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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I cannot articulate with the authority of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the points that he has just made. From a practical point of view, I can underpin what he said by indicating that there are three specific

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circumstances in which the absence will be felt of the fourth condition on which the Chief Constable can refuse to give information.

In Northern Ireland, we are in the process of setting up a criminal assets bureau under the leadership of Assistant Chief Constable McQuillan. The bureau will work particularly closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Its work may not yield results overnight; in other words, it will be engaged in a slow and laborious process. If the Chief Constable is, by virtue of demands for information, obliged to reveal information that is part of an ongoing inquiry of the bureau, we might as well not set the bureau up in the first place. It would be a question of forfeiting vital and important information that may make Northern Ireland a much safer place in the long run.

We will not build a peaceful and lawful society overnight. It will require a huge amount of hard work by a lot of people, who must have confidence that the authorities in Northern Ireland—be they the police, the criminal assets bureau or whatever—are absolutely and totally committed, without any hindrance, to helping them to achieve their aims.

Directly in line with the police service's responsibility to the public is the sort of activity in Northern Ireland that we saw illustrated in a programme a couple of nights ago, which dealt with loyalist criminality. Drugs and prostitution were used to create huge wealth for a small group of quite evil people in the loyalist community. Of course, I wish that the situation was different, but we cannot ignore the fact that there is still illegal politically motivated activity being carried out by loyalists, the Real IRA and that other bunch—

Noble Lords: The Continuity IRA.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Yes, My Lords, the Continuity IRA. In any of those cases, the Chief Constable has not only a responsibility but a professional duty to protect information that would hinder the protection or prevention of any of the forms of crime that I mentioned. For that reason, it is incumbent on government to give serious consideration to the amendment, and to put back the fourth of the four conditions that previously governed the Chief Constable's ability to give or withhold information.

12.45 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I take advantage of the last amendment in the list to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he can give any indication today when the complex legislation that governs policing in Northern Ireland is likely to be consolidated. If he cannot reply to that now, he might write to me. It might be helpful to practitioners and people who must interpret statutes if consolidation could take place fairly soon.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am only sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, is

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not in his place, because he constantly makes that plea. I sympathise with it, but the difficulty with consolidation is that there is then the overwhelming temptation, not in the Northern Ireland Office but in departments that some of us can remember, to have another Bill, which means that one has to have another consolidation. However, I take the noble Lord's point, not least because of the intricate amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred.

I cannot usefully do anything further by way of explaining the Government's position. We have spent a good deal of time on it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, says that I refer to the book of Patten, and I would not want to tease him by saying that he is referring to the book of Apocrypha. However, I respectfully agree that neither of them has to have the status of holy writ.

I have tried to take on board the serious debate and discussions that we had in Grand Committee and on Report. I never thought that there were not serious issues to consider. As I have said before, Section 59 of the 2000 Act contains the mechanism whereby the Chief Constable and the board can come to a compromise. In other words, the Chief Constable is supposed to respond in one month, but with the caveat allowing a longer period, which may be agreed between the Chief Constable and the board.

What we have done—and I hope that noble Lords will agree that we have made genuine efforts to meet concerns—is to go back to Section 27 of the 2000 Act. I did not have the opportunity to mention the present state of affairs to all your Lordships but I mentioned it to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Section 27(1)(a) provides that the Secretary of State can issue a code of practice on conduct by the board with regard to any of its functions. I hope to have picked up the spirit of the amendment and the spirit of what your Lordships have said. We propose to provide through the code of practice that if the board and the Chief Constable cannot agree in the circumstances which I defined a moment or two ago, and where the Chief Constable's concerns relate to the impact of a particular timescale on the police's ability to prevent or detect crime, the board can refer the matter to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for his advice. The board would be able to take account of the recommendation in finally determining the deadline.

I hope that your Lordships will consider that at least we have attempted to meet concerns. I hope that your Lordships therefore will not insist upon the amendment.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that response which certainly goes some way to relieve my concerns. Time in these matters can always be extremely helpful provided the facility to use it is available. The amendment the Government made to the Bill opens yet another avenue to the Chief Constable if he feels strongly about the matter of divulging sensitive information. He now has two or three avenues open to him. There are various ways in which he can waste or spend time in a positive way.

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That can be valuable as, while that time is being wasted, the information is being protected. That is extremely helpful.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I thank those who supported the amendments I tabled. I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal for his patience and for his consideration of the matters that have been debated. I also thank the officials. The Bill has been seriously argued and debated over several days. I hope that we shall be judged to have done a good job in your Lordships' House in editing, amending and scrutinising a serious and complicated Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord moves the Motion that the Bill do now pass, I should say how much we on these Benches appreciated his patience and skill in taking the Bill through all its stages. It is a complicated Bill and a number of noble Lords raised serious concerns. I thank the noble and learned Lord's officials for the helpful guidance they provided.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, it is appropriate, in so far as this Bill is concerned with a Northern Ireland issue, that I should join the noble Lords who have thanked the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I certainly admire, and have benefited from, his courtesy. I am not sure that I am as full of praise for his skill as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. I had hoped that his undoubted skill would have enabled some changes to be made. However, that is a matter for another time and another place. The noble and learned Lord has been most courteous, as always. For that I am grateful.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in debates on the Bill. We have done our work properly. The Grand Committee was of great benefit to all of us in enabling us to ventilate the issues. I am grateful for all the kind comments that noble Lords have made, but in particular for the well justified plaudits for the officials in the Northern Ireland Office who work under tremendous pressure. I do not refer to pressure exerted by noble Lords but to that often exerted by events.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

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[The Sitting was suspended from 12.55 to 2 p.m. for Judicial Business and to 3 p.m. for Public Business.]

Hospitals: Emergency Readmissions

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proposals they have to address the increasing number of elderly patients who are readmitted to hospital within a month of being discharged.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, information collected over the past few years suggests that the rate of emergency readmissions has remained stable. The National Service Framework for Older People will improve the quality of hospital care for older people. Better quality of treatment in hospital, and better support for patients when they have returned home, should result in a lower rate of patients being readmitted as an emergency.


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