Committee

Part of Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:17 pm on 11th March 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 5:17 pm, 11th March 2009

Technical and specialist resources—resources relating, for instance, to bomb disposal—would be a matter for the Government of the United Kingdom. The chief constable would request those additional technical resources from the UK Government.

In respect of the judiciary, Section 1 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 already places a clear duty on those with responsibility for the administration of justice to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary. The duty applies today to my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State. Post devolution, it will also apply to Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive. The duty will be underpinned by a concordat between the UK Government and the devolved Executive that underscores the core principles of the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in Northern Ireland.

In respect of the police, the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, known as the Patten commission, was clear that the chief constable must have sole operational responsibility, and that neither the policing board nor the Government of the day, be it a devolved or direct-rule Administration, should have the power to direct him or her on how to conduct an operation. Section 33 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 makes clear that the police come under the sole direction and control of the chief constable. Sections 3(4)(a) and 69 of the Act require that the duties of the policing board and the Minister respectively must be carried out with regard to the principle that the policing of Northern Ireland is to be conducted in an impartial manner.

Noble Lords will recall that the policing board itself was a central element of the Patten reforms. It is made up of 19 members: 10 political members drawn from the parties in the Assembly, selected using the d'Hondt formula; and nine independent members currently appointed by the Secretary of State but, post devolution, to be appointed by the Minister of Justice. It holds the chief constable to account on ordinary policing matters, and also supports the network of district policing partnerships that link the police and the community at local level.

As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, informed us, in addition to these provisions, the pledge that must be sworn by all Northern Ireland Ministers when they take office contains a commitment to,

"uphold the rule of law based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability".

These existing guarantees enable me to be very clear: statute already safeguards the chief constable's operational independence and the principle of impartial policing after the devolution of policing and justice. The Government therefore do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate to replicate the guarantees in the Bill. Additionally, we believe that it is important that the Justice Minister should be subject to the same pledge of office as other Executive Ministers. Therefore, while we support the principles on which the amendment is based, we do not consider that the amendment itself is necessary.

I apologise if I unwittingly misled noble Lords on the earlier question of technical resources. The chief constable will request additional financial resources from the policing board, but requests for technical support will be made to the military and to the British Government.