Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Molyneaux of Killead had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 67B:



("( ) the effectiveness of district policing partnerships in the carrying out of their functions;
( ) the level of public satisfaction with the performance of individual district policing partnerships").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, reading the two subsections, I am confirmed in my mind that today and on earlier occasions the ground has effectively been covered. If we have not made headway, we have obtained clarification and we do not propose to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 67B not moved.]

Clause 60 [Inquiry by Board following report by Chief Constable]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 67C:


    Clause 60, page 31, line 21, at end insert--


("(1A) No inquiry shall be caused under subsection (1) if it relates to the conduct of a member of the police force which took more than the prescribed period before the date on which a report under section 59 was submitted to the board.
(1B) The prescribed period shall be the prescribed period determined by the Secretary of State under section 64 of the 1998 Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the comments I made in respect of the previous amendment apply to this one. Many of the points which we have put before the House have been met. In the light of that and certain private discussions, we do not propose to move the amendment.

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1653

[Amendment No. 67C not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 68:


    Clause 60, page 32, line 15, leave out ("facts") and insert ("information").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 68, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 69. At col. 377 of the Official Report of 25th October, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who unfortunately is not in his place, queried the use of the word "facts" in Clause 60. In the light of his concerns, we have looked at the provision again and concluded that the word "information" should be substituted in its place. That is the effect of Amendments Nos. 68 and 69. They are intended to remove the connotation that an inquiry can be used to delve into the past to establish pre-commencement facts. Rather, the Government's intention in Clause 60(12) is to make it clear that an inquiry into a current matter can consider relevant information which predates the commencement of Clause 60.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and other noble Lords will accept the change and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 69:


    Clause 60, page 32, line 16, leave out ("those facts") and insert ("that information").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 70:


    Clause 60, page 32, line 26, leave out subsection (15) and insert--


("(15) The costs incurred in respect of an inquiry under this section shall be defrayed by the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, when I raised the issue in Committee I was heartened by the Minister's signal that the Government would look carefully at any requests the board made for funds to cover the cost of an inquiry. If the board has met all the other stringent criteria for initiating an inquiry, I am sure that no government would lightly refuse to meet the costs, otherwise the board would be unable to exercise the powers which the Bill confers on it.

I would welcome the Government's further assurance that they would be prepared to look at such funding requests as the need for an inquiry arises, rather than wait for the annual budget negotiations. That could significantly delay an inquiry and damage the credibility of the board. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Government have already said that they believe that resources should rest with those who use them. We shall consider carefully any request by the board for additional funding for an inquiry. The Government have shown that they are prepared to take on difficult

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1654

inquiries but they cannot give the board a blank cheque. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that short response. Nevertheless, I believe that this is an important amendment to which we may return at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 64 [Supply of information by Ombudsman to Board]:

10 p.m.

Lord Rogan moved Amendment No. 71:


    Clause 64, page 35, line 3, leave out ("as is") and insert ("or other information as might be reasonably").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, like the current police authority, the policing board will have a statutory duty to keep itself informed about the workings of the police complaints and disciplinary system. Amendment No. 71 certainly does not seek to erode the independence of the ombudsman or question the validity or integrity of the new police complaints system in Northern Ireland. The amendment is an attempt to rectify some flaws in the Bill.

The police authority currently has access to a wide range of information, including completed files on cases of complaint, in order to carry out its duty. According to Clause 64, the only information that the ombudsman must supply is statistical. There is no obligation to supply any other material--for example, completed case files. That will create an anomaly whereby Northern Ireland will be treated differently from England and Wales, where police authorities receive information from the forces that they oversee. In Northern Ireland, however, with the change in the complaints system, all police complaints will be dealt with by the police ombudsman, unlike in England and Wales, where only the more serious cases are referred to the Police Complaints Authority. The supply of information will, therefore, be at the discretion of the ombudsman.

Although it is established custom and practice in Great Britain that police authorities are provided with complaints files, I believe it is preferable if the Bill contains a requirement to provide information. If the board is to be a strong independent body in its own right, it is unhelpful if it must rely on the discretion of the ombudsman to provide the information that it needs to do its job effectively.

Furthermore, one of the statutory duties of the new board is to ensure police compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will be unable to perform that function if it is entitled to receive only statistical information about complaints. Access to a broader range of information is, therefore, required. For example, what would happen if the board requested information other than statistics and the ombudsman refused to provide it? Such a turn of events, especially if made public, would hardly help to build confidence in the transparency and accountability of policing in

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1655

Northern Ireland. For the reasons briefly outlined, I urge noble Lords to support the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, Amendment No. 71 is on a theme which was also raised in Committee. The Government said then that, looked at from the board's point of view, it appeared to be attractive. But the Government must look at the role and functions of the two bodies, both of which are independent. The use of the word "reasonably" may be an advance on what was debated in Committee. However, the amendment still puts control of general information in the hands of the board, yet it is the ombudsman whom Parliament has decided should be in control of the police complaints system, not the board. The board has a different role, one part of which is to keep itself informed of police complaints. I can assure the noble Lord that the current provisions will enable that to happen.

Patten made it clear that the ombudsman should be responsible for compiling data, and trends and patterns in complaints against the police or accumulations of complaints against individual officers and that the board should use the data it received in developing or reviewing policies and practices; hence the provision requiring the provision of statistical information. Patten did not suggest that the ombudsman should be subservient to the board and said that the ombudsman should have a dynamic co-operative relationship. This is what we expect will be the case.

The board has a different role, one part of which is to keep itself informed of police complaints. The current provision will enable this. I know of no provision in the Police Act 1996 which places a duty on the Police Complaints Authority to provide information in England and Wales. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, that I shall check that matter. If I am wrong I shall write to him.

Another important point is that the ombudsman is already required by the Bill to supply information but the decision is rightly hers on what to send. We have no doubt that she will consult the board on what information it will find helpful to receive. Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page