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Lord Archer of Sandwell: Before my noble and learned friend passes on, in a spirit of helpfulness, would the Government be prepared to consider specific international human rights instruments, such as the United Nations code which I mentioned?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Obviously I shall consider any proposal which is made. However, at present, there is enough clarity and human rights protection in the particular provisions we have made. Therefore, we think that we have done enough on human rights in relation to that point.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 33, 34, 201 and 202. I shall deal also with Amendment No. 204, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux and others. The Patten report places great emphasis on local accountability, community policing and working in partnership with the community. The Government fully support that approach. Patten's recommendations on community consultation and involvement at local level centre on the creation of district policing partnerships. As the central accountability body, we judge it right, as the Ulster Unionist Party argued in Committee in another place, that the board should be obliged to assess public satisfaction with and the effectiveness of district policing partnerships.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 give effect to that. Amendments Nos. 201 and 202 make consequential amendments to Clause 55, which concerns the board's reporting obligations. Amendment No. 204, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and others, has much the same effect as the government amendments and I trust that he will accept that we have sought to meet the intention of his amendment.
Amendment No. 232 relates to lay visitors and inspection of custody suites, in respect of which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, made a number of important points. First, I apologise for the late tabling of this amendment. The Patten report recommended that once the holding centres in Northern Ireland are closed, responsibility for inspecting all custody and interrogation suites should rest with the policing board.
The new clause, which will be inserted after Clause 69, will meet an undertaking given to the Liberal Democrats in another place to put the board's responsibility for lay visitors' inspection of places of detention on a statutory basis. At present the responsibilities of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland in this area are non-statutory. The provision was prepared following consultation with the authority and with the chief constable.
Lay visitors are provided for the protection of detainees and clearly we hope that detainees will not refuse a visit, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggested may be a possibility. But it is their right to refuse a visit. There are no provisions as such for lay visitors in the Bill. But the board will provide a recruitment process, as is presently provided by the police authority. It advertises, holds interviews and so forth. So the process is a sensible one.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also referred to the fact that the provision was quite "rigid"; namely, that a report had to be made after each visit. From where we sit, that seems to be a sensible provision because it will ensure that the proper reports are compiled. It exists to put on a statutory basis that which happens at the moment on a non-statutory basis under the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. I hope that, having heard what I say, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will feel able to support the provision.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord and am grateful to him for giving way. I felt that the rigidity lay in the fact that the report on each visit has to cover all the matters mentioned in subsections (3)(a), (b) and (c), as I read it. That makes it quite an elaborate report. I do not mean that visits should take place and nothing be said about them at all. But small, informal visits are just as useful as ones that lead to a complete report on the adequacy of the facilities and so forth.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As I say, this provision was prepared after consultation with both the authority and the chief constable. The reports are the normal ones compiled after a visit. We felt it appropriate, if we are putting lay visitors' functions on a statutory basis, to set out what that involved.
I trust that that assures the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that the Government met the spirit of his Amendments Nos. 37 and 203 as regards inspections of custody suites. On other points in those amendments, Clause 3 already covers public order because the general functions of the police are covered in Clause 32, which includes public order. The training strategy will now appear on the face of the Bill in Clause 26.
Amendment No. 35, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, requires the board to make arrangements for obtaining the views of the public about policing. Those arrangements have already been made with the setting up of the district policing partnerships in Part III of the Bill and my amendments require the board to assess their effectiveness. We believe that that deals with the points raised in that regard.
Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I understand what he is saying in relation to DPPs. But, as I read the Bill, I would not want the DPPs to be the only part of the police board charged with testing public opinion.
The Government welcome the laudable intention behind Amendment No. 36 and believe that the police should co-operate with the public. That is why Clause 32(5) requires police officers, in so far as it is practicable, to carry out their functions in co-operation with and with the aim of securing the support of the local community. As it stands, Clause 3(3)(e) already requires the board to monitor the relationship between the police and the public.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am grateful for the explanation given by my noble and learned friend. I do not believe there is any wide gulf between us. But there may be some scope and perhaps necessity for further discussions between now and Report stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
It is vital to protect the operational independence of the chief constable in the decisions he makes. But it is clear in any society that the needs of the chief constable must be balanced with those of the community he serves. That is nowhere more apparent than in Northern Ireland for the type of policing service which this Bill seeks to create will be based on community consultation and community requirements.
The emphasis that the Government place on ensuring that the community's needs are considered is clear in their attempt to ensure that the style of policing is a community-based consensual model designed to attract widespread support and confidence from all the communities in Northern Ireland.
The basis of the model must be transparency and accountability. Therefore, in moving the amendment I urge the Government to consider how the provision contributes to the objective of the legislation. By maintaining the current arrangements whereby the police authority, and through this Bill the policing board, takes ultimate responsibility for the policing of buildings and equipment, the Government will ensure continued transparency and accountability in this important area of resource and will reflect best practice in England and Wales. Will the noble and learned Lord confirm who, if the Bill is passed in its current form, will enter into contracts on behalf of the police service? I understand that that is not within the gift of the Chief Constable. I would therefore welcome the Minister's comments.
In tabling Amendments Nos. 44 and 45, I want to emphasise the importance of the independence of the new policing board. The new body will be a key contributor to ensuring a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland. I believe that it would be given as much control as possible over its own resources, including the land on which it is sited. It is conceivable that although the initial siting of the new body will be the responsibility of government, at some time in the future the board might decide to transfer to another location. Therefore, it is crucial that in ensuring its independence it is granted the freedom to do that. It is also proper that it should not be able to acquire land compulsorily for that purpose and my amendment clearly demonstrates that.
I ask the noble and learned Lord to put beyond doubt that the board can hold and acquire land for its own purposes. Anything else would negatively impact on the independence of that body.
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