Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee on 25th February 2003.

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[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy) rose—

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

On a point of order, Mr. Benton. Do you object to jackets being removed?

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

No objection. Ladies may also remove their jackets, if they wish to do so.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill (Lords) the Standing Committee do meet (in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 25th February at five minutes to Nine o'clock) on Tuesdays and Thursdays at five minutes to Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock;

(2) six sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

(3) the proceedings to be taken on the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;

(4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;

(5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) at any earlier sitting than that provided for under paragraph (3) if previous proceedings have already been concluded.

TABLE

Sitting Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
1st Clauses 1 and 2, Clause 17, Clause 3, Clauses 5 to 10
2nd Clauses 1 and 2, Clause 17, Clause 3, Clauses 5 to 10 (so far as not previously concluded) 5.00 p.m.
3rd Clause 18, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 11 to 16
4th Clause 18, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 11 to 16 (so far as not previously concluded 5.00 p.m.
5th Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill
6th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)—[Jane Kennedy.]

5.00 p.m.

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)—[Jane Kennedy.]

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

The fact that you are chairing the Committee is a matter of satisfaction,

Mr. Benton. During our proceedings I wish to review some of the points with which the official Opposition want to take issue. The Bill is difficult, and to some extent it could be argued that it is unnecessary. I draw attention to the Second Reading debate, especially the speech of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who said:

''Implementation of Patten was achieved in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.''

He went on to say:

''Indeed, in many respects, that Act was Patten plus, with knobs on''

and that he considered that to be a discharge of

''Patten lock, stock and barrel.''

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the strictures and disciplines that could be placed on the police, in particular on the Chief Constable, during inquiries and investigations:

''A police service that is constantly at risk of being inquired into and investigated, with its policies and actions questioned and challenged, its judgments called into question, and its practices constantly put under a microscope by the accountability bodies—and, for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, there is more than one body—cannot easily get on with the job of policing.''

That is a matter of serious concern. If the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 implemented Patten, why are we here today? Dare I ask if further concessions are to be made in the republican interest? Are they the result of Weston Park? If Weston Park moved the goalposts—to use that idiom—what was there in it for the Unionists? The right hon. Gentleman also said:

''I want to go back to my remarks on the constant, unrelenting pressure on the police, with their every move, judgment and action scrutinised, brought out into the open, put into a goldfish bowl, and debated. My fear—and I would put it no more strongly than this—is that the provisions of the new Bill will tilt further in that direction, creating risk in the evolution of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

A balance must be struck between constantly reviewing the police and allowing them to get on with their job''.

I wholly concur with that sentiment.

The number of members on the Northern Ireland Policing Board is currently set at 19. How many of those 19 are needed to call for reports? The right hon. Member for Hartlepool also said:

''I recall that there was huge pressure to agree to the paltry figure of eight in the original Bill''.—[Official Report, 10 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 681–84.]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the programme motion. I am not sure where his remarks are leading us.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

I am most grateful for your direction, Mr. Benton. The context in which my remarks are cast is that I hope that, given the programme motion and the time available, important issues can be considered. I want to outline at an early stage in Committee what I consider to be the important issues in the Bill, so that we can make a judgment about a time envelope for our debate that would adequately accommodate them.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said and I am prepared to allow the

debate to go on a little longer, but may I remind him that we are addressing the programme motion?

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

In that case, Mr. Benton, I intend to speak at a more economical length. Within the time frame that we are currently discussing, I am anxious that in the Bill, departing as it does from the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000—which the right hon. Member for Hartlepool described as ''Patten with knobs on''—we are departing from the balance between the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable and the board, which many of us thought had been set at a correct equilibrium in the 2000 Act. The Bill gives more power to the board and, to some extent, less to the Chief Constable, who we think should have a free hand in policy matters.

I have been twice corrected by you, Mr. Benton, and that affects my demeanour and my approach to such matters so early in the preliminary debate. I am prepared to draw my remarks to a conclusion, having advised the Committee that some things should be improved—as they were, to some degree, in another place—and also that some things are, arguably, unnecessary. The 2000 Act is the correct basis for procedure. We question why it is necessary to have another piece of legislation now.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

I also welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton, and I shall limit myself to the programme motion. I note that there are intended to be six sittings on the Bill, and it seems to me that that should be enough time to go through the amendments and the clauses before us. There was a comprehensive Second Reading debate, and I made my views known at that time.

By way of apology, I might mention that although we are having six sittings on this Bill, the Standing Committee on the Hunting Bill has now had 30 sittings. Obviously, there are those who feel that that Bill is five times more important than policing in Northern Ireland. I apologise in advance, because the unexpected extra sittings of that Committee, which are taking place even as I speak, will draw me away from this Committee. I hope that Committee members will be patient with me if I am absent, and I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) will be able to take on some of the responsibilities.

The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) raised some general issues with regard to the Bill, and the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) referred to those issues on Second Reading. On balance, the Liberal Democrats feel that the Bill is appropriate, although we take issue with specific points that we will make known as the Committee proceeds.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I, too, welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Benton. I look forward to serving under your chairmanship, particularly as it is several years since I had the pleasure of sitting on a Standing Committee. I look forward also to seeing how Committees operate under the new regime, but I approach the new regime—it is new to me, although other Committee members have experience of it—with a certain amount of trepidation. I recall the days when

there were comparatively few timetables—they used to be called guillotines—and that they were a sign of dishonour on the part of the Government who introduced them. Now we have guillotines for everything, but they are called timetables. That is perhaps a form of rebranding, through which it is hoped that the dishonour that ought to be attached to them will be escaped.

I shall make two comments on the Committee programme. First, I notice that it is proposed that we sit next Tuesday morning. I am inclined to welcome that, because it will limit any temptation that I might have to linger on Monday evening for whatever discussions may be taking place. In order to attend the Committee next Tuesday morning I shall, of course, have to quit Belfast by late afternoon on Monday. That will fit quite nicely with my likely intentions on that day. However, Mr. Benton, you will understand if I do not elaborate further on that matter.

The second and perhaps more serious matter is that I have doubts about the programme. I have looked at the arrangements regarding the number of clauses per sitting and the timetabling of amendments, and I wait with interest to see whether there are days on which we do not take the full amount of time and others on which debate is cut off. One of the disadvantages of any sort of programme is that it lacks flexibility. I shall follow this matter with interest. I remember when discussions would take place between the Whips, who were usually able to ensure that all matters were discussed and that time was used efficiently. I suspect that the programme might be inefficient.

I also wish to place on record my complete opposition to and dislike of the present hours. I think that they are ridiculous and that they deprive the House of Commons of the ability to consider matters properly. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has already said that the present hours are having a serious, negative effect on his activities. This situation is not in the interest of the House and it is not in the interest of the public. I know that you cannot do anything about it, Mr. Benton, but I wish to put on record my view that the new hours are utterly foolish, that they are seriously affecting the operation of the House and that they are making life inconvenient for hon. Members. [Hon. Members: ''Hear, hear.'']

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. We have heard some fascinating contributions, especially from the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I would like to agree, at length, with the right hon. Gentleman on the stupidity of the present hours, but I suspect that you would get fidgety rather quickly. I simply put on the record that I agree with every word that he said.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the purpose of debating programme motions is undermined by all of us being double or triple booked during the middle of the day? That unquestionably harms our ability to scrutinise legislation proposed by the Government.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I was coming to that point. I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Gentleman. He says that he half hopes that the Committee will meet next Tuesday so that he is not asked to agree to more surrenders to the IRA. He should book his flight now, because the Committee will sit on that day. We will help him resist all temptations and blandishments to get involved in another sell-out, so he is safe in that respect.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that he wanted to see how the new regime operates. He is in for a dreadful shock; he will find some of it fairly unpalatable. First, he will find that the rebranding of that draconian measure, the guillotine, is nothing more than window-dressing to make the unacceptable seem trendy. As he says, the timetabling of Bills is intended to improve efficiency, but the efficiency of a dictatorial Government in railroading whatever they want through Parliament, irrespective of the views of right hon. and hon. Members, and efficiency in the attempt to become a dictatorship, has nothing to do with parliamentary democracy. The right hon. Gentleman will witness that, and will realise that the principle of guillotining everything has nothing to do with democracy, scrutiny or debate.

I speak from experience. A few weeks ago, I was on a Committee considering a 90-clause Bill, and the amount of time that the Government decided was necessary enabled us to consider fewer than 30 of the 90 clauses, and none of the schedules. That is what is meant by efficiency when it comes to guillotines. [Interruption.] I shall be happy to give way to the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) if he wants me to do so.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

If the hon. Gentleman did not engage in time-wasting, he could get on with discussing the Bill.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

If I were not speaking to the business of the Committee, you would have stopped me by now, Mr. Benton. Therefore, in the view of the Chairman, I am not wasting time; I am addressing an issue. It is typical of Back-Bench Labour Members to want to stifle any criticism of the Government's wish to trample over democracy, and that is what the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to achieve.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who have tried hard to keep up with the intensive, persistent efforts of the Government to force through huge amounts of legislation regarding Northern Ireland in a short time have had to put up with debates on statutory instruments where we have had to say yes or no to entire Bills after a half-hour debate? Perhaps we should discuss reprogramming those debates to enable us, first, to attend all the meetings, instead of them being held all at the same time, and, secondly, to make amendments, rather than simply giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

That is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and Her Majesty's Opposition have done their level best to deal with the legislation that was part way through the Assembly when it was

suspended. We once protested that we thought that the situation was in some ways undemocratic, but we fully accepted the undertaking that half-finished matters would be finished as quickly as possible. When necessary, we have co-operated with the Liberal Democrats in that process, having served notice that anything new that is brought forward must be subjected to proper scrutiny.

I can only assume that certain Labour Members do not even want us to debate the programme motion. Standing Orders make it clear that, for half an hour at the beginning of consideration of a Bill in Committee, it is possible to debate an attempt to trample on democracy, and I make no apologies for doing so. The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North thinks that I am time-wasting, but he has heard nothing yet. He should wait until we start filibustering.

Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Conservative, Wycombe 9:15 am, 25th February 2003

Might I carefully suggest that my hon. Friend is being slightly unfair to Back-Bench Labour Members? Surely, as the Committee proceeds, they will be distinguished by their frequent comments and contributions to debate.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Heaven forfend that I—a reasonable person who has never been known to waste time—be unfair. I look forward to hearing interventions made by the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North and I promise that when he makes speeches, I shall accuse him of nothing other than addressing the Bill. However, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann is heading for a serious shock about the general principle of guillotining and he will not enjoy what he finds.

The matter does not end there because not only do we have a limit of six sittings, but there are knives at two points during our consideration. I made it clear in the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday that I have no objections to the order in which the Bill will be considered because there are good, sensible reasons why we should not consider the clauses in numerical order from clause 1. My colleagues and I do not disagree with that. However, we disagree with being told how long we should consider each bit. I agree with the Government saying, ''This is a sensible order in which to consider the Bill'', but I disagree with them saying, ''You will only be allowed one, two or three sittings because that is the pace at which we wish to go.'' That should not happen and I shall ask the Committee to divide on the motion because I want to register yet again that that is not the way in which we should do things.

Although we object to the guillotine, the Government will have their way. Within that straitjacket, it is sensible that we should see how things go. In the previous Committee on which I served, it became blindingly obvious during the first sitting that the guillotine arrangements were wrong and that they should be changed. If they had not been there in the first place, we would have got along much better and would not have had to reconvene the Programming Sub-Committee. I say now to my opposite number, the Government Whip, who cannot answer back, that if it is necessary to talk

about moving the knives, I shall be happy to join any discussion on behalf of the official Opposition.

The knives at 5 o'clock might be convenient for those who believe that the new hours are good and want to push off just after 5 o'clock for a night on the town. If that is what Back Benchers are all about, the programme motion achieves that aim admirably. However, the motion does not make for sensible, structured debate because as that unwinds, it may become clear that a subject should be talked about for longer than the Government thought. A longer debate might be constructive and helpful for the Government. We should not always have to look at the clock saying, ''Good heavens, 5 o'clock is nearly here and we must curtail what we want to say about clause x or y because we must reach clauses 8 and 9, which are very important.'' Whatever we might want to say today ahead of clauses 8 and 9, we shall be constrained because those clauses are where the meat of our first two sittings lies.

Some crazy things could happen because we are worried about that. We might say that we shall not discuss fully clauses ahead of clauses 8 and 9 but find that there is not as much to say as we thought about those clauses. We could arrive at the end of our consideration before 5 o'clock because of an artificial attempt to stifle democracy within an overall attempt to trample over democracy.

In normal circumstances, it would be argued that we do not have sufficient time to consider the Bill—the knives are wrong. However, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann touched on what he and others will be doing next week. I have heard it advanced that it would be in the best interests of certain people to ensure that the Bill gets out of Committee this week—to rush it in fewer than six sittings. That would mean that there would be no temptation for the Government to make further concessions to Sinn Fein-IRA by stuffing new clauses into the Bill next week. For the avoidance of doubt, may I make it crystal clear that I hope that the Minister will reassure us about whatever next week's negotiations may bring? I have my views about that but this is not the occasion to go down that route because you, Mr. Benton, will say that that has nothing to do with the Bill. Will the hon. Lady reassure us that if the negotiations require any changes to either the status quo of policing in Northern Ireland or additional concessions to be made in the Bill to Sinn Fein-IRA, they will be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny? In other words, they should be first debated on the Floor of the House, meaning that every hon. Member would be entitled to attend.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the Government produce, or introduce, matters on Report by way of amendments, he would apply what he is saying to that? If that is the case, and the guillotine is imposed, is it not a fact that whatever discussion and deliberation takes place in Committee, the matter can be dealt with on Report in that arbitrary fashion—as it was previously, hence our presence here today?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I was coming to that very point. If the Government deem any further measures necessary to appease Sinn Fein-IRA, one could argue, on a

technicality, that it was better to deal with them on Report than in Committee. It is wrong to do that on both counts, but if anything major is to be brought forward as an addition to the Bill, to limit the debate to the few members of this Committee would be an abuse of democracy.

I hope that the Government will give an assurance that they will not use the Committee to deal with specific measures that started in another place and have been fully discussed there as a package, and are now here as a package. That is what I am focusing on. The hon. Gentleman, fairly, asks me what would I say if something were brought in on Report? With the technical exception that on Report, at least all Members of Parliament are entitled to speak, and that is a plus—

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

That was not the case. People were not allowed to speak. Some of the matters that were brought up were subject to the guillotine, so there was no discussion whatever.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

That is absolutely right. I am simply making the technical point that if there were not a guillotine, more people could contribute—but there is a guillotine here, too. The hon. Gentleman can object to what will happen on Report, as I do, but it is no easier for people to discuss new matters seriously within a six-sitting guillotined Committee. New clauses would be tagged on to one of the sections, and the same principles would apply here as apply on the Floor of the House.

I am simply making the technical point to the hon. Gentleman that theoretically, more people could be involved on Report, but I at one with him in saying that such things should not be done here—and they should not be done on Report, either. If there are negotiations next week, and if anything comes out of them that requires legislation, that should be dealt with in the proper way. It should be brought before both Houses of Parliament for Second Reading debates, for full scrutiny and consideration. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree with me on that matter.

The general principle of timetabling is wrong. The introduction of knives is wrong. If the Government are tempted to introduce anything other than what has been debated in another place, that too would be wrong.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I shall say a few words on the programme motion. I welcome the early start: dull would he or she be of soul who did not enjoy trudging over Westminster bridge at 7.30 in the morning to sit in Committee on a policing Bill. I believe that that is the most apt time of the day for indulging in such activities.

I agree with the hon. Member for Solihull that this is an unnecessary Bill. Had the Government done what they had been asked when discussing the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, it would not be necessary. The record shows that every change included in the Bill was subject to amendment in Committee; each one was argued against and defeated by the Government. It is interesting now to read the Government's explanatory notes to the Bill—

It being half an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, The Chairman put the Question, pursuant to paragraph (9) of Sessional Order C, relating to Programming Sub-Committees.

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 5.

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 64 - Senior appointment: delegation of function

Aye: 11 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill (Lords) the Standing Committee do meet (in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 25th February at five minutes to Nine o'clock) on Tuesdays and Thursdays at five minutes to Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock;

(2) Six sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

(3) the proceedings to be taken on the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;

(4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;

(5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) at any earlier sitting than that provided for under paragraph (3) if previous proceedings have already been concluded.

TABLE

Sitting Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

1st

Clauses 1 and 2, Clause 17, Clause 3, Clauses 5 to 10

2nd

Clauses 1 and 2, Clause 17, Clause 3, Clauses 5 to 10 (so far as not previously concluded)

5.00 p.m.

3rd

Clause 18, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 11 to 16

4th

Clause 18, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 11 to 16 (so far as not previously concluded

5.00 p.m.

5th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill

6th

Clause 19, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, Clause 23, Schedule 1, Clause 4, Clauses 24 and 25, Schedule 2, Clauses 26 to 36, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 37 and 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 and 40, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded)

5.00 p.m.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies of the resolution are available in the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that may be reached during an afternoon sitting.Clause 1 Consultation with Board