It is vital to protect the operational independence of the Chief Constable in all his decisions. In the current policing debate, the Government have placed great emphasis on considering the needs of the community--or communities, if one prefers it that way--that are to be served and seeking to ensure a policing service that is consensus-based and enjoys the support and confidence of the people whom it serves and protects.
To operate effectively, such a service must have transparency and accountability at its core. Under the current arrangements, while the Chief Constable is responsible for managing RUC buildings, strategy and general procurement, approvals must be sought from the Police Authority, which therefore takes ultimate responsibility for the provision of buildings and equipment.
The amendments would give that responsibility to the policing board, thereby ensuring the retention of the existing system and continued transparency and accountability. It goes without saying that the operational management of the buildings and procurement strategies would remain the responsibility of the Chief Constable. The amendments are non-contentious and are not motivated by party political considerations. They would reflect best practice in England and Wales.
Should the Bill remain as it stands, I ask the Minister to confirm who will enter into contracts on behalf of the police service, as it is my understanding that an individual--such as the Chief Constable--is unable to do so, as he is not a legal corporation, or, to be exact, a corporation sole. If that is the case, the policing board would inevitably have to be signatory to such contracts without having any accountability for them.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would increase the policing board's ability to hold and dispose of land, not only for police purposes, but for its own purposes. That would be an important aspect of the board's independence, although it does not mean that it would be able to acquire land compulsorily for its own purposes. The power to vest land compulsorily should still apply only to land acquired for police purposes.
The current Police Authority feels that being able to decide on its own location and retaining the flexibility to change that location is crucial to establishing its independence at the outset. There is no logical reason for the new board not to be permitted to hold land for its own purposes. As I have said, that will not apply to compulsory acquisition.
I strongly urge the Minister to accept the amendments, which could only have positive consequences for the new era of policing in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.