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Lord Rogan: I thank noble Lords for their participation in this informative debate. I would ask them, and also the Minister, to take cognisance of the unanimity of the Peers from Ulster. I shall think about what has been said. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The provision referred to in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 is a standard provision: there is nothing sinister about it. It clarifies that the board is an independent body, which is the position. The same provision appeared in the 1998 Act for the authority, as the noble Lord acknowledged. It is perfectly standard to have such a provision in a schedule such as this, and I would ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
I refer to Amendment No. 18 which is in this group. It is a technical amendment to make clear that the board has the powers of a body corporate in Northern Ireland in relation to its own resources as well as police resources. I shall move it in due time.
Lord Glentoran: Will the Minister say whether the paragraph which is the subject of my amendment is common to other police forces and whether other police forces within the United Kingdom do or do not have such a clause, either denying the fact that they
With regard to Amendment No. 22, the intention is to make a similar amendment to the removal provision for a board established during devolution. Government Amendment No. 22 does that, and I shall move it in due time.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: It is not often these days that I intervene in matters relating to Northern Ireland. Those who know me will know that that does not reflect any diminution in my affection for my former friends in Northern Ireland. It simply reflects two anxieties which press upon me.
The first is that I am not so closely familiar now with events there as I was some years ago, and there always is a great danger of relying on yesterday's knowledge in addressing today's problems. Secondly, while there is great concern and sympathy in England for the people of Northern Ireland, I believe that those people are the best judges of their own welfare and it may be that those of us here who wish them well might do better sometimes to restrain our loquacity.
Of course the Government have to be a catalyst in the peace process and in bringing a healing to Northern Ireland, but for the rest of us it is sometimes easier to cause more harm, to widen the breaches and deepen the wounds, than it is to do the reverse. I am not saying that contributions should never be made. Those like my noble friend Lord Dubs who have been much concerned with events in Northern Ireland may well have something very useful to say but the rest of us can sometimes best serve by a self-denying ordinance
As I say, it is not often now that I intervene. I appreciate the very delicate task which confronts the Government. It is vital to any accord that there should be a police force which is subject to the law, and only to the law, which accords to every citizen the protection and respect to which they are entitled and which does so without distinction as to class, culture, religion, colour or sex. That will not be easy, because we are all prisoners of the past and the past has not been kind to the people of Northern Ireland.
However, there are those whose concerns I am trying to express because they invited me to raise today some of the issues which they think might be helpfully discussed. That is why I set down Amendment No. 20. I do not seek to improve either on the drafting or on anything said by my noble and learned friend on Amendment No. 19.
There is a great deal in the Bill about achieving a balance in recruitment to the police force between the various traditions within the community. That is wholly commendable, but surely it is equally important in determining the composition of the board, and that is the purpose of my amendment. Of course we assume that in making appointments for independent members the Secretary of State will have that principle very much in mind; but that may be said about any of the tasks addressed in the Bill. They are, nevertheless, in the Bill to emphasise their importance, to serve as a reminder to those who are given the tasks; and, in the last resort, to offer a prospect of challenging an action which simply ignores them. If the Bill provided only for the present Secretary of State, I should be more relaxed about the situation. But Secretaries of State come and go. Some future holder of the office may be less assiduous as to that principle than my right honourable friend.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: I welcome and support the amendment. I again remind the Committee of my credentials. I am chairman of a police authority, albeit an English one. I am also deputy chairman of the National Association of Police Authorities which includes the present Police Authority for Northern Ireland. It is our great hope that the future Northern Ireland police board will also be among its members.
I recognise that there is already provision in paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 requiring the Secretary of State to ensure that the board is representative. The noble and learned Lord's amendment adds a specific requirement to ensure that there is the right ethnic and gender balance. My experience of many years in the police will confirm that such a specific requirement is necessary.
It also sends a positive message to those who are normally under-represented on such bodies--women, minority communities, young people and so on--that their presence is positively welcomed and encouraged.
The whole purpose of the police board is to secure accountability to the community for the police service. That should be accountability to all sections of the community. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of women and minority community representatives who would be only too well qualified to sit on the board. We must ensure that they are suitable role models so that others may follow. I ask the Committee to give the amendment full support.
Lord Monson: Before the noble Baroness sits down, she will agree that if the amendment is to be taken literally, 51 per cent of the membership of the board would have to be female if it was to be fully representative.
I am not sure that Amendment No. 20 adds very much to the Bill but the noble and learned Lord makes a valid point. If we take the amendment literally with regard to ethnic constituents of the board, we should present the Secretary of State with a difficult problem. I understand that less than 1 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland is from the ethnic minorities. Less than 1 per cent of nine appointments is a small figure. I imagine that someone from the ethnic minority would have to attend for the odd week to fulfil that criterion. However, the principle is right and is more applicable to membership of the RUC itself.
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