|Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]
Mr. Taylor: I broadly support the Minister in resisting the amendment, but I urge her to reflect on a general rule of evidence. If a document were to be placed before the board, it would be difficult to fillet it and place part, and not the entirety, at the disposal of the board. The general rule of evidence is that if part of a document is an issue, the whole document is. In that respect, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne. I think that, indirectly, I am supporting the Minister too. If there is both extraneous and dangerous material in a document, will the Chief Constable be put in the invidious position of having to place before the board part, not all, of the document?
Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I know that what he mentions is a concern, and we will debate the issue in greater detail later today.
The objective is to allow the board to receive documents without having to use the more formal
Column Number: 85powers that are included elsewhere in the Bill. I believe that the clause, as it stands, is fair and measured.
Mr. Mallon: I wonder whether I understood the Minister correctly, and whether she said that, under the clause, ''information'' is not exclusively non-written information and that documentation can be made available at the decision of the Chief Constable. Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Spelthorne, should not the board expect more than to be given information that may not be complete? I would like the Minister's view on that, because it almost implies that the board is only good enough to get whatever information someone else decides to give it.
Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and indeed the hon. Member for Spelthorne raised the question of independent verification of information. However, hon. Members are talking about a much more adversarial context than that in which the clause would work. We are talking not about circumstances where the board requests the information for the purposes of a report or inquiry; but about information provided for the ordinary, day-to-day business of the Policing Board.
If the board believed that the Chief Constable had not provided the information it asked for, whether deliberately or otherwise, it could challenge him on that point, and the matter could go to law. The sort of arguments that the hon. Member for Solihull raised might then be relevant, but I do not think that that would arise. The clause would give the board a statutory relationship with the Chief Constable in the event of the board requesting information from him in order to allow it to conduct its everyday business without having to resort to the stronger measures that would be available when conducting a report or inquiry.
It is worth telling the Committee that the clause originally required the Chief Constable to supply whatever information was ''reasonably'' required by the board. I know that we frequently debate in Committee whether the word ''reasonably'' should be used. In another place, the Government accepted a Liberal Democrat amendment to remove ''reasonably''. The clause, as it stands, is adequate without my hon. Friend's amendment. The information described in the clause is sufficient to meet the board's worries.
Mr. Taylor rose—
Jane Kennedy: I was just about to finish.
Mr. Taylor: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way, especially because she was bringing her well-reasoned response to a conclusion. Will the hon. Lady reflect that the word ''reasonable'' and the concept of reasonableness is well rooted in the law of England and Wales, at least—I have some trepidation about wondering how the word might apply in Northern Ireland? Reasonableness is a long-established concept, as is the character known as the reasonable man, who presumably personifies reasonableness and thinks in a reasonable way.
Column Number: 86When the question ''Who is the reasonable man'' was put to the test by the English law, the answer from learned authority was that he is the man on the Clapham omnibus. I do not know who is on the Clapham omnibus today, but people on Clapham omnibuses are reasonable. The concept of reasonableness is known in English law. The Minister should not be shy of, or try to sidestep, reasonableness. It can be well used, even though the Liberal Democrats removed the word in another place.
Jane Kennedy: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said. He is right that reasonableness means taking all relevant considerations into account, and it is a well-established concept in directing statutory powers properly. As I said, the Government believe that the clause strikes the right balance between establishing the board's general right of access to information and ensuring that there is proper protection of sensitive information, which we shall debate shortly. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
Mr. Wilshire: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. Before the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) winds up, may I point out that the Minister's response to points made by the hon. Gentleman and myself went beyond the amendment and included comments about the clause? I want to talk about the clause itself, but I deliberately confined my remarks to the amendment. Will you give us guidance on whether there will be a stand part debate or whether I must make more points now?
The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman has served on Committees under my chairmanship for long enough to know that I take a relaxed view on such matters. It is in order and quite proper for hon. Members to debate issues that arise from a clause in the right context. It is up to the Chair to keep the Committee in order, and if I decide that something is out of order, I shall say so. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that I shall assess at the end of the debate whether matters arising from the clause have been fully and satisfactorily debated. If I deem that they have, there will be no stand part debate. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise other issues, I am sure that he will find the opportunity to do so.
Mr. Mallon: I have listened with interest, especially to the definition of reasonable persons, although I find it hard to go along with the notion that reasonableness belongs to one type of person. There is a floating feeling in the Committee that reasonable people will be found everywhere but on the Policing Board. That worries me somewhat because we are hearing of obsessions about what the terrible people on the board might do if they were able to wring information out of the Chief Constable or the policing system. I do not believe that. My view is that the Policing Board is working well, that it will work well in future and that it will contain reasonable people, although they will have political views and they will come from political parties.
Mr. Campbell: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his view of reasonableness in the present context may be one thing, but that the context might be different in the next few weeks and months? What if
Column Number: 87members of the Policing Board were far from reasonable, being engaged in terror and spying and assisting FARC guerrillas in Columbia? Would he then be prepared to use the term ''reasonableness''?
Mr. Mallon: There is validity in the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and it is not the first time that he has made it. I can answer only in the broadest terms. Some of us would consider certain people in the political process as unreasonable. We would not want to go to tea with them, but that does not affect the right of a person or a political party to pursue their objectives by political means. The thesis of the new political dispensation in policing and, indeed, in every other way is that we are moving away from those days, from those points of view and from those activities.
I did not want to do this, and I will try to be as gentle as possible: if I were, perhaps, to apply the Clapham omnibus definition of reasonableness to people in the hon. Gentleman's party, who at times strutted on stages with red berets and were associated with those who had guns hidden throughout the north of Ireland, he might ask me to test the reasonableness of representatives from his party becoming members of the board. I am trying to resist doing that.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): May I draw out the hon. Gentleman on what I think is a possible, but unsaid, element of his argument? Under the proposal that is contained in his amendment, does he think that the reasonable majority on the board might prevent an unreasonable minority, to which the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) referred, from asking for any documents that might be inappropriate? He has not said that and I would be interested to know what are his views.
The Chairman: Order. Before we proceed, I think that any reasonable man might construe that the hon. Member for Spelthorne is correct in saying that the debate has now ranged rather more widely than the amendment. I am happy with that, but I have to advise the Committee that is unlikely that there will be a stand part debate.
Mr. Mallon: Thank you for that advice, Mr. Gale. There is no mathematical or definitive answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. I tried to make a point, and I made it reluctantly. I think that it is unreasonable for people who claim to be a part of the political process to stand on stages in Belfast wearing red berets as part of a rally organised by something known as Ulster Resistance. However, such people are part of the Policing Board. I refer, of course, to members of the party of the hon. Member for East Londonderry's, who are Members of Parliament, and I regard that as unreasonable. I also regard it as unreasonable to be a member of an organisation that is using guns. That applies to other political parties. I believe that it is unreasonable for people to have associations with unreasonable groupings in our society for their own political reasons.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2003||Prepared 27 February 2003|