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Standing Committee Debates
Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

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Standing Committee E

Tuesday 25 February 2003

(Morning)

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

8.55 am

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

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): On a point of order, Mr. Benton. Do you object to jackets being removed?

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

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    5.00 p.m.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): The fact that you are chairing the Committee is a matter of satisfaction,

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

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

He went on to say:

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

and that he considered that to be a discharge of

    ''Patten lock, stock and barrel.''

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

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

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

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

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

I wholly concur with that sentiment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Prepared 25 February 2003