Clause 1 - Consultation with Board

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 25th February 2003.

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Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull 9:25 am, 25th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 51, in

clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (1).

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 52, in

clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out from 'Board' to end of line 9.

No. 5, in

clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out from 'Board' to 'the' in line 9 and insert 'on'.

No. 1, in

clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out 'with a view to obtaining' and insert 'and obtain'.

No. 3, in

clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert

'with a view to obtaining the support of'.

No. 53, in

clause 1, page 1, line 12, after 'Constable', insert

'with a view to obtaining his agreement to the proposed objectives or revision'.

No. 4, in

clause 1, page 1, line 12, after 'Constable', insert—

'(aa) the First Minister;'.

No. 54, in

clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (2).

No. 55, in

clause 1, page 1, line 18, leave out from 'Board' to end of line 19.

No. 6, in

clause 1, page 1, line 18, leave out

'with a view to obtaining'

and insert 'and obtain'.

No. 7, in

clause 1, page 2, line 4, after 'Constable', insert—

'(aa) the First Minister;'.

No. 9, in

clause 2, page 2, line 11, at end add—

'(4) In subsection (3)(a) after ''Constable'', insert ''the First Minister''.'.

No. 21, in

clause 7, page 5, line 4, at end insert

'and after ''State'', insert ''the First Minister''.'.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

I shall speak in particular to the amendments that I tabled. The clause would amend sections 24 and 27 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. Currently, the Secretary of State is required to consult the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the Chief Constable and anyone else the Secretary of State deems appropriate before determining or revising

long-term policing objectives and codes of practice on the exercise and functions of the board or the Chief Constable.

Committee members may have heard me say on other occasions that in Northern Ireland legislation I look for a particular virtue, which is that, as far as possible, the law of the Province should be convergent with that of the rest of the United Kingdom. In particular, it should be in line with the law in England and Wales. It is a state of grace for the law to be convergent in the various regions of our country, because those in our society live under a special discipline, which is that the citizen is deemed to know the law. That follows on from a Roman antecedent, whereby ignorance of the law is no excuse for transgressing. It is seemly for the law to be convergent so that the citizen has the best chance of knowing the law and observing it.

It has been the practice in the jurisdiction of England and Wales—I cannot speak with authority about Scotland, but I suspect that the arrangements there are similar—that there is an equilibrium and a fine balance in what has been called the tripartite arrangement between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable and the Policing Board; in England and Wales the arrangement is between the Home Secretary, chief constables and police authorities. I have no quibble about the police authority—in Northern Ireland, that is the Policing Board. I am interested in the concept of the balance between the Secretary of State, the relevant chief constable and the appropriate police authority. That balance has been carefully sculpted and nurtured over the years. It has worked well and it has been seen to work well.

The clause shifts the balance in that tripartite equilibrium and I am concerned about it because it does no good. It is stipulated that the

''Secretary of State must consult the board with''

—I quote with emphasis—

''a view to reaching agreement''

.

The Secretary of State must still consult the Chief Constable and anyone else, but with the statutory obligation to reach agreement. In his consultation with the board the Chief Constable is fettered, under a condition and a stipulation and almost under a pre-judgment, to go into such a discussion with a view to reaching agreement. The effect of the provision is—we are sure of our ground—to enhance the status of the board vis-à-vis the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable goes to the board not as an equal and not even possessed completely and roundly of his own authority; he must go to the board as a supplicant. This we do not like. The Chief Constable is being fettered in possibly the most difficult, sensitive and dangerous policing jurisdiction in this kingdom and he must go to the board as a supplicant. That is not the traditional freedom that we have known for a Chief Constable, which consists of unfettered authority in determining policy objectives. Surely, he must consult, but now he must consult with a view to reaching agreement.

At the risk of repeating myself, we are on the threshold of making the Chief Constable a supplicant to a board; but what kind of a board is it? It is certain that it will contain politicians. Are we to make the Chief Constable a supplicant to politicians? That is a rather dangerous road. We believe that the provision would downgrade the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable before the board. We were more content with the traditional tripartite agreement. Indeed, we were well content with the 2000 Act. Indeed, we were well content with the 2000 Act. The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool, on Second Reading of the Bill that became that Act, said that he thought that it was Patten to the full, Patten to the utterance and Patten—in the vernacular—with knobs on. Why are we revisiting the matter in this way, and why do we risk disturbing the tripartite balance?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 9:30 am, 25th February 2003

The amendments tabled only in my name form two sub-groups. One convenient sub-group could be amendments Nos. 5, 1, 3 and 6, which relate to a train of thought that I shall explain in a moment. The other sub-group is amendments Nos. 4 and 7 to clause 1, amendment No. 9 to clause 2 and amendment No. 21 to clause 17. They all raise a virtually identical point, and I imagine that that is why the Clerks, in their wisdom, grouped them together.

The general points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull were correct and I shall not rehearse them again. However, it would be wrong to alter fundamentally the Chief Constable's status. We shall consider that in detail in due course. The way in which consultation with the board is structured is woolly minded. It seems that the Bill is not sure what it wants to say. It either says that there will be a process of asking people what they think and discussing that, although the power would lie with the person who starts the consultation, or that certain people will be required to agree to something. Both courses of action are technically acceptable and a logical way of doing business.

However, it is not sensible that proposed new subsection (2) in clause 1(1) says

''with a view to obtaining its agreement''.

What on earth does that mean? Does it mean that one must have the board's agreement, that one must try to get its agreement or that agreement does not matter? It is a most peculiar phrase.

Amendment No. 5 would get the Government out of the mess into which they have got themselves and might appeal to them. They might mean that we shall consult on something. If my amendment were accepted, the provision would read ''shall consult the Board'' on

''the proposed objectives or revision.''

Fine. I would have no quarrel with that; let us talk about it. If that is what the Government mean, that is what the Bill should say.

If the Government mean that the other sensible thing should happen, amendment No. 1 is suitable. I appreciate that it is a total contradiction of amendment No. 5, but I do not mind which amendment the Government choose, as long as they

choose one. Amendment No. 1 would mean that the Secretary of State should consult the board and obtain its agreement. Which is it to be: to consult on, or to obtain agreement? The phrase

''with a view to obtaining its agreement''

raises the question of what would happen if agreement were not reached. We would be at loggerheads, and we might need another Bill or to debate the matter all over again in order to clarify what the Government intend. I never know on such occasions why I try to be so helpful to a Government who I so detest, but I tabled the amendments in the spirit of saying, ''You made a mess of this, and here is a helpful suggestion from a kind Opposition Member to get you out of it.''

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am grateful to the Minister for her appreciation. Perhaps I have got it wrong if I am being appreciated this early in the proceedings.

Amendment No. 3 would rewrite subsection (2A)—

''Before determining or revising any objectives under this section, the Secretary of State shall also consult''—

by adding the words

''with a view to obtaining the support of''.

That is another way of proceeding if the first two amendments do not appeal and the Government do not want to roll over and accept one or the other.

Amendment No. 6 would mean that the Secretary of State shall consult the board and obtain its agreement rather than consulting the board

''with a view to obtaining its agreement''.

I would be grateful to hear the Minister's response on which of those she is going to accept. I hope she is not going to try to persuade us that the original wording is the ideal one. There are occasions when parliamentary draftsmen are not perfect, and this is one of those occasions when we can help them.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann has returned. Amendments Nos. 4,7,9 and 21 relate to various places in the Bill where there is a list of people who shall be consulted or consulted to obtain the agreement of. I may have missed one or two of these lists, but my argument is the same whenever one appears. The Bill says that there should be consultation with

''(a) the Chief Constable; and

(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.''

I do not know why it is worth including a specific list of people who may be consulted, if that is followed by a catch-all phrase that allows anybody to be consulted. Why not just say, ''Consult anybody''? I am always suspicious of giving Secretaries of State powers to do what they please, regardless of the nature of the Government of the day. They should do what Parliament says.

My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull made a valid point: the Chief Constable is being made subservient to politicians. That is what is happening in this process. If the Government have determined to

make the Chief Constable subservient to politicians—something to which I object—the principal politician should be listed alongside the Chief Constable. In this instance that would be the First Minister, who speaks for the majority of people of Northern Ireland.

If the Chief Constable is to be made subservient, that should be admitted to and done openly; there should be no room for doubt in anybody's mind. It is possible that the Secretary of State may not like the First Minister; the First Minister of Northern Ireland may not see things in the Province in exactly the same way as the Government. Heaven forbid that that might happen.

If we leave the Bill as it stands, the Secretary of State will be able to discuss matters with other politicians and wholly ignore the person who speaks on behalf of the majority of people in Northern Ireland. That cannot be right. If politicians are to be involved in this process, it must be made clear. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has been the Deputy First Minister: he might like to add himself to the list, or add the current Deputy First Minister. I have no objections to that.

If politicians are to be involved in this process, we must make it clear that the principal politician or politicians should be added to the list of people who must be consulted. I hope that the Government will accept this point. It will be helpful if the First Minister accepts it.

The present situation is wrong in principle. I am a pragmatist as well as many other things. Indeed, I am helpful and pragmatic this morning. I am prepared to be pragmatic when sitting on a Committee and if I can help to make the Bill less awful, I am prepared to do so.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 9:45 am, 25th February 2003

I note that this is a small, short clause, but that it has merited 13 or 14 amendments. It strains credibility to think how 13 or 14 amendments could be written into such a small clause. The broad point is that the clause is not about the Secretary of State or the Chief Constable; it is about the board and the nature of the consultations with it. In effect, the clause does absolutely what was required. It amends the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 to ensure that both the letter and the spirit of Patten are fully implemented in the role of the Policing Board and that the board is properly respected by the Secretary of State. If there be devolution in future, the relevant person would not be the Secretary of State, he or she would be a Northern Ireland politician. The responsible person is presently the Secretary of State and it is essential that if the tripartite arrangement, about which the hon. Gentleman spoke and with which I agree, is to be maintained, that must be done on the basis of respect. Unfortunately, the 2000 Act did not include Patten's requirements for the sort of consultation that meant something.

I shall say a few words about the board in terms of the new policing dispensation in the north of Ireland. I agree with the hon. Member for Solihull about the tripartite arrangement. The board will not be in the same position as police authorities in England and

Wales for a long time; it will not have the luxuries that those authorities enjoy. As much as we may envy those bodies, it will not be like them. The board will contain various people from different political parties—some will be bona fide politicians, some will be previous paramilitaries and others will be somewhere in between those two positions. The board will also have independent members, and the definition of an independent member of a Policing Board in the north of Ireland is especially difficult to define at any stage.

The board has an additional burden because it carries with it the symbolism of a new police service. To put it mildly, it is on a knife-edge every day of the week, every month of the year and, indeed, every year until the problem is resolved once and for all. It is right that both the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State—the clause refers to the Secretary of State, not the Chief Constable—deal with the board in a way that respects its position. Patten was clear that the Policing Board should have

''clearly defined and robust''

powers in relation to the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for interrupting him. He knows that I think that he is a brave man. He was present on Second Reading when the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool, said with reference to the 2000 Act that it was Patten complete; in the vernacular, he said that it was Patten with knobs on. What does the hon. Gentleman have to say about those observations of the 2000 Act?

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

It would take me some time to tell the hon. Gentleman that, and then it would not be printable. I shall answer the question as gently as I can. Had the right hon. Member for Hartlepool listened when the 2000 Act was going through its parliamentary process, we would not be in Committee today. Had he listened to advice, he would not have made such much of a mess of things. I shall go no further, except to say that we are discussing a political Bill, which is telling us that throughout its clauses. It is not Patten with nobs on. It is not Patten to create the burden that the Policing Board will have to bear in Northern Ireland.

Patten said that the board must have ''clearly defined and robust'' powers in relation to the Secretary of State. To ensure that, it was decided at Weston Park that the Secretary of State

''would consult the Board with a view to reaching agreement in setting his long term policing objectives''.

Given what the hon. Gentleman said, that is remarkable damning action to take. I shall repeat that statement to show how awful and radical it was. It was decided that the Secretary of State

''would consult the Board with a view to reaching agreement in setting his long term policing objectives''.

I see nothing bold or dramatic about such action. Surely that would be logical action for any Secretary of State to take with the Policing Board and for it to be included in the 2000 Act.

It was said at Weston Park that action would be taken to ensure that the Secretary of State would

consult the board with a view to reaching agreement on codes of ethics. Bold? Dramatic? Outlandish?

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

Given that the hon. Gentleman seems to be broadly in sympathy with me about the tripartite document, why is the Bill departing consciously from symmetry? If it were that the Secretary of State should consult the board with a ''view to reaching agreement'', that the Secretary of State should consult the Chief Constable with a ''view to reaching agreement'', that the Chief Constable should consult the board with a ''view to reaching agreement''—in fact, that every possible permutation was with a ''view to reaching agreement''—we could be relaxed about the Bill. However, why does such a singular bipolar requirement of ''with a view to reaching agreement'' elevate the board above the Chief Constable? Why cannot the requirement refer to ''with a view to reaching agreement'' all round, or be left as it was?

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

That is a valid point. Had I been a member of the board, there would have been Secretaries of State with whom it would not have been impossible to reach agreement. There have been those with whom it was impossible to reach agreement. Unfortunately, one of those Secretaries of State wrote the legislation that we are now trying to put together again. That, to me, is a fairly clear sign that the role of the board has to be protected in a way that it was not so protected under the 2000 Act.

Technically, of course, there is a difference between the long-term plan of the Secretary of State and the shorter-term, three-to-five year objectives of the board. Surely, it can only be right—this relates to the code of ethics, too—that the Secretary of State consults the board with a view to reaching agreement. I find it difficult to understand the concerns about the clause. I understand why some of the other clauses would cause difficulties. Perhaps it is just that hon. Members are full of remarkable energy and are trying to expend it on the very first clause.

Secretaries of State come and go—sometimes quite frequently. I have no comment to make about that. The same goes for Chief Constables. Policing boards will exist, irrespective of who is Secretary of State or Chief Constable. Those on the Policing Board will also be members of a community in the north of Ireland, warts and all. They, along with members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, will be the constant factor in relation to the full development of this new dispensation in policing. I believe that the clause, as rewritten and filtered through Weston Park, gives a status and respect to the board that the 2000 Act did not.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and it makes a great deal of sense, except for the fact that the members of the Policing Board will surely come and go, too. Although the board may well be a permanent fixture—we hope and trust that it will be—each member will be subject to the vagaries of appointment in the same way that the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State are. Does the hon. Gentleman's argument not fall down on that point?

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

Technically, yes, but the reality is that the continuation of the input from people in Northern Ireland who are on the board will be the constant factor. However, there will be changes; if Sinn Fein takes its place, as I expect that it will, Ulster Unionist parties will lose seats gladly given to them by Sinn Fein. Also, there will be changes after the next election, in terms of the d'Hondt system of selection. New independent faces—forgive me if I smile—will be found. What will not change is the fact that, for the first time, a cross-community group in the north of Ireland are tackling the problem of policing, and are not hamstrung by a Secretary of State or a Chief Constable. I support that position; that is what Weston Park is trying to achieve, and that is why I support the changes in the clause.

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

The clause refers to the relationship between the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Secretary of State. First, it would be appropriate to put on record that the board has been remarkably successful in its operations so far. That did not entirely accord with expectations in some quarters when the board was formed. The way that the board has operated is one of the few events in the past year or so that we can look back on with a degree of pleasure.

The amendments in the clause, which purports to amend the 2000 Act, try to tweak the relationship between the Policing Board and the Secretary of State. Those amendment are purely semantic and have no serious meaning. Great weight has been attached to the fact that under the clause the Secretary of State shall

''consult the Board with a view to obtaining its agreement''.

However, if the Secretary of State were to consult the board with no intention of obtaining agreement and paying no attention to its views, could he be said to consult it properly? I think not. The use of the term ''consult'', as opposed to ''inform'', implies that one will seriously consider the views that the person consulted will express.

As for the phrase

''with a view to obtaining its agreement''—

whose agreement will that be? The Secretary of State may consult the board with a view to obtaining agreement and if the board contumaciously refuses to agree with him, he can say that he tried to obtain its agreement. The amendments are purely semantic; they are of no practical significance.

The relationship between the board and the Secretary of State has not given rise to any such problems in the operation of the board over the course of the past year. I am not on the board, but I am not aware of any difficulty touching on the matters raised. Nor do I think that any such difficulty is likely to arise.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said that the changes suggested by the amendments are ''pure Patten''. Perhaps they are and perhaps they are not. The Patten report itself is not pure agreement. Patten himself did not observe the agreement and did not stick to its terms of reference. In considering constitutional matters, he paid no attention to the agreement. If there were to be a conflict between the

Patten report and the agreement, I know which I would prefer. On that point, unfortunately, I depart from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, who prefers the Patten report to the agreement. It may be pure Patten, but it is also pure posturing by the SDLP.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 10:00 am, 25th February 2003

It is right to look at the explanatory notes again because, for the first time, I have seen a Government stating unequivocally what the purpose of a Bill is, irrespective of disagreements about the Bill itself. Paragraph 3 of the notes says:

''The purpose of the Bill is to implement more fully the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, set out in its report 'A New Beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland' (also known as the Patten report) which was published in September 1999''.

That is the Government's stated position. The question that arises is why did the Government not take that stated position in 2000 and why do they take it now?

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

The hon. Gentleman has merely reiterated the point that, in his view—and he says, in the view of the Government—the Bill and the provision are pure Patten. I do not disagree with him. However, the Patten report is not without flaws. When the Government commission a report, it is usual for them to consider it. There are not many areas in which, having commissioned a report, the Government then take the view that they are bound entirely by it and must follow it slavishly through every jot and tittle without exercising any independent thought. That is not a responsible way for any Government to behave. It was entirely reasonable for the Government to look at the Patten report with a view to considering whether it was in agreement with the provisions within it. Any reasonable person would do that, rather than adopt an attitude that the report is to be treated as holy writ. That is not the way I would approach any report.

This may be pure Patten, but it is also pure posturing. It is an attempt by the SDLP to make it seem as though some significant change will be achieved as part of the deal that it made with the Government for participating in the board. A little bit of political manoeuvring underlies the provision for various political objectives. One knows what they are and one is not entirely out of sympathy with them. However, one occasionally gets a little impatient with the cant that goes with such manoeuvring.

Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Conservative, Wycombe

I must start by saying that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton.

A moment ago, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, in reference to new subsection (2) in clause 1(1), said that the change was purely semantic, and I am sure that he is right. Nevertheless, I have one question for the Minister so that her response can be helpful. New subsection (2) says:

''the Secretary of State shall consult the Board with a view to obtaining its agreement to the proposed objectives or revision.''

As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is impossible to imagine the Secretary of State consulting the board with any other view. However, I put a case to the

Minister. It is surely possible that a minority of members of the board, after being consulted by the Secretary of State about a proposed objective or revision, could argue that the Secretary of State's consultation was not entirely serious and that he had not wanted to obtain the board's agreement to objectives or revisions about which the Government felt strongly. Has the Minister taken legal advice on that? We know that all sorts of curious legal possibilities arise during the passage of legislation, and I wonder whether the Minister has given any thought to that.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

My hon. Friend is embarking on interesting ground. Is he speculating or envisaging that if a minority of members of the board thought that the Secretary of State had not come to it with the clear intention of obtaining agreement but with lesser intentions, the minority might judicially review the Secretary of State for want of good faith or for want of a view to obtain an agreement?

Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Conservative, Wycombe

My hon. Friend perceives my intention absolutely clearly. I shall go a step further. What would happen if not only a minority of members took that view but, for whatever reason—we cannot always be sure about what will happen in such circumstances—a majority of members of the board believed that the Secretary of State had not properly consulted the board with a

''view to obtaining its agreement to the proposed objectives or revision''?

Having said that, I suspect that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann is right to suggest that the proposed revision is purely semantic. If the change is semantic, as other Committee members have said, will the Minister explain why the Chief Constable should not also be consulted with a view to obtaining his agreement to the proposed objectives or revision?

I understand that the Secretary of State would not want to consult

''other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate''

in order to obtain their agreement because that would be excessive. However, it would be reasonable to place the Chief Constable and the board on the same level, as they are under the 2000 Act. I support my hon. Friends' amendments and I hope that the Minister will address my line of inquiry.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

On a point of order, Mr. Benton. With your approval, may I ask the Minister to provide the Committee, at a convenient stage for her and the Committee, with the names and provenance of the existing members of the board? It would be informative to know whether the members have a political mandate or whether they are independent.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that that is not a point of order for the Chair. I have no doubt that the Minister heard his request, but it is a matter for her, not for the Chair.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

Very good. Thank you, Mr. Benton.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I do not know whether you are making the trip to Cardiff on Sunday, but I

hope that our team does well and that you will enjoy the trip, if you are able to go.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We have gone immediately to the heart of the reasons why we are considering the Bill. Clause 1 appears to be relatively short and has been described as semantic. However, we cannot begin a discussion about these important issues without taking account of the wider picture in which our discussions are set.

The clause addresses the balance of the tripartite policing relationship among the Policing Board, the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State, which members of the Committee described. The clause, along with clauses 2 and 17, reflects a small but important change to the relationship. It tilts the balance slightly, but importantly, in favour of the board because it will oblige the Secretary of State, not the Chief Constable, to consult the board with a view to reaching an agreement. The Chief Constable will not be required to approach the matters as a supplicant, as was suggested.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann described the change to the current arrangements as purely semantic. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh rightly referred to the importance of the board's status in relation to the objectives that we all have, to command the support and respect of the whole community in Northern Ireland for the new policing—[Interruption.]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister. May I point out to members of the Committee that it is sometimes difficult to hear, which might be due to the acoustics in the Room? If they have to hold conversations while any hon. Member is speaking, will they please do so sotto voce?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I shall try to speak up a little as well, although it is early in the morning.

The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) asked what would happen if a minority, or even a majority, of members of the board dissented from the view that the Secretary of State had fulfilled his obligations in line with the changes proposed in the clause. The hon. Gentleman was right to assume that any such view, whether held by individuals or the board as a whole, could be challenged by judicial review. Northern Ireland and its courts are no strangers to judicial review. The courts would decide whether the accusation that the Secretary of State had not fulfilled his or her obligation was reasonable. The courts would judge whether a reasonable person could reach the conclusion that the consultation was inadequate. I will come later to some of the other points regarding our objective and our belief about the environment within which the board, the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable should work.

Both the Government and the board have a role in setting the strategic direction for policing and it is right that they should seek, wherever possible, to ensure that that direction is being framed compatibly. Neither the Secretary of State nor the board should have a veto over each other's work; they must retain responsibility

for their own objectives. The Government believe that the arrangements set out in the clause are appropriate. I was pleased to note that those arrangements were endorsed by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in its recent report on the Bill. It affirmed that the Government's position in relation to the role and the authority of the board was right.

There has been some debate about why we did not get it right in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. We genuinely believe that we did get it right and that we had interpreted Patten, although I know that there were long debates about the Government's interpretation of Patten in that respect. We accept that in implementing the 2000 Act we failed to win the support of the whole of civic society in Northern Ireland for the new beginning to policing. After the further discussions that took place at Weston Park we revised our position and we are considering the matters again today.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull 10:15 am, 25th February 2003

The Minister says that her Government thought at the time that the 2000 Act had got it right. May I remind her that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool still thinks that the Act got it right?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend made his point very clearly on Second Reading and the hon. Gentleman rightly draws that to my attention. However, I would not say that that was my Government, but a Government of which I was a member. We needed to reconsider the position that we had taken, so we made a commitment. The clause gives effect to the specific commitments that we made in the implementation plan.

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

I do not want to labour the point, but I have to say that there is a difference. Without getting into a discussion about which members of the Government thought it was right or wrong, the reality is that no one thought that the 2000 Act was compliant with Patten. That is why it was essentially wrong. The Government say that the aim of the clause is to implement Patten more fully and it is right that that should be done. However, the awfulness about it is that even on Report, when something could have been salvaged, the Government, through the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool, were doing deals outside the Door. That made it impossible for any advance to be made and it rang the death knell for the 2000 Act. Will the Minister give an assurance that from now to the end of this parliamentary stage of the Bill, whatever happens otherwise, the Government will play with a straight bat?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Government, of which I am a member, always play with a straight bat. I hear the hon. Gentleman's comment.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

Will the Minister clear up a point that has been bedevilling the Committee all morning? The right hon. Member for Hartlepool said in his much-quoted speech on Second Reading:

''The Bill has nothing whatever to do with implementing further recommendations of the Patten report.''—[Official Report, 10 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 681.]

He was wrong about that, was he not?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Let me put it this way. When I began to carry forward the Weston Park agreement, including the published implementation plan, I did so as part of a review of the new policing arrangements. The Bill is important because it allows us to consider much wider issues than those that were debated at Weston Park. Whether it is more in line with the Patten report than the previous Act needs to be considered in context: we are seeking to establish a police service in Northern Ireland that commands the respect of all members of its society.

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

I welcome the assurance that in dealing with this legislation and anything that might come forward from it the Government will play with a straight bat. Does the Minister think that the Government were playing with a straight bat on the Bill in another place? At the last moment they brought forward amendments at the behest of the SDLP on which they had not consulted with any other party.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We may come on to those issues later in Committee. I believe that we were playing with a straight bat then, that we are now, and that we will continue to do so. We are all working to achieve the same objectives. The Patten report was clear about the importance of the role of the Policing Board, and the changes to the amendments set out in clause 1 are in line with it. The Northern Ireland Policing Board is not the same as police authorities elsewhere. It works under significantly different pressures.

The clause allows for a slight adjustment in the balance of power towards the board—albeit, as the hon. Member for Solihull has said, a fine balance. It draws on the distinction that exists within the tripartite relationship. Although the roles of the board and the Secretary of State are not identical, their broad purpose is to set a strategic direction for policing within Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable on the other hand is responsible for the operational management of the police and for implementing the objectives set by the board and the Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 51, 52, 54, 55 and 5 would maintain the status quo and set at naught the Government's undertaking in the implementation plan. Amendments Nos. 3 and 53 would tilt the balance of power towards the Chief Constable in a way that is inappropriate to his role within the tripartite arrangement. The Government do not intend to foist policing objectives on the Chief Constable with no regard to his wishes or views. That is the purpose of the consultation process and I find it hard to foresee a situation in which there would be a major disagreement.

Over the past year the Policing Board has worked with the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State on a number of potentially divisive and sensitive issues, and there has been a large degree of consensus and agreement. There is a distinction between consultation with the Chief Constable, whose responsibilities are operational, and consultation with the board, which

shares responsibility with the Secretary of State for setting the strategic direction of policing. It is for this reason that it would be inappropriate to put the Chief Constable on precisely the same footing as the board in relation to the Secretary of State, as these amendments suggest.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 require the Secretary of State to obtain the agreement of the board both in relation to the policing objectives and the text of any code of practice. The hon. Member for Spelthorne asked what would happen if agreement could not be reached? The clause makes it clear that the Secretary of State retains responsibility for setting the long-term objectives. If the Secretary of State is unable to reach agreement with the Board, the final decision rests with the Secretary of State—but it is reasonable to expect that he will have tried as far as possible to reach agreement before that point is reached. As the hon. Gentleman said, that may be subject to legal tests. I would hope that that situation would not arise, but it is possible that it would.

The Government believe that amendments Nos. 1 and 6 go too far in the opposite direction. They go further than the measures envisaged by Patten and beyond what was set out in the implementation plan. They would fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State to an unhelpful degree and give the board a veto over his objectives.

As for consultation with the First Minister, amendments Nos. 4, 7, 9 and 21, in slightly different contexts, all propose a formal statutory role for him in the formulation of policing objectives and plans. It would be inappropriate to put that on a statutory basis while policing remains reserved to Westminster and is therefore the responsibility of the Secretary of State.

There is, of course, provision under sections 24 and 27 of the 2000 Act for the Secretary of State to consult

''such other persons as he thinks appropriate''

on either his long-term policing objectives or the contents of a code of practice. When they touch on matters that are within the transferred or devolved area, we would naturally expect to consult the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Similarly, as devolution of policing and justice becomes closer, we anticipate an increasing level of consultation with the devolved Administration that would naturally follow.

Finally, when responsibility for policing is devolved, responsibility for setting the long-term objectives would rest with the responsible Minister within the Northern Ireland Executive. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh rightly drew attention to the status and the respect that the board must command in its role, which is different from the way in which the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable have to command respect.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

I took my cue from the Minister's mention of ''board''. I was unsuccessful earlier when I made a point of order and was properly corrected by you, Mr. Benton. I shall try again and ask the hon. Lady if she will be good enough, possibly during this afternoon's sitting, to equip the Committee with the names and the provenance of the members of the board and say whether they will be independent or

elected members of a party. I do not insist that such information is provided this morning.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I have no problem in giving the names. In fact, such information has just been passed to me. I shall make sure that they are presented in an easily accessible form and are in the public domain. I was about to refer to the representative nature of the board membership. It may be of interest to members of the Committee to have such information.

For the moment, we do not believe that it would be appropriate to specify the First Minister as one of the statutory consultees. The hon. Member for Solihull argued that arrangements in England and Wales have worked well for years. In Northern Ireland, we are dealing with a new set of arrangements. The hon. Member for Spelthorne referred to an early start and I appreciate his helpful and pragmatic approach. However, early starts do not suit me.

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

I wish to make a point before the Minister finishes her speech. The amendment that refers to the First Minister is meant to apply to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My hon. Friend is right. I apologise for that oversight.

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

For which there is no basis in the agreement.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I shall ensure that future references take that point into account.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am struggling to find out how my being helpful and pragmatic was linked to early starts; perhaps I become more grumpy as the day goes on. Such action was not meant to be linked with early starts because I, like the Minister, object thoroughly to having to get up at this time in the morning. Perhaps I should be more grumpy when I arrive; then people may not want to come here so early.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I was, somewhat flippantly, drawing my comments to a conclusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh talked about the pleasant walk across Westminster bridge and the sight of the Palace of Westminster in the early morning sun—[Interruption.]—or rain. I took the pragmatic and helpful approach of the hon. Member for Spelthorne to be the effect of an early start.

I ask the hon. Members who tabled the amendments not to press them to a Division, as the Government do not believe that they are appropriate, and will resist amendment No. 51 if it is not withdrawn.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull 10:30 am, 25th February 2003

My colleagues and I would like to return to the matters now under discussion on Report. I believe that I am right in saying—although I am open to guidance—that if we pressed the amendment to a Division and were unsuccessful, it might prejudice a return to those subjects on Report. Accordingly, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

On a point of order, Mr. Benton. When I arrived this morning and went through the amendments, looking at some of those in my name, I found that one of the lines mentioned was not what I expected. I noted that I has been working from a version of the Bill as amended on Report in the other place; that was owing to my inefficiency. I then went to the Table, got the other version of the document, and discovered that my first group of amendments did, in fact, relate correctly to that Bill. I have no complaints about that. When I came to amendment No. 8 to clause 2, I expected to be able to open the Bill that I had just picked up and find the reference listed correctly. Unfortunately, when you call amendment No. 8, you will find that the line reference is to the other Bill, Mr. Benton. I have not had the chance to go through all the other amendments, but there is a degree of confusion in the listing and details of the blue Notice Paper. I agree that I caused in the first place, but it seems that some of my mistakes have been sorted and some have not.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to his copy of the blue Notice Paper, but we now have to work from the white amendment paper. That is where the error has occurred. There is nothing improper about the references; it is just that he has referred to the wrong copy of the document.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am most grateful for that, Mr. Benton. My good humour is wearing off, and my reasonableness is getting less as the day goes by, but I shall try not to get confused again.Clause 2 Board's policing objectives