Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 11:06 am on 30th January 2003.

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Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 11:11 am, 30th January 2003

moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

"CONTRACTS RELATING TO DETENTION AND ESCORT SERVICES

After section 5 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) insert—

"5A CONTRACTS RELATING TO DETENTION AND ESCORT SERVICES

(1) The Board may enter into a contract with another person for the provision of services relating to the detention or escort of persons who have been arrested or are otherwise in custody.

(2) The powers of the Board under this section shall be exercised, on behalf of and in the name of the Board, by the Chief Constable.

(3) The power conferred by this section is subject to any regulations under section 40 of the 1998 Act.""

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, your Lordships know that I introduced an amendment on Report enabling the Chief Constable to designate any person who is an employee of the contractor, as either a detention officer or an escort officer. The purpose of this new short clause is to provide a consequential amendment to the 2000 Act to put it beyond doubt that the board can enter into a contract for the provision of such services. Your Lordships will have seen that the powers shall be exercised on behalf of the board by the Chief Constable. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may open the Third Reading debate by making some comments. First, I shall make a negative comment. As noble Lords will know, the Government tabled some complex and complicated amendments late on Tuesday evening, which we did not receive until Wednesday morning. I thank the noble and learned Lord for making available his officials to explain those amendments to my party and myself yesterday afternoon. I also accept his personal apologies on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office for this occurrence.

However, as we now sit at 11 o'clock on a Thursday morning, I suggest that if the Government wish to table amendments late—and I understand that there are reasons—perhaps the Procedure Committee should look at the matter with a view to ruling whether, if a major part of a Bill is to be dealt with on a Thursday morning, all amendments should be made available to your Lordships by the previous Tuesday evening. That would give noble Lords the whole of the working day of Wednesday to sort out any problems. I humbly make that suggestion to the Government, the officials of the House and those who manage our business.

I turn to the noble and learned Lord's amendment, to which I have absolutely no objection. There are one or two issues that I am slightly nervous about and on which I should like some reassurance.

I understand that the Chief Constable has the right to decide which individuals may or may not be contracted to do certain quasi police work. However, I am slightly concerned with the words:

"Contracts relating to detention and escort services".

If that kind of work is put out for public tender by companies or corporations in the normal commercial way, it strikes me that some of the safeguards might go. The Chief Constable might be aware that a company, which is owned, run or managed by a certain group in the community, might not be the most suitable to win the contract. However, if that company returned the lowest bid, I should like reassurance that there will not be EU or other UK legislation in relation to awarding of government contracts that would interfere with the Chief Constable's right to decide from a security point of view which company would not be suitable to do the job. With those slightly nervous queries, I am content with the idea as it stands.

Photo of Lord Molyneaux of Killead Lord Molyneaux of Killead Crossbench 11:15 am, 30th January 2003

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. His point about national security, so far as contracts are concerned, is a very valid one. He will know that there is another reason why we must be very careful. That is, certain contractors and their employees would come under the most hideous pressure from what one might term as "the other side of the community".

While in another place, there were occasions when those who would be regarded as being from the same side of the community as the terrorist community were shot dead simply because they drove lorries which provided materials to work sites and so on. Of course the murderers were never traced. We must be very careful when making allowances—and, I hope, make them in a sensitive way—when spelling out how to achieve this objective.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Glentoran. Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord whether the contracts to be let by tender will be judged on the basis not of the cheapest but on value for money. That would solve the problems both of the noble Lord on the Cross Benches and of my noble friend on the Front Bench, because clearly it would not be value for money if the potential contracting party was judged to be unsuitable by the Chief Constable or his advisers.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, first I speak to the noble Lord's general point. I take his point that they were complicated amendments. They were available on Tuesday, but effectively there was not an enormous amount of time to consider them. It may well be that the Procedure Committee would wish to take a view.

As to the other aspects, essentially the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Molyneaux, were speaking of security sensibilities and sensitivities. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, put the matter in a slightly different way. I think I can give the assurance that your Lordships are entitled to look to, because this matter is important.

There are already safeguards in place to ensure that contractors taking on work in sensitive areas are appropriately screened. This is already an issue for contracted-out cleaning services and for certain construction work. So similar considerations would apply to the contracts we are discussing here.

Your Lordships will also have noted that Clause 21(3)(d) of the Bill already makes clear that the Chief Constable can designate a person under this section only if he is satisfied that, and I go to paragraph (d),

"the contractor is a fit and proper person to supervise the carrying out of the functions for the purposes of which the person is to be designated".

There have been challenges in the past. Tinnilly and McElduff criticised the lack of an appeal mechanism. The system was then modified and the Secretary of State can now issue a certificate that his decision to refuse a tender was made on grounds of national security, public order and/or public safety and that the decision was justified.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, makes a valid point on value for money, which is general to all contracts that are put out to tender by the public service.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

Amendments Nos. 2 to 7, 10 to 13 and 15 to 18 are the group of which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made his "reasonable" criticism. The amendments take a good deal of guiding through and cross referencing in rather a tedious way, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his commendation of the officials who I know took time to go through matters with him and, indeed, other noble Lords. I am personally grateful to them, as well.

I undertook at any stage of our consideration of the Bill to give careful attention to criticisms that were raised to see whether we could meet them provided they were consistent with the general scheme of the Bill. I hope that the amendments illustrate that attitude. We want to ensure appropriate protection for sensitive information—which is a public good—while ensuring that the board has access to all the information it needs, another public good, which need not necessarily be in competition with the first.

Amendment No. 16 would require the board to set up a small committee to deal with sensitive information. I take the point made previously by several noble Lords that one does not want too wide a dissemination of security-sensitive or personally sensitive information. We therefore propose—I hope that this is an acceptable solution—that the committee should have five members, including at least one of the chair and vice-chair, and that the board should seek to appoint a group broadly representative of the full board membership. We do not consider that we ought to be any more specific. The board is working well and developing its own continuing authority.

The point of having a small committee from a large board is to provide a mechanism whereby sensitive information can be shared with the board while keeping its circulation to a reasonable minimum. One key factor that your Lordships mentioned is that we must try to keep such information on a need-to-know basis. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, emphasised that point in Grand Committee and I hope that then and now I have responded to his reasonable satisfaction.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 13 propose that, where the Chief Constable receives a request for information under new Section 33A or for a report under Section 59, and where, in his view, some or all of the information is sensitive, he should have the option of providing that information to the small committee, not the full board. If he were to exercise that option, he would be required to supply a summary of the information in his formal report to the full board. Amendment No. 6 deals with similar arrangements relating to inquiries under Section 60. The Chief Constable would then flag up sensitive information that he provided to the person conducting the inquiry. That person could then share sensitive information with the small committee.

New Section 59(4A), inserted by Amendment No. 3, makes clear that the Secretary of State will have the option, where a matter has been referred to him by the Chief Constable under Section 59(3), of insisting that the Chief Constable supply all or part of the information to the small committee rather than to the full board. Again, that reflects the need-to-know approach. "Sensitive information" means information the disclosure of which could put an individual in danger, or any information that could form one of the grounds of referral set out in new Section 76A(1), inserted by Clause 19.

Of course, the board would be entitled to remit any other issue to the committee if it felt that to be appropriate. It might provide a suitable closed forum for the Chief Constable to discuss sensitive issues relating to continuing investigations or operations. But we do not want to be unduly prescriptive, and I hope that we have found a sensible middle way.

I believe that the new arrangements will allow the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State greater flexibility in exercising their judgment on whether sensitive information should be shared with the board. It is already the case that the Chief Constable is not obliged to refer Section 59 or 60 requests to the Secretary of State, even when they deal with some of the issues mentioned in the grounds of referral. That is, and should be, a matter for the Chief Constable's judgment. So there is no change of principle here, but I hope that your Lordships will recognise that we have listened carefully to the arguments advanced in Grand Committee and on Report.

I hope that there will never be any need for the committee to be brought into action. The Chief Constable may never require that opportunity. But, as your Lordships have said previously, perhaps we ought to have a safety net just in case.

There is one further important safeguard that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned. Amendment No. 15 provides that it will be a criminal offence to disclose any information that the Chief Constable has identified as sensitive when sharing it with the board or the small committee. No offence will be committed where disclosure is to any of the persons or for any of the purposes listed in new subsections (5) and (6).

That replicates the arrangements that already apply to the police ombudsman under Section 63 of the 1998 Act. Again, I hope that your Lordships will feel that we have responded to legitimate concerns about not only sensitive information but any criminal sanction that may be required in case of mischief-making leaks. The remaining amendments in the group are consequential changes.

I have spent a little time on the amendments. I sympathise with all those who required hot coffee and a wet towel, because it is difficult to go through them. I hope that I have explained what we have tried to do: to strike the right balance between proper protection and proper access for the board. I commend the amendments to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that explanation. He gave it extremely well, but it demonstrates the complexity of this series of amendments, which in effect create one happening—the new sub-committee.

I do not oppose the amendments. The Government have come some way to meeting my anxieties about secure and classified information and interference with the Chief Constable's operational independence. As I told the noble and learned Lord outside the Chamber, it was of considerable relief to me to learn that all those involved will be subject to the Official Secrets Acts and liable for criminal prosecution should they be found to have leaked sensitive information.

I am, however, still uneasy in several respects and want to register that. I am not happy about a whole set of assumptions that underlie the policy shifts. What the Government saw fit to legislate on in 2000 they no longer consider relevant to the situation in Northern Ireland. In 2000, they were sensibly cautious, but it is still advisable to provide for what may or may not happen. The membership of the board is not yet complete, despite what the Government say about it working well. It is working well in its present make-up. With considerable difficulties that many people do not hear about, but one or two of us do, it is managing some pretty complicated decision-making processes.

I should be far more comfortable discussing such important changes to the structure of policing if I knew precisely with what we were dealing—in other words, if I knew the whole composition of the board and how it will be operated. So far as I understand it, the reason behind the modification to the second ground of referral is that the Government have received representations suggesting that the board would be better served by its removal.

I do not want to make a big issue of this at Third Reading, but having worked through the Bill with the noble and learned Lord, the Members of the Committee and Northern Ireland officials, some of it is aimed at improving previous police Acts and at better policing. Some of the Bill will deliver an excellent format for policing in times of peace. But there is not peace. It is a time of serious uncertainty. The Bill still takes too many risks in the changes it makes.

However, I am grateful for the way in which the Government have moved and the communication that I have had from the Minister and his officials. We shall wait and see. I sincerely hope that the committee is never needed.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative 11:30 am, 30th January 2003

My Lords, not being on the Front Bench in this debate, I am grateful for having been included on the circulation list for the noble and learned Lord's amendments.

New subsection (4E) is to be inserted after subsection (4). It is germane to what the noble and learned Lord said a few minutes ago:

"If the Chief Constable supplies information to the committee under subsection (4D) he shall include a summary of it in the report to the Board".

New subsection (4F) states:

"In preparing a summary under subsection (4E) the Chief Constable shall take into account the views of the committee".

"Views" on what? It is an obscure provision. Where there is anxiety, it may relate not to the views so much as to the identity of committee members.

Photo of Lord Molyneaux of Killead Lord Molyneaux of Killead Crossbench

My Lords, I shall be brief. I share the view that all might not be well with this elite committee, as one might call it. What will be the method of selection of members? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has given us an inkling, but the process may not be so simple. At national level there would be no problem in selecting such a committee. Members would automatically be chosen from the ranks of Privy Counsellors. But we do not have that band of people in Northern Ireland to any great extent.

Is it not invidious to imply that one element of the Policing Board can be trusted and a larger element cannot? Is the thinking, for example, that the favoured few on the elite committee might have prevented the unseemly manoeuvring over the resignation of the head of Special Branch? We have been told that the reason for his resignation was withheld from the board in full. Some members may have been aware of it, but not everyone. The reasons were discussed recently at a British-Irish intelligence seminar, where it was revealed that the senior officer's dismissal—that is what it amounted to; it was not really a resignation—was conveyed to him by the head of MI5 acting on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office. Surely that disclosure makes a nonsense of the suggestion that even an elite segment of the board could prevent such high-level disclosures.

Photo of Lord Cooke of Islandreagh Lord Cooke of Islandreagh Crossbench

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on what he has done in an attempt to ensure that sensitive matters are not discussed at meetings of the board. But he has an impossible task. At this time, I do not see how a policing board could operate without referring to sensitive matters. The basic problem is that the Policing Board was set up on the assumption that we would be at peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned. That surely makes a nonsense of the whole arrangement. If we were at peace, everything would be all right, but we are not. We are assuming that members of a political party that, by its own declaration, is at war with the Government may become members of the Policing Board. Surely they will be bound to hear sensitive matters no matter what is done. We are setting out to do something impossible.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, I apologise, particularly to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, for my slightly late arrival on the Bench. I would like to have heard everything that he said in introducing these amendments. Having arrived home at around midnight last night, after a day of local government business, and then left at 5 a.m. to catch a plane to come here, I was disconcerted to find so many government amendments on the Marshalled List. Although I do not have a legal mind, they appear convoluted and difficult to decipher.

Initially, I was happy to find that a point made at several stages in the passage of the Bill had been taken on board in proposed subsection (4C), which refers to,

"information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger".

My relief was short-lived, because I then discovered that a sub-committee of the board was to be set up if the Chief Constable decided that information of particularly sensitive significance was required. I understand that all members will be bound by the Official Secrets Act. But let us be honest: if someone such as ex-prisoner, ex-murderer Gerry Kelly, who is now an Assembly Member for a Belfast constituency, became a member of the board—when Sinn Fein decides to come on to it—can anyone imagine a decision being taken to charge him with an infringement of the Official Secrets Act? In this instance, we know that the guarantee about the Official Secrets Act is not worth the paper which it is written on.

The idea that the board of 19 members will elect five of their peers to form the sub-committee is no consolation. I am being signalled to conclude. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and I apologise but I have had only a short time to study the amendments. The five members of the board elected by their peers to receive this sensitive information are bound to include a Sinn Fein member. I would be sceptical to hear that it is possible to exclude Sinn Fein or anyone with a paramilitary link who can be a member of the board on the grounds that they are elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would simply not be possible. So, it does not matter whether we convey the information to a committee of five members of the board, one of whom is untrustworthy, or whether we convey confidential information to the whole board. It makes not the slightest difference.

I do not want to labour the point any further. As I came here today, I determined that I would speak briefly. I have spoken at some length about my concerns that the Bill is being rushed through. It will go to another place in the minimum time and will be back with us in the minimum time for the simple reason that certain things must be put in place to facilitate Sinn Fein, which may, in late February or early March, make a decision that will be deemed to be a commitment to the peace process, to the 1998 agreement and to the Mitchell principles. It will not be that, unless we have what are now called "acts of completion". Those acts must not be gestures; there must be total disarmament by paramilitary organisations in turn. In this case, as we are catering for IRA/Sinn Fein, I am talking specifically about them. Acts of completion must be total disarmament and disbandment. We cannot any longer allow people to have one foot in the democratic camp and one in the paramilitary camp.

I say that, I hope, for the last time today. I hope that the point is getting through that the Bill is being put through in its present form by the Government simply to facilitate Sinn Fein/IRA and for no other reason. I have always wanted and have always worked in public life to move Northern Ireland forward. I have always worked for reconciliation, in the hope that our two traditions will come together and be given the opportunity to do that in a normal society. It cannot be a normal society, if we tweak the democratic processes in a way that is intended to reassure but, in fact, makes those of us who have been at the coalface for so long all the more suspicious about the Government's real intention.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 11:45 am, 30th January 2003

My Lords, I am grateful for the observations that your Lordships have offered. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, has doubts about Sinn Fein being on the board, but many of your Lordships wish to see the day when Sinn Fein is on the board. Many of the noble Lord's observations about Sinn Fein would lead logically to the conclusion that, if we are to have a board, we should do our utmost not to have Sinn Fein on it. The noble Lord knows that I am fond of him personally, but I must disagree profoundly with his approach.

The committee is a small committee of five members. We have tried to meet the concerns ventilated earlier, which I recognise as justified. There is no barrier to anyone being on that small committee except that no one can get on it without having the support of his or her fellow board members. One of the members will be the chairman, and the committee may also include the vice-chairman and three others.

It is not a question of favouritism, to address the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. We want to ensure that the smallest sensible number of people has access to the most sensitive information. That is not unreasonable, is it? It is a general principle. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, will know as well as I that not every matter goes to every Cabinet member. Sometimes, it is appropriate to have a small sub-group or sub-committee to deal with particular matters. I had thought that your Lordships would commend us on having done our best to meet the concerns that were expressed. It seems practical and reasonable to have a small group in those circumstances.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, asked about how the committee would take account of views. The Chief Constable and that small committee would want to discuss the nature and format of the summary, including the views of the small committee on how much information it is appropriate to share more widely. That is why that provision is included. The criminal sanction for disclosure is in the Bill and is not to be found in other legislation.

The provision can be made to work. In the nature of things, it is bound to be a compromise; I commend it to your Lordships as a reasonable and rational one.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

moved Amendments Nos. 3 and 4:

Page 6, line 12, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

"(3) In subsection (4) for the words from "in order to" to the end substitute "for either or both of the purposes mentioned in subsection (4A)."

(3A) After subsection (4) insert—

"(4A) The purposes are—

(a) exempting the Chief Constable from the obligation to report to the Board information which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1);

(b) imposing on the Chief Constable an obligation to supply any such information to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1.

(4B) Subsection (4D) applies if—

(a) a requirement to submit a report has been made under subsection (1);

(b) the Chief Constable has not referred the requirement to the Secretary of State under subsection (3);

(c) the Chief Constable is of the opinion that a report in compliance with the requirement would include information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4C).

(4C) The information is—

(a) information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger, or

(b) information which ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1).

(4D) The Chief Constable may, instead of including the information in the report to the Board, supply it to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1.

(4E) If the Chief Constable supplies information to the committee under subsection (4D) he shall include a summary of it in the report to the Board.

(4F) In preparing a summary under subsection (4E) the Chief Constable shall take into account the views of the committee.

(4G) Subsection (4H) applies if—

(a) the Chief Constable supplies information to the committee under subsection (4D), or

(b) the Chief Constable includes information in a report to the Board and is of the opinion that the information is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4C).

(4H) The Chief Constable must—

(a) inform the Secretary of State that the information has been included in a report to the Board or supplied to the committee;

(b) inform the Secretary of State and the recipient of the information that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4C)."" Page 6, line 13, leave out "(3)" and insert "(3A)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 9 [Inquiries by Board]:

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

moved Amendments Nos. 5 to 7:

Page 6, line 25, leave out "and (3)" and insert "to (3A)"

Page 6, line 33, at end insert—

"(3A) After subsection (10) insert—

"(10A) Subsection (10B) applies if the Chief Constable supplies to a person conducting an inquiry under this section any information which in the opinion of the Chief Constable is—

(a) information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger, or

(b) information which ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1).

(10B) The Chief Constable must—

(a) inform the Secretary of State and the Board that the information has been supplied to the person conducting the inquiry;

(b) inform the Secretary of State, the Board and the person conducting the inquiry that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (10A)."" Page 6, line 34, leave out "(3)" and insert "(3A)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 10 [Approval of proposals relating to inquiries by Board]:

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment No. 8 is a simple amendment, and noble Lords will not want me to go on at any length about it. I have already said, at every stage, that it is nonsensical to suggest, along with all the other changes that have been made, that as few as eight members from a board of 19 should have the absolute right to demand an inquiry.

If, as we are told by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, the board will be a responsible board, it would not be unreasonable to expect that at least 50 per cent-plus of its members would be needed to decide that an inquiry was necessary. I have been at the coalface for 30 years, and I know the nature of terrorism and the way in which terrorists and their political acolytes operate. We should not create a position in which, through undue pressure amounting even to intimidation, independent members of the board could be influenced or find themselves with no alternative but to go along with pressure from Sinn Fein. We should not condone or assist such a process. We should stick with the original figure of 10, on the basis that we expect that much of the work of the board will be done by mutual agreement. We should not allow a situation in which a caucus of less than 50 per cent can decide the board's direction.

This is such a petty approach to the work of the board that I feel that it is necessary to seek the opinion of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, on this issue. It is the one remaining issue—I do not want to pre-empt anything that might arise later—that I believe is a serious mistake in the Bill. There is no reason whatever for it. Those who have been pressing to reduce this quorate number from 10 to eight members—less than 50 per cent—are totally unreasonable and must have mischievous reasons for wanting to do so.

Northern Ireland is a small place. People know each other well. They take their responsibilities seriously. There is no reason whatever—on any occasion, for any specific topic—why at least 10 of the 19 members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board should not be expected to be present and voting, as I believe the Bill states, on matters such as those related to in Clause 10.

I strongly believe that it is utterly wrong of the Government to reduce the number of members to a figure that is less than 50 per cent, and which requires a majority of five—something like 30 per cent. The board would fall into a category where political cliques could gang up and achieve measures which it would not want. I support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I strongly support Amendment No. 8 because I believe that it is essential to build in as many safeguards as possible to protect the ability of the police to function at all, but especially in the field of counter-terrorism should Sinn Fein/IRA join the Policing Board in the foreseeable future.

The agenda of Sinn Fein/IRA has always been to destroy the police in their present form. They have openly said so and openly campaigned against people entering the Catholic 50 per cent. Gerry Adams said, when the people of Omagh appealed to him to free witnesses to speak, that he would never do that since he did not recognise British courts or British justice.

The Northern Ireland Office, in its last performance report published in autumn 2002, quotes two of its main objectives as being to build and,

"sustain confidence in the police service" and to,

"narrow the gap in confidence in policing and policing arrangements between the two main communities . . . while maintaining the overall level of public service".

They are admiral objectives, but I do not think that they will be attained in a hurry.

The Northern Ireland Office survey showed that 66 per cent of Protestants and 75 per cent of Catholics thought that the Policing Board was doing a good job. As the noble and learned Lord knows, I agree with that. With the establishment of the DPPs, they hoped that matters would get even better.

Surely, there is something to be said for giving the Policing Board, as at present composed, time to settle and consolidate rather than pressing on for purely political reasons to enable Sinn Fein/IRA to enter a body where their very presence will instantly strike a blow at the public confidence, which we are seeking, in a police entity, penetrated from within, by the very terrorists that it is attempting to police.

There must be time for Sinn Fein to demonstrate that it is no longer a Siamese twin of the IRA. It has not yet done so. To bring Sinn Fein/IRA into the Policing Board will utterly destroy the confidence of the public and the police themselves. I know that the noble and learned Lord will say that that is not what we are discussing today, but we are. This is the last chance we have to create safeguards. It is relevant that the NIO report covering the period 2001 to September 2002 records an overall increase in major security incidents and an increase in violence against the person. The latest report from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, on the operation of the Terrorism Act 2000 records that,

"there remains a significant supply of weaponry available to paramilitaries of all persuasions, that there has been an increase in incidents involving bombs to the 1987–89 level, that the police need to remain flexible to meet changes in the patterns of terrorist-related crime, and that the continuing danger of intimidation of those called for jury service justifies the continued scheduling of offences".

Incidentally, the report notes, which people often forget, that an analogous system has obtained for some time in the Republic of Ireland. The report also recommends the retention of the Diplock courts. It states:

"It remains clear without any evidence of abatement that the paramilitary organisations still exercise very significant influence over communities. On both sides of the divide there is a clear danger of intimidation within living and working neighbourhoods".

It is not yet the time to implement the Patten report in full. Northern Ireland is not at peace. There must be time to consolidate and the Policing Board must be allowed to settle in. Sinn Fein/IRA must demonstrate that their eventual membership of the board will be justified by disarming their paramilitaries and ending their tyranny over their own people—just as the Loyalists must do.

I am not speaking only against IRA paramilitaries, but I am suggesting that for them to play a part, through Sinn Fein, on the Policing Board would totally destroy confidence and would be a betrayal of the people.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, this is not a matter that goes to the Policing Board or who should be on it. It simply sets the threshold for those on the board who can call for an inquiry. I shall be brief; I have said this on a number of previous occasions. This was a commitment in the Implementation Plan as long ago as 2001. It simply indicates that an inquiry could be called for as long as there is a majority of those present and voting in agreement. I shall set out the figures. Normal board meetings run at 90 per cent attendance. They are well attended. To suggest that this could be manipulated by a small group of politically motivated people is unrealistic.

I shall remind your Lordships of the safeguards—I hope for the last time. Paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act states that if the board is considering the inquiry, at least three members of the board have to make a written request. The chairman, no later than three working days after the day on which he receives the request, has to call the meeting. The meeting cannot be held earlier than six days and no later than 21 working days afterwards. It is critically important that the chairman shall notify each member of the board of the date and purpose of the meeting. It is not therefore logistically possible for the scenario described in such Doomsday terms to occur. It still means that a majority of those present and voting must agree before such an inquiry could be called. There is a difference of approach here, which will not be reconciled, except following a vote.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, it is particularly disappointing that, after all the changes made to procedures in Northern Ireland, all the checks and balances that are built in, all the requirements of vetting and opportunity in terms of setting up the Policing Board, the Government should now decide that they want further to politicise the procedures of the board.

The board is already politicised in so far as membership is concerned. I shall not go into that issue in detail, but it does not take great imagination to understand what happens when the various political parties are asked to nominate their members to the board. That aspect of politicising policing—that is what we are doing—is further enhanced by removing that simple democratic process. Whatever the promises made by government, whether at Weston Park or anywhere else, they were in this respect wrong and undemocratic.

I shall seek to test the opinion of the House. During the Committee and Report stages some noble Lords voiced at least passing concern about equality in the treatment of the two traditions and of various political parties—not only mine—which have sought to behave traditionally in a democratic way. I hope that those who sympathise with that concern will support me on this issue.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 100; Not-Contents, 122.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

Aye: 98 Members of the House of Lords

No: 120 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 11 [Investigations into current police practices and policies]:

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 12:11 pm, 30th January 2003

moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 7, line 34, after "investigation," insert—

"(aa) his reasons for making that decision,"

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the amendment explains itself. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, brought forward an amendment on Report which I promised to look at and possibly redraft. I hope that this amendment satisfies the noble Lord.

However, before formally moving the amendment, I should explain that when I said the ombudsman would have the power to deal with various complaints against designated civilians, including contracted-out staff, "as soon as commencement occurred", I was wrong. It is "when the appropriate regulations are brought forward". I formally correct that. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

moved Amendments Nos. 10 to 12:

Page 8, leave out lines 15 and 16 and insert "is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4)."

Page 8, line 21, leave out from "information" to end of line 22 and insert "is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4)."

Page 8, line 22, at end insert—

"(4) The information referred to in subsections (2) and (3) is—

(a) information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger;

(b) information which ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1).""

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 17 [Provision of information to Board]:

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 10, line 19, at end insert—

"(3) Subsection (4) applies if the Chief Constable is of the opinion that information which he would otherwise be required to supply to the Board under subsection (1) is information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger.

(4) The Chief Constable may, instead of supplying the information to the Board, supply it to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1.

(5) Subsection (6) applies if the Chief Constable supplies the Board or the committee with information which in his opinion is—

(a) information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger, or

(b) information which ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1).

(6) The Chief Constable must—

(a) inform the Secretary of State that the information has been supplied to the Board or the committee;

(b) inform the Secretary of State and the recipient of the information that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (5)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

moved Amendment No. 14:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

"APPOINTMENTS TO THE POLICE SERVICE OF NORTHERN IRELAND

The Secretary of State may, at the request of a majority of the Policing Board, and acting on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, by order—

(a) permit the Chief Constable to appoint to the Police Service of Northern Ireland persons of any rank from other constabularies within the United Kingdom as he deems appropriate; and

(b) permit the Chief Constable, as he deems appropriate, in making an appointment under paragraph (a), to exempt those persons from such entry procedures as are normally applicable to direct appointees to the Police Service of Northern Ireland."

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, the amendment represents another attempt to allow the Chief Constable to appoint to the Police Service of Northern Ireland persons of any rank. At the moment there are problems with the number of serving officers. The Chief Constable has quite significant gaps in his force, about which I know he is concerned.

I can be very brief because I am seeking only reassurance. I understand that, as the law stands, the Chief Constable can do what my amendment seeks he should be able to do. Section 98(1) of the Police Act 1996 states:

"The chief officer of a police force in England or Wales may, on the application of the chief officer of a police force in Scotland or the chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, provide constables or other assistance for the purpose of enabling the Scottish force or the Royal Ulster Constabulary to meet any special demand on its resources".

If that provision still stands—and I have no reason to believe that it does not—I shall have no more to say. But, as we are at Third Reading, if it does not stand I shall be in a slightly embarrassing situation. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 12:15 pm, 30th January 2003

My Lords, the amendment is defective. Paragraph (a) would allow the Chief Constable to appoint to the Police Service of Northern Ireland persons of any rank. Under the 2000 Act, appointments at assistant chief constable level and above are not for the Chief Constable but for the Policing Board. I am obliged to point out that defect in the amendment.

More fundamentally—and this goes to the heart of the matter—if the amendment is agreed to, the Secretary of State would be able to appoint police officers of any rank. I have dealt with that point.

I hope I can reassure your Lordships—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran—that the amendment is not necessary. Police officers from other United Kingdom police services of the rank of sergeant and above are not subject to the 50:50 requirement, which applies only to entrants at trainee—that is, constable—level. So, subject to the usual constraints, the Chief Constable can make as many appointments as he likes of sergeants, inspectors, and so on up to chief superintendent, from other United Kingdom police services. And, as I said, the Policing Board may do likewise in respect of senior officers.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right, Section 98 of the 1996 Act still provides for secondment—but on a short-term basis only. I believe that meets the noble Lord's point because it is the possible short-term gap that he seeks to identify and fill. So I am able to give him that reassurance. I am only able to give it because he asked a specific question—it had not been in my mind earlier—and I give it on the basis of the material provided to me.

Let me reiterate the last point that I made. If the Chief Constable and the Policing Board wanted to vary the 50:50 provisions we would give such a request serious consideration. But the noble Lord has put his finger on the fact that this is already dealt with in the point that he has researched.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that answer. Will he ensure that his officials make it clear to the Chief Constable and others that the section in the Police Act 1996 is available for their use? On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

moved Amendment No. 14A:

After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

"APPOINTMENTS TO THE POLICE SERVICE OF NORTHERN IRELAND (NO. 2)

In the event that—

(a) the Chief Constable is unable to appoint his required number of police trainees or police support staff, or

(b) the number of serving officers is below that intended at the time of consideration, the Secretary of State shall, at the request of a majority of the Policing Board and acting on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, make an order to suspend the provisions of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) for a maximum period of six months."

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, Amendment No. 14A brings us back to a similar problem. I am still concerned that, for all the wrong reasons, the 50:50 provision is not working. I have no regrets about making it clear that my party still supports Patten and the 50:50 provision, but what we cannot support is a situation where recruitment into the PSNI, in line with Patten and the Government's legislation, is hijacked by none other than the IRA.

My officials told me yesterday, and the noble and learned Lord made it clear at Report stage, that recruitment of Catholics and Protestants on the 50:50 basis was going quite well in the early stages. But it is early days. The force is seriously short of able bodied men and women and, more importantly, the philosophy of bringing the force up to somewhere approaching the 50:50 requirement—which is good—has been hijacked by Sinn Fein/IRA.

I have tried, through a number of amendments—this is the last one—to persuade the Government to take on board in their legislation an amendment which could be used as a tool. Ultimately, all noble Lords in the Chamber know very clearly that this is more about politics, negotiations and deals than about producing a necessary set of amendments to the 2000 Act.

If the Government feel inclined to accept the amendment, it may never become necessary to use it, but it would be another tool in the armoury of Her Majesty's Government. It is my feeling that Her Majesty's Government have so far been fairly short of tools, or ploys. They played most of their cards rather early in the day and are significantly short of them. On that basis, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, I support the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I do not believe that Patten is infallible and that every last word of the report is beyond reproach or question. In relation to other noble Lords, I have been in Parliament a comparatively short time, but during those 20 years I have never come across an instance of any report—even one by a Royal Commission—being accepted in its entirety. Indeed, if we arrived at the stage where we felt obliged to accept a report in its entirety, however commissioned, that would be damaging to the democratic process. The need for objective debate on the effects of the Patten report is important.

In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has highlighted the fact that, whatever its intention, it has not worked out in terms of numbers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Far more people than intended—people of huge experience—have left the police service: some, sadly, disillusioned, others recognising that they were at a stage of life when they could not turn their backs on the opportunity to avail themselves of a compensation package. Whatever the cause, we have arrived at a situation where Northern Ireland is seriously under-policed—to the extent, as I pointed out on Report, that we no longer demand that applicants must meet a certain physical standard. It is the first time that I have ever been aware of applicants to any security force, police or military, not being required to meet such a standard prior to acceptance.

When I raised this matter on Report, the noble and learned Lord pointed out that there was a physical aspect to the training once a recruit arrived at a depot. The noble and learned Lord must worry, as I do, that if applicants are recruited to the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the understanding that the physical requirements are not defined and that they do not have to meet a certain standard, if a greater standard is then expected during training, they may well have genuine cause for complaint and may question the system in court.

We should continue to maintain the standards, and not be handicapped by the 50:50 provision. Although I cannot say on this occasion that I speak for every Unionist in Northern Ireland, recognising the need for as much equality in the police service as can be achieved, certainly equality of opportunity, I have not been very vocal in my opposition to the 50:50 provision. However, I believe that it should have been implemented in an entirely different way; that there should have been certain parameters within which that proviso should have been brought to bear. That said, if we are reaching a stage where to all intents and purposes we are making a laughing-stock of recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, it is not unreasonable that for short periods—in this case the implication is a period of six months at any one time—we should be able to set aside the provision in the Patten report in order to maintain the level of recruitment that will lead to the level of policing that the people of Northern Ireland expect. I commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, in the context of the reference to "police support staff" in my noble friend's amendment, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal will recall an exchange about support staff on Report (at col. 874). The noble and learned Lord's reply is set out in col. 877. My noble kinsman Lord Brookeborough intervened to say that there was a difference of opinion as to when the Chief Constable had made his remarks about support staff. In the absence of my noble kinsman, I merely want to know whether the difference of opinion regarding the facts has been resolved in the interim in a bilateral discussion about which I know nothing. The point is germane to the issue of police support staff recruitment.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, I have declared my support twice already during debates on the Bill for the principle of 50:50 recruitment. However, today, I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House whether he would consider a slight modification of the principle—possibly to produce a 42:42:16 ratio. The 16 is intended to cover people who are atheists, agnostics or adherents of various minority religions outside the broad Catholic and Protestant traditions of the country. Some slight modification of that kind would be much better than suspending the operation of the main principle, as is suggested in the amendment.

Photo of Lord Fitt Lord Fitt Independent Socialist

My Lords, I feel compelled to support the amendment. It is honest and realistic, and takes into account all the circumstances in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that it represents an attack on the Patten report or an attempt to undermine its recommendations.

I have had many reservations about the 50:50 provision. I do not believe it to be realistic. It seems to generate the belief that there are many Catholics in Northern Ireland who want to join the new police service. I do not believe that to be the case. Not every individual wants to become a policeman. Given the history of Northern Ireland and the dangers under which policemen have to live, it is highly unlikely that there will be a great influx of Catholics into the PSNI.

The amendment suggests that if there is not a sufficient number of Catholics wanting to join the police force in Northern Ireland to make it possible to meet the 50:50 requirement, the Chief Constable could say that the force could take other people who are not of the Catholic faith. By the way, I have said repeatedly that this is not about Catholics and Protestants; it is about nationalists and unionists. People are not going to join or be rejected from the police force on account of their religion; it is because of what their political allegiance is likely to be.

If there is not a great influx of nationalists wanting to join the PSNI, the police force will be undermanned. We do not have sufficient numbers in the police force at the moment. Looking to the future, it will be necessary to have a police force that is able to deal adequately with all the circumstances in Northern Ireland. We need a higher level of policing than any other part of the United Kingdom.

The amendment is not a Tory or Unionist attack on Patten. I am neither, but I have lived all my life in Northern Ireland. I foresee great difficulties in restricting recruitment in Northern Ireland until there are a sufficient number of Catholics—or nationalists—wanting to join the police force. If the necessary figure is not arrived at and we do not have the numbers that we expect, when the Chief Constable determines what he believes to be the necessary complement of his force to engage with all the possibilities of what may happen in Northern Ireland he should have the right to depart from the principles laid down in Patten.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 12:30 pm, 30th January 2003

My Lords, I shall deal with one or two misconceptions. We dealt with fitness on Report. I made it plain that the physical competence test will not be applied to applicants in the current recruitment competition, but I hope that I also made it plain that all trainees will be required to pass the test before they are attested. In other words, there is no reduction in the standard of physical competence required of police officers. Trainees are simply given more time to reach the required standard.

Of course there is intimidation. Gerry Kelly has already been referred to. On 26th September 2002, he said:

"I am making it directly clear now that there should be no intimidation or threats against new recruits".

On 25th September, on the Radio Ulster 3 p.m. news, he said,

"we have made it clear in the past and we make it directly clearer now, there should be no intimidation or threats against any recruits involved here".

I do not think he could have put that plainer.

The issue of support staff was resolved. The Chief Constable's remarks were made after his first 100 days in service, but the campaign to which he referred had been in the spring and summer of 2002, before Grafton started work. The noble Viscount was good enough to say that I was right and that he had misunderstood the situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, spoke of Roman Catholics and Protestants. I remind your Lordships, as I think I said on Report, that Section 46 of the 2000 Act says:

"one half shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic; and one half shall be persons who are not so treated".

The Act does not speak of Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Is 50:50 working? If it were not to work, do we need a change in the law? The answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is no. We have had a very good response to the police recruitment campaigns. The appointment of sufficient qualified candidates to fill the police training college is at a level around 50 per cent above that envisaged by Patten. Grafton Recruitment was appointed only in September 2002. It deals with civilians and has produced enough candidates to meet the requirements.

On the second question, Section 46(3) of the 2000 Act already gives the Secretary of State the power to make a set-aside order. Section 46(2) says:

"The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Board and the Chief Constable, by order amend subsection (1)"— that is the 50:50 provision—

"in its application to the making of appointments under section 39".

Before making such an order, he has to consult the Policing Board and the Chief Constable. The discretionary power is already there, so the amendment is not needed. In any event, we are doing well. Something optimistic is happening. We ought to rejoice.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that response. I had half expected that he would assure me that the amendment was not required and I am delighted that it is not.

On Report we spoke about the intolerable conditions at the Garnerville training centre. Your Lordships will be delighted to know that I read yesterday that a new training centre has gone to the top of the list of priorities of the Policing Board and the Chief Constable and they are urgently moving to try to find something. I am not sure whether the noble and learned Lord had something to do with that, but he is smiling. If he did, I thank him and his officials for taking action.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

moved Amendments Nos. 15 and 16:

Before Clause 19, insert the following new clause—

"RESTRICTION ON DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION

After section 74 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) insert—

"74A RESTRICTION ON DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION

(1) This section applies if information is supplied in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2), (3) or (4).

(2) The circumstances are that—

(a) the information is supplied by the Chief Constable to a person conducting an inquiry under section 60;

(b) the person has been appointed under section 60(9) to conduct the inquiry;

(c) the Chief Constable informs the person that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind mentioned in section 60(10A)(a) or (b).

(3) The circumstances are that—

(a) the information is supplied by the Chief Constable under section 33A or 59 to the Board or the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1;

(b) the Chief Constable informs the Board or the committee under section 33A(6) or 59(4H) that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind mentioned in section 33A(5)(a) or (b) or section 59(4C)(a) or (b).

(4) The circumstances are that—

(a) the information is supplied by a person conducting an inquiry under section 60 to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1;

(b) the information was supplied to the person conducting the inquiry in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2).

(5) If information is supplied in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2), the information must not be disclosed by the person who is conducting or has conducted the inquiry or by a person who is or has been a member of staff of the Board except—

(a) to a member of the staff of the Board who is assisting in the conduct of the inquiry;

(b) to the Secretary of State;

(c) to the Chief Constable;

(d) to the Ombudsman in connection with an investigation under section 60A of the 1998 Act;

(e) to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1;

(f) for the purposes of any criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings;

(g) in the form of a summary or other general statement made by the person the terms of which have been agreed with the Chief Constable.

(6) If information is supplied in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (3) or (4), the information must not be disclosed by a person who is or has been a member of the Board or a member of the staff of the Board except—

(a) in the case of information supplied to the Board, to a member of the Board or a member of the staff of the Board;

(b) in the case of information supplied to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1, to a member of the committee or a member of staff of the Board who provides services to the committee;

(c) to the Secretary of State;

(d) to the Chief Constable;

(e) to the Ombudsman in connection with an investigation under section 60A of the 1998 Act;

(f) for the purposes of any criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings;

(g) in the form of a summary or other general statement made by the Board the terms of which have been agreed with the Chief Constable.

(7) Any person who discloses information in contravention of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.

(8) In this section "member of the staff of the Board" means—

(a) a person employed by the Board under paragraph 13(1) of Schedule 1;

(b) a person employed in the civil service who provides assistance for the Board in pursuance of arrangements made under paragraph 13(2) of Schedule 1."" Before Clause 19, insert the following new clause—

"SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE BOARD

(1) Paragraph 24 of Schedule 1 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) (committees of the Board) is amended as set out in subsections (2) and (3).

(2) In sub-paragraph (1) after "The Board may" insert ", subject to sub-paragraphs (1A) and (1B)".

(3) After sub-paragraph (1) insert—

"(1A) The Board shall constitute a committee of 5 of its members for the purpose of—

(a) handling information supplied to it by the Chief Constable under section 33A or 59;

(b) performing such other functions of the Board as may be delegated to it by the Board.

(1B) The members of the committee constituted under sub-paragraph (1A)—

(a) shall be appointed by the Board;

(b) shall include the chairman or vice-chairman of the Board (or both of them);

(c) shall as far as practicable be representative of the Board.""

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 19 [Disclosure of information and holding of inquiries]:

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

moved Amendments Nos. 17 and 18:

Page 11, line 9, leave out from second "information" to end of line 11.

Page 11, line 18, leave out from first "matter" to end of line 19.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 11, line 21, at end insert—

"( ) Where it appears to the Chief Constable that the disclosure of information under section 59 or the holding of an inquiry under section 60 would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, he may refer any such request to Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary."

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, this is another attempt to solve in advance any problems that might arise out of the Chief Constable not wishing to give information to the Policing Board for the reasons stated in the amendment. These are the most important and crunchy two or three lines that are wrong in the Bill.

We have all spoken to the issue a number of times. The noble and learned Lord graciously spoke to me before we came into the Chamber. I understand that he has some positive news for me. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

My Lords, if there is some positive news to come, that will be further cause to rejoice. I do not wish to postpone unduly the time at which noble Lords can indulge in it. However, I want to allude to the time spent in Committee and on Report dealing with the removal by Clause 19 of one of the grounds that the 2000 Act allowed the Chief Constable to rest upon when deciding that the board's request for a report on a certain matter would be inappropriate because it would involve making public information that would be prejudicial either to the detection or prevention of crime or to the apprehension or conviction of an offender.

That ground was accorded to the Chief Constable in the 2000 Act and is taken away by Clause 19 of this Bill. We have spent a great deal of time trying to elicit the reason for the change. It is important that the reason should be made clear, because suspicion is never far below the surface in Northern Ireland. If the perception is held that there is some undisclosed reason why a provision so recently accorded in government legislation is being removed two years later, confidence in the arrangements for which the Bill is responsible will be undermined. I know the noble and learned Lord will not want that to be the case.

We have asked why the change is being made. The debate has assumed an almost theological character. The noble and learned Lord has wrapped himself in the cloak of what I might call the book of Patten. He said that Patten required this measure and that, even if it did not, another text called the Implementation Plan, which we understand to have been written not later than July 2001, foretells it. Because it was foretold, the change has to be made so that the scripture may be fulfilled.

On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Glentoran spoke to this insight—that it must be wrong to force a Chief Constable who believes that it would be prejudicial on the grounds given to make the information public, or, at least, to give it to the board. There has been no movement on that matter. This is not the time for close textual analysis or, indeed, for any analysis, but I record my respectful opinion that Patten does not require the Government to make the change. If it did require that, how come the Government did not make it in 2000, but legislated as they did?

I cannot conceal my opinion that there are grounds for considerable suspicion here, which will certainly be held in Northern Ireland. I speak diffidently in the presence of those who come from that Province, but a suspicion will certainly be held, and it will centre on the idea that the change has been asked for from a certain quarter. That quarter would be Sinn Fein. We should know whether it has been asked for, or not. I would not regard it as self-evidently wrong that it should be accorded if it had been asked for from any quarter, but we should know if it has been.

That is why my noble friend's amendment should be supported. It is a clever middle way that enables the Government to get round the problem. I hope that they do what they have declined to do so far—namely, clear up any suspicion.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, I cannot articulate with the authority of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the points that he has just made. From a practical point of view, I can underpin what he said by indicating that there are three specific circumstances in which the absence will be felt of the fourth condition on which the Chief Constable can refuse to give information.

In Northern Ireland, we are in the process of setting up a criminal assets bureau under the leadership of Assistant Chief Constable McQuillan. The bureau will work particularly closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Its work may not yield results overnight; in other words, it will be engaged in a slow and laborious process. If the Chief Constable is, by virtue of demands for information, obliged to reveal information that is part of an ongoing inquiry of the bureau, we might as well not set the bureau up in the first place. It would be a question of forfeiting vital and important information that may make Northern Ireland a much safer place in the long run.

We will not build a peaceful and lawful society overnight. It will require a huge amount of hard work by a lot of people, who must have confidence that the authorities in Northern Ireland—be they the police, the criminal assets bureau or whatever—are absolutely and totally committed, without any hindrance, to helping them to achieve their aims.

Directly in line with the police service's responsibility to the public is the sort of activity in Northern Ireland that we saw illustrated in a programme a couple of nights ago, which dealt with loyalist criminality. Drugs and prostitution were used to create huge wealth for a small group of quite evil people in the loyalist community. Of course, I wish that the situation was different, but we cannot ignore the fact that there is still illegal politically motivated activity being carried out by loyalists, the Real IRA and that other bunch—

Noble Lords:

The Continuity IRA.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

Yes, My Lords, the Continuity IRA. In any of those cases, the Chief Constable has not only a responsibility but a professional duty to protect information that would hinder the protection or prevention of any of the forms of crime that I mentioned. For that reason, it is incumbent on government to give serious consideration to the amendment, and to put back the fourth of the four conditions that previously governed the Chief Constable's ability to give or withhold information.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 12:45 pm, 30th January 2003

My Lords, I take advantage of the last amendment in the list to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he can give any indication today when the complex legislation that governs policing in Northern Ireland is likely to be consolidated. If he cannot reply to that now, he might write to me. It might be helpful to practitioners and people who must interpret statutes if consolidation could take place fairly soon.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am only sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, is not in his place, because he constantly makes that plea. I sympathise with it, but the difficulty with consolidation is that there is then the overwhelming temptation, not in the Northern Ireland Office but in departments that some of us can remember, to have another Bill, which means that one has to have another consolidation. However, I take the noble Lord's point, not least because of the intricate amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred.

I cannot usefully do anything further by way of explaining the Government's position. We have spent a good deal of time on it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, says that I refer to the book of Patten, and I would not want to tease him by saying that he is referring to the book of Apocrypha. However, I respectfully agree that neither of them has to have the status of holy writ.

I have tried to take on board the serious debate and discussions that we had in Grand Committee and on Report. I never thought that there were not serious issues to consider. As I have said before, Section 59 of the 2000 Act contains the mechanism whereby the Chief Constable and the board can come to a compromise. In other words, the Chief Constable is supposed to respond in one month, but with the caveat allowing a longer period, which may be agreed between the Chief Constable and the board.

What we have done—and I hope that noble Lords will agree that we have made genuine efforts to meet concerns—is to go back to Section 27 of the 2000 Act. I did not have the opportunity to mention the present state of affairs to all your Lordships but I mentioned it to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Section 27(1)(a) provides that the Secretary of State can issue a code of practice on conduct by the board with regard to any of its functions. I hope to have picked up the spirit of the amendment and the spirit of what your Lordships have said. We propose to provide through the code of practice that if the board and the Chief Constable cannot agree in the circumstances which I defined a moment or two ago, and where the Chief Constable's concerns relate to the impact of a particular timescale on the police's ability to prevent or detect crime, the board can refer the matter to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for his advice. The board would be able to take account of the recommendation in finally determining the deadline.

I hope that your Lordships will consider that at least we have attempted to meet concerns. I hope that your Lordships therefore will not insist upon the amendment.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that response which certainly goes some way to relieve my concerns. Time in these matters can always be extremely helpful provided the facility to use it is available. The amendment the Government made to the Bill opens yet another avenue to the Chief Constable if he feels strongly about the matter of divulging sensitive information. He now has two or three avenues open to him. There are various ways in which he can waste or spend time in a positive way. That can be valuable as, while that time is being wasted, the information is being protected. That is extremely helpful.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I thank those who supported the amendments I tabled. I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for his patience and for his consideration of the matters that have been debated. I also thank the officials. The Bill has been seriously argued and debated over several days. I hope that we shall be judged to have done a good job in your Lordships' House in editing, amending and scrutinising a serious and complicated Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord moves the Motion that the Bill do now pass, I should say how much we on these Benches appreciated his patience and skill in taking the Bill through all its stages. It is a complicated Bill and a number of noble Lords raised serious concerns. I thank the noble and learned Lord's officials for the helpful guidance they provided.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, it is appropriate, in so far as this Bill is concerned with a Northern Ireland issue, that I should join the noble Lords who have thanked the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I certainly admire, and have benefited from, his courtesy. I am not sure that I am as full of praise for his skill as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. I had hoped that his undoubted skill would have enabled some changes to be made. However, that is a matter for another time and another place. The noble and learned Lord has been most courteous, as always. For that I am grateful.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in debates on the Bill. We have done our work properly. The Grand Committee was of great benefit to all of us in enabling us to ventilate the issues. I am grateful for all the kind comments that noble Lords have made, but in particular for the well justified plaudits for the officials in the Northern Ireland Office who work under tremendous pressure. I do not refer to pressure exerted by noble Lords but to that often exerted by events.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 12.55 to 2 p.m. for Judicial Business and to 3 p.m. for Public Business.]