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Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 90 to 92:

    Page 10, line 33, leave out subsection (5).

    Page 10, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) "Required rank" means a rank not less than that of chief inspector.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 20, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 21 [District policing partnership sub-groups for Belfast]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 93 and 94:

    Page 10, line 39, leave out ("Board") and insert ("district policing partnership").

    Page 10, line 40, after ("that") insert ("police").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 22 [The local policing plan]:

[Amendments Nos. 95 to 97 not moved.]

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Other community policing arrangements]:

[Amendment No. 98 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [The Secretary of State's long term policing objectives]:

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 99:

    Page 12, line 2, leave out paragraph (c).

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 99 is again concerned with the role of the ombudsman. We believe that performance targets which are included in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 are an integral part of the police planning process. They have now been

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removed from the face of the Bill and are to be included in government regulations which set out minimum requirements for the annual policing plan. Such regulations can be changed and are under the control of the Secretary of State, thereby diminishing the role of the board. Will the Minister outline the reasons why government have felt it desirable to remove from the face of the Bill the power of the policing board to set performance targets, which is an important power accorded to the police authority under the 1998 Act? What are the reasons for the change? How will such a measure enhance not only the credibility of the policing board in holding the police service to account for its performance, but, more importantly, the efficiency of that service?

The effect of Amendment No. 101 is that it removes the police ombudsman from the consultation process for the setting of both the Secretary of State's long term policing objectives and the board's policing objectives. I move the amendment in the interest of the management of the police service in which the ombudsman does not, and should not, have a role. I also move it in the interests of the independence of the office of the police ombudsman. That is an independence that might, in the public eye, be prejudiced by her proposed involvement in objective setting. The ombudsman has an important and significant role to play in dealing with complaints. She will also report to the chief constable and the board on police policies and practices arising from such complaints. Where appropriate, those reports could be taken into account by the board and the Secretary of State in the setting of objectives.

It is not necessary further to complicate the objective setting process with the involvement of a body corporate which has no role in the process and which could in the long run be to the detriment of that independent body; namely, the ombudsman. I ask the Minister to take that amendment particularly seriously.

There are a number of other amendments concerning the role of the board. Turning to Amendment No. 103, the statutory base for local policing plans is welcomed. However, it is felt that a wider approach should be taken in terms of those to be consulted about the plans. That would ensure that, where a district council fails to set up a DPP and the policing board makes alternative arrangements, that group would be consulted. Perhaps the Minister would consider inserting at the end of this subsection the words,

    "and any other bodies established pursuant to section 23(2)",

in order to ensure a more inclusive approach.

Perhaps I may say a little more on Amendment No. 103. The police authority for Northern Ireland is currently charged with producing an annual policing plan for Northern Ireland. That is an important function. The plan, produced on the basis of widespread community consultation, sets out the full range of annual policing priorities, objectives and associated targets. It is the plan against which police performance is measured at the end of the year.

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The setting of performance targets is an integral part of, and a vital tool in, this process. Current Northern Ireland legislation replaces GB provisions. The legislative provision for the policing plan process in GB, referred to as local policing plans, is contained in the Police Act 1996. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 introduced the process into Northern Ireland and mirrors the GB provisions. Under the legislation that power is transferred to the Secretary of State who can prescribe the contents of the policing plan in regulations.

The contents of the board's policing plan are, and should be, determined by the expectations of the community and what it wants from its police service. The authority historically consults widely with the public in order to determine the contents of the plan. Removal of that power and its transmission to the Secretary of State will lessen the board's involvement in the planning process. The redefinition of the board's role in the planning process is, in our opinion, at the expense of both the planning process and the community in Northern Ireland.

If one thought about the process logically one should ask how the Secretary of State is able to ascertain what the community would like to see included in the plan in order to regulate its contents. Perhaps the Minister will say why he thinks that power should more appropriately sit with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will also say why he thinks such a measure would enhance the credibility of the policing board in holding the police service to account for its performance, and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of that service.

Amendment No. 107 is linked to Amendment No. 105. Current Northern Ireland legislation replicates GB provisions, and changes to those as contained in the Bill will reduce the role of the policing board and enhance that of the Secretary of State in comparison to the situation in Great Britain. I beg to move.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 104 and 107. Part IV of the Bill, which deals with policing objectives and plans, goes right to the substance of whether we put in place a police board which can effectively hold the chief constable to account on behalf of the community. Our amendments are essential if the policing board is to be able to do the job that it is purportedly set up to do. Amendment No. 104 is almost identical to Amendment No. 103 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will take note of the strength and unity of opinion on the Opposition Benches on this point.

The board must have the power to set targets both for those objectives laid down by the Secretary of State and for the local objectives which the board itself sets; otherwise, how else will it ensure that the community of Northern Ireland has an effective police service committed to improving its performance? Amendment No. 107, which is equally important in

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my view, seeks to ensure that the Bill clearly states the broad contents of the policing plan. Amendments Nos. 105 and 106, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also seek to achieve a similar end. However, Amendment No. 107 replicates the position elsewhere in Great Britain and reinstates the existing provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. It works extremely well in Great Britain and to my knowledge has worked well in Northern Ireland, too, over the past couple of years. The wording is sufficiently flexible to enable everything that needs to be in the plan to be included. I really do not understand why the Secretary of State has chosen to depart from that position.

I note that Amendment No. 108 brought forward by the Government seeks to specify on the face of the Bill that the policing plan must contain information about the education and training of police staff. While I support the principle of including such information, I cannot understand why that is to be specified but the rest of the plan's contents are to be left to regulations. I have seen a draft of the regulations prepared by the Government. They cover much the same ground as is covered by my amendment with the addition of best value requirements, which we shall discuss a little later on. If that is the case and the Secretary of State is not seeking to do more than that, why can this not be included in the primary legislation?

I am slightly mystified. It was my understanding that the purpose of the Bill is to implement the Patten report and to regularise as far as possible the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. Reserving to the Secretary of State powers which he does not need does not achieve that purpose. I urge the Committee to support my amendments.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: I do not know whether it was deliberate on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that, in introducing this group of amendments, he spoke unattributably to my Amendment No. 102, and, if I may say so, made out a very persuasive case for it. I can only say that I am grateful to him.

I can now be very brief. Perhaps I may spend a few moments repeating the noble Lord's question. Section 15 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 empowers the present police authority to set performance targets. The police authority has made it clear that it regards that power as an important one. To my knowledge, there is nothing in the Patten report to suggest that the commission did not wish to see a similar power vested in the board. We may be told, not for the first time, that the amendment is unnecessary because it is obviously the intention that the power should be continued. If that is the case, would it not be wise for the power to be made clear in the Bill? Perhaps I may say on this occasion to my noble and learned friend that it really is not obvious.

Clearly it is intended that performance indicators shall be put in place for the board. Clause 28 addresses that and the power is in the Bill. However, if no equivalent provision is made in respect of the board's

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power to set targets for the police service, then it might be thought that the omission was deliberate and that it was not to be given that power.

If, on the other hand, it is deliberate and the power to set performance targets for the police service is to be discontinued, then no doubt my noble and learned friend will explain the thinking that lies behind that decision.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: Perhaps I may suggest that it is not easy to compare the make-up and, therefore, the probable behaviour, of this police board and police boards in the United Kingdom. United Kingdom police boards have no political agenda. It seems to me that it will be necessary to retain powers for the Secretary of State precisely to correct that. We could see a situation in which the performance plan is delayed or faces difficulties and the entire work of the police is complicated by political arguments between members of the board. I should like to know how that will be dealt with.

I support entirely the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and my noble friend Lord Glentoran in their words on government Amendment No. 108. Again, I am anxious that this could allow the board to intervene in issues such as shortening the length of service in the Special Branch to only one or two years. Although there may appear to be grounds for doing that, in fact, it is impossible to recruit a valuable source and then run him or her unless a long period of relationship building and trust between the officer concerned and the source is allowed to develop. Such details may be crucial to the effectiveness of the police service, but may be taken to be within the rights and purlieu of the board and the authority. That gives me cause for concern.

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