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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I have some sympathy for the amendment which was suggested in outline, if not in detail, by the police authority in its comments on the Bill as it stood. The wording of the Bill is not very satisfactory, as the noble Baroness said, in that it provides that the functions of the chief constable in this respect,
On the other hand, I am not happy with subsection (7) of the new clause, which provides for an extremely wide-ranging audit of police activity, not just in relation to finance, to which the rest of the clause refers, but operational matters of every kind. What is more, it gives statutory access to any information in the hands of the police. Bear in mind that the board will contain representatives of parties which have not decommissioned and separated themselves from violence in a full manner. It will contain people in touch with--perhaps one should describe them as such--all sections of Northern Ireland society, including some who are thoroughly against the activities of the police. They should not be in a position to demand access to information of that kind, or to audit and second-guess operational responsibilities of the Chief Constable and the members of the police force. This is not what happens in other parts of the United Kingdom. We have always been careful to separate the operational responsibility of the chief constable from other matters.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: From what the noble Baroness said, and from what I understand, operational responsibilities still remain separate. I know of chief constables in Great Britain who have quite properly refused certain information to police authorities--information which was delicate and related to police operations--and the police authorities have not insisted on demanding it. The amendment provides for "any information". The difference is that the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, as presently constituted under the Bill, will contain some people whose objectives are not the same as those of the police. That does not apply in Great Britain.
Lord Rogan: I have sympathy for the purpose of the amendment. I strongly object to the transfer of financial responsibility. That is not in line with the position of similar police authorities in Great Britain. It would be a damaging blow to the credibility of the new policing board in Northern Ireland. It goes much further than Patten's proposals. It could have an extremely damaging effect on the internal audit function. The Patten report recommended a substantial strengthening of financial credibility, including a strong audit department within the new policing board.
The accounting officer of a government department is required to make arrangements for internal audit in accordance with the requirements of the government internal audit manual. One of the primary responsibilities of an internal audit is to provide assurances to the accounting officer on the efficiency, the effectiveness and the economy of systems established to achieve the organisation's aims and objectives. If the Chief Constable in effect becomes the sub-accounting officer, he will require an internal audit service to provide this assurance to him. I support the amendment.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I understand that the Chief Constable's view has been given to the Government following consultation. The RUC's published response to Patten on page 7 says that the Chief Constable agrees to that recommendation. It would be helpful to know where the view comes from that the Chief Constable is opposed to that.
In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, it is difficult to make comparisons because of the different systems and audit arrangements that apply in Northern Ireland as opposed to England and
It is not often that the Government, in another place, enjoy the support of the Member for West Tyrone. But in opposing a similar amendment to Amendment No. 51 in Committee the Government received his support. He said that he supported Clause 12, as drafted in the Bill, because a body which is required to hold another to account or exercise oversight functions on finance should not also keep the detailed accounts.
It is important to consider that in addition Clause 12 addresses technical, but important, issues of police accounting and audit arrangements. The effect of the amendment would be to take detailed financial management of the policing service out of the hands of the Chief Constable and place it in the hands of the board.
The amendment would require the board, rather than the Chief Constable, to keep proper accounts and records but enable it to delegate its functions if it chose to do so. This is the position that was criticised by Patten. Government policy is, and has been, to place management of the policing service in the hands of the person most responsible for delivering that service; namely, the Chief Constable. It is also government policy that the police authority, and, in future, the board should be a regulator of the police service, holding it to account and ensuring community consultation. That is not to say that the authority or the board should not have powers to ensure proper financial accountability. The police authority has them and the board will have them. That is in line with what was recommended in the Patten report. Were we to accept the amendment we would be returning to a situation which Patten describes in paragraph 5.13 of his report as "seriously flawed".
The Government believe that it is important for the Chief Constable to be responsible for the detailed aspect of financial management and for the board to concentrate on strategic issues--the budget, the objectives, planning and measuring performance, securing improvements in service delivery and efficiency and holding to account. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, I would say that that holding to account is not, as she fears, holding to account to the Government, but holding to account to the board. Accordingly, I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness said. I am not entirely convinced that the Government understand the complexity of what will happen if Clause 12 is not amended. The police authority can currently audit expenditure in any area of policing activity. The Chief Constable is very happy with that situation. Therefore, the amendment at Clause 12(7) will enshrine that right in legislation. There is to be no statutory post of
I am concerned about that. I shall look carefully at what the noble Baroness said. We will almost certainly return to the issue at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Fitt: Clause 14 is one of the more controversial parts of the Bill in Northern Ireland. Clause 14 sets up district partnerships. While district partnerships will be totally acceptable to 70 or 80 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland, there are a few areas which at present are dominated by paramilitary organisations. Attention has been drawn to the fact that those who have a criminal conviction or those who have been associated with paramilitary organisations will be unacceptable to district partnerships. In Northern Ireland there are so many people who have been involved in terrorist activity but they have never been convicted. The reason that they have never been convicted is that the police were unable to bring them before the courts because they could not get evidence against them.
Everyone in the district would know that someone had been involved in terrorist activity. What would happen if that person applied to the district council to be placed on the district policing board? What form of vetting would take place? Would the district council be able to take into account what information it had that such and such a person had been involved in terrorist activity and then not allow that person to be part of the partnership? In line with what my noble and learned friend Lord Archer said earlier, would that person be able to say, "Nothing has been proved against me. My human rights are being taken away as I have not been brought before the courts"?
The Government have to be very, very careful about who may be appointed to district police partnerships. I know that my noble friend Lady Blood will seek to move an amendment on this matter which I shall support. At the moment there are liaison committees. They should be commended for what they have had to do in difficult circumstances over the past number of years. I warn the Government to be very careful about the personnel who may be appointed to district police partnerships.
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