will enable us to deal with those who are not committed to peaceful means. I ask the noble Lord not to move the amendments.
I am sorry to come back on this. Perhaps I did not specifically emphasise that we are concerned primarily with political appointments. I accept that the Secretary of State has more control over independent members, but, even though political members can be removed by the Secretary of State if they are convicted of a criminal offence after appointment, if they are still connected to terrorist organisations and are careful not to be convicted of a criminal offence, they will remain on the police board. The working of the d'Hondt procedure will ensure that members of the police board belong to parties still linked to terrorist organisations which have not given up violence, in particular in the sense of decommissioning. That is why I believe that these amendments are very important.
Perhaps I may respond briefly to those comments. It is worth emphasising that paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to the Bill states:
"The Secretary of State may remove a person from office as an independent or political member of the Board if satisfied that--
... (c) he is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means".
That provision applies not only to the independents but also to the political members of the board.
I realise that. From the Minister's last intervention, and in accordance with the part of the schedule which he read out, I should like to think that the Secretary of State would regard anyone connected to a paramilitary body which had not decommissioned as not therefore being committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. However, experience suggests that the Secretary of State will not take that view and that a failure to decommission will not mean that he judges those connected with that failure to be not committed to non-violence.
moved Amendment No. 22:
Page 42, line 23, leave out paragraph (a) and insert--
("( ) in the case of an independent member, he failed, before his appointment, to make to the Secretary of State full disclosure of a conviction of his for a criminal offence in Northern Ireland or elsewhere;
( ) he has been convicted of a criminal offence in Northern Ireland or elsewhere committed after the date of his appointment;").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 23 to 27 not moved.]
This is a small amendment which simplifies the text and introduces slightly more flexibility. It changes the current wording in the schedule by referring to "a majority of" those present and voting and reduces the minimum number of votes required for a majority from 10 to eight. Basically, it provides a means for allowing business to be carried on when such inquiries are to be made. I beg to move.
I am afraid that this time I cannot support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Desai. I believe that the numbers to which he refers in Amendment No. 28 are very sensitive. Whatever happens in relation to the different agreements, the numbers in this particular part of the Bill are extremely sensitive. I believe that the Bill should stand as it is without further flexibility being introduced, which, I understand, would be the effect of the noble Lord's amendment and, in particular, his Amendment No. 30. I believe that removing sub-paragraph (7) would again open up too many opportunities for subjective variation. I say to the Minister that we would object to those amendments.
The issues raised by Amendments Nos. 28 to 30 were debated at length in Committee in another place. They have been considered carefully by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. We are not convinced that a minority of the board should be able to reach a decision to hold an inquiry which would by definition be into a matter of some gravity or of an exceptional nature. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 31, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 31 to 34, 34A, 35 to 37, 201 to 204 and 232.
Clause 3 is concerned with the functions of the board. I am grateful to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission and the Committee for the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland for the great deal of help which they have given me in relation not only to these amendments but to a number of others.
Clause 3(2) requires the board to secure so far as possible two objectives: that the police are efficient and that they are effective. Subsection (3) imposes on the board a duty to monitor their performance and it adds an aspiration to the two objectives in subsection (2). They are to be monitored to see whether they comply with the Human Rights Act.
I have no quarrel with any of that. Of course they must be efficient and effective and, in doing so, they must comply with the Human Rights Act. However, some people believe that complying with the Human Rights Act adds nothing to the obligation incumbent on any police force to comply with the law. The Human Rights Act is part of the law. The Patten commission spoke in paragraph 4.12 of monitoring police performance in respect of human rights. Paragraph 4.13 declared that,
"they should perceive their jobs in terms of the protection of human rights".
That most certainly includes the rights set out in the Human Rights Act. However, it goes further. Human rights include international human rights standards. Indeed, in paragraph 5.17 the commission specifically spoke of:
"Procedures to secure compliance with the law and with international human rights standards".
Therefore, these amendments reflect the concerns both of those who assisted me and of the Patten commission.
As I understand it, the Government's concern is that the expression "international human rights standards" is not sufficiently specific. No doubt my noble and learned friend will tell me whether I have anticipated that correctly. He is nodding helpfully. Of course it is true. Hundreds, if not thousands, of provisions are included in that expression. However, in Clause 3 we are not concerned with specific requirements of the kind which we find, for example, in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Rather, we are in the realm of aspirations.
It would be curious if someone who read subsection (2) in relation to securing that the police shall be efficient were to ask, "In what precise respects are they to be efficient?" I do not believe that police authorities who are enjoined to comply with international human rights standards could be heard to complain that they cannot do so unless they have a long list of the precise duties which those standards impose upon them. We are not involved in that type of exercise in these two clauses.
However, I understand that there must be a balance between setting out broad inclusive standards and being clear as to what is required. If the Government object to my drafting on the ground that it is too wide, a solution might be found in listing a number of international human rights instruments which reflect specific concerns relating, for example, to the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. It may be that between now and Report stage we could explore that possible avenue.
This is not the occasion on which to indulge in a Dutch auction as to what they should be. It is not about that. It is about offering people reassurance as to the manner in which the police will go about their duties.
I now turn to the other amendments in this group. Paragraph (d) in Clause 3 very sensibly requires arrangements for obtaining the views of the public on the policing of the district. It then requires arrangements for obtaining the co-operation of the public with the police. Certainly, that is very much to be desired because, without it, no one will enjoy the advantages of being in a peaceful society under the rule of law, and that is a matter which a number of noble Lords emphasised in an earlier debate.
But I wonder whether that may be seen in a context where a well-intentioned signal may be misunderstood because that seems to imply three stages: first, obtaining the views of the public; secondly, deciding whether the authorities agree and declaring how the policing should be done; and, thirdly, getting the public to co-operate in the decision.
I am sure that it is intended that the police and the public should work together to ensure law and order. It will not be a case of the public being involved uncritically in what the police have decided to do. It will be a joint endeavour. The police will have a difficult enough task. It is essential that the public should feel that it is their task as well; that they have some ownership in the policy which is to be pursued. That is why, with this amendment, I seek to amend the wording to ensure that it is not a question of the police deciding on a policy and the public being asked to co-operate. The policy itself should be a joint enterprise. I beg to move.
My Amendment No. 34A is in this group and, as the Committee will see, it is very much in line with what my noble and learned friend Lord Archer has already said.
I merely want to add a further couple of items to the list that he mentioned. International human rights standards can be elicited in certain documents. The two that I should like to mention are the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the UN Principle on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. Those are important matters for Northern Ireland. We have had the murder of Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane and those matters need to be investigated properly.
It is not just a matter of implementing Patten or what Patten said. If this whole process is to succeed, it is extremely important that we show sensitivity in relation to a variety of problems and pressures on all communities in Northern Ireland. To assess our policing against international human rights standards would add to the confidence that the community has in policing.
As regards Amendments Nos. 31 and 34A, I have the difficulty to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, drew attention; namely, deciding what "international standards" means in this context. But in my view, the record of the RUC and, indeed, the security forces as a whole in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years stands up very well to any international comparison of any comparable situation.
Of course, those situations are never entirely comparable, but when I had some responsibility for security in the Northern Ireland Office, we were urged constantly by some people from this side of the water in particular, to take the gloves off the Army and so on. We at that time, my predecessors and those since have always held to the sort of policing and support by the Armed Forces which is in place. That is not so in every country.
It so happens that through my wife, who was born in Palestine, and her relations who still live there, I know a little about the situation there. I looked up the figures this morning. Throughout the troubles in Northern Ireland, there have been rather more than 3,600 deaths. Of those, the security forces as a whole--the police and the Army--have been responsible for 10 per cent. In the excellent book, Lost Lives, which has been referred to, about 52 deaths are ascribed to the RUC. That is 52 out of 3,600. That shows the amount of restraint that there has been on the part of all the security forces.
That can be compared with Palestine over the past few weeks where 114 Arabs have been killed and eight Jews. There, it is entirely the other way round. That is a land where two groups, two religions, two tribes, however one describes it, are wanting to live on and control the same ground. The comparison is not precise. The problem in Palestine is even older than that which exists in Ireland. Nevertheless there are similarities. But one of the differences is that the security forces of Israel use tanks, helicopters and rocket launchers against rioters. Those are all the things that we were urged to use at different times against the IRA but did not do so.
That is the background. That is the international human rights comparison. That can be taken into the treatment of detainees and right across the board.
There are other amendments in this group. Amendment No. 35 stands in my name and that of my noble friends. The effect of the amendment is to provide the policing board with the authority to undertake consultation with the public at a strategic level. It seems to us that the wording as it currently stands does not give the new board the ability to consult but it must rely on consultation through the new district policing arrangements which are to be established. It would be right if the boards also were directly able to take the opinion of the public when they thought they needed to do so. It is a small point but if I have understood the wording correctly, the matter is worth raising.
Amendment No. 232 is also in this group in the name of the Minister. That provides for a new clause after Clause 69 by which the board shall make arrangements for places of detention to be visited by lay visitors and it sets out in some detail what they must deal with.
The arrangements as set out in the clause seem to me, in some respects, to be rather rigid. They require a report on each visit which deals with the conditions under which persons are held, welfare and treatment, adequacy of the facilities and such other matters as may be specified. Every time a lay visitor visits a detention centre, a full report must be made. That seems to rule out, if only by accident, calling in to look at a particular situation in the middle of the night. In my view, that should be done if the lay visitors are to do their job properly. They should not carry out only great formal inspections leading to reports. They should also be able to visit without reporting. The amendment states that the arrangements shall require a report on each visit covering the matters I listed.
The next detailed point on the amendment is that the power to interview persons being held in places of detention and to examine the records of such persons can be exercised only with the consent of the person concerned. The difficulty with that is that undoubtedly in the Northern Ireland situation, some of the lay visitors will be thought to be on one side of the great divide and some on the other. Therefore, some prisoners will refuse to allow anybody to talk to them or to examine their records unless that person is thought to be sympathetic to the prisoner concerned. It seems to me that that will lead to unbalanced inspections.
The third point concerns the people who may be appointed. Clearly, a lay visitor should not be a member of the board. That is sensible, and is the first provision. The second is that he or she should not be or have been a police officer. However, there is no provision which states that the lay visitor should not have been a former terrorist or convicted of serious offences. Perhaps there should be such a provision. The amendment was tabled very recently and we have not had the opportunity to table amendments to it, at least not at the speed required for them to be put on to the Marshalled List.
The arrangements apply to all designated places of detention except those which are designated under the Terrorism Act unless they have been designated by the Secretary of State. They can potentially apply to terrorist detention as well as to ordinary detention of suspects in a police station. The wording of the proposed new clause deserves careful attention, particularly the points I have mentioned. I am not against the idea of lay visitors. On the contrary, they can play a valuable part in reassuring the public about the effectiveness, efficiency and humanity of the police arrangements. At the time when I was in Northern Ireland, much rubbish was talked about detention. However, we were not in a position to have arrangements of this kind. It is desirable that we should have such arrangements, but we need to get right the detail of the wording.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, in his Amendment No. 35. It is vitally important that if the board--be it the old board or the new board--is to do its job properly, it has to be in possession of the facts. It must be provided with the necessary facilities and back up to enable it to take soundings, not just by way of doing a doorstep poll, but by making use of independent bodies of integrity who would be in a position to give it sound advice on the particular problems with which it will be coping.
Since at least the late 1970s, it has been apparent that virtually all the Northern Ireland political parties were in favour of a Bill of rights. So far, we do not have one specifically for Northern Ireland, though I understand that a lot of preparatory work has been done in that direction. I know that we have a UK Act on the statute book. Nevertheless, the general direction of this group of amendments is helpful. In particular, Amendment No. 34A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, could be interpreted as referring to the difficult question surrounding defence lawyers, which I believe he mentioned.
I turn to Amendment No. 37. In the past, there has been no end of controversy about interrogation, Castlereagh and so on. Government Amendment No. 232 will no doubt be helpful in that context. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, that it is important to get right the wording. Later on in Amendment No. 37 there are arrangements for monitoring police action to control public disorder. I understand that as probably referring to marches and parades, of which there could be few more difficult and controversial questions. I hope that the Government will look with sympathy on this group of amendments.
Perhaps I may deal first with Amendments Nos. 31, 32 and 34A, which concern international human rights standards. I hope that it has been made plain that the Government believe that human rights should be at the heart of policing. That is why we have introduced new measures in the form of the code of ethics, the new human rights based declaration for constables and a statutory duty for the board to monitor police compliance with the Human Rights Act. All of those measures were recommended by the Patten report.
Patten does not recommend integrating international human rights standards into police practice. In recommendation 3 the report recommends, the integration of the European Convention on Human Rights into police practice, and that is the Government's policy.
Were we to require the board to secure compliance and to monitor compliance with a standard, we need to be specific as to exactly what that standard is. It is not clear what "international human rights standards" are. We cannot court ambiguity over those standards, even in Clause 3.
By requiring the board to monitor compliance with the Human Rights Act, by requiring officers to take a human rights-based declaration and by tabling an amendment to make it clear that the code of ethics is European Convention on Human Rights based, the Government have clearly placed human rights at the core of policing in a way which has clarity. We would not support the three amendments to which I referred.
I turn to government Amendments Nos. 33--
Obviously I shall consider any proposal which is made. However, at present, there is enough clarity and human rights protection in the particular provisions we have made. Therefore, we think that we have done enough on human rights in relation to that point.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 33, 34, 201 and 202. I shall deal also with Amendment No. 204, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux and others. The Patten report places great emphasis on local accountability, community policing and working in partnership with the community. The Government fully support that approach. Patten's recommendations on community consultation and involvement at local level centre on the creation of district policing partnerships. As the central accountability body, we judge it right, as the Ulster Unionist Party argued in Committee in another place, that the board should be obliged to assess public satisfaction with and the effectiveness of district policing partnerships.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 give effect to that. Amendments Nos. 201 and 202 make consequential amendments to Clause 55, which concerns the board's reporting obligations. Amendment No. 204, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and others, has much the same effect as the government amendments and I trust that he will accept that we have sought to meet the intention of his amendment.
Amendment No. 232 relates to lay visitors and inspection of custody suites, in respect of which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, made a number of important points. First, I apologise for the late tabling of this amendment. The Patten report recommended that once the holding centres in Northern Ireland are closed, responsibility for inspecting all custody and interrogation suites should rest with the policing board.
The new clause, which will be inserted after Clause 69, will meet an undertaking given to the Liberal Democrats in another place to put the board's responsibility for lay visitors' inspection of places of detention on a statutory basis. At present the responsibilities of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland in this area are non-statutory. The provision was prepared following consultation with the authority and with the chief constable.
Lay visitors are provided for the protection of detainees and clearly we hope that detainees will not refuse a visit, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggested may be a possibility. But it is their right to refuse a visit. There are no provisions as such for lay visitors in the Bill. But the board will provide a recruitment process, as is presently provided by the police authority. It advertises, holds interviews and so forth. So the process is a sensible one.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also referred to the fact that the provision was quite "rigid"; namely, that a report had to be made after each visit. From where we sit, that seems to be a sensible provision because it will ensure that the proper reports are compiled. It exists to put on a statutory basis that which happens at the moment on a non-statutory basis under the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. I hope that, having heard what I say, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will feel able to support the provision.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord and am grateful to him for giving way. I felt that the rigidity lay in the fact that the report on each visit has to cover all the matters mentioned in subsections (3)(a), (b) and (c), as I read it. That makes it quite an elaborate report. I do not mean that visits should take place and nothing be said about them at all. But small, informal visits are just as useful as ones that lead to a complete report on the adequacy of the facilities and so forth.
As I say, this provision was prepared after consultation with both the authority and the chief constable. The reports are the normal ones compiled after a visit. We felt it appropriate, if we are putting lay visitors' functions on a statutory basis, to set out what that involved.
I trust that that assures the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that the Government met the spirit of his Amendments Nos. 37 and 203 as regards inspections of custody suites. On other points in those amendments, Clause 3 already covers public order because the general functions of the police are covered in Clause 32, which includes public order. The training strategy will now appear on the face of the Bill in Clause 26.
Amendment No. 35, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, requires the board to make arrangements for obtaining the views of the public about policing. Those arrangements have already been made with the setting up of the district policing partnerships in Part III of the Bill and my amendments require the board to assess their effectiveness. We believe that that deals with the points raised in that regard.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I understand what he is saying in relation to DPPs. But, as I read the Bill, I would not want the DPPs to be the only part of the police board charged with testing public opinion.
One of the general functions of the board in Clause 3(3)(d) is to assess,
"the level of public satisfaction with the performance of the police".
So that point is already covered.
The Government welcome the laudable intention behind Amendment No. 36 and believe that the police should co-operate with the public. That is why Clause 32(5) requires police officers, in so far as it is practicable, to carry out their functions in co-operation with and with the aim of securing the support of the local community. As it stands, Clause 3(3)(e) already requires the board to monitor the relationship between the police and the public.
I am grateful for the explanation given by my noble and learned friend. I do not believe there is any wide gulf between us. But there may be some scope and perhaps necessity for further discussions between now and Report stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 38 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 46. These are technical amendments, the latter being drafting changes. Amendment No. 38 tidies up an anomaly in Section 3 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. It removes the requirement for the specific approval of the Secretary of State for the number of police support staff. Since the coming into force of the 1998 Act, such matters are an issue of budgetary and resource allocation for the chief constable and the police authority.
Grouped with those amendments are Amendments Nos. 40 to 45. For the benefit of the Committee I shall respond to those when they are moved. I beg to move.
In moving Amendment No. 40, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 41 to 45 in this group.
It is vital to protect the operational independence of the chief constable in the decisions he makes. But it is clear in any society that the needs of the chief constable must be balanced with those of the community he serves. That is nowhere more apparent than in Northern Ireland for the type of policing service which this Bill seeks to create will be based on community consultation and community requirements.
The emphasis that the Government place on ensuring that the community's needs are considered is clear in their attempt to ensure that the style of policing is a community-based consensual model designed to attract widespread support and confidence from all the communities in Northern Ireland.
The basis of the model must be transparency and accountability. Therefore, in moving the amendment I urge the Government to consider how the provision contributes to the objective of the legislation. By maintaining the current arrangements whereby the police authority, and through this Bill the policing board, takes ultimate responsibility for the policing of buildings and equipment, the Government will ensure continued transparency and accountability in this important area of resource and will reflect best practice in England and Wales. Will the noble and learned Lord confirm who, if the Bill is passed in its current form, will enter into contracts on behalf of the police service? I understand that that is not within the gift of the Chief Constable. I would therefore welcome the Minister's comments.
In tabling Amendments Nos. 44 and 45, I want to emphasise the importance of the independence of the new policing board. The new body will be a key contributor to ensuring a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland. I believe that it would be given as much control as possible over its own resources, including the land on which it is sited. It is conceivable that although the initial siting of the new body will be the responsibility of government, at some time in the future the board might decide to transfer to another location. Therefore, it is crucial that in ensuring its independence it is granted the freedom to do that. It is also proper that it should not be able to acquire land compulsorily for that purpose and my amendment clearly demonstrates that.
I ask the noble and learned Lord to put beyond doubt that the board can hold and acquire land for its own purposes. Anything else would negatively impact on the independence of that body.
Amendment No. 44 attracted my attention because it would be surprising if the board could not acquire, hold and dispose of land for its own purposes as well as for policing purposes. It may be that policing purposes cover the board but it does not seem to me to do so. If not, one wonders how on earth the board will find an office for itself. I hope that it will not require too many offices but it may require some and presumably it will need a provision which allows it to do so.
In dealing with the range of questions raised by Amendments Nos. 40 to 45, it might help if I made a few general points about police land, buildings and equipment under existing legislation. Clauses 6 and 7, which deal with these matters, by and large reflect the existing provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act.
It may be helpful if I make explicit the fact that the board can hold land for the purpose of its own functions. Clause 7 sets out the responsibilities of the policing board with regard to the acquiring and disposing of land for police purposes. The board's ability to acquire land for its own purposes exists within Schedule 1.
The 1998 Act made important changes to the resource, finance and management of policing support functions. It placed management of service delivery in the hands of the Chief Constable and it placed strategic direction and accountability in the hands of the police authority. That remains our policy. The Patten report supported that policy, stating in paragraph 5.13 that the relationship between the police and the board should be one between a service provider and a regulator. The report also added in paragraph 5.13 that the previous arrangement which conflated those two roles was seriously flawed. That is why we feel unable to accept Amendment No. 43, which confuses those roles by injecting the board into the management of police buildings.
The Bill makes two significant changes to the 1998 Act. Both are designed to implement the Patten recommendations and to further existing government policy. First, the Bill clearly separates out the roles of the board and the police. Clauses 6 to 12 deal only with police buildings, land estimates, funds and accounts. Schedule 1, paragraph 1(1), to the Bill deals with the board in respect of these matters.
I understand that the police authority has concerns about the application of Schedule 1. I believe that that lay behind the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness. The Government, following advice from parliamentary counsel, have made an amendment to Schedule 1--it is Amendment No. 18, which we have already covered--in order to put the matter beyond doubt.
The amendments concern differentiating between the role of the board and the police. If the noble Baroness accepts my explanation she will find that the Bill is consistent with the majority of the points that are being made and that we largely agree on the intention of the legislation.
I hope that with that explanation the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 are probing amendments. Clause 8 omits the UK receiving advice and assistance unless the assistance is to an international organisation working in the UK. It also appears to preclude the secondment of a civilian to a police force in Great Britain but not to Kosovo, for example, or to the Garda Siochana. The removal of the words will provide flexibility should there ever be a need to second specialist civilian staff to the UK.
As regards Amendment No. 48, Clause 8(2) enables police officers to serve outside Northern Ireland. There is a case that that should be extended to cover specialist civilian support staff--for example, scenes of crime officers--for whom there is much demand abroad. That keeps within the spirit of the Patten report in encouraging training and secondments outside Northern Ireland. I beg to move.
My noble friend and I have also put our names to this amendment. We know that even now the RUC is operating in the Balkans with great success. Perhaps we have not interpreted very well the intention of Clause 8. However, we believe that the main thrust of Amendment No. 47 is that the board should have ultimate flexibility to authorise members of the police force to operate wherever their special skills can best be used, if they can be spared from duty in Northern Ireland. If that is in the Republic of Ireland, the Balkans or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, so be it.
Amendment No. 48 seeks to clarify that one is talking not only about uniformed and non-uniformed full members of the police force but also support staff, some of whom would be highly skilled people who could be of great value, if they could be spared for duty elsewhere. I look forward to the response of the noble Baroness.
I, too, regard this as a very necessary amendment given that, whether we like it or not, we are the world's number two policeman engaged in firefighting, as I believe it is called nowadays, regardless of the stretch on the Army and security forces. It is important that the line of authority is absolutely clear and I am delighted to support an amendment which does just that.
I am grateful to Members of the Committee who have spoken, not least because it allows me to pay tribute to the outstanding work of members of the RUC in international situations, particularly the Balkans. As to that, I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.
Clause 8 enables the policing board, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, to provide advice and assistance, including facilitating temporary secondments, to international organisations and to those persons or bodies outside the UK who are engaged in similar activities to those of the board and the chief constable. Therefore, we believe that Amendment No. 47 is inappropriate because it deals with UK arrangements. I hope that that clarifies the position for those Members of the Committee who are concerned to ensure that that kind of outstanding quality of work should not be inhibited in any way.
As to Amendment No. 48, it is right to be concerned about the position of police support staff and their ability to take advantage of opportunities outside their immediate functions. But we do not believe that we should alter the law in a way which may constrain those opportunities, which we believe is the effect of these amendments. Details of police service must be spelt out in the legislation because members are not employees but holders of the officer of constable under the Crown. But it would be a mistake to extrapolate from this and to regulate support staff. Under normal employment law and personnel arrangements they can be seconded to outside organisations. We believe that Amendment No. 48 is unnecessary and could be more constraining than noble Lords who support it would want.
moved Amendment No. 51:
Leave out Clause 12 and insert the following new Clause--
:TITLE3:ACCOUNTS AND AUDIT
("12.--(1) The Board shall--
(a) keep proper accounts and proper records in relation to the accounts; and
(b) prepare a statement of accounts in respect of each financial year.
(3) The statement of accounts shall contain such information and shall be in such form as the Secretary of State shall determine.
(4) The Chief Constable, or any other body to whom power is delegated under subsection (2), shall submit the statement of accounts to the Board within such period after the end of the financial year to which they relate as the Board may determine.
(5) The Board shall send copies of the statement of accounts to the Secretary of State and the Comptroller and Auditor General within such period as the Secretary of State may determine.
(6) The Comptroller and Auditor General shall--
(a) examine, certify and report on each statement of accounts received by him under this section; and
(b) lay copies of the statement of accounts and of his report before each House of Parliament.
(7) The Board shall be responsible for carrying out audits of all aspects of police activity, and in exercising this function the Board may investigate any aspect of police policies, procedures and practices as it deems necessary and will have access to any information which it requires including that which relates to expenditure of the police grant.").
Amendment No. 51 is a major amendment. One does not see how making the Chief Constable of the RUC directly responsible to government for police expenditure will enhance either the effective operation of the police service in Northern Ireland or its accountability to the people. Since its inception the Police Authority for Northern Ireland has borne the responsibility for this matter, and that arrangement has worked very well. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, could explain why the Government believe that it is necessary to change the arrangement and remove that responsibility from the policing board. We believe that that would deprive the board of the power to audit police expenditure, which is an essential tool for police accountability, and foist the responsibility onto the chief constable, which he has clearly stated he does not want. It is possible that by removing this function of accountability the new board will feel compelled to exercise another of its important powers more frequently: to call for formal reports and initiate inquiries. Surely, that is not a situation which the Committee wants to see. This measure goes further than Patten intended and is contrary to current practice in England and Wales. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain why the Government have insisted on changing the current arrangements and what benefits it will bring.
We ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this amendment which, if accepted, will secure a crucial investigatory and oversight function for the new board. I beg to move.
I have some sympathy for the amendment which was suggested in outline, if not in detail, by the police authority in its comments on the Bill as it stood. The wording of the Bill is not very satisfactory, as the noble Baroness said, in that it provides that the functions of the chief constable in this respect,
"shall be exercised on behalf of and in the name of the Board".
That blurs the lines of responsibility and takes it partly away from the chief constable without really giving it to the board. The new clause proposed in lieu of Clause 12 places that responsibility firmly on the board and the chief constable may delegate it from there.
On the other hand, I am not happy with subsection (7) of the new clause, which provides for an extremely wide-ranging audit of police activity, not just in relation to finance, to which the rest of the clause refers, but operational matters of every kind. What is more, it gives statutory access to any information in the hands of the police. Bear in mind that the board will contain representatives of parties which have not decommissioned and separated themselves from violence in a full manner. It will contain people in touch with--perhaps one should describe them as such--all sections of Northern Ireland society, including some who are thoroughly against the activities of the police. They should not be in a position to demand access to information of that kind, or to audit and second-guess operational responsibilities of the Chief Constable and the members of the police force. This is not what happens in other parts of the United Kingdom. We have always been careful to separate the operational responsibility of the chief constable from other matters.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. That is exactly what happens in police authorities in England in Wales. There is a statutory duty to be effective and efficient. The only way to make sure of that is to drill down into the organisation. That does not make the Chief Constable say that the police authority must not be involved in operational issues. It is not, but it must understand the result of those operational issues. The only way to do that is to make sure that everything is reviewed by drilling down and auditing. At the moment, that is very much what police authorities throughout England and Wales do.
From what the noble Baroness said, and from what I understand, operational responsibilities still remain separate. I know of chief constables in Great Britain who have quite properly refused certain information to police authorities--information which was delicate and related to police operations--and the police authorities have not insisted on demanding it. The amendment provides for "any information". The difference is that the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, as presently constituted under the Bill, will contain some people whose objectives are not the same as those of the police. That does not apply in Great Britain.
I have sympathy for the purpose of the amendment. I strongly object to the transfer of financial responsibility. That is not in line with the position of similar police authorities in Great Britain. It would be a damaging blow to the credibility of the new policing board in Northern Ireland. It goes much further than Patten's proposals. It could have an extremely damaging effect on the internal audit function. The Patten report recommended a substantial strengthening of financial credibility, including a strong audit department within the new policing board.
The accounting officer of a government department is required to make arrangements for internal audit in accordance with the requirements of the government internal audit manual. One of the primary responsibilities of an internal audit is to provide assurances to the accounting officer on the efficiency, the effectiveness and the economy of systems established to achieve the organisation's aims and objectives. If the Chief Constable in effect becomes the sub-accounting officer, he will require an internal audit service to provide this assurance to him. I support the amendment.
I understand that the Chief Constable's view has been given to the Government following consultation. The RUC's published response to Patten on page 7 says that the Chief Constable agrees to that recommendation. It would be helpful to know where the view comes from that the Chief Constable is opposed to that.
In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, it is difficult to make comparisons because of the different systems and audit arrangements that apply in Northern Ireland as opposed to England and Wales. Local government audit arrangements apply elsewhere. In Northern Ireland the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the National Audit Office is the police auditor.
It is not often that the Government, in another place, enjoy the support of the Member for West Tyrone. But in opposing a similar amendment to Amendment No. 51 in Committee the Government received his support. He said that he supported Clause 12, as drafted in the Bill, because a body which is required to hold another to account or exercise oversight functions on finance should not also keep the detailed accounts.
It is important to consider that in addition Clause 12 addresses technical, but important, issues of police accounting and audit arrangements. The effect of the amendment would be to take detailed financial management of the policing service out of the hands of the Chief Constable and place it in the hands of the board.
The amendment would require the board, rather than the Chief Constable, to keep proper accounts and records but enable it to delegate its functions if it chose to do so. This is the position that was criticised by Patten. Government policy is, and has been, to place management of the policing service in the hands of the person most responsible for delivering that service; namely, the Chief Constable. It is also government policy that the police authority, and, in future, the board should be a regulator of the police service, holding it to account and ensuring community consultation. That is not to say that the authority or the board should not have powers to ensure proper financial accountability. The police authority has them and the board will have them. That is in line with what was recommended in the Patten report. Were we to accept the amendment we would be returning to a situation which Patten describes in paragraph 5.13 of his report as "seriously flawed".
The Government believe that it is important for the Chief Constable to be responsible for the detailed aspect of financial management and for the board to concentrate on strategic issues--the budget, the objectives, planning and measuring performance, securing improvements in service delivery and efficiency and holding to account. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, I would say that that holding to account is not, as she fears, holding to account to the Government, but holding to account to the board. Accordingly, I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness said. I am not entirely convinced that the Government understand the complexity of what will happen if Clause 12 is not amended. The police authority can currently audit expenditure in any area of policing activity. The Chief Constable is very happy with that situation. Therefore, the amendment at Clause 12(7) will enshrine that right in legislation. There is to be no statutory post of secretary and chief executive to the new board. That means that some accounting responsibility can move from the board to the Chief Constable.
I am concerned about that. I shall look carefully at what the noble Baroness said. We will almost certainly return to the issue at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 14 is one of the more controversial parts of the Bill in Northern Ireland. Clause 14 sets up district partnerships. While district partnerships will be totally acceptable to 70 or 80 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland, there are a few areas which at present are dominated by paramilitary organisations. Attention has been drawn to the fact that those who have a criminal conviction or those who have been associated with paramilitary organisations will be unacceptable to district partnerships. In Northern Ireland there are so many people who have been involved in terrorist activity but they have never been convicted. The reason that they have never been convicted is that the police were unable to bring them before the courts because they could not get evidence against them.
Everyone in the district would know that someone had been involved in terrorist activity. What would happen if that person applied to the district council to be placed on the district policing board? What form of vetting would take place? Would the district council be able to take into account what information it had that such and such a person had been involved in terrorist activity and then not allow that person to be part of the partnership? In line with what my noble and learned friend Lord Archer said earlier, would that person be able to say, "Nothing has been proved against me. My human rights are being taken away as I have not been brought before the courts"?
The Government have to be very, very careful about who may be appointed to district police partnerships. I know that my noble friend Lady Blood will seek to move an amendment on this matter which I shall support. At the moment there are liaison committees. They should be commended for what they have had to do in difficult circumstances over the past number of years. I warn the Government to be very careful about the personnel who may be appointed to district police partnerships.
I know that the RUC has already done immensely successful work in the community but I very much share the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who is much better informed on these matters than I could ever be. I should like to quote one incident which was recently reported in the press. The CCTV cameras in Londonderry were damaged and removed and the very courageous, I think, SDLP local representative said that they should be restored because their absence damaged the possibility of catching criminals. The Sinn Fein people said, "Not so. We will police this area. To restore those cameras would help the RUC. We will not work with the RUC and therefore no one should restore the CCTV cameras. They represent the RUC and police power". I can see that such incidents could occur very frequently. Therefore, we need to be very careful about this matter.
Perhaps I may make the following suggestion. When we reach group 10 on the groupings list, a number of amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Cooke and Lord Glentoran, and other noble Lords concerning the issue of the membership of the district police partnerships will be debated. Perhaps I may reply at that point. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has come in slightly out of order.
moved Amendment No. 54:
Page 50, line 41, at end insert--
("( ) The Board shall ensure that, as far as is practicable, in appointing independent members at least one shall be drawn from existing Community Police Liaison Committee members nominated.").
With the Committee's permission, I shall speak to the two amendments to Schedule 3 standing in my name. The reason for doing so is obvious. Both are about one issue and similar information surrounds both amendments.
A lot has been written, spoken and sometimes implied about Northern Ireland and we have seen many changes in the past four or five years. Indeed, there is a Chinese proverb which states, "May you live in interesting times". No one could deny that in Northern Ireland we are living in the most interesting times and the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill has had its fair share of public exposure and debate in recent months, not least in your Lordships' Committee today. I find it strange that I am moving this amendment in view of our first debate today about some parts of the community accepting the RUC and other parts of the community rejecting them.
In the world today we often express ourselves with an abbreviation of the title of the organisations to which we are referring. For example, we refer to the different departments within government by italics only. It has become a form of shorthand that we are all used to. If I were to mention in this Chamber the IRA, the UDA, the UVF, the RUC and the NIO, most if not all Members of the Committee would know to whom I was referring. But in these amendments the group of people referred to is known as the CPLC. Few other than those of us from Northern Ireland who sit in this House would understand to whom that refers.
The simple answer is that these committees or groups are made up of "ordinary" people--I do not like to use that word but it is the only way I can find to describe them-- who live in local neighbourhoods, who have wanted to have an input in their own areas. Many have taken great personal risk to do so, during times when it has been very dangerous within both communities--yes, both communities--to show such an interest or involvement in such affairs. Despite the risk of being a member of such committees, the reality is that across Northern Ireland "ordinary" people have felt that it is a risk worth taking and that has been demonstrated through their active involvement over the past number of years.
The setting up of the CPLCs has been to the advantage of both the RUC and the local communities within the areas they operate from. Many have benefited from the formation of the CPLCs with issues such as crime and vandalism. Community safety and sometimes even the breakdown of community relations have been successfully addressed due to the enormous amount of good work carried out by the CPLCs. Unfortunately, most of this work has gone unnoticed.
The general public in Northern Ireland perceives the CPLCs as committees made up of people who want to make a contribution to the community within which they live. The RUC highly values this contribution along with the ongoing work and commitment of the CPLCs. Indeed, the police authority funds some of the work carried out by these groups. Under Schedule 3, with reference to the recruitment of the DPPs and also to the independents on the Police Board, I feel it would greatly enhance the operation of both if the experience that has been built up within the CPLCs was utilised and not lost. It would also be a very positive way of recognising the sterling work carried out over the years by the "ordinary" people of Northern Ireland, people who rarely are acknowledged let alone praised for being an essential component within the peace process.
The composite effect of the two amendments is to ensure that, as far as possible, a member of the current network of CPLCs attains an independent seat on each of the 29 DPPs that it is proposed will be established throughout Northern Ireland.
The basis of the argument in support of these amendments is that there exists already a network of police/community committees in Northern Ireland--CPLCs. The committees perform a similar role and comprise similar memberships to those proposed for the DPPs. As I have said, the CPLCs form a network of committees throughout Northern Ireland. They have been in operation for the past 10 years. During that time they have made an extremely valuable contribution to community and police relations.
Perhaps I may finish with a few statistics. There are 152 CPLCs based locally throughout Northern Ireland. The strength of these committees lies in the fact that they are made up of local people who represent local community and business interests, local statutory bodies such as the Housing Executive, the Department of the Environment, district councillors, local voluntary organisations, Churches, youth and ethnic minority interests, to name only a few. This type of structure is exactly that which has been proposed within the Bill by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for the DPPs. Indeed, one might question the need for another layer of committees.
I fully support the efforts being made by the Government to involve local, democratically elected representatives in the policing of Northern Ireland. I hope that the DPPs are successful in that respect. However, in my heart I know also that, given the new beginning we are to establish in Northern Ireland, this is an area in which the CPLCs have real and valuable experience. Given the opportunity, they could achieve a great deal. If the role and membership of the CPLCs and those proposed for the new DPPs are compared, the similarities are obvious. I ask the noble and learned Lord to consider the amendments. I beg to move.
I rise to support the amendment. I believe that the most longstanding community police liaison committee is in the city of Derry. It dates back to the time of the commission. I had some contact with it a few years ago. So far as I know, it is still in existence and is still doing good work, despite the kind of problems outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. I hope that the Government will look favourably on these amendments.
I rise to support this amendment. We need to retain a certain degree of continuity in this area. It is not enough merely to discuss new beginnings and, in so doing, discard all that has gone before. I have been informed that up to 30 per cent of the membership of community police liaison committees is Roman Catholic. For that reason, it is extremely important to ensure that we give credit to the hard work and degree of risk to which those members have been exposed in their effort to guide the police forces in those areas.
It would be quite wrong if members had to canvass wildly in order to secure positions on the new DPPs ahead of those who may have connections with terrorist organisations. I strongly support the suggestion that members of the CPLCs should be given an opportunity to serve on the new DPPs.
I, too, am very sympathetic towards the amendment. The community police liaison committees have done a great deal of good work. Furthermore, they represent a vast amount of painstaking effort on behalf both of the RUC and the memberships to build them up into effective bodies. Given the delicate situation, it would be a great shame to throw away that effort and experience. I hope that the membership will continue, to as great a degree as possible, into the DPPs.
On the question of abbreviations, I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, that I prefer CPLC to DPP. It seems to me that "DPP" could easily be confused with the abbreviation used when referring to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That is an undesirable set of initials in this context. However, I shall not oppose it.
I wish to add my support to the amendment so ably proposed by my noble friend and colleague Lady Blood. For some years I was a member of a community police liaison committee and I saw at first hand the extremely good work being done. Furthermore, I support fully the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Relationships between senior members of the RUC and members of local communities have been carefully nurtured and have matured over many years.
As I look back on my experience as a member of a committee, it is only now--religion has become a factor in policing--that I realise that probably up to 40 per cent of those serving on the committee were those who would be regarded in Northern Ireland as members of the Roman Catholic community. We were delighted to see them on the committee and they played a full part. It seems like a long time ago, but of course I am speaking of only a couple of years ago--before Patten. At that time, religion and policing did not seem to have the same significance. I totally support the amendment.
The noble Baroness has drawn the attention of the Committee to what I regard as an extremely important issue; namely, the membership of the community police liaison committees. I stated earlier that many of these committees have been operating in non-controversial areas.
However, we have to bear in mind that there are certain little pockets of terrorists. I can recall one immediately; namely, one that operated in Carrickmore in County Tyrone. The liaison committee worked in conjunction with Monsignor Dennis Faul. They were doing everything they could to bring about normal relations within their area. The committee met in a hotel in Omagh. During the meeting, a crowd of people, led by a member of Sinn Fein, entered the room and wrecked it. The meeting was broken up, documents were stolen and the purpose of the meeting was lost. The saddest element of this story is that, only a few weeks later, the person who led the attack on the meeting was elected as a member of the council with an overwhelming majority. That gives an indication of the difficulties faced by the liaison committees.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, has outlined, the committees have demonstrated a high level of courage over the years. I am not sure whether the Carrickmore committee has met again, but I doubt whether it has, so terrified were the members by the abuse and hostility demonstrated that night in the hotel. The greater the proportion of membership to the DPPs drawn from the most responsible elements of the CPLCs, the better it will be for Northern Ireland.
I, too, have sympathy with the thought that lies behind these amendments. It recognises the valuable contribution made by the CPLCs. However, there are practical and technical difficulties here, the first of which is one of definition.
First, no such entity as a community police liaison community exists in law, although it might be possible to get round that. Secondly, the amendments assume that the CPLC members will, in effect, always be the best candidates. That may very well be the case, but equally it may not. The Government's answer to the problem is this. They will include a requirement in the code of practice, which will be issued by the Secretary of State under Schedule 3, for councils to notify the CPLCs in their areas when advertising for independents. Those members may then apply, along with others. Given their experience, they are likely to have an advantage.
In the light of that explanation, I ask the noble Baroness to accept the Government's approach to this, and to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. I realise that problems need to be overcome here. However, before I withdraw the amendment, will it be possible to have sight of the draft code of practice as it relates to the appointment of independents? When will it be made available? I ask this because we are tabling amendments at a point when we have only half of the picture.
I regret that the code of practice is not yet available for consideration. However, the Secretary of State will be bound by the provisions of the Bill to consult the board, councils and the equality commission on its contents. I am sure that those bodies will make similar points to those put forward by the noble Baroness.
The differentiation between political and independent members of DPPs is neither logical nor proper. Amendment No. 56 seeks to ensure that a member, whether political or independent, could be removed from a DPP for failing to disclose a criminal conviction prior to appointment.
As the Bill stands, both political and independent members can be removed for various reasons, including committing criminal offences while a member of a DPP, but only independent members can be removed for failure to disclose a previous conviction. There is no sensible reason for this. I beg to move.
I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. As the Minister is aware, we, on this side of the Committee, are not in favour of a number of the differentiations in the Bill between political and independent members, particularly when it comes to selections and sackings, if I can use that terminology.
I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 57, 61 and 62, and, by definition, Amendment No. 69. The reasoning behind Amendments Nos. 57 and 61 is twofold: it is to prevent convicted terrorists serving on district policing partnerships, whether as political or independent members, and to prevent representatives of parties that are linked to terrorist organisations which have failed to decommission from serving on DPPs.
We support DPPs in principle--there is no doubt about that--but we are very aware of the likely shape and style of DPPs in the different local authorities across the country. We are talking in the context of 26 different local authorities for 1.5 million people after 30 years of polarisation in Northern Ireland. The reasoning behind these amendments is therefore the same as we applied to the main policing board. The arguments are exactly the same.
Under the Bill, district councils--all 26 of them--will be obliged to establish a district policing partnership consisting of either 15, 17 or 19 members. In each case, the majority of the DPP will be political members, the remainder independents. That means that in a number of district council areas, members of Sinn Fein will be automatically entitled to membership of a DPP. In Belfast, members of the small loyalist parties will be entitled to membership.
The situation is made much worse in Belfast by the proposal--which we shall come to later with other amendments--to split the area into four sub-groups. We would have Sinn Fein dominant in west Belfast; the UVF and the loyalist UDA dominant in north Belfast; the UDA and the UVF dominant in east Belfast; and only south Belfast not in the hands of paramilitaries. So, to all intents and purposes, in one sweep we would hand over the DPPs and policing to the various groups of paramilitaries and their elected members.
Imagine what would have happened in the summer when we had the trouble with "Mad Dog" Adair and the on-going loyalist feud. The local district police commander would have been answerable in the DPP to representatives of the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party--and yet these are the parties which represent the UVF and the UFF, the organisations which are carrying out the violence and against whom the police, presumably, hope to make arrests. What about the situations in South Armagh and Strabane? How does the noble and learned Lord expect the DPPs to operate in those areas where Sinn Fein is the dominant player? After all, Sinn Fein has yet to state whether it will support the police at all, even if every amendment to the Bill proposed by the nationalists is carried. I have personally asked the chairman of Sinn Fein what is his attitude. The Minister knows exactly what is his attitude and what he has said to others in the past: he will not commit. It is commitment we want, and Sinn Fein will not give it.
In these circumstances, how can it be right for convicted killers to sit on DPPs? How can it be right for parties which maintain their own private armies and carry out their own forms of summary execution, with nails and baseball bats, to be put in a position of sitting in judgment on the police? The situation hardly bears thinking about.
But we have to think about it to understand it. We have to go into the geography and into the numbers of each single district council and look at what the political make-up of each DPP will be.
The Government have recognised the concerns by disqualifying people with criminal or terrorist convictions from serving as independents on the DPPs. But we have already heard the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, tell us about the members of terrorist organisations who are killers and murderers but who have not been brought to trial and convicted, for the reasons we heard earlier.
In our view the disqualification should include political as well as independent members. The Government may argue that political members are there as of right because they have been elected, and it is true that there is a disqualifying period of, I believe, five years before someone convicted of a terrorist offence can serve as a councillor. I do not subscribe to the Government's view that an elected representative has a God-given right through the democratic process to sit on a DPP. I accept their right to sit on a council or in the Assembly as an elected member, but for them to sit on a DPP or a police board has different connotations which I do not accept.
We do not object in principle to them being given a role, but we do object to that role being carried out by anyone who has been convicted of heinous terrorist offences or who belongs to a party that represents a terrorist organisation intent on holding on to its weapons of murder. Our amendments will stop that happening. It will place the onus on the terrorist related parties to demonstrate their democratic bone fides. We urge the Government to accept the amendment. It concerns one of the areas of the Bill about which my party feels particularly strongly.
Amendment No. 62 concerns quorums for DPPs. The membership of a DPP, as I understand it, could range from 15 to 19. We feel that five members is too low for a quorum and could result in unrepresentative decisions being taken, particularly in the light of what I have just expounded. I hope that the Minister will agree that, in this situation-- bearing in mind the arithmetic and the likely make-up of the DPPs in their early days--five is too small a quorum.
Perhaps I may speak to my Amendment No. 60 which is in this group. I am sorry to say that it is not well drafted, if only because it does not decide the question of whose convictions are compatible and whose are not. It might have been better and more elegant had I simply sought to omit from Schedule 3 lines 46 and 48 on page 51 of the Bill.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote from the comments made recently on this issue by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the official government-appointed part of the structure for ensuring so far as possible that human rights are respected. The commission states:
"The Bill disqualifies a person who has previously been convicted of any offence and has had passed on him or her a term of imprisonment, whether suspended or not, from being appointed as an independent member to a DPP. The Commission is concerned about the equality and human rights implications of this prohibition.
"The NIHRC is of the view that even though former prisoners have, by definition, paid their debt to society by undergoing a period of loss of liberty, they still face considerable difficulties in reintegrating into society once they leave prison. The NIHRC believes that protecting the rights of ex-prisoners can play a useful role in reintegrating ex-prisoners from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland into a new, trusting and pluralistic society. That is what the Good Friday Agreement itself calls for. The approach proposed in this Bill also"-- this is most important--
"runs counter to the spirit and sometimes the letter of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NI) Order 1978.
"The NIHRC considers that disqualification of people who have been convicted of offences, irrespective of whether or not their sentence was suspended, from becoming independent members of a DPP is a bar to the reintegration of prisoners into society and an impediment in working towards an inclusive society".
In support of that view, I can say that I personally know quite a large number of ex-prisoners who have totally renounced violence and who make a positive contribution not only to community relations but to all kinds of peace-building work, on all sides of barriers and peace lines. I look forward to the noble and learned Lord's response to this group of amendments, which I shall study in Hansard. I apologise to him because I shall have to leave quite soon in order to take part in entertaining some visiting parliamentarians.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has spelt out graphically what will happen in three of the DPPs in Belfast and in one or two elsewhere. They will certainly be run by paramilitaries who have connections with the councillors. It will be a disaster. That will be a pity, because the principle behind DPPs is excellent. If they can be worked by law-abiding people, that is splendid. But the present proposal, with the base of members coming from the local council, guarantees disaster. They will contrive the most devilish schemes to wreck the police service in those areas. The Minister should look into this matter before the next stage of the Bill. I am sure that a better approach can be devised than what is presently proposed in the Bill.
"I should point out that DPPs will not have the same access to sensitive information as the Policing Board".
The policing board is Province-wide. We all recognise that the DPP will not have access to such sensitive material as might occur on a Province-wide basis. But DPPs are at a local level, and policing in communities works from the bottom up.
I have been a member of a local sub-divisional action committee (SubDAC). The point about such committees is that they discuss everyday activities in an area. Inevitably, matters arise concerning crime. We know how terrorist organisations have leant towards crime, and Members of the Committee will have read about diesel smuggling and other such activities which are prevalent in the Border area where I live. Whether we like it or not, such information is sensitive. If we want those who are on the boards to contribute--as I believe they can and should, and hope that they will--to local policing and to the acceptability of policing in general, they must be able to discuss sensitive information, some of which will be in a grey area. I refer not merely to raiding the local shop for sweets or money, but to the known areas of "cross-contamination" between the normal criminal fraternity and that of terrorism. For matters under discussion to be meaningful, they will have to be sensitive.
This brings up the subject of vetting. In normal circumstances, vetting--whether for the Foreign Office, the Security Forces or various other positions at different levels that give people access to sensitive information--does not look purely at whether a person has been convicted of an offence. It looks at a person's lifestyle and associates, and at whether or not there is a probability that a person may be persuaded or blackmailed into exposing that sensitive information. I support the tightening up that is suggested in the amendments--and to an even greater extent, in that we must avoid allowing people in who have overtly and obviously been convicted of certain offences.
The amendments in this large group come from all quarters of the Committee. I find myself in the unusual position of supporting them all, with the possible exception of Amendment No. 62, about which I have no strong feelings either way.
I support in principle the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Let us take as an example a solid citizen in his mid-50s who would like to join a DPP. However, in his rather wild students days 35 years earlier he got into some sort of scrape--perhaps he was a rugby player who, in a hard fought game, took a swing at someone in the opposing scrum and broke that person's nose, and was justifiably sentenced to a month or two in prison. Or let us suppose that he had brought back a small amount of cannabis from Amsterdam for a friend and been sentenced to a short spell in prison or received a suspended sentence. He might now be a pillar of the community in a responsible professional job. Is it right that those previous events should disqualify him from membership altogether? Surely not.
Perhaps I may take the opportunity to point out an error in the Government's drafting at line 24 on page 51 of the Bill. I submit that the comma is in the wrong place. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and his noble friends have the comma in the right place in the first line of Amendment No. 57, which reads:
"The Board, or the council".
In line 24 on page 51 of the Bill the comma should come after "board" and not after "council". I merely draw that to the attention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
I spoke somewhat out of turn on this issue earlier. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran is by far one of the most serious amendments proposed. A person needs to come from Northern Ireland to realise its significance. Heading (b) in the sub-paragraph reads:
"the political party of which he is a member is linked to an organisation that has failed to begin the decommissioning of arms and explosives in a manner verified by the Commission referred to in section 7".
When we hear the term "decommissioning", we immediately think of the IRA. But there are other organisations in Northern Ireland that have not even attempted to decommission. They have said clearly that they have no intention of doing so. It is a question of "You jump first". These loyalist organisations are saying, "We're not going to decommission if the IRA is not going to decommission." In turn, the IRA is saying, "We need to hold on to our arms because the loyalist have their arms." So we have a ridiculous roundabout situation.
At present, the UVF, which has been guilty of some of the most atrocious murders throughout the past 30 years, has two members elected to the Stormont Assembly. The Government might well say, "They were elected to the Assembly, so who are we to deny them a place on a partnership board?" By the way, if we followed the logic of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who, I am sorry to say, is no longer in his place, Johnny Adair could have been appointed two months ago to a police partnership before be broke some of the rules. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke about someone being debarred because he had smoked cannabis at one time. Well, if someone were to be debarred from a police board, he could always apply to become a Tory MP!
The amendment illustrates the tremendous difficulty involved. Sinn Fein will not decommission, the UVF will not decommission. Yet those of us who come from Northern Ireland know that there are people in those areas who have not been brought before a court. Then there is my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, with his strict interpretation of the laws of evidence, and so on. If a person known to have been involved in terrorist activity makes an application to become a member of a DPP and the latter has been told about that person by people who live in the area and who will be affected by the partnership, who does the DPP listen to? Again, I pose the question: is the person so rejected in a position to say, "My human rights have been abused, because no one has convicted me"? But that person, having been brought before a court, could be guilty of murder. Some people underestimate the difficulties involved with this legislation--
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. However, he is rather giving the impression that I put forward some proposition that is inconsistent with what he is saying. I have no recollection of ever having done such a thing.
I am very glad to hear that. I support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, along with the other speakers from Northern Ireland. I realise that it is difficult for many noble Lords who have never been to Northern Ireland, or who have only been there on a short visit, to understand the situation. They do not have to live with the consequences of what has been happening. Many representations are made to us. During the summer I was in what is regarded as a peaceful part of Northern Ireland, Ballycastle in north Antrim. Yet every day that I went out, people were talking to me about the setting up of these police partnerships.
The Minister may not have a answer for this, but there is an area in west Belfast known as Twinbrook and an adjoining area known as Poleglass. The question is: should they be in the DPP relating to Belfast or should those two districts be taken into the Lisburn Rural Council? Their whole culture, their whole ethos, has nothing to do with Lisburn, but it has a great deal to do with what is happening in west Belfast.
I know that the Government are trying to create a situation whereby the community will be involved in protecting its own citizens. If the DPPs do come into operation, this amendment makes it very clear that they would not be able to exist under this legislation.
I rise to express my support for my noble friend's amendments, Amendments Nos. 56 and 57. I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Cooke and Lord Fitt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, have said. This is an extremely important amendment. If criminals or former terrorists are involved in these committees in any way, it is clear to me--and, indeed, it must be clear to most people--that that can only undermine and weaken the authority of the police force, thus making its task exceptionally difficult or virtually impossible. Those are the reasons why I support my noble friend's amendments.
I join other noble Lords in supporting Amendments Nos. 56 and 57. It seems to be lacking in logic to exclude some people from membership of the DPPs while allowing some people, for the same reason, to be members of such boards simply because they are political appointments. After all, if you have a fairly major type of conviction involving a custodial sentence, that stops you becoming a member of the police force, a member of the judiciary and a member of the Bar. It also prevents people taking up jury service for a period. Therefore, as these partnerhips will play a significant role in policing in certain areas, it seems that anyone with a conviction of a serious nature should be excluded.
I shall deal, first, with Amendments Nos. 56 and 58, which seek to apply the removal provisions that presently apply to independent members to political members who may fail to make a disclosure in relation to a conviction for a criminal office in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. The amendments represent a significant difference between, on the one hand, the Government and, on the other hand, the noble Lords proposing these amendments.
The Government are following the approach of the Good Friday agreement of inclusivity for elected representatives, whereas the amendments now before the Committee seek to place hurdles in the way of appointment of district councillors to DPPs. It is worth pointing out that councillors are already subject to a criminal record test in that they may not be appointed in the first place if they have a conviction of imprisonment of three months or more in the past five years. In other words, if they cannot satisfy that hurdle, they cannot become councillors. However, once that test has been satisfied, then, as far as concerns political membership of the DPPs, it is a matter for the district council. I therefore ask noble Lords not to press these amendments. I give way.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way, but there is a point here that needs clarification. If all the recently released paramilitary prisoners have done their three months, I take it that they are ineligible to become councillors?
As I read it, the test is whether they have had a conviction of imprisonment of three months or more during the past five years. The relevant five years runs from the date of conviction. That is the information I have at present, but perhaps I may check the position. I understand entirely the noble Lord's question.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 57, 59 and 61. The proposers of those amendments, the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Cope, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, seek to increase the removal and disqualification criteria for membership of the DPPs. I know that these issues were debated at some length in Committee and, again, on Report in another place. We believe that the amendments seek to introduce removal and disqualification criteria which are disproportionate to the nature of the powers of the bodies being established. Patten made a recommendation in relation to them following directly from his commission's terms of reference, which calls for,
"clearly established arrangements enabling local people and their political representatives to articulate their views and concerns about policing, subject to safeguards".
We believe that there are a number of safeguards included in the Bill which are proportionate. These safeguards include, first, the existing disqualification and removal provisions in Schedule 3, paragraphs 7 and 8; secondly, the provision enabling the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice on appointments of independent members; thirdly, the appointments being made by the board--Patten recommended that it only approve them--and the provision in Clause 15 enabling the Secretary of State to require a council to act in compliance with Schedule 3, failing which the Secretary of State may empower the board to establish the DPP in a council area. As I say, we already have safeguards which are measured against the powers given to these bodies. We think that those safeguards are proportionate.
I turn to Amendment No. 60 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who is not present at the moment. Correspondence has been exchanged with him on the amendment. It has been explained to him that the Government think that the provision is appropriate and justified. It cannot be right that those convicted of an offence resulting in imprisonment, whether suspended or not, should be appointed to a body dealing in policing.
If this amendment is aimed at allowing greater flexibility for those convicted of terrorist offences to be members of DPPs, then I would say to the noble Lord that Patten clearly did not regard the time as right for this. The Government continue to hold the view that the time is not right. In saying that I do not seek to rule out the prospect of any change in the future. The Government hope to see the day when sensitivities such as this recede and certain convictions could be relegated in the selection procedures for those bodies. I therefore ask the noble Lord not to move Amendment No. 60. As he is not present at the moment, that will not be difficult.
I turn to Amendment No. 62 which stands in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. Amendment No. 62 seeks to set the quorum of a DPP meeting at seven instead of the five required in the Bill. I point out that these bodies are linked to and effectively formed from councils and Schedule 2, paragraph 4 of the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972 provides that council business in Northern Ireland cannot be transacted unless at least one quarter of the whole number of councillors is present. The figure of five for DPPs would be at least a quarter (they may have a membership between 15 and 19). I ask the noble Lords and the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.
As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, the test for councillors relates to any offence for which a sentence of imprisonment of three months or more has been passed within a period of five years immediately preceding the day on which a councillor is elected.
Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, in regard to the five-year rule, is he saying that someone convicted five and a half years ago for, say, a 10 year sentence would qualify since having been released?
He would qualify to be a councillor under the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972. I referred to the provisions that prevent someone from being a councillor. If you pass that test under the 1972 Act which I described twice to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, you would qualify to become a councillor.
I understand what the noble and learned Lord says but I am talking about the seriousness of an offence. If someone five and a half years ago committed a serious offence, can that person qualify as having passed the five-year test?
What I am describing to the noble Baroness is what someone has to do to become a councillor. Those provisions are laid down in the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972. If, within the period of five years preceding the day on which the councillor is elected he has had a sentence passed on him of more than three months' imprisonment, he is disqualified from becoming a councillor. Five years is the relevant period.
In moving Amendment No. 63, I wish to speak also to the amendments grouped with it.
Amendment No. 63 widens the defaults by a district council that the Secretary of State can remedy. Part III of the Bill is concerned with all matters related to DPPs. I wish we did not have this confusion with the Director of Public Prosecutions, who I hope feels suitably honoured. Clause 14(1) applied only to a council failing to establish a DPP. The amendment would include matters such as the council failing to arrange for a DPP report to be published and the council failing to send a copy of a DPP report to the board.
Amendment No. 65 seeks to insert the words,
"to formulate a strategy for the reduction of crime and disorder in the area".
Amendment No. 68 seeks to add the words,
"Without prejudice to any other obligation imposed on it, it shall be the duty of each district policing partnership to exercise its various functions with due regard to the likely effect of the exercise of those functions on, and the need to do all that it reasonably can, to prevent crime and disorder in its area".
That seems to be a laudable directive.
Amendment No. 67 defines the function of the DPP, removing the ambiguity which appears in paragraph (e) of Clause 16(1). We do not wish a new function to be the nationalist/republican demand of a budget and private security firms for some policing functions.
Amendment No. 69 states:
"Page 9, line 5, leave out ("have regard to") and insert ("comply with").
It would appear much easier to comply with a code of practice than a code of ethics. In Committee in another place the Government indicated that they would reconsider what is now Clause 32(4) in order to force the police to comply with their code of ethics. I have not detected such an amendment on Report in the other place. However, the Government may intend to change the code of ethics to "be guided by" rather than "have regard to". I beg to move.
I support Amendment No. 63. I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 67, 70 and 71, standing in my name and those of my noble friends which are grouped with Amendment No. 63.
Amendment No. 67 is a paving amendment.
I hope that the purpose of Amendment No. 70 is clear. We have not had much joy out of the Government today. We have had a little sympathy occasionally, but no movement. However, I am hoping for better luck on these two amendments, partly because I am pushing at a door which the Secretary of State himself has half opened.
So far as Amendment No. 70 is concerned, it is clear that the purpose of DPPs is primarily to be consultative rather than to have executive responsibilities and the amendment is designed to ensure that the operational independence of the district police commanders is preserved. It is well worth making this explicit in the Bill and underlining the point that politicians and others on the DPP cannot interfere with the operational independence of the commander of the district. We want to take politics out of policing, particularly local policing.
Sometimes, district commanders have to make difficult decisions about all sorts of things and how they are going to deal with them--not least parades. It is important that DPPs stick to their consultative role and do not try to take over from the district commanders. They can, of course, as liaison committees have in the past, play an extremely valuable role in such problem areas. I think that the Secretary of State has repeatedly said that this is intended to be the case, so I hope the Government can accept that amendment, or something like it.
Regarding Amendment No. 71, your Lordships will recall that one of the controversial aspects of the Patten report was the proposal to allow district councils the power to raise up to 3p in the £ to buy in additional policing services within their area. It was said that some of that money might be spent on things like CCTV, although as a matter of fact the councils already have the power, and indeed use it, to spend money on those sorts of things to the great advantage of the public.
However, the Patten report also made clear that the money could be used for the hiring of security firms to carry out police-type duties. The implications of that, particularly in certain parts of Northern Ireland, are extremely worrying. There are parts where racketeering and extortion exist, and it is extremely difficult for the police to deal with these. There are parts of Northern Ireland where paramilitaries of all persuasions are attempting to "police" areas of the Province, and if certain district councils had the power they might seem to be giving backing to this by using the power.
I hope we are pushing at a half-open door here. The Secretary of State said on 19th January that he did not intend to extend the function of the DPPs in this way but did not rule it out entirely. He said that the function was being considered by the criminal justice review, and that would be still to come. So this idea has not been entirely buried. But it is, I believe, it is a bad and dangerous idea in the Northern Ireland context. That is why it seems to me right to put something into the Bill along the lines of Amendment No. 71. I would not necessarily insist on the precise wording of these amendments--it is the thought which counts--but I do believe that these are provisions which should appear in the Bill.
Amendment No. 63, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and Amendment No, 64 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, are further examples of the way in which people are trying to pull the Government in different directions. On the one hand, there are complaints of the overbearing approach by Government and of too much control in the hands of the Secretary of State and interference by him in accountability arrangements. On the other hand, we are asked in these amendments to enable the Secretary of State to decide whether or not a DPP has adequately discharged any of its functions and, if not, to direct it to do so.
This must be wrong in principle. I ask noble Lords to consider, for example, the powers of these bodies which are of an explanatory or consultative nature, and to compare them with the powers of the board. There is no call for the Secretary of State to have a similar override or to call for a provision for the latter. This is not to say that the DPPs are going to be able to act with impunity. For a start, they have statutory functions and the board can issue a code of practice covering the exercise of their functions. In addition, of course, councillors have to perform to hold on to their seats and members of the DPP may be removed by the board or the council, with the board's approval, if they do not comply with the terms of their appointment.
In short, the Government have sought to take a balanced approach and to give the Secretary of State powers and provide safeguards where we believe them to be necessary and justified. Regarding the requirement for a default power on councils to establish DPPs on general functions and obligations, these are matters for the policing board to monitor and manage in conjunction with the councils, who will have been consulted on the board's code on functions and will want it and DPPs to function effectively. I would therefore ask the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press Amendments Nos. 63 and 64.
Amendments Nos. 65 and 68 seek to place responsibility for formulating crime and disorder strategies on the DPPs. While the Government share their enthusiasm for strategies to tackle crime and disorder and recognise that their proposed aproach is similar to that already in place in England and Wales, we would ask noble Lords not to pursue their amendments. That is because this issue is a key part of the criminal justice review, on which consultation has just been completed and on which the Government will be announcing a decision shortly.
In addition, arrangements made for England and Wales should not be seen as precisely applicable in Northern Ireland as the situation is different here between the powers of councils in Northern Ireland and local authorities in England and Wales. In brief, local authorities have powers in the areas covered by those structures and councils and DPPs do not. I therefore ask noble Lords not to pursue Amendments Nos. 65 and 68.
Amendment No. 66 is similar to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord in regard to Clause 3, and he has indicated that he is not moving--
I have got that point, thank you. Turning to Amendment No. 67, the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Cope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, want to remove Clause 16 (1)(e). I suspect they view this as a Trojan horse, given their later amendments. I can assure them that this is really a technical provision and a simple acknowledgment that legislation resulting from the criminal justice review could confer additional powers on the DPPs. The provision in paragraph (e) would mean that if this happened the Bill would not need to be specifically amended at that stage. Obviously nothing could change without a statutory provision which would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I therefore ask noble Lords not to pursue their amendment.
Amendment No. 70, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is aimed at ensuring operational independence. It was something that Patten recognised. Patten specifically said at paragraph 6.21 of his report that it is the chief constable's right and duty to take operational decisions and nobody should direct him how to conduct an operation. He said that police officers must be free to exercise their responsibilities. This, again, is an issue which arose in another place, and I can assure noble Lords that our view there that operational independence should be preserved remains.
It is worth pointing out, too, that DPPs are consultative bodies. They can ask the police to account to the community for their actions. The police accept and would welcome the opportunity to do this for the benefit of policing. The code of practice to be issued by the board under Clause 19 will set out in detail what is expected of the police. But neither this provision nor the one in the code will affect the operational independence of officers. I believe that we are at one on that issue. With the assurance I have given, I ask the noble Lord not to move Amendment No. 70.
Amendment No. 71 would provide that DPPs should not have any power to raise money for the purpose of buying in any additional policing services within the district. There is no need for such an amendment. It is unnecessary. The Government, recognising the widespread concerns about the Patten recommendation on this, did not include it in the Bill, so they have no such power.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already made clear that the DPPs would not have this fund-raising power. He has said that he would review it in the light of the criminal justice review conclusions and the operation of DPPs. The Bill does not give DPPs such a power and the provision saying that they should not have them is unnecessary. I therefore ask noble Lords not to press Amendment No. 71.
Perhaps I should concede that the noble and learned Lord may be justified in complaining that he is being pulled in two different directions. However, he has indicated that that had the effect of achieving a balance. I hope that that balance will be sustained and maintained throughout the remaining clauses. On that basis, I generously withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.50 p.m. and inform the House that unfortunately, despite this delay, it appears unlikely that the commission can occur during the dinner break.
Under Clause 17, at the end of the financial year each district policing partnership is obliged to submit a general report to its district council. The Bill provides that a copy should be sent to the policing board by the council. The Police Authority for Northern Ireland expressed concern that a council might accidentally or otherwise delay sending a copy of the report. It argued that the DPP should send a copy to the policing board at the same time as it sends one to the council.
We have said throughout that we will consider constructive suggestions. We have accepted that suggestion and have tabled Amendments Nos. 72 and 74 accordingly. I am pleased to say that the Government have anticipated Amendment No. 73. I hope that it will not be pressed, given the changes that we are proposing.
Amendments Nos. 75, 76 and 77 to Clause 18, tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, provide that the DPPs may report on any matter. As my right honourable friend the Minister of State said in response to similar amendments in another place, they are not necessary. The clause simply empowers the board to require reports. It does not prevent DPPs from reporting on their functions. Given that assurance, I hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
Amendment No. 78, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Cooke, Lord Laird, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Rogan, would require the board to make an order if a DPP failed to produce a report when asked to do so by the board. The theme of the fear of non-compliance runs through several amendments. The Government do not think it right to bind a body comprising elected representatives and those appointed by the board in that way. The board could take other avenues. For example, if members of a DPP fail to fulfil their terms of appointment, they can be removed. The logic of the amendment would require similar provisions throughout the Bill, such as in Clause 68, which requires the board to appoint traffic wardens, or Clause 55(4) on the board reporting to the Secretary of State. I therefore hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
Amendment No. 79 would place a requirement on the board to issue a code of practice. The Government have made it clear that we have every expectation that the board will issue such a code. However, given the obvious strength of feeling on the point, the Government accept the amendment in principle. Once we have had a chance to check the wording with counsel, we shall introduce an amendment on Report. In the light of that assurance, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
I hope that it has been helpful to go through the other amendments. I beg to move.
I congratulate the Government. I am in the enviable position of yet again welcoming a government amendment. I am glad that the Government have listened to the shrewd advice of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. The Government have clearly thought through in a little more detail the relationship between the board and the district policing partnerships. Smooth and harmonious relationships will be essential to effective policing. Amendment No. 72 is sensible and I strongly support it.
Saving time is commendable. My noble friend the Minister has answered my arguments before I have advanced them. Not for the first time, she has largely read my mind. I am not wholly surprised to be told that my amendments are unnecessary, but I should like to take a moment to explain why I tabled them.
We are told that the DPP may submit a report on a specific matter whenever so required by the board. The aim of the amendments was to make it clear that the DPP did not have to wait until it was required to do so before submitting a report.
I was not surprised that my noble friend said that the principle was not in dispute. We all know that those who are closest to the action are best placed to know when a report is needed. The purpose of such a report is often to alert those in the hierarchy who are further from the coal face. When I was privileged to chair the council on tribunals, we were required to submit an annual report to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, but sometimes we discovered a problem that required an alarm signal without waiting until it was time for the next report. Sometimes the most important advice is unsolicited, because its purpose is to alert those who had not grasped the situation. I am delighted that my noble friend and I agree about that.
I am not wholly sure that the amendments are superfluous. We are imposing the duty to submit a report when asked. It may be wise to make sure that the DPP may also submit a report when not asked, because there is a principle of construction that that which is not included is excluded. However, my noble friend has largely anticipated my points and I shall not take the matter further tonight.
I thank the Government for accepting Amendment No. 79. That is welcome. I may be pedantic, but I have one comment to make. The purpose of our Amendment No. 73, which is almost identical to government Amendment No. 72, was to reinforce the point that DPPs are accountable to the police board. That is why we felt that they should submit the same report to the board. We wanted to make that point a little more strongly, but I accept that it is almost the same.
I heard what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, said, but I am delighted that he does not intend to press his amendments.
As the proposer of Amendments Nos. 78 and 79, perhaps I may say a few words. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, I listened carefully to what was said, even before I put my case. I shall consider that and obviously shall be prepared not to push the amendment but to withdraw it. I simply want to savour the moment. If I understand the situation correctly, as I believe I do, the Government have accepted Amendment No. 79 in my name and those of three of my colleagues. I want to savour that moment because it is the first such moment that I have savoured here all evening. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for accepting the amendment. I believe that it will go some way towards bringing back a little public confidence. I thank the Government.
I am delighted with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Perhaps I may make certain that the Committee understands that we accept the amendment in principle but want to check the precise wording with counsel. I believe that that is important. I say to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer that it is a refreshing change for the Government to be told that placing certain items on the face of the Bill sometimes causes difficulty because, by definition, others may be deemed to be less important or excluded in some way. I am sure that I shall recall his wise words when we come to deal with other Bills. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for her contribution.
moved Amendment No. 74:
Page 9, line 18, leave out paragraph (b).
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 18 [Reports by district policing partnership to Board]:
[Amendments Nos. 75 to 78 not moved.]
Clause 18 agreed to.
Clause 19 [Code of practice for district policing partnerships]:
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if with this amendment we debate all the amendments up to and including Amendment No. 85.
Amendment No. 80 is largely a probing amendment. Clause 19 empowers the board to issue or revise a code of practice for district policing partnerships. That is sensible. However, the clause then provides that they may do so only with the consent of the Secretary of State. I wonder why. The board is charged with ensuring that policing in Northern Ireland is carried out properly. Why does one not let them get on with it? One assumes that the people appointed to the board will be responsible and sensible. Clearly, ultimate responsibility lies with the Secretary of State. However, we all know that when the Secretary of State moves over from policy to more detailed matters, he is likely to spark off inflammable material and store up trouble for himself. Therefore, I ask simply: what is the thinking behind that requirement?
I turn to Amendment No. 83. Clause 19 empowers the board to issue a code of practice. Subsection (2) very sensibly provides that, before doing so, it,
"shall consult ... district councils; and ... the Chief Constable".
This amendment simply seeks to explore whether all the other obvious consultees are to be left out of the process. If the answer is that it is unnecessary to make specific provision because they would be consulted without specific provision, then if my noble friend and I can continue our tennis match, perhaps I may lob the ball back over the net and say that, if specific consultees are listed, are the others not relegated to the second division? I wonder why there should be that distinction.
First, there is the district policing partnership itself. Should it not be consulted about the code of practice which is to be imposed on it? I cannot believe that it is intended that the code should be sprung on it as a fait accompli. However, if the argument is that it is unnecessary, we return to the question of whether that is not also true of the many provisions in the Bill where an authority is enjoined to consult.
In Clause 5(5), before making regulations for the transfer of staff the Secretary of State is required to consult the board, the chief constable and organisations representing the interests of those affected. Does that imply that in the absence of a statutory requirement he might not consult them? A requirement to consult serves as a reminder. Perhaps that resolves the issue between my noble friend and myself. It is a reminder to officials to consult when working on a project and, perhaps only in the last resort, it is a trigger for a challenge to an unco-operative Secretary of State.
The amendment would also require consultation with the Police Ombudsman. He or she should provide a mine of information. The ombudsman has been learning where the shoe pinches. Then there is reference to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission, which over the years have developed substantial expertise. To make a case for consulting them is superfluous and I shall not take up the Committee's time. It would be an insult or an act of madness to produce a code without inviting their comments.
At the risk of being tiresome, perhaps I may speak also to Amendment No. 84. This amendment serves as another reminder. Subsection (3) relates to some of the matters with which the code of practice may deal. Surely the DPPwill wish to have ongoing consultations with those organisations which have something to contribute to the combined wisdom and whose support would ensure that the public are informed about and agree with the arrangements for policing in the area. That has been the subject of an earlier debate and I shall not elaborate on it.
The code of practice is to set out various arrangements. Would it not be wise to set out how the consultation process will operate: how those concerns will be notified as to what is to happen or what is proposed and how they will be invited to submit their concerns; at which point should those views be fed into the machine; and most particularly, how far the process should have proceeded before various people are consulted and in what order they should be consulted? Very often, such matters can touch off an explosion. As we all know, sometimes an unnecessary crisis is sparked off because A was told about something before B. Would it not be wise to have a structure in place to ensure that no crisis occurs before someone's attention is distracted at the wrong moment? I beg to move.
I seek clarification on this point. I can see the reason for the comment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, about consulting. Am I correct in thinking that he suggests that, in spite of his amendment listing those bodies--the ombudsman, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and so on--he would be happy with Clause 5(5)(c) in place which refers to,
"such organisations as appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of persons affected by the regulations"?
We are moving onto the area of the ombudsman. I do not believe that it is necessary but I should feel more comfortable to declare an interest in this regard in as much as the present ombudsman, Mrs O'Loan, is somebody with whom I worked on a government committee for some time. I know her quite well and have a great deal of respect for her. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will accept that any comment I may make about the ombudsman's role or position in relation to this Bill is objective and not in any way subjective. It reflects in no way whatever on Mrs O'Loan, for whom I have an enormous amount of time.
With regard to Amendment No. 82, the Minister may perhaps be surprised to hear that on this side of the Committee we like the idea of keeping the Secretary of State's hand on the helm at this stage. When, it is hoped, the powers in relation to policing and so on are devolved to the Assembly, those powers will be needed in the early stages. Ultimately, I believe that it would be better if the decision for the Secretary of State to withdraw were taken at the time when the power becomes devolved. Therefore, I support those amendments which seek to keep the Secretary of State's hand on the helm; that is, I support Amendment No. 80.
I do not wish to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and nor do I wish to support Amendment No. 82. We wish to increase the role of the Secretary of State as much as possible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, was clear on his thoughts in relation to that matter.
On Amendment No. 83, I should be worried and concerned if that field of consultation were made too ridiculously wide. That was the sense of feeling which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, was coming across with too. I understand where he is coming from. He wants reminders. I like reminders too but not lists.
Amendment No. 81 is consequential on Amendment No. 79, which we dealt with in our last group of amendments. I gave an undertaking to bring forward an amendment. In the light of that assurance, I ask the noble Lord not to press Amendment No. 81.
Amendment No. 82 represents another of those areas where some want to see greater involvement by the Secretary of State while others would want to see less. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. We have already included a requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State to consent to the board's code. We believe that this is a higher test than the need to have consultation. Therefore, in the light of the response, we hope that the amendment is not felt to be necessary.
I also ask for my noble and learned friend Lord Archer to resist pressing Amendments Nos. 80, 83 and 84. Amendment No. 80 removes the ability of the Secretary of State to approve any code issued by the board and removes a safeguard which the Government included because of the level of concern about the nature of DPPs.
My noble friend asked for the sort of circumstances in which the safeguard could be necessary. Perhaps I may say that it could avoid a situation where the board produces a code which is clearly at odds with the legislation for which the Secretary of State is responsible.
Amendment No. 83 expands the list of those to be consulted on the code. I simply say that the current provision does not preclude the board from consulting the bodies listed. I have no doubt that it will consult those it thinks it is relevant to consult. But we do not believe that it is necessary to place a requirement on the board to consult, bearing in mind that it would then apply to any revision to a code, and that the district policing partnerships will not be in existence to be consulted. I hope that this is one clear distinction for the Government's reasoning on this point.
Finally, perhaps I may say to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer that the third of these amendments, Amendment No. 84, is more a matter to address under the Criminal Justice Review than under the Bill. I therefore hope that Amendments Nos. 80, 83 and 84 will not be pressed.
Last in this group is Amendment No. 85, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It seeks, as did Amendment No. 70, to protect the police from being required to answer questions or disclosing information which would breach their general duty in Clause 32.
If that group had been called, I would gladly have responded, particularly to the Minister's welcome request that we might not press the amendment. If we were to do so, I would have to amend the scribbled notes I had made earlier in the day in the expectation that Amendment No. 79 would be rejected.
I shall read the three lines I would have said and see how that fits in with the provisional approval given earlier. Amendment No. 81 is necessary in the light of Amendment No. 79 in principle. If compulsion to issue were accepted, there would be automatic compulsion to revise, and there should not be compulsion to revise. The use of the word "may" provides an effective solution. I shall not even expect a reply to that, because, as I have said, it is obsolete because of the generosity of the Front Bench over Amendment No. 79.
If I can be regarded as having moved this group of amendments, perhaps I may mention Amendment No. 85. This refers directly to Clause 19(3) regarding the question of officers. It is self-explanatory. An officer shall not be compelled to disclose sensitive information to loyalist or republicans on DPPs. I am not sure whether I beg to move the amendment. To avoid confusion, I shall not.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, with great pleasure, that I am sure his learned comments on Amendment No. 81 will be beneficial to counsel when we consider the government amendment that will emerge. In response to his comments on Amendment No. 85, perhaps I may place on the record that it goes without saying that the police should not breach their duty in their dealings with the board.
This debate has been a salutary experience for me. I now know from personal experience what it feels like to be in a minority. Rule number one of any strategy is: "Do not seek a battle when you are surrounded". I promise to think further about what my noble friend has said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This is a small amendment but is perhaps one worthy of discussion.
The whole Bill is about balancing. There is a balancing of interests; there is a balance between authority and safeguards; there is also a balancing of powers at various levels in the hierarchy--the Secretary of State, the board, the chief constable and the district councils.
One is therefore driven to ask the question: should the number of districts and their boundaries be entirely a matter for the chief constable? Is that purely an operational question? If the board is to act as a monitor on behalf of the community, ought it to have an input into that process? It is arguable that the arrangements should require the consent of the board. I have not sought to go as far as that. My amendment requires the chief constable to "consult" the board. I believe he would wish to do that in any event. But a requirement in the Bill would serve as a useful reminder.
Before I sit down, perhaps I may say that to some extent we seem to have desegregated this group of amendments and it might be convenient for the Committee if I spoke to Amendment No. 97 now. I am sure that would save time.
Amendment No. 97 requires the district commander to say what representations he received from the district policing partnership and how far he had taken them into account. That has two advantages. First, it is a way of notifying the public of the thinking of the partnership on the one hand and the district commander on the other; secondly, I hope that the district commander would find it helpful.
When we are considering someone's representations, it is a useful discipline to have to paraphrase what they said; it focuses one's mind. Then, if we have to say what our reaction was, it focuses the mind on how to address that. I beg to move.
I support Amendments Nos. 88 and 97. I fully recognise that the chief constable is best placed to determine on operational grounds how the staff resources should best be organised and deployed. But decisions about force structure and the boundaries for operational commanding are a matter of legitimate public interest about which there are often contentious local views.
It is therefore right that the chief constable should consult with and seek the views of the policing board on such matters, though the ultimate decision would remain his. I am sure--I know that mine would--chief constables would bring such organisational proposals to the police authority for discussion in any event, and that is a matter of good practice. So it is right to include the provision in the Bill and I ask the Committee to support the amendment.
The purpose of my Amendment No. 89 is straightforward. As I mentioned earlier, there are now 26 local authorities in Northern Ireland plus an assembly/government in Stormont. My amendment allows flexibility within the Bill should there be a restructuring of local government--by that I mean the authorities and not Stormont--and it will be possible to adjust the DPPs to fit in with the new arrangements.
I shall deal first with Amendment No. 88. Under the Bill, the police are required to make each district council a police district, other than Belfast. In Belfast, the boundaries of the police districts must coincide with the district council area but within that the Government have concluded it is right that the Chief Constable should have flexibility to determine the number of police districts up to a maximum of four. He has four at present and I do not believe that he has any plans to change that. It should not be up to the board to guide the Chief Constable on the boundaries to set within Belfast. That should be a matter for his operational judgment. I therefore ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, to withdraw his amendment.
I turn to the three government amendments, Nos. 90 to 92. They combine to provide that a district commander may be a regular or a reservist. At present he may only be a regular officer. The Government see no need to make such a distinction and the appointments should be on merit.
As regards Amendments Nos. 93 and 94, under Clause 21 each sub-group of the Belfast policing partnership is to provide views to the police "and the board". It should read "and the Belfast partnership". The amendment fulfils the commitment which the Government made in another place to correct that reference and to clarify that "district", in line 40, means a police district.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 95 and 96. The Committee should know the admiration the Government have for the work of the CPLCs and, indeed, my right honourable friend the Minister of State addressed the annual CPLC conference at the weekend. Under Clause 22, before issuing or revising a local policing plan the police district commander must consult the local DPP and take account of any views expressed. Amendments Nos. 95 and 96, which are virtually identical, seek to oblige the police district commander to consult also with any local consultative groups set up by the board.
While I can understand the motive behind this amendment, I think that it is pushing the Bill into a level of detail that is not appropriate on the one hand and on the other could be undermining the role of the DPPs themselves. The Government's view is that it should be the DPPs who should retain contact with the local bodies established in their areas and they should then sift or filter these views and represent them to the local commanders.
Indeed, if the board is convinced that this is the right way forward, I see no reason that it should not include such an arrangement in the code that it will issue under Clause 19. The code can cover the arrangements for monitoring the performance of the police in carrying out the local policing plan. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, not to move her Amendment No. 95 and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, not to move his Amendment No. 96.
Amendment No. 97, which is also in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, is not what Patten proposed. Patten said in paragraph 6.31 that,
"The District Commander should consult with the DPPB in the preparation of the district police plan".
The Bill provides for that. If the DPPB wishes to publish comments that it has made and comment on the extent to which they have been taken into account in the plan, it is a matter for it. In those circumstances, I ask my noble and learned friend not to move Amendment No. 97.
Amendment No. 89 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, would enable the Secretary of State to alter by regulations the number of police districts in the event of changes. Patten was quite clear that police boundaries should be coterminous with council areas (paragraph 12.4), and the Chief Constable agreed with that in his response to the commission. The amendment is at odds with that, and I ask the noble Lord not to move it.
Amendment No. 80 sought to raise the question whether the arrangement of districts was a matter for the operational judgment of the chief constable. My noble and learned friend's answer was one sentence: it is a matter for his operational judgment. With great respect to my noble and learned friend, that is not an argument but an assertion. However, it may be that even if we pursued the matter it would not be carried much further than the assertion today.
As for Amendment No. 97, my noble and learned friend's argument is that that is not what the Patten commission proposed. I cannot help feeling that the Government look at the recommendations of the Patten commission a little selectively. A number of the Government's proposals are not what the Patten commission proposed. I do not regard that as a conclusive argument on the subject, but since tonight we are not in the business of making a great deal of trouble I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 88.
moved Amendments Nos. 90 to 92:
Page 10, line 25, leave out from ("a") to end of line 26 and insert ("police officer of the required rank").
Page 10, line 33, leave out subsection (5).
Page 10, line 34, at end insert--
("( ) "Required rank" means a rank not less than that of chief inspector.").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 20, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 21 [District policing partnership sub-groups for Belfast]:
moved Amendments Nos. 93 and 94:
Page 10, line 39, leave out ("Board") and insert ("district policing partnership").
Page 10, line 40, after ("that") insert ("police").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 22 [The local policing plan]:
[Amendments Nos. 95 to 97 not moved.]
Clause 22 agreed to.
Clause 23 [Other community policing arrangements]:
[Amendment No. 98 not moved.]
Clause 23 agreed to.
Clause 24 [The Secretary of State's long term policing objectives]:
Amendment No. 99 is again concerned with the role of the ombudsman. We believe that performance targets which are included in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 are an integral part of the police planning process. They have now been removed from the face of the Bill and are to be included in government regulations which set out minimum requirements for the annual policing plan. Such regulations can be changed and are under the control of the Secretary of State, thereby diminishing the role of the board. Will the Minister outline the reasons why government have felt it desirable to remove from the face of the Bill the power of the policing board to set performance targets, which is an important power accorded to the police authority under the 1998 Act? What are the reasons for the change? How will such a measure enhance not only the credibility of the policing board in holding the police service to account for its performance, but, more importantly, the efficiency of that service?
The effect of Amendment No. 101 is that it removes the police ombudsman from the consultation process for the setting of both the Secretary of State's long term policing objectives and the board's policing objectives. I move the amendment in the interest of the management of the police service in which the ombudsman does not, and should not, have a role. I also move it in the interests of the independence of the office of the police ombudsman. That is an independence that might, in the public eye, be prejudiced by her proposed involvement in objective setting. The ombudsman has an important and significant role to play in dealing with complaints. She will also report to the chief constable and the board on police policies and practices arising from such complaints. Where appropriate, those reports could be taken into account by the board and the Secretary of State in the setting of objectives.
It is not necessary further to complicate the objective setting process with the involvement of a body corporate which has no role in the process and which could in the long run be to the detriment of that independent body; namely, the ombudsman. I ask the Minister to take that amendment particularly seriously.
There are a number of other amendments concerning the role of the board. Turning to Amendment No. 103, the statutory base for local policing plans is welcomed. However, it is felt that a wider approach should be taken in terms of those to be consulted about the plans. That would ensure that, where a district council fails to set up a DPP and the policing board makes alternative arrangements, that group would be consulted. Perhaps the Minister would consider inserting at the end of this subsection the words,
"and any other bodies established pursuant to section 23(2)", in order to ensure a more inclusive approach.
Perhaps I may say a little more on Amendment No. 103. The police authority for Northern Ireland is currently charged with producing an annual policing plan for Northern Ireland. That is an important function. The plan, produced on the basis of widespread community consultation, sets out the full range of annual policing priorities, objectives and associated targets. It is the plan against which police performance is measured at the end of the year.
The setting of performance targets is an integral part of, and a vital tool in, this process. Current Northern Ireland legislation replaces GB provisions. The legislative provision for the policing plan process in GB, referred to as local policing plans, is contained in the Police Act 1996. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 introduced the process into Northern Ireland and mirrors the GB provisions. Under the legislation that power is transferred to the Secretary of State who can prescribe the contents of the policing plan in regulations.
The contents of the board's policing plan are, and should be, determined by the expectations of the community and what it wants from its police service. The authority historically consults widely with the public in order to determine the contents of the plan. Removal of that power and its transmission to the Secretary of State will lessen the board's involvement in the planning process. The redefinition of the board's role in the planning process is, in our opinion, at the expense of both the planning process and the community in Northern Ireland.
If one thought about the process logically one should ask how the Secretary of State is able to ascertain what the community would like to see included in the plan in order to regulate its contents. Perhaps the Minister will say why he thinks that power should more appropriately sit with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will also say why he thinks such a measure would enhance the credibility of the policing board in holding the police service to account for its performance, and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of that service.
Amendment No. 107 is linked to Amendment No. 105. Current Northern Ireland legislation replicates GB provisions, and changes to those as contained in the Bill will reduce the role of the policing board and enhance that of the Secretary of State in comparison to the situation in Great Britain. I beg to move.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 104 and 107. Part IV of the Bill, which deals with policing objectives and plans, goes right to the substance of whether we put in place a police board which can effectively hold the chief constable to account on behalf of the community. Our amendments are essential if the policing board is to be able to do the job that it is purportedly set up to do. Amendment No. 104 is almost identical to Amendment No. 103 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will take note of the strength and unity of opinion on the Opposition Benches on this point.
The board must have the power to set targets both for those objectives laid down by the Secretary of State and for the local objectives which the board itself sets; otherwise, how else will it ensure that the community of Northern Ireland has an effective police service committed to improving its performance? Amendment No. 107, which is equally important in my view, seeks to ensure that the Bill clearly states the broad contents of the policing plan. Amendments Nos. 105 and 106, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also seek to achieve a similar end. However, Amendment No. 107 replicates the position elsewhere in Great Britain and reinstates the existing provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. It works extremely well in Great Britain and to my knowledge has worked well in Northern Ireland, too, over the past couple of years. The wording is sufficiently flexible to enable everything that needs to be in the plan to be included. I really do not understand why the Secretary of State has chosen to depart from that position.
I note that Amendment No. 108 brought forward by the Government seeks to specify on the face of the Bill that the policing plan must contain information about the education and training of police staff. While I support the principle of including such information, I cannot understand why that is to be specified but the rest of the plan's contents are to be left to regulations. I have seen a draft of the regulations prepared by the Government. They cover much the same ground as is covered by my amendment with the addition of best value requirements, which we shall discuss a little later on. If that is the case and the Secretary of State is not seeking to do more than that, why can this not be included in the primary legislation?
I am slightly mystified. It was my understanding that the purpose of the Bill is to implement the Patten report and to regularise as far as possible the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. Reserving to the Secretary of State powers which he does not need does not achieve that purpose. I urge the Committee to support my amendments.
I do not know whether it was deliberate on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that, in introducing this group of amendments, he spoke unattributably to my Amendment No. 102, and, if I may say so, made out a very persuasive case for it. I can only say that I am grateful to him.
I can now be very brief. Perhaps I may spend a few moments repeating the noble Lord's question. Section 15 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 empowers the present police authority to set performance targets. The police authority has made it clear that it regards that power as an important one. To my knowledge, there is nothing in the Patten report to suggest that the commission did not wish to see a similar power vested in the board. We may be told, not for the first time, that the amendment is unnecessary because it is obviously the intention that the power should be continued. If that is the case, would it not be wise for the power to be made clear in the Bill? Perhaps I may say on this occasion to my noble and learned friend that it really is not obvious.
Clearly it is intended that performance indicators shall be put in place for the board. Clause 28 addresses that and the power is in the Bill. However, if no equivalent provision is made in respect of the board's power to set targets for the police service, then it might be thought that the omission was deliberate and that it was not to be given that power.
If, on the other hand, it is deliberate and the power to set performance targets for the police service is to be discontinued, then no doubt my noble and learned friend will explain the thinking that lies behind that decision.
Perhaps I may suggest that it is not easy to compare the make-up and, therefore, the probable behaviour, of this police board and police boards in the United Kingdom. United Kingdom police boards have no political agenda. It seems to me that it will be necessary to retain powers for the Secretary of State precisely to correct that. We could see a situation in which the performance plan is delayed or faces difficulties and the entire work of the police is complicated by political arguments between members of the board. I should like to know how that will be dealt with.
I support entirely the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and my noble friend Lord Glentoran in their words on government Amendment No. 108. Again, I am anxious that this could allow the board to intervene in issues such as shortening the length of service in the Special Branch to only one or two years. Although there may appear to be grounds for doing that, in fact, it is impossible to recruit a valuable source and then run him or her unless a long period of relationship building and trust between the officer concerned and the source is allowed to develop. Such details may be crucial to the effectiveness of the police service, but may be taken to be within the rights and purlieu of the board and the authority. That gives me cause for concern.
I should like to lend my support to Amendment No. 104 and to support what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, in moving it. I believe that the performance targets and indicators are essential and, for the life of me, I cannot see why there should be any reluctance on the part of any responsible person or body to accept the subparagraphs in the amendment, which state:
"(a) any objectives established by the Secretary of State... or,
"(b) the objectives determined by the board for a financial year under this section".
It is essential that that should be confirmed and I hope that we shall receive a favourable response from the Government Front Bench.
As regards Amendment No. 105, tabled by myself and my noble friends, I think it is important to ensure that the new arrangements should remain as close as possible to what is still in place in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. Section 17(2) of that Act is perfectly clear and reasonable. Perhaps I may read it:
"The annual policing plan shall include a statement of the Police Authority's priorities for the year, of the financial resources expected to be available to the Authority and of the proposed allocation of those resources by the Authority, and shall give particulars of--
(a) any objectives determined by the Secretary of State under section 14;
(b) any objectives determined by the Police Authority under section 15; and
(c) any performance targets established by the Police Authority under that section".
I cannot see any sound case for altering that clear directive in the 1998 Act.
I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 108 and 109, which set out in Clause 26 that the policing plan must include a training and education strategy. Amendment No. 109 requires the Secretary of State to consult such bodies as may be relevant before issuing a code of practice to the policing board under Clause 27.
It has been the Government's intention to include in regulations a requirement on the board to assess the training and education needs of police officers and support staff, and to give particulars of how those needs were to be met. The Government set this out in draft regulations which were made available when the Bill was considered in Committee in another place. This issue was addressed in regulations because Patten specifically recommended that the legislation be simplified.
However, the Government have been criticised by some for not putting the training strategy in primary legislation as it is such an important issue. To show that the Government are willing to listen to these concerns we have introduced Amendment No. 108. The Government remain fully committed to the board's role in developing such a strategy.
Amendment No. 109 allows the Secretary of State to take on board the expertise of various organisations where their input would add value to any codes of practice issued by the Secretary of State to the board or, in permitted circumstances, the chief constable. The reference to consultation is generic because it would be impossible to list every organisation that might have an interest in a particular code. The Government have shown themselves to be open to appropriate consultation in a number of areas in the Bill and again have responded to concerns on this particular point. I ask that this amendment be accepted. In the light of my comments and government Amendment No. 109, I hope that Amendment No. 110, which stands in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Shutt, will not be pressed.
Turning to other amendments to Part IV of the Bill, the effects of Amendments Nos. 99 and 101 would be to remove the ombudsman as a consultee on policing objectives. Patten said, at paragraph 6.42, that he could not emphasise too strongly the importance of the ombudsman's role in future policing arrangements. The Government agree. The amendments would detract from this position and I ask the Committee to resist them.
The ombudsman will feed her experience and the lessons learnt through her investigations and the research of police policy and practices arising from complaints into the planning process. The Government understand the importance of the ombudsman's role. We consulted fully on the issue before including this role and feel it to be appropriate.
Amendment No. 100 would require the Secretary of State to set objectives for three to five years. Again, Patten specifically recommended that the board should set objectives for this three to five year period, taking account of any longer-term objectives set by the Secretary of State. The Bill implements Patten's recommendation, simplifying the planning process to create a system for effective strategic planning. Again I ask the Committee to resist this amendment.
Amendments Nos. 102 to 107 deal with targets and other contents of the policing plan. I appreciate the aim behind these amendments and the Government share the commitment of noble Lords to measuring police performance through targets. But the Government also want to implement the Patten report, and recommendation 22 of that report states that the legislation and the system should be simplified.
Amendments Nos. 102 to 107 all seek to prescribe the need for performance targets on the face of the Bill. A number also seek to specify that the plan should contain the Secretary of State's and board's objectives. This would replicate the provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. Patten described these provisions as "labyrinthine" and said that these "complicated provisions" should be simplified.
To achieve this the Government have included in regulations issued under Clause 26 a requirement for the board's police plan to contain targets and other matters covered by the amendments. Amendment No. 106 seeks to remove this power.
These regulations which the Government have made available show that there is really very little separating the Government from Members of the Committee who have tabled amendments in this group. I hope that they will feel able to withdraw them.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked why the board's power to set targets should be removed. The government proposals do not remove the board's power to set targets. That will be set out in regulations, as the noble Lord acknowledged. The provision is the result of recommendations in the Patten report.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Park of Monmouth, referred to comparisons in terms of the police planning system with England and Wales. The system of police planning and objective setting is broadly similar to that in England and Wales; but the system set out in the Bill is to implement Patten's recommendation and to be adapted to suit Northern Ireland, with its one police service. It is not designed to replicate what is suitable for England and Wales, where there are 48 different areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, raised the issue of why there should be this change and what would be gained by it. The board will retain power to set targets. This can be seen from the draft regulations which have been made available. The board will gain control of annual planning and strategic planning--formerly down to the chief constable alone. The board will set strategic and annual objectives, which was formerly a function fulfilled by the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State now sets only long-term objectives.
I ask the Committee to resist Amendments Nos. 102 to 107 so that the Government can implement Patten's proposals on simplifying the primary legislation. I ask the Committee to resist Amendments Nos. 99 to 101 which are contrary to the spirit of what the Government are attempting to achieve by implementing Patten's proposals in this area. I think the intent of Amendment No. 110 is covered by the Government's own Amendment No. 109.
I ask the Committee to support Amendments Nos. 108 and 109.
Before the noble Lord replies, perhaps I may say a word of welcome for government Amendment No. 108. Assessing the need for educating and training police officers may be particularly important in the transitional period before we reach, as is to be hoped, 50:50 parity in composition.
moved Amendment No. 108:
Page 12, line 22, leave out from ("shall") to ("matters") in line 23 and insert ("--
(a) contain an assessment of the requirements for educating and training police officers and members of the police support staff and give particulars of the way in which those requirements are to be met; and
(b) include such other statements and give particulars of such other").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 26, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 27 [Codes of practice on exercise of functions]:
I oppose the Question that this clause should stand part of the Bill. My opposition is advanced in the interrogative mood. It is simply a useful way of ascertaining the Government's thinking. As I understand it, Clause 27 would require the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice for the board and the chief constable. Once again, it is a question of balance. Of course the last word in policing policy must lie with the Secretary of State, but a "code of practice" suggests a fairly detailed set of guidelines. Therefore, is there not a danger of undermining the independence of the board and the operational freedom of a chief constable? It is, of course, always a matter of judgment, but I derive some comfort from the debate in another place where it was said that the code would only be "advisory" and would probably relate largely to financial controls. It would be helpful to know what it is envisaged the codes will cover--I note that the reference is to "codes" in the plural--and what their relation is to the "guidance", which the Secretary of State may issue under Clause 51.
It is also worth saying a few words about who the Secretary of State is to consult. The Bill says that he is to consult the board and the Chief Constable. However, there is no requirement for him to consult anyone else. At this stage I have a feeling of deja vu but I do not propose to resurrect all our former arguments. In fact, I believe that my noble friend said something about this a few moments ago.
I notice that my right honourable friend Adam Ingram said in another place that, if a code were to be issued touching on human rights or equality, he could envisage no circumstances in which the commissions--that is, the human rights commission and the equality commission--would not be consulted. However, the Government seem loath to make that a part of the Bill. We have been over this argument before, but sometimes requirements in a statute to consult can serve as a useful reminder. In our experience, we can all think of occasions when, in the course of getting everything else ready, governments simply forgot to consult people who ought to have been consulted, with disastrous results. As I said, I oppose the Question. But if my noble friend can enlighten the Committee about the Government's thinking, I may revise my position.
The effect of Clause 27 is to allow the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice to the board and to the Chief Constable in relation to planning, efficiency, financial and other resources and support staff. The Secretary of State must consult the board and Chief Constable on any code, and must publish it.
The Government believe that it is reasonable that the Secretary of State should, as an integral part of the tripartite structure of governance, be able to issue codes of practice to the board and, in certain limited areas, the Chief Constable. The Patten report certainly does not suggest or support the removal of the Secretary of State's role in police governance.
The power to issue codes is in line with practice in Great Britain and with previous legislation. Patten does not recommend removal of this power as he did in respect of the Secretary of State's existing power to issue guidance to the police. The Government have responded by repealing the provision, Section 39 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998.
Codes cannot impose new statutory obligations on the board. I hope that that answers some of the points raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer. Any code will address only detailed matters strictly in accordance with the Bill's provisions where this is necessary. They cannot be used as a back door to undermine the board's role.
I say in answer to my noble and learned friend's other question that we can conceive of no circumstances where the organisations he mentioned would not be consulted to hear their important contributions.
The main areas for any codes will concern detailed matters such as funding. In fact, the only existing code concerns detailed financial arrangements. This is consistent with the Government's 100 per cent funding of policing in Northern Ireland. I hope that I have reassured my noble and learned friend. I draw to his attention my right honourable friend Mr Ingram's comments at col. 250 of Hansard of 27th June of the other place. He said:
"If a code was issued that touched on equality or human rights issues I cannot envisage circumstances in which they would not be consulted in order to draw on their knowledge".--[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 27/6/00; col. 250.]
With those reassurances I hope that my noble and learned friend will not object to Clause 27 standing part of the Bill.
We now come to a large and complex set of amendments which I shall try to explain briefly and simply.
The amendments in my name, although I shall have to correct some references, on Part V of the Bill effect a fundamental shift of responsibility from the Secretary of State to the policing board in dealing with efficiency.
The changes deliver commitments made by the Government to give the board the central role in delivering efficiency and effectiveness. They maintain a methodology which is loosely based upon the "best value" provisions of the Local Government Act 1999 in England and Wales and retain a default role for the Secretary of State.
As currently drafted Part V of the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to make an order setting out how the board and the Chief Constable should undertake the delivery of best value. The amendments to Clause 28 place the duty to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the exercise of the board's and police functions squarely upon the board. The board and the Chief Constable are required to review their functions as part of these arrangements and the board is required to produce a single performance plan for itself and the police on how best value is to be delivered. It is also required to set targets and benchmarks against which performance can be judged.
In all these arrangements the Government's intention is that the board and the Chief Constable will work together to deliver best value. We would like to see the Chief Constable involving members of the board and its audit department in reviewing police functions and conversely we want the board to work closely with the police in drawing up targets and performance plans.
There are a number of consequential amendments to Clauses 29 and 30 which provide for the best value arrangements to be scrutinised by the National Audit Office and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. Clause 31 has been amended to define the Secretary of State's default power. His power to direct the board to take specific action will now only be triggered on adverse reports from the National Audit Office or the inspectors of constabulary. Having made these changes, and noting that other noble Lords have their names to similar amendments, I ask that Amendments Nos. 113, 114 and 116 be withdrawn.
The Committee should note for the record that Amendments Nos. 113 and 116 have my name wrongly attributed to them. I will move Amendments Nos. 111, 112 and 115, which are in my name alone, and no others on Clause 28.
Turning to the amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, Amendment No. 114, he raises issues of fairness aand impartiality. They are clearly of the highest importance, but I would point out that they are dealt with elsewhere in the Bill and in Part V we are dealing specifically with efficiency.
I speak to Amendments Nos. 113 and 116, notwithstanding that the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, should not be attached to Amendment No. 116.
Although the words are not mentioned on the face of the Bill, Clauses 28 to 31 are about best value, as the noble and learned Lord has reminded us. From 1st April this year police authorities, along with local authorities in England and Wales, came under a duty to secure best value. That is continuous improvement in the provision of local services. I have to tell your Lordships that this has been the most significant and important addition to our role since the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in 1984, which initiated community consultation about policing.
I am delighted to see that the Government have listened to the concerns expressed in another place and to those which we voiced when the Bill was before us at Second Reading. My Amendments Nos. 113 and 116 seek to achieve much the same as government Amendment No. 115 and I very much welcome most of the substance of that amendment. We have moved a considerable distance, but the Government still have a little further to go. A key part of best value is the fundamental reviews that must be undertaken into every aspect of the service. These reviews mean that we look at everything we do from first principles.
Should we be doing this? How else can we do it? How can we improve on what we do? What do the public want? How would they like things to be done better? These are simple questions, but in fact they result in rigorous scrutiny.
In Great Britain the responsibility for such reviews rests with the police authority and not the chief constable. That has been both a real eye-opener and a significant lever for ensuring that improvements are made. It also ensures that local people get a real say in this important work. I cannot understand why the Minister has deviated from that approach here. Under Amendment No. 115 responsibility for reviews of the police force will rest with the police constable and in many ways that defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. The police board will only be allowed, so to speak, to gaze at its own navel.
The Minister has done extremely well, but he does need to go that little bit further. He needs to explain and justify, if he can, why he has taken this approach, because I am afraid it still does not make much sense to me. The police board is responsible for securing efficient, effective, economic and accountable policing. How can it do that if the gate is barred?
On a separate note, perhaps I may offer the noble and learned Lord any help that I can. As the Bill is drafted, the police board will publish two separate plans each year: a policing plan; and a best value performance plan. That is a recipe for confusion. The best value plan needs to be integrated into the policing plan. We have had some difficulty in managing to do that up and down the country but we are getting there. I am happy to put what expertise I have, and that of the National Association of Police Authorities, at the disposal of the noble and learned Lord in order to identify how that can be simply and sensibly achieved; and to discuss with him before Report stage how we can put in place the best value framework which delivers just that.
Like the noble Baroness, I congratulate the Minister on the changes he is making to the Bill. I believe that they are improvements and he has earned a beta plus. He could so easily earn himself an alpha.
Perhaps I may speak on Amendment No. 114. Self monitoring by the board is a praiseworthy concept. Perhaps more of our public bodies would be the better if they were required, and not merely encouraged, to conduct an ongoing review into the way in which they were doing their job and how they could do it better.
My amendment would examine what the board will be looking for. Subsection (1) requires it to have regard to economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Those are certainly worthy objectives. But should not it be looking at some other values? The value of efficiency and effectiveness depends on what one seeks to do. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that there is nothing in principle between us. He simply says that one does not need to put the additional values here because they are found elsewhere in the Bill. But the board will be asking itself questions about how it is doing in these various respects: "Are we being efficient and effective?" Should not it at the same time ask itself, "Are we being fair and impartial?" I believe that it would wish to do that in any event. There is little satisfaction in being part of a project which is not fair and impartial. It might help to concentrate its mind. Even if the amendment is unnecessary and the proposal to consider this matter is taken for granted, would it not reassure those in the population who feel anxieties if those factors are included at this point in the Bill where the board is required to look at what progress it is making?
It will be known to many Members of the Committee that I am an accountant. Therefore noble Lords will reasonably suppose that I am in favour of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. In fact I believe that those three words are in the wrong order. I think that effectiveness should be first, followed by efficiency and then economy. But we have not tabled an amendment to that effect and I shall not press the point. The Bill refers to a combination of those three factors.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, spoke of fairness and impartiality. They are extremely important. It is good that they are written into the Bill, even if in other places. But this clause refers to the performance plan which is supposed to measure the effectiveness, and so on, of the force and the policing operations undertaken.
If there are to be two separate plans--a performance plan and a policing plan--I can understand that. However, there is a problem with having two plans. Effectiveness, efficiency and economy cannot be seen in isolation from policing. Effectiveness, be it the first or the last of the criteria, relates precisely to what the force is trying to do--catch criminals, deter crime and all the rest of it. The awkwardness stems from having two separate plans.
That is not exclusive to Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, knows about it from her other responsibilities. However, it is a difficulty. I recognise that there is a difference between the things that accountants can measure and the things that cannot be measured, which are often equally important. That is also recognised in the Bill, because performance indicators and performance standards are separately allowed for. The indicators can be measured. Whether a target has been met can be worked out by an arithmetical calculation. It ismore difficult to say whether the standards have been met. The fact that they cannot be measured does not make them less important.
It is difficult to see the performance plan separately from the policing plan. I have not proposed changes to the Bill and I do not intend to oppose any of the Minister's amendments, because his proposals to give the board greater responsibility go in the right direction. However, the performance plan and the policing plan will need to be published together and thought of together to ensure that they are properly co-ordinated.