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Lord Williams of Mostyn: The current Act defines two different types of objective. Section 24(1) states:


The analogy made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is not entirely misplaced. The Secretary of State sets the long-term policing objectives. The board has then to determine—and, it may be, devise—objectives for the policing of Northern Ireland. So the two are not exactly the same. I respectfully repeat that the amendment would mean that the Policing Board would have to take account of those long-term—one may call them strategic—objectives when it functions on an annual and day-to-day basis.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Glentoran: I have given notice that we oppose the Motion that the clause should stand part of the Bill, but we cannot take any action on that today, so I pass.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Public meetings of the Board]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 10:


    Page 2, line 13, leave out "Paragraph 19" and insert "In paragraph 19(2)"

The noble and learned Lord said: I ought to have said earlier that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, abundantly explained to me his stance, which was that he reserved all his ammunition and all his subsequent positions on clause stand part. We all respect that.

Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 14 and 15 are minor amendments to correct an error in the original drafting. As originally drafted, the transitional provisions in Clause 3(4) were applied to the whole clause. It is not appropriate for them to apply to Clause 3(3), because that requirement does not operate by reference to a year. These rather esoteric amendments are simply to correct errors of drafting. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 11:


    Page 2, line 14, leave out from "Board)" to "for" in line 15.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Smith of Clifton moved Amendment No. 12:


    Page 2, line 15, leave out "eight" and insert "twelve"

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. We wonder why there is to be this reduction in the number of meetings of the Policing Board. After all, the Patten report recommended that,


    "The Policing Board should meet in public once a month to receive a report from the Chief Constable".

The 2000 Act stipulated 10 times a year but the Bill will reduce that to eight times a year. The reduction of the number of public meetings that the board must hold each year is a clear departure from Patten. That is a retrograde step in transparency and public accountability. Nothing in the revised implementation plan, nor the public part of the Weston Park agreement, indicated that that departure was envisaged. We simply ask the Government to explain why they feel that that reduction in the number of public meetings is desirable. I beg to move.

Lord Rogan: I shall speak not only to Amendment No. 12 but to Amendment No. 13, which is similar. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, alluded to the fact that the 2000 Act provided for a minimum of 10 public meetings of the Policing Board in any given year. The Bill will reduce that figure to eight. However, it also removes a paragraph in the 2000 Act that prevents a meeting being held within 28 days of a previous meeting. It therefore removes a de facto maximum of about 12 per year. Patten recommendation 34, in paragraph 3.6, recommended that public meetings be held once per month. The clause is inconsistent with that recommendation. My amendment, Amendment No. 13, would provide flexibility to the board by not prohibiting more frequent meetings, yet provide protection to the Chief Constable not to be obliged to report to the board too frequently—for example, on a weekly or, indeed, daily basis.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am most grateful. I shall respond, if I may, to both Amendments Nos. 12 and 13. I must say that the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, are perfectly reasonable and it is legitimate to require an explanation. This change has been made at the specific request of the Policing Board. It wants greater flexibility about when it can hold meetings. On the noble Lord's point about accountability and transparency, I underline that the provision is simply a minimum requirement. To give only one example, there were occasions when the board was dealing with the problems of Omagh last year when it was difficult to have public meetings. In fact, there was no public meeting in either January or February. So the board is settling in well. It made the request for more flexibility.

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That is also my answer to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, on Amendment No. 13. Again, the board wanted more flexibility in the management of its business, which may well mean that it will be able to meet more frequently in public if it chooses, because the 28-day limit will not obtain. I hope that that is considered to be a helpful response to Amendments Nos. 12 and 13. Those are the reasons.

Lord Smith of Clifton: In view of what the Minister said, I am reassured, but I very much hope that the board does not regress to holding merely eight meetings a year. Because it has requested this amendment, we must assume that it is acting in good faith, but there will of course be other boards in future. We may have to reconsider this question if it drops to the minimum of eight meetings a year. However, in the light of what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: In calling Amendment No. 13, I should inform the Committee that, if it is agreed to, I cannot call government Amendment No. 14.

Lord Rogan had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 13:


    Page 2, line 16, leave out subsection (3) and insert—


"(3) In sub-paragraph (3) for "28" substitute "14"."

The noble Lord said: In view of the response from the Lord Privy Seal, I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 14 and 15:


    Page 2, line 16, leave out "Sub-paragraph (3)" and insert "Paragraph 19(3) of Schedule 1 to that Act"


    Page 2, line 17, leave out "Subsections (1) to (3) have" and insert "Subsection (1) has"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Funding for pension purposes]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 16:


    Page 3, line 27, after "77" insert "(1)"

The noble and learned Lord said: This is also to cure a drafting error. The clause separates the grant for police pension purposes from the rest of the grant for police purposes, which is a necessary first step to allow the board and the Chief Constable to draw up separate accounts for police officers' pensions and for other police purposes. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Accounts and audit]:

4.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 17:


    Page 3, line 43, leave out "Service of Northern Ireland"

8 Jan 2003 : Column GC18

The noble and learned Lord said: This, again, is a corrective amendment. The RUC fund is now called the Police Fund and not the PSNI Fund and therefore this is to correct that error. For the avoidance of further confusion, the police fund here is not the same as the non-statutory police fund chaired by Sir John Semple. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Reports of Chief Constable]:

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Glentoran: The discussion and debate concerning whether Clause 8 should stand part of the Bill is very similar to that relating to Clause 9. I will briefly go through the arguments here.

This is perhaps the most serious error in the Bill, if I may be polite and put it like that. It seriously reduces the power of the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable. It restricts the grounds on which the Chief Constable can refer requests for a report to the Secretary of State. It leaves out the provision—and this is the important part—that the Chief Constable can refer a request for a report to the Secretary of State if it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders. I submit that this is direct interference in the operational powers. We will probably have a longer debate on Report but I give strong notice to the Government that we, in this party on this side of the House, wish to see that re-included in the Bill by dropping these clauses.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I want to add a few words in support of what my noble friend has just said. It is important to bear in mind that the 2000 Act does not give the Chief Constable a veto in any dispute between himself and the board over whether a report on a matter specified by the board should be made. It gives him the power to refer that dispute or issue to the Secretary of State provided that the issue arises where the Chief Constable has demurred from providing the specified report on one of the four grounds identified by my noble friend.

I agree that this has a bearing upon the constitutional doctrine of the operational independence of a chief officer of police. For many years I have regarded that doctrine as one of profound importance to the rule of law in any democracy. It is of special importance in Northern Ireland because, if one is frank, it was honoured more in the breach than in the observance before direct rule was imposed some 30 years ago. There is particular sensitivity in consequence of that in Northern Ireland. It is important that no perception should be encouraged that it is in any way being trenched upon.

Of those four grounds in the 2000 Act, three will continue to be present in the Bill as amended by this rather complex drafting and one will have been lost. It is worth seeing that they all have the same character.

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The prevention of crime falls slap within the operational responsibility of the Chief Constable. The same applies to the detection of crime and the apprehension of offenders. Is there anything about the prosecution of offenders that is different? There is not. They all share the same character. They come within Section 59(3)(d) of the 2000 Act, the fourth group, and the one which is now to be removed. They share the same character as the matters identified in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of that section.

I suggest that here we have an important matter. One wonders why, again within two years, this change is being sought. Given the sensitivity to which I have alluded, it seems to be particularly important to remember that at present the law does not give the Chief Constable a veto; it merely gives him the power to refer the matter to the Secretary of State. It is that power which is being taken away and which I believe is dangerous. There may be a good explanation which eludes me at present. However, I hope for a persuasive reply from the noble and learned Lord.


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