Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat 7:45 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, Amendment No. 12 stands in my name and those of other noble Lords. I raised this issue in Committee, but it is such an important matter that I feel I must bring it to your Lordships' attention again.

My concern is to ensure that transparency and accountability exist in relation to police expenditure. The Government said that Patten was critical of the existing financial arrangements. Patten was critical--and rightly so--of the authority's role in supplying services directly to the RUC. However, that all changed under the 1998 Act. Since then, the role of the police authority has been the same as that of police authorities in England and Wales.

Under the Government's proposals, the police budget will pass through the police board. However, it seems that the board will not have overall financial responsibility. I should welcome the Government's assurance that under the new arrangements there will be a code of financial management which is as robust as the code which is currently in place. In particular, will the new code recognise, as Patten recommended in paragraph 6.46, the importance of the board having a strong internal audit department? That will be essential if the board is to fulfil a proper scrutiny role in ensuring that money is properly spent and that the force is making the most efficient and effective use of resources.

However, if, as the Government propose, the Chief Constable is responsible for the preparation of accounts, he will surely need his own internal audit function. Will that not lead to duplication? Is that really a good use of public funds?

In Committee, I asked who would enter into contracts, given that the Chief Constable is not a corporate body. If it is to be the policing board--I am not sure what else it could be--should not the board be accountable for that expenditure?

I am convinced that we all want to achieve the same end: to give the Chief Constable responsibility for day-to-day financial management and for the board to have a strategic role and to hold the Chief Constable to account for the use of those resources. But if the board is to exercise that important oversight, then, to my mind, it must have responsibility for accounts, along with the Chief Constable, as Patten recommended in paragraph 6.47. I beg to move.