Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.25 am

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 5.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Cranston, Ross Cunningham, Tony Irranca-Davies, Huw Joyce, Mr. Eric Kennedy, Jane McIsaac, Shona
Mallon, Mr. Seamus Merron, Gillian Murphy, Mr. Denis Öpik, Lembit Smith, Angela

NOES
Goodman, Mr. Paul Mercer, Patrick Taylor, Mr. John
Trimble, Mr. David Wilshire, Mr. David

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

    That—

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

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

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

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

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

    TABLE

    Sitting Proceedings

    Time for conclusion of proceedings

    1st

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

    2nd

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

    5.00 p.m.

    3rd

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

    4th

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

    5.00 p.m.

    5th

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

    6th

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

    5.00 p.m.

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

Clause 1

Consultation with Board

Mr. Taylor: I beg to move amendment No. 51, in

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

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

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

No. 5, in

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

No. 1, in

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

No. 3, in

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

    'with a view to obtaining the support of'.

No. 53, in

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

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

No. 4, in

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

    '(aa) the First Minister;'.

No. 54, in

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

No. 55, in

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

No. 6, in

    clause 1, page 1, line 18, leave out

    'with a view to obtaining'

    and insert 'and obtain'.

No. 7, in

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

    '(aa) the First Minister;'.

No. 9, in

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

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

No. 21, in

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.30 am

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

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

—I quote with emphasis—

    ''a view to reaching agreement''

.

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

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

 
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Prepared 25 February 2003