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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I propose to raise just three questions on this issue. I want to come first to the question of the mentally ill. An increasing number of people are being arrested by the police because of the failure to deal with the mentally ill in the community. Care in the community in many parts of
As the Minister will be aware, there was a recommendation on that issue by the Royal Commission. The Government have set up a working party consisting of representatives of the police and some of the mental health organisations. I welcome that, but will the Minister say when the report will be available. I assume that it will be published in its entirety. Perhaps she could help us with that matter.
There is then the issue of the transcription of tape recordings of interviews made within a police station. When the arrangements were introduced, it was assumed by many in the police service that that responsibility would be taken on by the CPS. In fact, that has not proved to be the case. Thousands upon thousands of police hours are spent dealing with the transcription problem. It is not a sensible way of using scarce police resources. Again, there is a working party looking at the question of whether clerical staff rather than police officers can be used. That is an entirely sensible idea. When will we have the results of that working party? The problem needs to be tackled with considerable urgency. The misapplication of resources causes serious concern in the police service, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to deal with that point.
Thirdly, there is the highly sensitive issue of the stop-and-search powers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I understand that a research project is to be conducted in that area, and I welcome that. I should be interested to know who will be conducting that research. Will it be done internally by the police research group, within the Home Office, or by someone outside? When will we know the results of that research? Again, will the report be published in its entirety?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the way in which they have responded to the order. I respect the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that the purpose of today is to ensure that the order is accurate and consistent with the changes and the new Act. The noble Lord rightly makes the point that the Opposition did not agree with the Act in the first place, but that is not the purpose of today.
Perhaps I may refer to some of the points raised. First, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned breaches of the code. My understanding is that under PACE breaches could be cited in disciplinary proceedings and could even lead to evidence being ruled inadmissible in the courts. I have a feeling that the noble Lord's question went further than that and that he was asking how such breaches would be dealt with. I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to write to him, particularly on the practical issues of how breaches will be identified and dealt with.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I was right in detecting that there was rather more in the noble Lord's question than I had responded to. I shall certainly write to him on that point. I understand what the noble Lord said about the wording of the caution. In fact, I spent some time querying the very point that the noble Lord queried. All I can say is that the wording was the result of extensive consultation, especially with the senior judiciary. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the words have to balance simplicity, to enable people to understand them, and a rather complex provision. The words of the caution will be monitored, and I shall be able to report back at some later stage on just how well the caution is being understood. If it is not, it may be something to which we will have to return.
A point was made on the stop-and-search provisions. When I presented the order to the House I said that there is a requirement in Code A that the ethnic origin of those who are stopped should be recorded. Statistics will be published, and they will be monitored carefully to address any potential problems of racial bias in the use of that power.
A Home Office circular will be issued to chief police officers at an early datewell in advance of the proposed implementation dateoutlining the changes which have been made. It will provide also for revised standard formsfor example, a notice to detained persons, national search records and so forthand they are being produced in consultation with the ACPO. An important point about training was made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Training requirements of police officers are a matter for individual chief officers. Individual forces have been undertaking training since the codes were laid, and a series of articles by ACPO on the new provisions is, I understand, to be published in the Police Review.
The subject of the mentally ill was mentioned. I referred to that in my opening. The introduction of the provision for an adult to be present will be important. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked a number of questions. I am sure that I shall not refer to them all, but I shall write to him, especially with regard to the report. We have accepted the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice and have set up a working group, as the noble Lord knows. It consists of representatives from government, the police, MENCAP, MIND and NACRO to look at the whole area. It is expected that the group will issue its findings later this year. That is a matter for the group itself, but I shall keep the noble Lord informed about it.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the draft Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 deals primarily with amendments to the existing legislation relating to the operation of local government in Northern Ireland. The reasons for promoting the amendments are varied. Some will strengthen the powers and responsibilities of district councils, some will remove ambiguity from existing provisions and some will bring the legislation in Northern Ireland into line with the equivalent provisions in Great Britain.
While I do not propose to comment on each individual article, I will draw your Lordships' attention to a number of provisions. Article 3 deals with vacation of office because of non-attendance at council meetings. The existing legislation is somewhat defective in two respects. First, it is silent as to when the period of absence commences. Secondly, it is ambiguous about the types of meeting which constitute a meeting of the council. The new order now provides that the period commences from the date of the last meeting attended and clearly specifies which meetings count towards attendance.
Article 4 deals with the appointment and qualifications of council officers and proposes two changes to the existing legislation. The department is relaxing its approval role in respect of the terms and conditions of service for a clerk of a council and certain other officers. This is considered appropriate in view of the role and influence now exercised by the Local Government Staff Commission for Northern Ireland on staffing matters in councils and the existence of fair employment and equal opportunity legislation.
The department also proposes to change the procedure whereby it designates posts, qualifications and how vacancies are advertised. By being able to "determine" on these matters, rather than having to "prescribe" by regulation, the department would have at its disposal a more appropriate administrative procedure to enable it to respond quickly to councils' proposals.
Article 10 relates to entertainments licences. Northern Ireland, like Great Britain, suffers from rave parties where drugs are peddled. Local residents are caused annoyance and distress by these events, which go on late into the night or into the early hours of the morning. District councils have asked for stronger measures to combat unwanted rave parties. The current maximum penalty for breaching the licensing regulations is a £5,000 fine. This is not considered to be a sufficient deterrent to promoters of these very lucrative events. The amendment would allow the maximum penalty to be increased to a £20,000 fine and/or six months' imprisonment for certain types of offence.
Finally, Article 11 relates to street names. Under legislation made in 1949, councils in Northern Ireland may erect street nameplates only in English. In December 1992, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave a commitment to remove this prohibition so that councils could, for example, erect a nameplate in Irish in addition to the one in English. This is in line with the Government's policy of encouraging greater appreciation of cultural identity in Northern Ireland. The order gives effect to this commitment. However, before deciding to erect the second nameplate, a council must have regard to any views expressed by the occupiers of premises in the street concerned.