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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think that I did not refer to the quality of the training. I was merely putting forward the need for a new policing college. So far as I am aware, I had nothing to say about collaboration. Of course, greater collaboration is needed, but that was not the issue to which I referred. I was not, as a member of the policing board, criticising the training that is taking place. I was criticising the Government for not helping us to put into place a new purpose-built police college.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I would not detract from what the noble Viscount has said, but clearly there is some degree of dissatisfaction in that he believes that a new college is required. It may well be that, with the efficient use of resources, it is not necessary and other institutions could be used.
We heard positive comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and from the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Dubs. It is clear that there will be some testing of the clauses on the ombudsman and, indeed, in terms of whether fixed-term appointments should be restricted to those referred to in the Bill.
Yes, we support the Bill, because it takes us further towards Patten. But I have a couple of questions to ask the Minister. Reference has been made by several noble Lords to the text. Is it suggested that the text should be debated in Committee; or will it be put on the shelf? Can these provisions be introduced, as the result of a reference to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, without their being thoroughly tested? I should have thought that it was in the spirit in which the noble and learned Lord speaks that such clauses should be properly tested and not be brought in at the last minute without such testing. It would be useful to have that assurance.
Underlying the debate is the fact that whether people like it or notmany people here do not20 to 25 per cent of the voting population feel that they wish to entrust their vote to Sinn Fein. Unless Sinn Fein is on board and inside all the tents of Northern Ireland, we shall not be able to go forward.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, this has been a debate of the usual high quality on this subject. My noble friend Lord Glentoran referred to the support we have given to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. I am sure that the whole House will share the pleasure expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, at the praise that the board has received from many quarters.
However, as my noble friend Lord Glentoran said, we have one or two concerns about the relationship of the board with the Chief Constable. These concern what we regard as a basic dilution of the powers of the Chief Constable and hence the Secretary of State which we fear will be the inevitable effect of the Bill.
The first is the reduction in the number of conditions under which the Chief Constable is entitled to withhold information in the reports that he makes to the DPP. Under the terms of the 2000 Act there were four such conditions, but Clause 8(2) of the Bill before the House effectively restricts these to three by the significant omission of the condition that disclosure would be likely to prejudice the detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offendersthe fourth condition in the 2000 Act. The omission of that condition from this Bill strikes right at the operational independence of the Chief Constable and I gather that it is certainly not the practice in forces on the mainland. The Chief Constable would be under a statutory obligation to provide reports to the policing board relating to the conduct of ongoing investigations. In the view of this side of the House, that is unacceptable.
My noble friend referred to a second related point. Clause 9 concerns the grounds on which the Chief Constable can appeal to the Secretary of State against a requirement to report to the DPP. The same condition, that a report would prejudice ongoing investigations, is again removed. We feel that the changes from the 2000 Act represent a significant and serious weakening of the powers of the Secretary of State and of the Chief Constable.
I join in the compliments from all sides of the House paid to the Lord Privy Seal on the openness with which the Bill has been approached, but I have to tell him that we shall want to revisit those points at a later stage in the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Glentoran referred to Clause 10 relating to the number of members of the board required to initiate an inquiry under Section 60. Under the 2000 Act the number is 10 out of a total membership of 19. We are not happy with the proposal that that figure should be reduced from 10 to eight with the total strength of the board remaining unchanged. Again, that makes it easier for the board to initiate inquiries under Section 60 and, as I have mentioned before, it has the potential to undermine the powers and, we submit, the effectiveness of the Chief Constable.
Finally, I come to the draft clauses. We welcome the position taken by the Secretary of State that those clauses should not be incorporated into the Bill until he is satisfied that there is clear evidence of acts of completion. I venture to suggest that that is a position we have taken throughout.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord will take careful note of the concerns of the police expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, as to the assessment by the Secretary of State of when the act of completion has taken place, especially in the early stages. My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth set out the position with her customary clarity and balance.
We welcome the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord that the ombudsman will not be required to arbitrate in cases that are retrospective to this Bill. With those reservations, we shall support the Bill as a meaningful measure to improve the crucial matter of policing in Northern Ireland. I look forward to the noble and learned Lord's reply.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for what has been said. This has been a sober, serious and well considered debate. At the outset I shall take up two points. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said that there had been huge changes, as there have been. They have happened in a short time span which makes it more difficult, for whatever reason, to accept them and to put them fully into effect. The noble Lord also spoke warmly about the quality of those who servea word I use advisedlyin the PSNI. I join in his sentiments.
I was extremely grateful to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that he would adopt a flexible view and that he would not rule out for all time even disagreeable changes. I hope that we can work together in that way.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, said that we should discuss the side clauses, if I can call them that. I agree. I am sure that we can find a mechanism, to use his words, of testing them to find their validity, whether they are introduced in the Bill or not. They are important both in their substance and in the mechanism that the Secretary of State has put forward attractively to your Lordships at the outset.
The fourth ground of referralreferred to by a number of noble Lords, and certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in opening and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, in closingis being removed essentially to bring the terms more in line with Patten's recommendations. The board's role is to secure an efficient, effective police service. It seems unreasonable to think that it would wilfully want to do anything that would prejudice the prevention of crime.
The term 50:50 has been mentioned by a number of your Lordships. The Chief Constable's comments were made before the recruitment agent, Grafton, started to carry out the work of recruitment and competition. Grafton was appointed only in September, so I believe that a little more time is required.
On Sinn Fein, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said about the courage of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and, in a different context and with great difficulties, the SDLP. If Sinn Fein is to be a political party, it should have representatives on the board. That would make its paramilitary associations much more difficult if not impossible. I do not believe that it is impossible for such a step to take place.
Perhaps I may give an example. Last Friday in Belfast I spoke to the Lord Mayor. He came into the Lord Mayor's parlour wearing his chain and was photographed with it on. He had with him two young people: one a Jewish girl and one a young Palestinian man, who are working as his seconded assistants. After the photograph was taken the Lord Mayor took off his chain, but he had the intelligence and the imagination to ask those two young people from divided communitiesGod knowsto be there. Of course, the Lord Mayor of Belfast is Alex Maskey.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about discretion for the Policing Board to depart from the Secretary of State's long-term objectives. Essentially Patten envisaged that the board would act as the main vehicle to hold the police to account. I believe that it should have some discretion in that area.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that it is foolish and counter-productive to be too negative and always to think that all change is necessarily for the worse. I take his point on the declaration against terrorism that one does not simply want cosmetics, but the position is the same with regard to elections to local councils in Northern Ireland. It is extremely important that a necessary pre-condition should be the declaration. If people do not abide by the declaration, there will have to be a mechanism for removing those people. It is significant, as noble Lords who know Northern Ireland better than I always tell me, that symbols are important. That is a very important symbol and even more than that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, asked about civilianisation and about intimate searches, which is a civil liberty matter. The civilians who will be designated to carry out the intimate searches will be those who are registered medical practitioners or nurses or healthcare professionals. I believe that that is a reasonable approach.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, spoke of the loss of experienced officers, something that has troubled many noble Lords in previous debates. The Chief Constable has the discretion not to allow early retirement. He can decline to allow it if there would be a detrimental loss to the efficiency of the police service. Some hold the view that there is an imbalance in seniority and rank in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which may perhaps be addressed. As I said in my opening remarks, Special Branch and the Crime Department have been brought together under the command of a single assistant chief constable.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, posed the Surrey question: why should criminals be allowed on DPPs when they would not in Surrey? The answer is that Surrey has not had the agonising history of Northern Ireland. We have not had to adopt such remedies in Surrey because it has not suffered those historic wounds to its community, culture and society.
I do not believe that the floodgates will be opened. Let us consider countries such as South Africa and Mozambique. If they can produce a new regime based not on forgetting but on forgiving and on the need to build a better life for the future, I do not understand why we should not trust our friends and colleagues in Northern Ireland to be able to do the same.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, said that we should not seek to persuade Sinn Fein onto the board. I disagree. I should be happy to spend as many hours as it took to persuade any member of Sinn Fein to join the board. That would be a real prize of the first
I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, that the agreement at Weston Park was only between the two governments. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, is right that others were present and that there were various discussions, but if one reads the agreement, it is endorsed only on behalf of the British Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, asked about funding. We shall want to work closely with the board during the coming months to monitor funding and to identify the precise funding implications of setting up DPPs. I commit myself to that. The noble Viscount also asked in detail about the police college site. We have committed ourselves in this House to a return to devolution as soon as possible. We did not want to pre-empt the decision of an Assembly which, we hope, will be reinstated in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, identification and provision of a suitable site can be addressed, and we encourage the police and the Policing Board at least to consider a public/private partnership arrangement.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about recruitment. I entirely agree with him. In fact, we are already receiving applications to the PSNI from people as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Personally, I think that there is great merit in the noble Lord's suggestion that those who formerly lived in Northern Ireland may be encouraged to contribute again to the land in which they were born.
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