Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

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

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Minister of State, Cabinet Office 8:45 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, I wish to speak to government Amendments Nos. 36 and 38 to 42. Other noble Lords have put their names to Amendment No. 38, which removes Clause 28(3) of the Bill. The effect of this is to give to the board the primacy for reviewing police functions to achieve "best value". There seems to be broad agreement for this change. I want to put it beyond doubt that the Government see the board as having the lead role in these arrangements, and the Bill will now reflect that.

Government Amendment No. 38 goes hand in hand with Amendment No. 36. This requires the board to act together with the chief constable in striving to achieve best value in respect of police functions. But again I wish to stress that the Government see the primary duty to achieve best value as falling to the board in respect of its own and police functions. In tabling these amendments, we have been influenced by what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has said to us. My right honourable friend Adam Ingram, the Minister of State, and I have found those discussions extremely valuable. There is now little between us, and the proposed provisions are very close to those in England and Wales.

There are two reasons for Amendment No. 36. The first is management. We want the board and the chief constable to work together to achieve best value on the vast resources it takes to provide policing in Northern Ireland. We want the board to lead in taking forward the best value agenda, including in reviewing police functions. We want the board fully to involve the police. It is simply good management practice that the organisation under scrutiny should be involved in looking at the way it does things rather than have someone come in and tell it how to do things.

The second reason for requiring the chief constable and the board to work together is that we have provided for the board to have very wide powers in this area. We need to ensure that a sensible balance is achieved between the chief constable's operational independence and the board's review power. Clearly, the board's review power should not extend to reviewing a particular arrest or second guessing the chief constable's operational judgment. That is not remotely what the best value provisions are about. I see that the noble Baroness agrees with that. The Government would not wish to leave any doubt that there are sensible limits to what should be reviewed within the context of the board's primacy in this area.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 35 and 37, which cover the same ground as the Government's Amendments Nos. 36 and 38. I have to say that we have moved a long way on the best value provisions. I think the noble Baroness acknowledges that. As I said earlier, I believe the noble Baroness shares our objective. We both want the chief constable and the board to work together to achieve best value and this will clearly involve the sharing of each other's views. It is our judgment that Amendment No. 36 takes better account of Northern Ireland's unique circumstances than does Amendment No. 35. While our goal is very much a normal security environment, until that position is reached we believe it is prudent to provide the explicit assurance that both parties will act together. That is, after all, an accurate description of how it should work in practice. Amendment No. 35 seeks to reinsert a reference to the chief constable in Clause 28(2). That is unnecessary as Clause 28(2) deals with reviews which are a part of the overall best value arrangements mentioned in Clause 28(1). Subsection (1) already requires the board to make best value arrangements in respect of police functions.

I shall now turn briefly to other government amendments in this grouping. Amendment No. 39 to Clause 29(4)(c) requires the Comptroller and Auditor General to assess the reasonableness of the board's performance indicators and standards in relation to its own and police functions. The Bill as drafted caters only for the latter. This responds to a suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in Committee. As I indicated at the time, I am grateful to him for highlighting the point. Amendment No. 42 makes a consequential amendment to Clause 31(1)(b) in light of that change.

Amendment 40, to Clause 29(6), requires the Comptroller and Auditor General to publish his audit of the board's performance plan rather than have the board publish it as currently required. Again, that anomaly was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in Committee. Perhaps I may say specifically that his contribution has helped to improve the drafting of the Bill in this area. Amendment No. 41 is a drafting change.

As is apparent, we have made a number of changes to the provisions dealing with best value. From where we are at the moment, we think that this is the right regime. But in the light of the assistance we have had from the noble Baroness, we shall consider carefully what she has said. That is not to give any suggestion that we will move. We think that we have reached the right place but it is only fair that we should consider carefully what she has said. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.