I believe that I have got my mind around this.
I welcome back several Members, and I imagine that this sitting will last slightly longer than one or two previous ones. I am remarkably relieved that there were no entries in the weekend press about who said what about being got out of bed of a morning. I am grateful to have escaped that. Those who were not here should read the Official Report of the previous sitting, which is enlightening.
On a more serious note, I am grateful for the Government's assurance that they will not use the Committee to introduce anything that is not immediately relevant to the Bill. True to their word, they have made no attempt to do so, and it would be churlish not to say that I appreciate that. That is what they said and that is what has happened, but there are discussions about a possible two days of consideration on Report. I wonder why we need two days on Report to discuss matters that we have not covered in Committee.
I am full of alarm at what is being contemplated, and I repeat that the Bill should not be used at any stage to address new issues that may have arisen from recent discussions. It is entirely proper that further changes to the Police Service of Northern Ireland should be made under new legislation, so that both Houses of Parliament can give them the fullest possible
scrutiny. We should not find that little bits have been tagged on to a Bill that has almost completed its progress through the House.
I have not discussed the matter with the Minister, so to say that I have not been reassured would imply that I might have been misled. Suffice it to say that I had a preliminary chat through the usual channels. I did not discuss the matter with the Minister one way or the other, and I hope that that puts the record straight. I genuinely do not know what might happen. I have merely noticed that there is the possibility of two days' consideration on Report.
I know the Bill fairly well by now, and I have my doubts about whether those two days would be used to allow us to examine its technicalities. If the Government are contemplating what I fear they are contemplating, the official Opposition oppose that way of doing things. That is not to say that we oppose or support what the Government might want to do, because we do not know what they might want to do. I merely observe that we object to that way of doing things.
The first group of amendments, particularly amendment No. 117, is difficult to speak to without having a wider debate on the clause. To ask questions about the details, we need to know what fixed-term appointments the Chief Constable would be allowed to make, what they would involve, why they are necessary, what the terms would be and who would be involved—all stand part matters. They are relevant to the amendments, but I shall leave them as stand part issues until the Government have explained what they are trying to do.
Amendment No. 117 would change the term of the appointment from three years to five. From my experience of appointing people on fixed-term contracts in local government, I have a clear view that three years is too little to secure the quality of person and commitment required. Making an appointment for a three-year stint—the clause makes it clear that a constable cannot be involved—means that the person in question is unlikely to be starting out on a career. That person will already have a job and be asked to give it up for three years.
Someone above the rank of constable is likely to have a pensionable job, a family and a mortgage, so is he likely to risk losing all that for the sake of a three-year appointment? Perhaps someone near to retirement age could do the job as an extension to a working life, but the clause excludes senior officers, so we are talking about middle management. We are unlikely to secure the quality of person necessary by offering a job for three years.
The amendment would extend the job to five years, although I can understand people wondering whether five years is any different from three. I admit to proposing five years to tease out for how long the job will be available. I suspect that going much beyond five or six years would take the job to near permanency, and the value of having someone who is going to leave at a specified point becomes less
relevant if the period is to extend to the distant future. I acknowledge that it is possible to go too far, but the amendment is designed to tease out the Government's intentions and to establish whether only three years is justified and whether a fixed-term contract should apply in this example.
Amendment No. 118 allows me to get on one of my hobby-horses. Proposed new section 36A(4) states:
''The Secretary of State may by order make such modifications as he considers necessary or expedient to any provision of the 1998 Act or this Act in its application to persons appointed under subsection (1).''
What is the point of drafting and debating legislation when we end up with a provision stating that what the law says, what was said in debates or what assurances were given do not matter because the Secretary of State can tear it all up, ignore it and do exactly as he pleases? That amounts to government not through the democratic process of Parliament, but by diktat.
If it is necessary to have a provision on fixed-term appointments that sets out how long they can be and that the person appointed cannot be a constable or a senior officer and cannot do this, that or the other, we should debate it and agree to the proposal through the democratic process. As I have said in other Standing Committees, I object to the sweeping powers of the jackboot dictatorship of a Secretary of State who can do exactly as he pleases despite what Parliament has decided and pay scant regard to any assurances given by the Government of the day to Parliament.
I object to such provisions in any legislation, no matter who is in government. Parliament should be supreme. If the Secretary of State finds that the Government have made a mistake in their provisions and the arrangements they have made, let him come back to Parliament and say, ''I am sorry. We got it wrong. Please may we have permission to change this?'' He should not disregard everything that Parliament has said and the Government should not do as they please, which is what the amendment would prevent.
Amendment No. 119 is consequential on amendment No. 118. If we say that the Secretary of State cannot do those jackboot, dictatorship things, there is no point in having a clause that says that he must consult others before he does them. The amendment provides that the Secretary of State would have to tell the board and the Police Association what he intends to do before he tramples all over them with his jackboots, although there will be no need for that if parliamentary democracy prevails.
We should give serious thought to amendment No. 117 when we have heard what the Minister has to say. Amendments Nos. 118 and 119 would uphold the status of Parliament against ever-encroaching Government dictatorship.
What a pleasure it is to return to the calm and peace of a Standing Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton, after the turmoil and
excitement of last Monday and Tuesday, and, to judge from comments made earlier, Thursday, too.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) asked about our intentions on Report. The discussions are still ongoing, and I do not know whether there has been a final agreement through the usual channels. It would be dishonest to duck the issue altogether, so I flag it up that we may consider new matters on Report. I am happy to discuss that in greater detail with the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) at a more private moment.
As the hon. Member for Spelthorne said, the amendments would extend from three years to five the fixed-term period available to the Chief Constable to make appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It might help if I set the proposal in context. The British and Irish Governments signed an intergovernmental agreement on policing co-operation in April 2002 in which we committed ourselves, among other things, to introducing the necessary administrative and legislative measures to enable secondments from one police service to the other for periods not exceeding three years.
The three-year period was agreed by the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the chief commissioner of the Garda Síochana as the appropriate maximum for an officer to be seconded to the other police service. The hon. Member for Spelthorne made a strong point in arguing persuasively that, in his experience, which I accept, three years does not get the best out of a secondee in these circumstances. However, in the context that we are discussing the proposal, we should remember that secondees will return to their parent police service at the end of their secondment and retain the terms and conditions of their parent service during that period. In the discussions on whether three years is appropriate, it became clear that secondments from GB services to the PSNI that may already take place under the Police Act 1996 are generally of a similar, three-year duration or shorter. They do not tend to be longer.
Given that the three-year period specified in clause 19 will give effect to the intergovernmental commitment made by the Government on the professional advice of the Chief Constable, it would not be appropriate to extend the period to five years. I therefore invite the hon. Member for Spelthorne not to press his amendment.
The hon. Gentleman, in proposing amendments Nos. 118 and 119, railed against the Government's provisions, as we did in opposition. Taken together, the amendments would remove the order-making power in proposed new section 36A(4). It should be remembered that, before making an order under the powers, the Secretary of State would be required to consult the Policing Board and the Police Association.
I emphasise that we expect to make little recourse to the provision and that we are likely to make only a few modest modifications, whether wearing jackboots or not. However, there are issues still to be resolved, which may require modifications to the relevant legislation. For example, we might want to allow Garda officers to be represented by members of their
association—the Garda Representative Association—in any disciplinary hearings in which they are involved. That might require an amendment to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998.
There may be other issues that have not yet come to light or that might arise if the provision is used to facilitate fixed-term secondments from other police services. We therefore believe that it is prudent to ensure that we can make the necessary provision to facilitate sensible arrangements. Clause 19 requires the Secretary of State to consult the board and the Police Association before making any such provisions, and I assure Members that we would take careful note of the results of such consultations. I therefore invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
That was riveting, but unhelpful. It grieves me to have to be difficult with the Minister, but I shall discuss the amendments further.
I do not know whether it was a Freudian slip, but when the Minister referred to amendments Nos. 118 and 119, she said that she had railed against such issues in opposition. Consistency should be a virtue in politicians, but unfortunately it is not. I am unconvinced by her argument if her only defence against my amendments is to say that such provisions are acceptable now that she is in government, even though she agreed with my view when in opposition.
One reason why I languished on my party's Back Benches for 13 years was that I was consistent and used to complain about such things when on the Government side in Committee. There are those who would prefer me to be on the Back Benches now, but I would talk even more if I were, so perhaps I am safer where I am. If people believe such provisions to be wrong in opposition, they remain wrong and should not be adopted later for the sake of expediency.
The other argument that the Minister advanced, apart from saying, ''Now we have changed sides, we have changed our minds,'' was that we should not pursue amendments Nos. 118 and 119 as there might be things that have not yet been thought of. That is not a good approach to legislating. If such matters have not been thought through, why is the Bill before us?
I assumed that all sensible, possible thought had been given to the provisions when the Bill was drawn up. [Interruption.] Another reason why I may have been on the Back Benches for so long was that I worked on the assumption that the great and the good did those things sensibly and properly. However, I have discovered this morning that the approach is, ''We'll put a Bill together and shove it out. If it's not right, we'll come back again and sort it out.'' What an extraordinary way to try to run a country.
We should not be legislating if there are unresolved issues, because legislation should resolve them or give effect to agreements. If we are considering a situation in which a member of the Garda may or may not want representation, I should have thought that those matters would have to be cleared up before we even approached the question of seconding someone from the Northern Ireland police service to service in the Republic, or the other way round, rather than saying, ''Let's try this and see what we need later.'' That is an
extraordinary situation. To make those two discoveries having tabled the amendment is enlightening.
I have another point to make on amendment No. 117. Clause 19 states:
''The Chief Constable may appoint a person to the Police Service of Northern Ireland''.
However, in reply to my initial queries, we were told that that means that the Chief Constable of the PSNI may appoint a member of the Garda. If that is so, why on earth does the clause not say so? If that situation arises from an agreement between two sovereign Governments on what might happen with regard to seconding police officers from one force to the other, should not the clause say that the Chief Constable may appoint on a fixed-term contract a member of the Garda Síochana? That is what I understood the Minister to say. The clause will give the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland the power to appoint anyone, but that is not, I now discover, the intention.
The Minister has invited me not to press the amendments because they are not necessary. I shall not press them, not because they are unnecessary, but because they are wrong.
In that case and if my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall remind him of something, because he has put a great deal of work, effort and study into these matters. The clause states:
''The Secretary of State may by order make such modifications as he considers . . . expedient''.
We are giving the Secretary of State the power to take action that he considers expedient. Is there a limit to that? Should this honourable House be in the business of giving a Secretary of State the power to do what he might, on waking up one morning, consider expedient?
I have a lawyer on my right saying that and a lawyer on my left whispering in my ear that such a provision is frequently used. However, that is frequently wrong. Obviously, I did not do enough homework, because I did not alight on that point. My point was about the general principle, but yes, a reference to expediency makes matters even worse. There was I thinking that it was a dictatorial, jackboot approach to politics; now we are talking about just a whim.
Yes. The Secretary of State can just get up in the morning and think, ''What shall we do today? I know. We'll alter this for the fun of it, because that is expedient. It will make me feel better.'' That is extraordinary, and I apologise for missing that point.
Perhaps my hon. Friend can enlighten me. Where subsection (1) states:
''The Chief Constable may appoint a person'',
presumably it means persons—plural—rather than a person. That is the usual form.
My hon. Friend makes a classic mistake among parliamentarians, which is apologising for not being a lawyer. As one who went straight some 15 years ago—I have not practised since; I have not touched the stuff at all—I think that it is a profound disadvantage to be a lawyer, and my hon. Friend is in a superior position, bringing to our deliberations his common sense and the views of his constituents, whom he represents so assiduously.
May I remind my hon. Friend where he was? He was responding to a point that I was making. Subsection (1) reads:
''The Chief Constable may appoint a person''.
Presumably that is not one member of the Garda, but members.
I prefaced my comments by saying that I am not a lawyer, but I certainly work on the assumption that that is the legal formula for saying that it could be a large number of people, one after the other. I would happily stand corrected if that is not the legal way of doing it.
On a point of order, Mr. Benton. Is there any way that we could seek an assurance that the public will have the widest possible access to the Hansard record of these proceedings, so that they will know how seriously the Opposition have dealt with the dangers of a jackboot Government and the protection of democracy?
That is not a point of order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all the usual outlets for Hansard and other publications are readily accessible. I am sure that anyone who wishes to acquire a copy of Hansard can do so easily.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) will ensure that it is widely circulated. These are important issues that must be considered. The more the public understand how dictatorship is gradually creeping into this place, the better. I will join him in distributing the maximum number of copies of Hansard, if he would like. I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 117, but not because the Minister has convinced me that it is unnecessary. She has persuaded me that I did not word it correctly, and I understand what she said about three and five years. If the objective is to second a serving police office from one service to the other—
I am sorry to have to keep asking my hon. Friend to give way, but these are important issues. Although he is perhaps not entirely content with the wording of the amendment, the matters that he has drawn to our attention are sufficiently important for me to ask him whether he will reassure me, if not all members of the Committee, that his revised and refined amendments will reappear on Report. I do not want these matters to be abandoned. I am prepared for him to refine them. Will he give me a reassurance about that?
My hon. Friend has the final say about what will appear on Report in the form of Opposition amendments. What he says is exactly what I have in mind. We should say that the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland should be given the power to appoint a member of the Garda Síochana on a fixed-term appointment of three years. That is what the Government say that they want. Is the appointment limited to a serving police officer from another jurisdiction coming across for a short period designed to achieve certain objectives? When he returns, will his pay, conditions and all his rights continue as though it had been uninterrupted service? If so, I can see an argument for three years, but the Bill does not say that that relates only to the Garda Síochana. Either it relates to everyone—in which case my argument that three years is too short should stand—or it is restrictive about who may be appointed.
It will be on that basis that I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I do not think that my arguments are wrong. I think that the Bill is defective, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull and I will be able to introduce an amendment on Report to change clause 19 so that the Chief Constable may appoint a person who is a serving officer in the Garda Síochana for a period of three years. If that is achieved, this debate will have been useful and important, despite our detour into the role of lawyers, because it will have helped the Government to clarify their intentions. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
These issues flow on from the previous debate. I accept that amendments No. 125 and 126 are mutually exclusive. I am trying only to prompt the Minister into a debate about why the Bill says that a constable or senior officer may not be appointed. Amendment No. 125 would leave out the word ''constable'', which would mean that the Chief Constable could appoint a constable. Amendment No. 126 would leave out the phrase ''senior officer'', which would mean that the Chief Constable could appoint a senior officer.
The clause is clearly drafted as it is for a good reason, but the explanatory notes do not give that reason, and we should consider the point before we have a stand part debate on clause 19. It seems restrictive. The overwhelming majority of officers in any police service will be constables, so the clause will rule out most of the Garda Síochana. It will also rule out senior officers. I am not trying to raise the question of lawyers again, but I imagine that there is a legal definition of ''senior officer''. I do not know what it is, and it would be helpful if the Minister told us what it was.
The hon. Gentleman may have stumbled on a point of some significance, as the Bill does not seem to contain an interpretation clause. There may be standing definitions of what constitutes a senior officer in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but they may not expressly refer to this legislation. That could be usefully sorted out on Report.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has suffered my presence on other Committees. He knows that I tend to work on the Texas principle. If one drills enough holes in Texas, oil will come out of one of them sooner or later, and if one tables enough amendments, the Liberal Democrats will agree with one sooner or later. The hon. Gentleman said that I may have ''stumbled'' across something, and I will allow him to use that word because that might be what has happened. However, I want the Minister to define the phrase ''senior officer'' either in the general context or specifically for the Bill. I have spoken for long enough for messages to flow around the Room to provide an answer.
I must ask my hon. Friend to give way, as I am looking at the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and, in particular, page 41. About two thirds of the way down the page, in section 69(1), it says that
'' 'senior officer', in relation to the police service, means an officer above the rank of superintendent''.
That is interesting, because we have reclassified some of the police grades in England. I am unsure whether they have been reclassified in Northern Ireland; for example, I do not know whether there are chief superintendents as well as superintendents in Northern Ireland. The Minister must clear up these matters.
In that case, I shall move further to my left; it is free on that side.
I am grateful for the Minister's clarification. We now know what ''above superintendent'' means, but it would be helpful if the Minister told us why constables are excluded and the reason for the decision about chief superintendents, if they exist. There must have been some discussion, and there must be some purpose behind this. Will the Minister explain the Government's thinking?
I hope to convince members of the Committee that the first amendment is undesirable and that the second is unnecessary.
The first amendment would allow the Chief Constable to make fixed-term appointments at the rank of constable. In answer to the question of the hon. Member for Spelthorne, the reason that constables have been excluded from the clause is that constables and the appointment of constables are covered by other Patten recommendations, which we will discuss in relation to the 50–50 entrance criteria. Those recommendations deal with entry to the PSNI at the rank of constable.
On secondments, we want to introduce more senior officers so that we may benefit from their experience in other police services, as Patten recommended. That is an eminently sensible objective.
The second amendment would remove from the clause the exclusion of senior officers. The hon. Gentleman for Spelthorne rightly asked for a definition of senior officers, and the hon. Member for Solihull drew our attention to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. In this context, senior officers are those at the rank of assistant chief constable and above, whose appointments are determined by the Police Board of Northern Ireland. We are talking about officers with experience and rank in other forces whom we may be able to second to the PSNI.
The Minister has a problem in that we may be anticipating the secondment to the PSNI of officers from other forces that might include the Garda Síochana from the Republic of Ireland. Inasmuch as the 2000 Act defines the appropriate ranks from a United Kingdom perspective, it is important to know the rank equivalents in the Garda Síochana. The Minister should circulate to members of the Committee the rank equivalents between the PSNI and the Garda Síochana, preferably before the end of this morning's sitting. We should know what they are
if we are to consider seconding police officers from other police forces in other countries.
I am not sure that I can provide that detail, but shall endeavour to do so. I cannot promise that we will have it before the end of this morning's sitting.
I shall try, but I do not accept that it is necessary to have that information before we can consider the proposal sensibly. The hon. Member for Solihull asked about the rank of chief superintendent. A decision was taken throughout the UK to remove the rank of chief superintendent, which was reversed. Regulations to make that reversal are due to come into effect in Northern Ireland, but the rank of chief superintendent remains.
Amendment No. 126 would extend the arrangements to the appointment of senior officers. I have sought to define what that means, so I hope that I have clarified my responses to the hon. Gentleman's questions. The Policing Board retains the responsibility and already has the power to make fixed-term appointments for senior officers, so the amendment is unnecessary and would not improve the Bill.
I rise at this stage to make a point that I originally intended to leave until we reached my own amendment, but the Minister has raised it now. When I first read the clause, I was not sure what it was for. The Minister has clarified the issue by showing that secondment from members of the Garda Síochana is permitted from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. I agree with the hon. Member for Spelthorne that it would be preferable if that were evident in the Bill. I suppose the advantage of the present phrasing is that it would enable secondment from any other UK police service. I dare say that we shall actively canvass secondments from Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well as from the Republic of Ireland.
The provision is drafted in such a way that the 50:50 rule on police recruitment will not apply to secondments. The clause exists for the purpose of facilitating secondments from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland and to exempt them from the 50:50 requirement. This represents a huge departure. As hon. Members know, I am critical of that requirement and subsequent provisions will tackle the issue.
At this stage, I want to draw the Committee's attention to the huge inconsistency on the part of the Government, which will have unbalanced consequences. The reason for the 50:50 rule is to produce a police service in Northern Ireland that genuinely reflects Northern Irish society. The Garda Síochana cannot be regarded as reflecting that society. Privileging entry for the Garda Síochana and failing to apply a rule that is designed to ensure that the police force in Northern Ireland is representative of society is profoundly unbalancing.
I approach the point with the greatest circumspection and care, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the difficulties in the north has been recruiting adequate numbers of Roman Catholics? Given that the dominant religion in the south, not to mention the Garda Síochana, is Catholic, is it not a good idea to introduce Garda Síochana recruitment into the 50:50 mechanism to sustain and nourish the Catholic numbers?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the difficulties of attracting sufficient numbers of Catholic officers to the rank of constable, and the Government might want to reflect on his idea. My point was that having a privileged form of recruitment for the senior ranks is, in itself, rather alarming. The Garda Síochana is not reflective of society in Northern Ireland, and it could even be argued that it is not reflective of society in the Republic of Ireland. Notoriously, it does not recruit many Protestants and is therefore unbalanced in its recruitment.
In Northern Ireland, we are taking great care to ensure that we have balanced recruitment and that we employ people who will pay particular respect to equality and human rights. To recruit and give privileged access to people from a police service that has none of those characteristics, recruits in an unbalanced and discriminatory way and does not have a good record of upholding human rights is a matter of great concern.
I had not anticipated where the debate might lead us. I listened with care to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), and he reminded me of some anxieties that I have had for several years. My involvement with the politics of Northern Ireland goes back a long way, and it has taken me on many occasions into the Republic. The authorities there have always been anxious that I leave the country as safe and sound as I arrived, and they have often provided me with protection from the Garda, so I have got to know many officers over time.
I can see some benefits in letting what I will call ordinary police officers, or constables, mingling with one another. I share the right hon. Gentleman's general concern about the Garda, and I will come back to that, but the Minister said that leaving out the restriction on constables would be undesirable. She did not elaborate on why, and the more I reflect on the question, the more I think that we should ensure that policing is policing as I understand it, rather than social engineering, as it is almost becoming in Northern Ireland.
We should let constables mingle with one another. My experience of constables in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as it was, and in the Garda was that despite their huge differences, they are ultimately police officers doing a similar job. We should let both sides in the equation understand that, and there would be huge benefits from letting Garda constables spend time with the police in Northern Ireland. They might begin to understand some of the problems that the right hon. Gentleman referred to, and such a move might have an effect in the Republic. I am not persuaded by the Minister simply saying that it
would be undesirable at that level. If she wanted to intervene to elaborate on what she meant, I would be happy to give way.
I explained that police constables in Northern Ireland are recruited under specific arrangements. We will discuss those arrangements in detail later this morning, so I do not want to go too far into that debate, but the Committee should bear in mind that members of An Garda Síochana may already apply to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland. If they do so, they will be subject to the 50:50 recruitment arrangements. We will debate the efficacy of those arrangements later, but that is why constables are specifically excluded from the provision.
I will not pre-empt the debate on those rules, and I can see a benefit over and above that arrangement. The Minister said that the amendment is undesirable because constables in Garda Síochana may transfer, but that sounded like a permanent transfer subject to the rules. However, the arrangement in question would be in the short term and mean that constables could visit either to help practically with numbers or to help police officers at that level understand the issues on either side of the frontier.
There could be an argument for transferring constables on a fixed-term basis, and such an arrangement would be outside the permanent transfer. We would not need to debate the 50:50 arrangements if the constable were transferred for a short-term, three-year period. I am not persuaded by the Minister's comment that the amendment is undesirable, because we could gain from having short-term secondments of constables as well as other officers. However, I guess that she is not persuaded by my argument.
On the amendment to leave out the senior officer, I probably buy the Minister's argument about it being unnecessary. However, as has been said, when we compare like for like with the two police services, we need to understand that simply considering a rank arrangement, if the Minister can provide that, does not tell us anything. My memory tells me that what we are talking about applies to the rank of inspector and above in the Republic. It may not be inspector, but we need to have it in the back of our minds that, fairly well down the chain of command in the Garda, appointments are political.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann is nodding. From memory, I think that the rank of inspector is where that situation starts. We must bear it in mind that, when transferring middle-ranking officers on a seconded basis, we are transferring people who have been appointed not by their commissioner, but by their politicians. We need to be aware of that, because it is the group of people in the middle that we are saying would be useful.
May I add some weight to the comments of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann? I want to underline the point that the reason behind the transfer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland was to create
a progressive force that reflected the needs of the north. To allow the guards to transfer men from the south, with the system that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has talked about, is, as the right hon. Gentleman said so clearly, a setback for the progressive nature of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and should be ignored if possible.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The longer I reflect on the clause, the more disturbed I become. I hope that it was only an oversight that what it really meant—transfers of the Garda—was not spelt out, and that the explanatory notes do not make one reference to the agreement, referred to by the Minister, as to why that is the case. I wonder what would have happened if we had not had this debate, although perhaps there were one or two moments when members of the Committee thought that exploring the clause was an unnecessary sideshow. The longer the debate has gone on, the more concerned I have become about what the clause is all about and what it could lead to.
As I said on the previous amendments, I am willing not to press the amendments, but only on the basis that the Committee clearly understands that this matter must be returned to on Report, with a great deal more thought and concern about what it might lead to. The Government need to be much more forthcoming about what is going on. That may be possible under a clause stand part debate, but thus far we have not even begun to scratch the surface of what the clause might unleash on us. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 90, in
clause 19, page 12, line 32, at end insert—
'(3A) The Chief Constable shall not make an appointment under this section unless he is satisfied that the person to be appointed meets the general standards for appointment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and will receive appropriate training to the same standard.'.
As I said earlier, the amendment was tabled at a time when we did not have a clear picture of what the clause was for. It seemed to me, glancing at the clause, that it would be appropriate to make reference to the need for the appointments to meet the general standard for appointments to the police and training. Obviously, someone coming from outside Northern Ireland to serve, even for a short period, with the Police Service in Northern Ireland, would need to be appropriately trained and meet the appropriate standards. Consequently, the amendment was tabled.
I thought in particular that, in terms of our law—the criminal laws and criminal procedures that apply in Northern Ireland—it was desirable for someone engaged in policing to have some familiarity with them. We are talking about people who come from a different legal system. Even though the legal system in the Republic of Ireland was founded originally on a common law system, it has operated since 1937 in the entirely different context of there being a written constitution, whose provisions have affected and pervaded that legal system and changed it in quite significant respects. Therefore, even someone coming from the Republic of Ireland, although they would
have some general familiarity with legal provisions, would not automatically be in a position to exercise police functions in Northern Ireland without some training for that purpose.
On a more general point, I am concerned about standards. I am not persuaded that the Garda Síochana operates to the same standards as the police in Northern Ireland in terms of recruitment and the other standards that are required. Its conduct does not bear comparison with the police in Northern Ireland. One has only to refer to the heavy squad that existed in the Dublin police; inquiries are starting to be made into serious criminal conduct by members of the guards about which there have been concerns over the years.
We have raised the matter of collusion between members of the guards and terrorist organisations; there is evidence that the murder of Sir Maurice and Lady Gibson was the result of collusion between a member of the Irish police and the Provisional IRA, and there are reasons to suspect that that may have been the case in other circumstances, too. We are not aware of a serious inquiry having been conducted into those matters or about any serious efforts having been made by the Irish police to maintain standards in that respect.
Anyone who has close contact with the police in Northern Ireland is aware that they have grave reservations about the standards within the Garda Síochana, and what the Minister has disclosed about the purpose of the clause reinforces one's concern about standards. There may be provision elsewhere to ensure that the appropriate standard is met, but it is a matter to which we should give further consideration.
Will the hon. Gentleman give the Committee the benefit of an observation based on his wisdom and knowledge of the relationship between a secondee from the Garda Síochana, for example, and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland? Will the police ombudsman be able to inquire into the actions of a secondee in the same way as he can into those of a straightforward recruit to the Police Service of Northern Ireland?
Having to consider the matter off the cuff, it seems to me that subsection (1) of new section 36A, which refers to a person being appointed
''to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for a fixed term'',
would have the effect that the person appointed is a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland during that fixed term, and consequently the constraints that apply to members of the PSNI will apply to them too. I imagine that any misconduct or abuse of power by such a person would be capable of investigation by the police ombudsman. However, I am more concerned about the standards, quality and training of the person on appointment. I may have missed a provision elsewhere in the measure that will catch this matter and, if so, I shall be happy to hear what the Minister has to say.
which is a useful issue for the Committee to explore. He brings a great deal to the Committee, not least the ability to say something interesting and relevant, as he did in debates on previous clauses, just as I feel the last of my will to live ebbing away.
My background is in the Scottish criminal justice system, and I know that it is difficult to deal with an alien jurisdiction without importing one's own practice and experience. I am also acutely aware that the clause deals with people who will be part of the PSNI on a secondment of up to three years. I am concerned that although they will not be seconded at senior officer level, it will still be at a fairly significant rank in terms of decision-making. Before someone is seconded to such a rank they should be given the sort of training that is at the heart of the PSNI.
The PSNI's new training course is the only one in the United Kingdom with university accreditation, partly because of the great emphasis that it places on community relations. That must be central to the operation of policing in Northern Ireland. I can see too many possibilities for people coming to a secondment with their experience and prejudices. They will dabble for three years, if I can put it like that, leaving a mess for others to clear up.
The hon. Gentleman speaks pertinently about the importance of training and the accreditation of police training in Northern Ireland. Has he ever had the opportunity to visit the police college in Northern Ireland? Does he agree with me that whereas the training may be of a high quality, the building is lamentable?
I have not yet had that opportunity, although I am well aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. The Minister is also aware of that, as the matter has been discussed on other occasion in the House of Commons. Having previously lectured and been lectured to at Tulliallan, the equivalent institution in Scotland, I wonder whether that is in the nature of police training colleges. Spartan is the kindest word that might be used to describe the facilities there.
The hon. Gentleman intervened when I was just about to conclude my remarks. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann has tabled a useful amendment. He has highlighted the points that should be considered. I should be grateful if the Minister could find some way at some stage to address those concerns.
I rise to support the amendment, bringing my dated experience to the problem, which I hope is still useful. As I have said before, I have not served with the PSNI but I have served extensively both alongside and on attachment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I have had occasion to observe the Garda Síochana's operations and have mixed with its officers frequently. The RUC, for the most part, admired the way that the guards conducted themselves on an individual basis, but still had grave reservations about them. It is worth reminding the Committee, particularly hon. Members who have not spent too much time in Northern Ireland, that most of the PSNI's work—the contentious work—is not the run-
of-the-mill style of operations in which English, Scottish or Welsh forces are normally involved. It involves the suppression and deterrence of terrorism in both the north and south of Ireland. That imposes special conditions on the force.
In my experience, it was crucial that there should be trust between the two police forces that operated both north and south of the border. Too often it was quite clear to the RUC that there was a difference in the training standards and the understanding of the techniques of policing that extremely dangerous and difficult border. The level of terrorist operations may have dropped but those areas are still patrolled by soldiers and airmen as well as policemen. In those areas, trust between the two forces was crucial. It was obvious that in matters such as vehicle checkpoints, firearms handling and the niceties of law the Garda Síochana were not up to the standards of the old RUC. That bred a reservation—although not a difficulty—between the two services. I know that the PSNI has taken great steps to improve the former operating procedures of the RUC, and has gone some way towards ameliorating the difficulties of liaison between the two services, particularly in border areas. However, to suggest that an officer from the Garda Síochana could be attached to the PSNI without a commensurate level of training, understanding of the problem and dedication to the particular task is not only risible but dangerous.
I believe the amendment to be sensible. It is worth going into further detail, and comparing the level of negligent discharges of firearms of the PSNI and the Garda Síochana. The PSNI officers have greater access to and carriage of firearms than the Garda Síochana but, man for man and weapon for weapon, the Garda let their weapons off by accident more frequently than the PSNI. If such accidents are not trained out of the system, and if the personnel being transferred from the south to the north are not up to the same standards of weapon handling, for example, that will be a significant problem. I therefore believe that the amendment makes sense and is practical.
I do not wish to doubt what the hon. Gentleman told the Committee, but I am curious about the example that he gave. Could he give more detail about the source of the information that he gave the Committee, the dates that it covered, and the implications that it has both for existing joint operations and for the subject under discussion?
In my contacts with senior members of the PSNI, they have always spoken highly of their joint contacts and operations. The hon. Gentleman raised an alarming point, so I would be interested to hear more information.
Much of what I say dates from my own time serving in Northern Ireland, and my investigations into these facts are probably no more than anecdotal. However, it was clear to me, operating alongside the RUC in the border areas, that there was a constant dribble of negligent discharges of the firearms that were at that time occasionally issued to Garda Síochana officers. The difference was that
officers of the RUC—now the PSNI—had more frequent access to firearms than did the officers of the Garda.
I am not suggesting that an officer who is seconded from one force to another cannot be trained and made proficient in such matters, but I believe that that example adds weight to the amendment. If officers are to be transferred across, they must receive a sensible and safe level of training so that they can carry out the sort of joint operations that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I support the amendment, which raises some pertinent and serious issues. In response to a previous debate, the Minister said that it was not necessary to apply the 50:50 arrangements to secondees. The more I think about that, the more I believe that the argument about applying the same standards could usefully be incorporated into this area. If the standards of the PSNI state that there must be a 50:50 provision, we should insist on the same standards for the secondees. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about recruiting people differently in different jurisdictions.
As to conduct, I have anxieties about some of the Garda, so appropriate training is crucial. Secondees should be told that they might have to undergo appropriate training to understand that the standards of policing in Northern Ireland are different—I am not saying better—from those of the Garda Síochana. We should never lose sight of the fact that the Garda Síochana, as currently constituted, is a politicised police service.
Some people argue that the RUC was also a politicised service. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann shakes his head, but I do not want to develop that argument. Many of the Patten changes were intended to ensure that it was not so politicised, and that was the great justification for Patten. We are now contemplating the transfer, for a limited period, of officers from a police service that is openly politicised, reflecting quite rightly how a sovereign state wants to run its police service. If we are to bring people in from a politicised background, we must be reassured about standards and ensure that we do not import politicisation of another sort through the back door, which then becomes the norm for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That would take us back to where we started. We have every reason to support the amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann.
As for links to terrorism, one has to accept that rotten eggs exist everywhere in every police service. It is sensible to accept that all police services have their villains. I have no doubt that individual members of the Garda in the Republic of Ireland have either turned a blind eye to, or even helped with, terrorist activities. I would not rule out the same problem with the RUC because human beings are human beings. We must, however, guard against that and believe that the overwhelming majority of police officers that I have met in the Republic of Ireland, in Northern Ireland or anywhere else hate criminal activity, whether it is done in the name of terrorism or otherwise. The
overwhelming majority are on the side of law and order.
Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the majority of police in the Republic of Ireland, and I would not want to suggest otherwise. He refers to rotten apples occurring everywhere, and we should be aware that terrorist organisations in the Republic of Ireland, in Northern Ireland and here in Britain always endeavour to penetrate the police force. That can be a major source of difficulties. In my earlier comments I said that where legitimate concerns were raised in the Republic of Ireland, we did not see the authorities respond with alacrity to investigate them and bring into the open the penetration of terrorists or the presence of rotten apples. That contrasts strongly with experience in the United Kingdom.
I wholly accept that. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We must carefully examine the operation of a police service if people are to be transferred from it into another jurisdiction. The standards of particular police services are crucial. We must recognise reality. For better or worse—I am making no judgment—officers from the Garda Síochana come from a different jurisdiction. It is a police service enforcing the laws of a sovereign state that are different from our own. They may have the same background, but they are serving police officers from a different jurisdiction. They are from a country that has a different tradition from that into which they are moving, and they are coming from a police service that has different methods of operation, standards, techniques and experience of practical policing.
All of those differences are natural; they happen throughout the world. That is no reflection on the Garda, but the officers are different. Even if they were to come for only three years, we must be assured, for the sake of the people of Northern Ireland, that the standards are comparable and that the skills available and training given will make them able to contribute to policing in Northern Ireland. That is all that is being said, and on that basis I support the right hon. Member for Upper Bann.
As has already been said, amendment No. 90 would require the Chief Constable to satisfy himself that anyone appointed under the clause meets the general standards for appointment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and that they will be trained to the same standard. I have no argument with the principle that lies behind the amendment, but it is important to remember that the clause will allow fixed-term secondments between other police services and the PSNI. [Interruption.] I stress other police services. As hon. Members will know, our main focus is to encourage secondments between An Garda Síochana and the PSNI, which has been the focus of our debate today, but the provision is not limited to that police service. It leaves the way open for secondments from other police forces, as was envisaged by the Patten recommendations.
First, what level and numbers of secondment are we talking about? Is it
50:50, and are we talking about half a dozen people or 100 people a year? Secondly, individuals can be seconded into a police force either to gain experience or to share the experience that they have. Which is it, or is it a bit of both?
On my hon. Friend's last point, it is a bit of both. On his first point, we envisage small numbers—more in handfuls than hundreds—but we see it as a two-way process. I will come on to that point later.
To avoid any doubt, I want to make it clear that provision already exists for the Chief Constable of the PSNI and for chief constables of Great Britain forces to provide police officers as cross-border aid within the United Kingdom—that is crossing the borders between different police forces. Under that arrangement, officers may be seconded to the PSNI with policing powers, so those powers already exist within the boundaries of the United Kingdom. We are talking about extending that flexibility.
Several points have been made, all of which are in keeping with the spirit of the Government's intentions. Specifically, the Patten report stated:
''We believe that any police service can benefit from the infusion of diverse talent and experience from elsewhere.''
I endorse that sentiment entirely. It is a completely sensible proposal to make.
I will come to that point in one moment, but I want to turn to the point made by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). I am grateful to him for sharing his experiences, from which he said that the vast majority of work of the PSNI was involved in the suppression of terrorism. I am not sure how long ago he last worked with the RUC in Northern Ireland, but the nature of police work in Northern Ireland is changing. There continues to be a clear focus on the suppression of terrorism. Counter-terrorist activity remains a priority, and continues to tie up the resources of the police and armed forces in Northern Ireland.
I entirely take the hon. Lady's point that things are changing, thank God, and that the PSNI has been adapted to take over from where the RUC left off. I also entirely take the point that policing is improving. However, counter-terrorism is conducted at the highest tempo. It involves police operations where the highest level of training is necessary and where the amendment would rub most and be most difficult.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise. I resist the description that policing in Northern Ireland is improving; it is changing. Policing, and its focus on counter-terrorism, has always been effective and has been carried out to very high standards.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the suppression of terrorism—the main point of the debate. It is worth placing on record the sincere and profound debt of gratitude that we owe An Garda Síochana for its success, especially against dissident republicans. Recent successes and arrests on both sides of the border have largely been the result of the close co-operation between the two police forces and their detailed work in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Co-operation with An Garda Síochana can only enhance the effectiveness of the police and benefit the people of Northern Ireland. It is worth bearing in mind that any officer who joins the PSNI under the clause will be attested as a constable in the PSNI. That means that they will swear to act with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality. They will also work to the code of ethics published by the board on 13 February. Copies are available on the Table for members of the Committee. Officers who join the PSNI will be under the direction and control of the Chief Constable.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann referred to the prospect of officers coming to work in Northern Ireland from other forces; he referred to Canadian, American and possibly Australian forces. I believe that that would further enhance the experience and skills available to the PSNI, but it is also worth noting that police officers in the former RUC—now the PSNI—are highly regarded throughout the world. Indeed, the PSNI has loaned them specifically for their skills and experience. Their experience of working with the armed forces, for example, is unique. We loaned up to 60 police officers from the PSNI to help with the establishment of a new police force in Kosovo. Their experience of working with the armed forces in the environment in which, sadly, they have worked for so long in Northern Ireland, was found to be invaluable.
It is also worth noting that Assistant Chief Constable Stephen White was loaned, possibly through the United Nations, to assist Indonesia in its development of its policing structures. Police officers in Northern Ireland are highly regarded, although sadly not always at home.
Yes, the PSNI has an oath and, as I said, any officer who came to work with the PSNI would be bound by the terms of that oath and would be required to attest to it.
Hon. Members rightly raised the question of training and standards. The clause provides for secondments to be made via a fixed-term appointment, so that anyone seconded under the clause may exercise police powers. That is important. They will not just give advice, but will work as a police officer. That will make the secondment of even greater benefit, to both the secondee and the PSNI. The clause does not allow for the permanent appointment of police officers to the PSNI. We are not talking about lateral entry, the term that has sometimes been used in
debate. Therefore, it is not necessarily appropriate to set the criteria for these short-term appointments as though they were permanent posts.
It is important, however, to remember that all candidates for appointment under the clause will be experienced police officers, of at least the rank of sergeant, in the police services from which they come. I hope that I can provide greater clarity on the ranks specific to An Garda Síochana before the end of today's consideration. The officers will already have met the standards for appointment to their own police services and have gained at least one promotion.
It is for the two police services concerned to decide on the selection procedures that they want to adopt and the necessary training. I can assure hon. Members that provision for both will be set out in a protocol to be drawn up between the PSNI and whichever other police service is involved. In the first instance, I would expect that to be An Garda Síochana.
Moreover, I have been assured that the PSNI is committed to giving all officers the training necessary to equip them to carry out their duties safely and effectively. I hope that that deals with the point made by the hon. Member for Newark about the discharge of weapons.
For each officer seconded to the PSNI under this provision, there will be a thorough training needs analysis to determine what training they require. We must also remember that some secondees will be coming as experts in a particular field and will need more tailored training. However, training will certainly include human rights issues; familiarisation with the new code of ethics and equal opportunities legislation; information on the role of the police ombudsman, which might impact on secondees' work; and training in the Northern Ireland legal system and relevant legislation. Where necessary, there will also be firearms and driving training. The Chief Constable will not put officers in a position where they are ill equipped to undertake the tasks required of them.
Given that explanation and the assurance that we have given this matter detailed thought, I invite the Committee to accept the Government's position that the amendment does not need to be written into the Bill, and that the relevant matters will be set out in protocols between the two police forces. The amendment is unnecessary, although I am grateful for the debate that it has provoked.
I am very interested in the Minister's latter comments, especially about arrangements for each officer to receive a training needs analysis and for training to be given on specific matters where appropriate. Of course, that is the language of the amendment, which talks about
''appropriate training to the same standard''.
That qualification was included because one appreciated that the persons coming may well already have received training and would come for a limited period and for limited purposes. General training would not be applicable, but specific aspects would need to be considered. There are considerations
particular to Northern Ireland, which the Minister mentioned.
All the matters that the Minister mentioned in her latter comments would be covered by the amendment, but she says that it is not necessary in the Bill and that these matters will be in an agreed protocol. However, we legislate to give legal effect to the basic provisions under which we operate, so that everyone can be assured that these matters will not be decided on a capricious basis and that the law will apply.
The amendment would give legal effect to the provisions, which are desirable and of a general nature. The amendment is also of a general nature and sets out matters in broad terms, and there is no reason why the Minister should resist it. It simply provides a legal basis for what the PSNI proposes to do.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The amendment also gives reassurance to the public that these important matters will be attended to, because if they are not contained in law there can be no guarantee that the sensible arrangements that the Minister described, which will be included in the protocol, will be observed in future. It is appropriate for people to have the assurance that standards will be maintained. I am puzzled that the Minister will not accept the amendment; perhaps it has an imperfection that has not yet been mentioned to explain why she is resisting it, but I am at a loss to know what it is.
I will not press the amendment to a Division as I want to reflect upon it, refine it and return to the matter if I am not too distracted by other events and activities. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
I was deeply impressed by the presentation of amendment No. 90 by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, who has now left the Committee Room, and I hope that the Minister will reflect on it. If the holders of office are to enjoy the respect of the legislature, they must show that they are capable of reflecting, changing their minds, listening to valuable and persuasive argument and acting upon it. I ask the Minister before consideration on Report to reflect on the amendment, which is worthy of her best attention.
I shall be brief, as we have considered the details of the proposal.
I urge the Government to reflect on the issues raised during this sitting and to ask themselves whether clause 19 needs an addition to make it clear that it is
about seconding people within police services. At present, that is not clear, as the Committee's debates have reflected. Debates on the clause could have been shorter if there had been more clarity in the Bill or the explanatory notes. I ask the Government to bear in mind that people will go back to the Bill after it has been enacted, and to make its intentions crystal clear.
We have not considered elsewhere the issue of secondment out of the PSNI, as that may have been out of order, but we should consider it if the reasons why it is a good idea to second in from the Garda Síochana to the PSNI are valid. I would not dissent in principle from any of them. We have not, however, given due attention to a problem this morning, probably because it would have fallen too obviously out of order, but we must insist that the secondment is a two-way process. Otherwise, it will raise suspicions in some sections of the community about what is really happening and whether a foreign police service is being introduced into Northern Ireland with the intention of making it similar to that which exists in the Irish Republic, which would have a counter-productive effect.
The Government may like to reflect—I certainly will—on whether a further amendment to limit the number of secondees coming in to the number going out might be appropriate on Report. The clause still requires clarification, but that is not enough to justify opposing it. A further amendment might help make the Bill as a whole more acceptable to the overwhelming majority of people, rather than to one section of society, in Northern Ireland. I look forward to hearing the Government's views on a two-way process.
I shall not go over the justification for the clause, which has already been covered in earlier debates. It might help the Committee to note that An Garda Síochana has the same ranks as the PSNI with the exception of chief inspector. It has taken me two years to work out the ranks of the PSNI. If hon. Members feel that a diagrammatic explanation would be helpful, it should not be too difficult to provide it.
With that prompting, I shall see what I can do before the close of today's proceedings.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann has confirmed that he intends to return to the issue on Report, so it would be an unwise Minister who failed to take note and reflect on what was said in the debate to establish whether it is reasonable. I certainly undertake to do so.
Finally, arrangements between the two forces will be reciprocal. I understand that the Irish Government will shortly introduce legislation to enable
secondments to be made in the same terms for An Garda Síochana as for the PSNI.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.