I beg to move amendment No. 8, in
clause 2, page 2, line 9, leave out '''but''' and insert '''or''.'
Clause 2 will alter section 25(2) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, which says:
''Objectives under this section may relate to matters to which objectives under section 24 also relate, or to other matters''—
and this is the bit that the Government seek to delete:
''but in any event shall be so framed as to be consistent with the objectives under that section.''
I have no doubt that in due course the Minister will tell us why it is necessary to delete that phrase. I do not want to comment on that yet; I would rather hear the Minister's justification for it. I may then wish to comment on the reasons that she gives. For the moment, however, I will leave that question, because it is a matter for a stand part debate.
I am concerned about the issue, and I tabled the amendment because, as I said in passing during the debate on clause 1, I have constitutional objections to
giving Secretaries of State a free hand. My amendment would remove more words than the Government would wish to see removed; it would remove ''or to other matters'', so that subsection (2) would read:
''Objectives under this section may relate to matters to which objectives under section 24 also relate''.
If I could understand that I would probably agree with it. However, I am not sure whether I could get my mind round that; it is either too early or too late in the day. I always wonder about a Bill that says that something may happen and certain things may be done. I have a suspicious mind, and I want to know why, having once said, ''The Government may do this,'' someone can tag on ''or anything else'' as the fancy takes them? That is exactly what the words ''or to other matters'' mean in this context. Why is it necessary to say, ''You may consider this,'' and then add ''or anything else''? That is a strange way to legislate; it owes more to the dictatorial nature of the Government, to which I objected during the debate on the programme motion.
What are the other matters? What have the Government got hidden behind the covers of the file? What are they up to that they do not want to list? If they are not ashamed of what the other matters might be, let them include them in the Bill so that we can know what may be considered. I am always nervous when I see that the Secretary of State may include anything else that he feels like including. That is not democratic Government, it does not provide accountability to Parliament and I do not believe that such wording should be included in any legislation.
We have clarified the wording and I am pleased that we have done so, because now we can debate the issue. We will not support the amendment because it would restrict the board's ability to set its policing objectives in line with the matters covered by the Secretary of State's long-term objectives under section 24 of the 2000 Act. As the Secretary of State's objectives are intended to be very high-level, it would seem inappropriate to fetter the board's independence as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Under the clause, the board would be obliged to take account of the Secretary of State's long-term objectives. However, the board has not simply kept its own policies and objectives consistent with those of the Secretary of State; it has already established itself as a dedicated and professional organisation with the capacity to operate on a genuinely cross-community basis and in a mature and sensible manner. We believe that in order for the board to provide for full accountability for policing in Northern Ireland, it is right that it should have sufficient latitude to set its own objectives without being constrained by the Secretary of State or by some future devolved Minister of Justice. That would be underpinned by the requirement to consult and seek to achieve agreement.
The change proposed in the Bill is important in recognising the board's independence. That goes back to the debate on clause 1 and the status of the board. I was pleased to see that that change was endorsed by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The
amendment would limit the board's ability to develop its work, so it is unnecessary.
I welcome the change to the clause. It ensures that the Policing Board must take account of the Secretary of State's long-term policing objectives in framing its own, rather than just incorporate decisions made by the Secretary of State. The essential difference is that Patten recommended strongly that the Secretary of State set long-term objectives and principles and the board set objectives and priorities for policing over a three to five-year period. It is only right that the board should be able to do that without being required to take those objectives and priorities from a set of principles drawn up a Secretary of State, which far outruns the writ for the period that they have to cover.
At Weston Park, the Government agreed to amend the Act so that the Northern Ireland Policing Board would take account of the Secretary of State's objectives when setting its own. I fully agree with that because it gives the board greater autonomy. I make no apologies for seeking greater autonomy for the board with regard to that matter and many others. Such a provision also secures compliance with Patten, who, as I said, clearly recommended that the board should set its objectives and priorities for policing over a three to five-year period, taking account of any longer-term objectives or principles set by the Secretary of State.
I do not anticipate great divergence from objectives or principles as the years proceed, but I can foresee circumstances in which matters that had been addressed in the long term might need adjustment by the board according to its three to five-year term for planning and objectives, requiring a divergence from the long-term objectives or principles set by the Secretary of State. That may never happen, but in the interests of the status, and, indeed, the potency of the board, it should have the power to carry out its Patten remit in the manner stated in the clause, which I welcome.
I apologise to the Minister in advance if she has already covered the point that I am about to raise. If she has, I am sure that she will interrupt me and I shall sit down. Section 25(2) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has alluded, states:
''Objectives under this section may relate to matters to which objectives under section 24 also relate, or to other matters, but in any event shall be so framed as to be consistent with the objectives under that section.''
As I understand it, the Minister wants to amend the section so as to delete the words from ''but'' to the end. I ask myself the question that perhaps the Minister would address: let us suppose that the members of the board—whose names I look forward to seeing later today—following the proceedings of the Committee, see that they are no longer required to pursue objectives consistent with those under section 24 of the 2000 Act.
Is there a possibility that the Secretary of State, who has a duty to consider long-term objectives, and the board, which has a duty to consider objectives, may diverge in the objectives that each seeks to reach? If so,
I welcome the Minister's view. It seems possible that by deleting the words from section 25(2) as she seeks to do, she could introduce, perhaps unwittingly, a divergence between the objectives, which could damage the stability of policing in Northern Ireland.
Jane Kennedy rose—
Mr. Wilshire rose—
Is the hon. Gentleman trying to intervene before I have opened my mouth, or was he trying to catch the Chairman's eye?
I seek the leave of the Committee to respond to the valid question asked by the hon. Member for Wycombe. He was right to use the terms that he did to describe what we have done. The value of the change that we are proposing is the recognition of the board's independence. We do not expect that that would mean wholesale changes on the ground. Both the Secretary of State and the board will continue to have the interests of policing in Northern Ireland at their hearts, and both will have an interest in determining a sensible direction to achieve that. The Secretary of State's objectives are aimed at the longer term, while the board's objectives are more medium term—over three to five years. In reality, the objectives will continue to be consistent with each other, and if that is the case, so much the better. It is important for that to happen because both the Secretary of State and the board conclude that that arrangement is more appropriate than making one subservient to the other by statute. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
I would not envisage divergence. However, it is possible to contemplate a situation in which the board considers its short and medium-term role and responsibility and, given its responsibilities for managing budgets and the estate of the Police Service, it might determine objectives that it wishes to discuss with the Secretary of State because they might be perceived to diverge. That is all underpinned by the need to achieve agreement between the Secretary of State, the board and the Chief Constable—the tripartite arrangement—in the interests of good policing in Northern Ireland, which we discussed in our earlier debate.
I have worked for a long time on the Texas principle of politics: if one tables sufficient amendments or asks sufficient questions, oil will pop out of one of the holes that has been drilled. On this occasion, something has emerged that I had not anticipated when I tabled the amendment: I have heard things that give rise to serious worries. The hon. Member for Newry and South Armagh said that the
provision is what Patten was all about. I was not very keen on that to start with, and I am even less keen on it if this provision is what will happen.
After all these years of friendship with the hon. Gentleman, I had hoped that he might get the name of my constituency right sometimes.
I do try, but I get confused because the name keeps changing. The hon. Gentleman and I go back a long way, although I would not want to bore the Committee with some of the things that we get up to on the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. I shall do my level best, and I consider myself told off; it will not be the last time that I get told off during the Committee. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
When the Minister responded to what I said about my amendment after I said that I would be interested to hear why the Government wanted to delete the words, I received a reply about both my amendment and the clause. Would it be appropriate, therefore, to deal with such matters now and not have a stand part debate, or would you prefer the two issues to be debated separately, Mr. Benton?
It might be as well to restrict ourselves to the amendment for the time being. As things stand, I am not disposed to take same the action as I did on clause 1. This is a matter for the hon. Gentleman, but if at the end of the debate on the amendment I consider that the clause has been fully discussed, we shall forgo a separate discussion on it. We shall see what happens as we approach the clause stand part debate.
That advice is very helpful, Mr. Benton—but it leaves the choice with me. I will opt to comment only on my amendment, concerning the words ''or to other matters''. My principle of drilling holes to produce something worth debating is designed to find out the Government's intentions in clause 2, and if we can have a separate discussion on that, it will not become confused with my amendment.
The Minister did not give a clear explanation why the phrase ''or to other matters'' was relevant. The argument was about giving the board more power, but that is not the same issue to which I referred. I was talking about giving the Secretary of State, the board or anyone else the power to do something, and then tagging words to the effect of ''or it can do what it likes''; the other issues that I want to consider can be taken in conjunction with the clause. The hon. Lady heard what I said, but declined to give me a satisfactory explanation. That comes as no surprise, but as I got up early and am in a reasonable mood, I shall not press the amendment to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
What concerned me about the Minister's sentiments in the previous debate was that we have now reached the point at which the board will have established itself and could realistically be
allowed to do more. That raises two questions. The board may be good and developing well, but it is possible that in the future the whole thing could get out of hand, but by then it will be able to do what it wants if clause 2 remains in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. At some stage, the board may not be not as good as the previous board. However, the Secretary of State, too, may not be as good as previous Secretaries of State. Surely there are sufficient checks and balances in the Bill to ensure that in either of those cases, the policing objectives would be protected. The hon. Gentleman should consider that when he talks about a board deteriorating. It is not necessarily the case that all Secretaries of State show great wisdom when they arrive.
Absolutely not. Otherwise, however, for once I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Under clause 2 the Secretary of State will lay down long-term objectives that must be followed by the board. However, the Government are seeking our agreement that the board need not follow the long-term objectives of the Secretary of State. The clause will remove the words:
''but in any event shall be so framed as to be consistent with the objectives under that section.''
Are we really saying that a United Kingdom Minister will set the overall objectives for policing part of the state, but that those objectives can then be disregarded? If so, why does the Surrey police authority not have the same power to disregard the objectives of the Home Secretary? I do not know why we in the United Kingdom should allow a police authority, or a board—call it what you like—in one part of the kingdom to overrule the Secretary of State of the duly elected Government of this country, when an authority in another part of the kingdom cannot. In a United Kingdom, that would be a dangerous route to go down.
I hoped for a moment that the hon. Gentleman was asking a rhetorical question—but he makes a valid point. In the immortal words of a former leader of his party, we are not the same as Finchley. What is happening to policing in Northern Ireland is not the same as what is happening in England and Wales, for one reason: there has been broad agreement that responsibility for policing and justice will, in effect, be devolved at some point to the new Administration in Northern Ireland. As a result, it is almost inevitable that legislation will be written with one eye on that eventuality. That is why Northern Ireland is different, and why it is necessary to ensure that the board has the status to make decisions that reflect the needs of Northern Ireland, rather than insisting on the technicalities that the hon. Gentleman mentions concerning the relationship between the Secretary of State and the Policing Board.
It grieves me to have to disagree fundamentally with the hon. Gentleman twice in one debate, but he is wrong. I accept his argument that if there is a devolved arrangement within the United Kingdom, it is perfectly proper to devolve whatever Parliament decides to devolve. However, if there were to be devolution to England—I would love to debate
that, but I have little doubt that you would stop me very rapidly if I did, Mr. Benton—and there were a debate about devolving justice to an English Parliament, I do not believe that the decisions on the objectives to be considered in England would be devolved to the Surrey police authority. They would be devolved to a Home Secretary or other Justice Minister in the Parliament of England.
The hon. Gentleman's argument is that because we are dealing with a devolved jurisdiction, the power should be devolved to the Policing Board. I do not think so. If there is to be a devolved arrangement that includes a Justice Minister in Northern Ireland—I would have profound reservations about that, but it is a matter for an entirely separate debate—power should be devolved to the Justice Minister, who would set the objectives in the place of the Secretary of State. In that case, my argument about the wrongness of the clause would still stand, because the clause would allow the board to ignore the objectives of the Justice Minister. The Minister shakes her head. I will willingly give way if she wants to tell me why I am wrong; I am getting used to that this morning.
That takes us on to the issue of what ''take account of'' means. I am concerned that we are deleting the words
''but in any event shall be so framed as to be consistent with the objectives''.
Whether we take account of something elsewhere is not the same as being ''consistent with''. The clause says that the objectives of the board, whether it is answerable to a Secretary of State in Whitehall or a Justice Minister in Stormont, will no longer have to be consistent with those of the Government of the country. That strikes me as fundamentally wrong.
I listened to what the Minister said earlier, which is why I queried whether she was replying on the subject of the amendment or the clause, and I believe that she has made a confused argument about the objectives. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh raised the correct issue in the previous debate: the clash between objectives and priorities. I hope that the Minister is saying that the board will have more freedom and flexibility to choose between the overriding priorities and principles in order to achieve the overarching long-term objectives of policing in Northern Ireland, because the members of the board are local people with the greatest knowledge, and they will know what to prioritise.
If that is the argument, I agree with it. It is right that a Government in the centre should set the objectives. The hon. Gentleman and I will never agree on the future of the United Kingdom.
That is a matter that we have discussed at great length on many occasions and it is
not appropriate for Committee. We will see whether we can strike an agreement on Northern Ireland versus the Republic at lunchtime.
The United Kingdom is a sovereign state, and as such its overall policing objectives should be a unitary matter: they need to be set whether they be for Surrey, for parts of Scotland, for Wales or for Northern Ireland. I am opposed to the notion that there is a police board authority in part of the United Kingdom that is entitled to disregard the long-term objectives of the Government of the day. That is fundamentally wrong.
It undermines the nature of a sovereign state to have different ways of policing in different parts of the country. There may be different priorities, different techniques and different responses to different circumstances, but not an ability to disregard the long-term objectives of the Government of the day. That is wrong.
Is that what the Government are trying to achieve? The Minister has shaken her head, and I hope to show that that is not the approach. Are the Government saying that, now that the board has established itself and shown itself to be doing a good job of work, acting responsibly in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, we must give it more flexibility, in the same way that the Surrey police authority has the flexibility to say that the situation in Surrey is not the same as in Manchester, and therefore their priorities will be different. If that is the case, the Government have my support. However, that is not what the clause provides.
If the clause were to say that in future the Policing Board will be freer to select and prioritise the matters on which it will focus, I would be happy to support it. I am not happy to support a clause that says that a police board in part of the United Kingdom can disregard the long-term objectives of the Government.
The difficulty is that the original section 25 of the 2000 Act had amendments made to it that changed things slightly. There is a considerable underlying problem in working out the exact relationship between the Secretary of State and his successor in the event of devolution and the Policing Board.
There are problems in treating the Patten report as holy writ. If we read the report, we get little guidance on this matter. It might be helpful to hon. Members to reconsider what the report said. Paragraph 6.4 reads:
''We believe that the complicated provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 as to the respective roles of the Secretary of State, the Police Authority and the Chief Constable in setting objectives, performance targets and policy plans, can and should be greatly simplified. In essence we believe that the Secretary of State (or successor after responsibility for policing is devolved) should be able to set long-term governmental objectives or principles; the Policing Board should set medium-term objectives and priorities; and the police should develop the short-term tactical plans for delivering those objectives.''
Paragraph 6.5 says:
''Accordingly we recommend that the Policing Board should set objectives and priorities for policing over a 3 to 5 year period, taking account of any longer term objectives or principles set by the Secretary of State or successor. It should then be responsible for adopting a 3 to 5 year strategy, prepared by the Chief Constable
through a process of discussion with the Board, which should reflect the objectives and priorities set by the Board.''
That recommendation begins with the word ''accordingly''. It purports to encapsulate paragraph 6.4, which contains a series of bold propositions—for example, that the Secretary of State should ''set long-term objectives'' and that
''the Policing Board should set medium-term objectives''.
The problem arises about what should be the precise relationship between long and medium-term objectives. Paragraph 6.4 implies nothing; it says that the Secretary of State should set the long-term objectives. If one is to follow Patten's holy writ, we must ensure that the legislation is framed in such a way that the Secretary of State or his successor should set the long-term objectives. Those should not be set by anyone else, nor should they be subverted by anyone else.
We come to crux of the problem. How is one to be consistent with Patten in protecting the role of the Secretary of State and his successors with regard to long-term objectives while still allowing the Policing Board the power to set the medium-term objectives? In paragraph 6.5 the words ''taking account'' are used, but if those words are to be applied properly in the light of what is said at paragraph 6.4, medium-term plans should incorporate and be consistent with the proposals that it contains. That may happen in practice under the revised wording and, if it does, it would be consistent with the letter, and perhaps the spirit, of Patten.
The right hon. Gentleman is drawing conclusions from Patten and arguing immaculately, as far as I can tell. However, would he not accept that Patten was written, informed—even inspired—as a projection of what policing in Northern Ireland might look like on the far side of a completed peace process? Would he agree with me that we are not there?
I have no difficulty in agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, although I am not sure that his comments bear much on the argument about which he was so complimentary. I am not sure that I can recover the thread that I had before the intervention—that is one of the perils of this sort of debate.
Patten is clear that long-term objectives are a matter for the Secretary of State, or his successor in the event of devolution. To be consistent with Patten one must ensure that the Secretary of State or his successor sets long-term objectives, that those are observed and that they are not subverted by short or medium-term measures adopted either by the Chief Constable or the Policing Board. The question is, ''What is the best formula?'' It is true that paragraph 6.5 uses the words ''take account'', but those must be read in the light of paragraph 6.4. In the light of paragraph 6.4, the terminology that is used in the 2000 Act can be fairly described as an honest, honourable attempt to give effect to all of the provisions in Patten.
words ''be consistent with'', and if it is amended, those who subsequently interpret the legislation will say that by deliberately striking out ''consistent'' and producing a lower standard, Parliament intended to create a situation in which there was no need to be consistent with long-term objectives. Consequently, although the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and his party might have thought that the amendment was designed to be more consistent with Patten, it will not achieve that. The original terminology was closer to Patten than the terminology that we will have. There is a world of difference between simply following something formally and thinking a matter through.
Is the answer not that argued by the right hon. Gentleman about the first group of amendments? He said that ''consult'' meant genuine, bona fide consultation. He then said that inserting the words
''consult with a view to obtaining its agreement''
was only a semantic difference. The same applies to ''take account'', which means to take account in a genuine, bona fide way. That is not exactly equivalent to taking account so that one is absolutely consistent, but the phrase has a great deal of substance.
I take the serious point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman. If we had used the term ''take account'' from the outset, there would be a strong argument in the terms that he used. My worry is that removing ''consistent'' from legislation and inserting other terminology is likely to be interpreted by future members of the Policing Board, and even the courts, as indicative of Parliament's deliberate intention to move away from the element of consistency. That opens up rather dangerous territory. The argument shows that although some distinctions may be semantic, there might be consequences—perhaps unintentional consequences—of the semantic games that people are playing. That is why several of the Bill's provisions are ill advised because they will get us into the danger to which I referred.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite knowledgeable about the semantics of all this, but will he contribute to the knowledge of the rest of us and tell us what he, as a lawyer, sees as the substantive difference between ''taking account of'' and ''having regard to''? I do not want to prolong the debate on semantics but as he is seeing everything through semantic-tinted glasses, I would have thought that he would oblige us with definitions.
I am not quite sure when ''having regard to'' entered our discussions. We are on a spectrum or continuum with regard to the weight attached to these matters, which is what my point relates to. We must examine the issue against the background of the clear statement in paragraph 6.4 of the Patten report, which is that
''the Secretary of State . . . should be able to set long-term governmental objectives or principles''.
In order to be consistent with Patten, the legislation must be framed so that the Secretary of State—no one
else—sets long-term objectives, and other people must operate in the context of those objectives.
I do not want to be a pest, but it would be a great help to many members of the Committee if the right hon. Gentleman would address the substantive legislative or legal difference between ''taking account of'' and ''having regard to'' in terms of semantics.
The distinction that I am drawing is framed as to be consistent with the objective in the phrases that are being deleted from section 25 of the 2000 Act. I am worried because the terms will disappear under the Bill, and that disappearance could undermine paragraph 6.4. That is the whole point. The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on it for a moment.
When I asked the Minister about the implication of the removal of the words
''but in any event shall be so framed as to be consistent with the objectives under that section'',
to which the right hon. Member for Upper Bann referred, I received an interesting answer. However, I am worried about it because the hon. Lady said that there was a clear difference between long-term and medium-term objectives in policing. She suspected that there would not be a divergence of the sort that I described, but I am not entirely sure whether her answer cleared up the worries raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
Inevitably in such matters, there will be real debate about long-term objectives and what the 2000 Act calls objectives, but which are medium-term objectives. One person's view of a long-term objective can be different from the view of another person. The view of the Secretary of State may not be the same as that of all members of the board or some members of it. I am worried about the deletion of the words
''but in any event shall be so framed as to be consistent with the objectives under that section'',
because their removal will introduce a new element of uncertainty.
I do not for a moment want to go back over previous debates, because you would rightly rule me out of order, Mr. Benton, but the theme that emerged in relation to the previous clause is that elements of uncertainty are being introduced. I do not want to risk the ire of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench by suggesting that I want to force the matter to a Division, but genuine elements of uncertainty are being introduced that the Minister has not fully addressed.
This has been a useful discussion about the intention of clause 2. We must consider the changes within the overall context of the responsibilities that weigh upon the Secretary of State, the board and the Chief Constable—the tripartite relationship that we have discussed. The board's responsibilities are that it should secure the maintenance of the police in Northern Ireland and ensure that they are efficient and effective.
The 2000 Act describes the responsibilities of the police. This is one of those occasions when the Minister's reply to such a thoughtful and probing debate becomes important. As I said earlier, it is our expectation that, in reality, the objectives that are worked through by the Policing Board will continue to be consistent with the objectives developed by the Secretary of State or a justice Minister. There is such an imperative on each of the three partners within the tripartite relationship to ensure that police in Northern Ireland are efficient, effective and carry through their responsibilities.
The hon. Member for Wycombe overstated what I said. I did not say that there was a clear difference, although there are differences between the responsibilities and development of long-term, as opposed to medium-term, policies and objectives. However, it is important that the board's development of policies and practices, within the overall framework of those responsibilities, is consistent with those of a justice Minister or a Secretary of State because both agree that that should be the case, rather than because the statute requires it to be so.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann made a strong argument about the interpretation of the Patten report. It remains a fact that the board would be required to take account of the Secretary of State's long-term objectives. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North rightly said, that is a significant responsibility bearing down on the board in the development of its objectives. On that basis, we believe that the change that we are making is appropriate. It properly enhances the status of the board and allows it to operate with greater flexibility, but within the constraints appropriate to the circumstances that we envisage in Northern Ireland.
I shall try again for the last time. Will the Minister help some of us out by giving her understanding of the difference between ''taking account of'' and ''having regard to''?
We have often discussed ''taking account of'' and the nuances of that and other phrases when debating legislation. There is a significant and important difference between taking account of and being consistent with. The latter implies a requirement for the objectives that we are discussing to be much more closely in line with, and constrained by, the Secretary of State's long-term objectives. One would read into ''take account of'' that the board, in developing its objectives, must not only consult on but have in mind the Secretary of State's long-term policing objectives.
That is kind of the Minister, but it is the distinction between taking account of and having regard to that I am interested in, not taking account of and being consistent with.
I am obviously making heavy work of this. It is true that, in law, there is no distinction between the two phrases. However, it is important for the interpretation of the evolving development of policing in Northern Ireland that we take account of—I did not mean to use that phrase—how we hope that
the accountability and management of policing will develop. The changes that we propose do not go so far as to justify the concerns expressed by Committee members, and reflect the changing responsibility that we seek to place on the board in enhancing its position and role in Northern Ireland.
May I endeavour to help the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh? ''Consistent with'' is a heavier discipline than ''taking account of''. I could take something into account and partially disregard it.
Question put and agreed to.