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Baroness Harris of Richmond : I rise to support Amendment No. 209 tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and to which my name among others is added. I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 211 and 217 which stand in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, has eloquently expressed our concerns about the provision in Clause 58(5)(b) which would give the Secretary of State a veto over any inquiry called by the board. Clause 58(5)(b) is a catch-all clause, which would effectively allow the Secretary of State to object to an inquiry on any grounds whatever. It is not just belt and braces; it is double belt and braces. Have the Government so little confidence in the board, which the Bill sets up, that they think that the board would establish an inquiry which would serve no useful purpose whatever? How else can one read this provision? What credibility would the police board
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I may be able to shorten the debate. The Government have listened to concerns that the balance may have been too far in the direction of safeguards. They have made a number of changes as a result. In relation to Amendment No. 209, which was spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, we are persuaded to make a further change by accepting his amendment. The Government believe that the balance struck by the Bill once that amendment has been made will be right. It removes paragraph (b) from Clause 58(5).
Perhaps I may speak to Amendments Nos. 211 and 217. Clause 58(9) suggests that the Government do not trust the board to appoint a suitably credible and independent figure to conduct an inquiry relating to an issue outside the remit of the ombudsman, the Comptroller and Auditor-General or Her Majesty's Inspectorate. That again is a poor show of confidence in the board.
Board members will need to be ready to compromise and achieve an apolitical approach, a subject about which we have heard a good deal this afternoon. That is what happens in England and Wales where we have both political and non-political members of police authorities. If the board cannot do that, it will achieve nothing.
On Monday we heard a good deal about the Patten report and the Government's keenness to implement the recommendations. A number of times it seemed to me that the Government's version of the Patten report differed from that published. On the point raised by Amendment No. 211, Patten stated that,
I turn to Amendment No. 217. All that I have said before is completely irrelevant if the Board cannot initiate an inquiry because it does not have any money. As we all know, money talks. The financial provisions which we have already discussed mean that the board is wholly dependent for money on the grant made to it by the Secretary of State. The board can howl to the moon, but if it has no money to pay for an inquiry, it simply will not happen. This is really critical. Patten recommended that the board should be able to call for inquiries where appropriate, except where there was an issue of national security, personnel matters or matters which are sub judice. The Bill already excludes such circumstances by virtue of Clause 58(3) and (5). The Government have said that the Bill will implement the Patten report and that the board's functions will be effectively neutered if it cannot call for an inquiry. I ask the Committee to support the amendments.
Lord Glentoran: Much as I enjoy the straight logic of the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell--I enjoy the way he takes us so clearly through them--and much as I respect the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for her expertise in this field, I am afraid that my rather cynical and, it may be argued, slightly less logical mind, tainted by years of living in Northern Ireland, understands very well why Amendment No. 209 should not be accepted, why paragraph (b) should remain in subsection (5), and why I should oppose Amendments Nos. 216 and 217.
As I understand the position, subsection (5)(b) was inserted into the Bill to give the Secretary of State the power to stop what might loosely be termed "politically motivated" board members raking over history by demanding inquiries into events such as--dare I say it?--Bloody Sunday and so on. If subsection (5)(b) is removed, there is no mechanism to stop a police board instigating inquiries into events long before its appointment and the setting up of the new police force. To allow that, and not to be in a position to stop it were that necessary, would be wrong.
The provision to which Amendments Nos. 216 and 217 refer is necessary to impose a financial discipline on the board and on the Chief Constable. When they prepare their budget for the year, they should allow a certain amount, which they probably will not get right in the first or second years, for the instigation of these inquiries. That will act as a discipline to stop a police board setting up inquiries into matters that are probably less than vital and necessary for the day-to-day well-being of policing in Northern Ireland. We do not support any of the amendments, including the amendment conceded by the noble and learned Lord the Minister. We shall consider the issues again before Report and will probably come back to both of them.
Lord Hylton: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and to other noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group. Before I deal with the amendments, I should just mention that there is a misprint in the Marshalled List concerning Amendment No. 205, which is properly described by page and line but should in fact refer not to Clause 56 but to Clause 57.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It has also just been pointed out to me--I must have an out-of-date copy of the Marshalled List--that there is a misprint in that too. Having elaborated entirely on the difference between "personnel" and "personal", it has appeared in the Marshalled List as "personal".
Lord Hylton: I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord. I was just coming on to the matter of "personnel" and "personal". The point is that "personnel" is what Patten included in his report. He wrote it referring to members of the police service. Therefore, it is a narrower expression than "personal", which could refer to any member of the public. In this
Having said that, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, on having his Amendment No. 209 accepted by the Government and I should like to support as strongly as I can Amendments Nos. 211, government Amendment No. 213 and Amendments Nos. 216 and 217, which are closely connected with each other. As to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I would just comment that precommencement matters are already dealt with in government Amendment No. 214. Before an inquiry can start, it will have to have the approval of a majority of the board. That will eliminate the possibility of frivolous inquiries being initiated.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to financial discipline. I would put it to him that the board as such has a small and limited budget and therefore there will be little room within it for possibly any inquiries--certainly not for inquiries of a long and costly nature. However, such costly inquiries may be necessary and very much in the public interest. Therefore, I hope that there will be no financial provisions which would eliminate and make impossible the holding of inquiries.
Lord Laird: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 207. The amendment is intended to address a flaw in Clause 58. It has been tabled in the interests of maintaining consistency in investigatory powers with respect to time-barring. Although Clause 58(12) prevents inquiries into matters that occurred before the coming into force of "this section", it differs from the rules with regard to the ombudsman under Clause 64.
In the case of the ombudsman, there is a long stop period for which time runs from the point of the alleged conduct which forms the basis of the complaint. That is not the case with regard to Clause 58. In "X" number of years' time the board will be able to demand a report on and an inquiry into conduct that takes place the day after the clause comes into force. The amendment applies only to conduct. Therefore, it would still be possible to conduct inquiries into trends over a long period of time.
All the amendment seeks to do is to harmonise the time-bar rules for inquiries and investigations by the board and by the ombudsman into the conduct of police officers. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Minister will reflect favourably on the amendment.
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