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Lord Rogan: I,too, wish to speak to Amendment No. 223. Its effect would enable the board to have sufficient information to adequately carry out the functions ascribed to it in Clause 3 of the Bill, in particular subsection (3)(c)(i).

The board must,

It is my contention that pure statistical information for which the legislation provides between the ombudsman and the board, would not enable it to fulfil those obligations. While one could live in hope that the ombudsman would be generous in the supply of other information, as is common practice in Great Britain, I am anxious that that should happen in reality. My concern rests on the fact that Section 61(7) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 provided for,

    "statistical or other general information",

the latter may now only be provided at the discretion of the ombudsman.

I shall be grateful for the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on how he sees the police board being able to fulfil the duties I outlined if it only has statistical information. Does he not agree that the board, in order properly to keep itself informed about the workings of the complaints and disciplinary proceedings, needs access to examine completed case files? That has certainly been the experience of the complaints monitoring committee of the current Police Authority for Northern Ireland.

Surely by not requiring the ombudsman to supply other information in effect renders the ombudsman less accountable and less transparent. I am keen to know why the legislation has been drafted so that the ombudsman is the sole determiner of what information the board will and will not need to carry out its duties effectively. I appreciate that that is how the 1998 Act was worded. But I should have thought that it makes a nonsense of openness and accountability and that this opportunity to rectify the legislation should be taken.

If this argument were to be followed through, then Clause 63 would require amendment to enable the board and the Chief Constable to determine the access

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to be afforded to the ombudsman in the exercise of her duties. For those reasons I ask the Minister to give Amendment No. 233 serious consideration.

Lord Hylton: I welcome Amendment No. 219. Mediation can be extremely helpful and there will no doubt be circumstances in which the ombudsman could and should act as the mediator.

As I corresponded and had a session with Dr Maurice Hayes prior to his report, it may be an appropriate moment to offer best wishes to the ombudsman in the discharge of her duties, when she starts. No doubt they will be tricky and complicated and I am sure that she will need and receive support.

We know that the handling of police complaints was often unsatisfactory in the sense that examination never got to the root of the problem or went sufficiently deep. We hope that that will improve in future.

I am happy to support Amendments Nos. 222 and 223, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. I want to stress the principle that the police board should be able to decide what information it needs to carry out its functions and should not be limited only to statistical records of data.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: First, I apologise to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer for answering his amendments before he moved them. I did so because Amendment No. 222A is grouped with his amendments. The point he made in response to my comments about his still unmoved amendments was that the ombudsman should have a role, and he gave the example of Drumcree. The position under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 is that there does not require to be a specific complaint before an incident is investigated. The ombudsman may call herself in to investigate police conduct. That explanation may go some way towards dealing with the noble and learned Lord's point.

The other point most touched on during our short debate was the ombudsman's position in relation to providing information, other than statistical information, to the board in relation to carrying out its functions as regards police complaints. I believe that the provision that has been made is sensible. It places a duty on the ombudsman to provide such general information which she considers should be brought to the attention of the board in connection with the police board's relevant function. The ombudsman is a public body. Someone must decide what information shall be provided because a huge range of information, other than statistical, could be provided. It must be sensible that the ombudsman is under a duty to provide the relevant information but that she shall make the decision about what will be helpful in relation to the board's performance of that function. I believe the provision to be sensible and ask Members of the Committee not to move their amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 60 [Reports by Ombudsman to Chief Constable and Board]:

[Amendments Nos. 220 to 222 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 222A:

    Page 32, line 11, at end insert--

("(2) The Ombudsman may carry out research into any matter which may be the subject of a report under subsection (1)."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 60, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 61 [Supply of information by Ombudsman to Board]:

[Amendment No. 223 not moved.]

Clause 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Time limit for complaints and references to Ombudsman]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 223A:

    Page 33, line 7, at end insert--

("(d) to the extent that the subject matter of a complaint falls within the jurisdiction of a prescribed person or body, the Ombudsman shall not investigate it."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 62, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 63 [Access by Ombudsman to information and documents]:

Lord Desai had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 224:

    Page 33, line 10, at end insert--

("(2) Any person who knowingly withholds from the Ombudsman such information and documents as she has required under subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (2) shall be liable--
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to a fine, or to both.").

Lord Archer of Sandwell : I hesitate to say "Not moved" because I may be arrogating to myself a prerogative which I do not have. My noble friend Lord Desai did not authorise me to say that, but he is not here to do so.

[Amendment No. 224 not moved.]

Clause 63 agreed to.

Clause 64 [The Commissioner]:

Lord Desai had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 225:

    Page 33, line 18, leave out from ("the") to end of line 20 and insert ("process of police reform in Northern Ireland").

Lord Archer of Sandwell: I wonder whether I might be permitted formally to move the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Desai if only because it gives me an opportunity to move my amendment which is part of the group. The list suggests that with this amendment the Committee might want to debate

25 Oct 2000 : Column 385

Amendments Nos. 225A, 226 to 229, 237, 238, 249 and 250. Arithmetically, that includes my Amendment No. 228.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): The groupings are not binding so the noble and learned Lord can perfectly well speak to his amendment without moving that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for which he does not seem to have the authority.

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 225A:

    Page 33, line 19, after ("Ireland") insert ("including, in particular, those resulting from this Act,").

The noble Baroness said: I am now in a little difficulty. As a result of considering the points which lie behind Amendment No. 225, tabled by my noble friend Lord Desai, we decided to table Amendment No. 225A, which will provide that the terms of reference of the oversight commissioner should include in particular those changes resulting from the Bill. The amendment puts it beyond doubt that the implementation of Patten's recommendations includes the changes in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend Lord Desai, when he reads Hansard, will believe that his Amendments Nos. 225 and 227 are not necessary.

Perhaps I may speak also to government Amendments Nos. 226 and 229 to Schedule 4, which also deal with the oversight commissioner. The first honours a commitment given in another place to add a provision along standard lines dealing with the removal of the commissioner if he becomes unfit or unable to discharge his functions. The second removes an erroneous reference concerning the commissioner. I shall move those amendments when we come to them.

Given that the oversight commissioner is already in place on a designate basis, it is appropriate for the provision formally creating the office to commence on Royal Assent. Government Amendments Nos. 237, 238, 249 and 250 have that effect. I shall reply to points raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer on Amendment No. 228 if he moves it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 64, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 4 [The Commissioner]:

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