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Lord Glentoran: I, too, am delighted to welcome the amendment. When I was in southern Spain, I was approached by a number of Roman Catholics from various parts of the hierarchy of the Church who knew of this part of the Bill and were very concerned about it. Therefore, I began to take advice about it.
I believe that the Government have got matters about right in the amendment. I have listened to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. In discussing the amendment yesterday with colleagues in preparing for today's Committee stage, we began to go
Lord Hylton: Perhaps I may say a brief word of welcome for the amendment and those that are consequential on it. The phrase "might reasonably be regarded" is wisely and prudently chosen. What we are all seeking to achieve is impartiality in the discharge of police officers' responsibilities. I hope that may be of slight assistance to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne.
Lord Eames: I, too, regret that, owing to responsibilities in Northern Ireland, I was unable to present in this place on Monday. Had I been here, I should have wanted to say simply that I believe that the vast bulk of people in Northern Ireland want to see an effective, impartial police service which will have the respect and accountability to the public that are essential for the future of a stable society. For that reason, I am delighted that the Government have introduced this amendment. I could not see a single section in the original wording of the Bill that would mitigate against the principle I have enunciated more than this.
However, perhaps I may mention one aspect to the Minister and his colleagues. Experience in Northern Ireland has shown that it is so often "situational ethics" which bring to the forefront a question of principle. I wonder whether the guidance given to the Chief Constable on drawing up a list of organisations or interests which may or may not militate against fair membership of the police service will relate chiefly to situations in which a person's loyalty is brought to the fore, and his reaction will then be to consider a list. Great caution is needed to ensure that adequate guidelines are given by Parliament to allow the Chief Constable adequate assurance, confidence and powers to deal with actual situations. Many of the organisations on the list that it is now proposed to withdraw will probably find that their membership will carry a public nuance in terms of demonstrations or conflict on the streets. Irrespective of some of the religious organisations mentioned in the original list, that cautionary note needs to be sounded. But I, too, greatly welcome the government amendment.
Lord Monson: I apologise if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has dealt with this point. Unfortunately, I could not be present until just after he had finished speaking. In replying, will he tell us what will be the practical consequences if a police officer finds himself classified as a notifiable member of one
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: I join other Members of the Committee in congratulating the Minister on his amendment to Clause 49. It comes as an enormous relief to us all. I cannot imagine another instance in which religion and politics would have become so mixed up; its effect would have been simply awful.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 180, 181, 182 and 183 which make minor changes to wording and bring about an improvement to the clause. Amendment No. 180 deals with Clause 49(7)(e) and suggests that "does" should be substituted by "could". I believe that that constitutes an improvement. Amendment No. 181 deals with the requirement that the need to have information is,
I believe that Amendment No. 183 introduces an improvement. It is important to make clear that an issue of bias is the only valid reason for the disclosure of information. It should not occur for any other reason. Amendment No. 184 is also important from the point of view of not allowing information to be used for anything other than proper purposes. The information must be obtained only by someone to whom the subsection applies. I believe that the amendment would assist the noble and learned Lord in his objective of improving the clause.
Lord Hayhoe: I, too, warmly welcome the Government's amendment. I hope that when it is carried it means that this absurd, divisive and very partial list will be totally and utterly forgotten. I do not believe that the Chief Constable should pay the slightest attention to what was included in the original draft of the Bill.
Indeed, we should consider the way in which those words got into the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Pilkington mentioned, changes to the original draft were made following a poor debate in Committee in the other place. The amendment was tabled by the Government but, under a guillotine procedure, no debate took place on the clause at Report stage. As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said, surely that underlines the immensely important role played by the House of Lords when legislation has been rolled through the House of Commons with no debate and no possibility of the issues being given proper consideration.
Therefore, I believe that this short debate--and, indeed, the Government's action in bringing forward this amendment--has once again underlined the importance of the House of Lords. I hope that we shall hear nothing more of this absurd and stupid list.
Lord Elton: Listening to this debate one has the impression that the original proposal was so bad that anything whatever must be vastly better. We should not assume that whatever is vastly better is perfect. Prompted by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I am in some doubt as to how the proposal will work. There will still be a list but it will not be published. It will be drawn up by the Chief Constable. The noble and learned Lord shakes his head; I hope that he will confirm that audibly in a moment.
It appears to me that the Chief Constable will have to decide which of the organisations should be notifiable. The Secretary of State will still be involved, although not publicly, in conference with the Chief Constable. Parliament will be removed from the process--a relief, I believe, when we see how Parliament has behaved in the matter thus far. However, the fact is that the contents of the list will become public by some means or other, simply from the experience of constables who have found themselves subject to it. I hope that we shall be told how the process will work and how it will be controlled.
Lord Rogan: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 178. In doing so, I shall pose a question. How should we discipline an officer who knowingly has given false information with regard to "the register" and what we hope is to be "notifiable membership"? Does the Committee believe that giving false information, wrong as it is, is worthy of a summary conviction--a criminal conviction in the magistrates' court? Wrong as I believe that it is to knowingly give false information to an employer, a superior or a boss, I do not believe that such an act is worthy of a criminal conviction, especially when it is a police officer who gives false information to the Chief Constable, not about his work but about his personal life.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I apologise for interrupting, but one effect of the amendment is to remove the part of the clause that would make the provision of false information a criminal offence. Instead, as I said in the course of my remarks when I introduced the amendment, if false information is given it will now simply be an internal disciplinary matter with which the Chief Constable will deal. It would not be appropriate for that to be on the face of the Bill.
Lord Rogan: I am grateful for that clarification. However, surely it would be much more sensible for a police officer to face the same disciplinary procedure in this case as he would in any other disciplinary matter? In other disciplinary matters, which I, for one, cannot distinguish from this one, officers up to and
I suggest that this excessive measure, coupled with the soon-to-be-gone list, was designed to demonise perfectly lawful organisations. Fortunately, after listening to reasoned argument from Unionists both in this House and in another place, the Government have reconsidered the ridiculous list. I hope that, after listening to the arguments today, the Minister will reconsider this excessive penalty for false information. My doubts about the penalty--a criminal conviction--are founded on more than simply my belief that the regular disciplinary procedure would be infinitely more appropriate.
Nowhere in the Patten report was it suggested that an officer would be subject to a criminal sanction with regard to the register of interests proposed in recommendation 126. Any logical approach to this clause will repeatedly bring us to the same conclusion.
There is currently in place a disciplinary code for the police in Northern Ireland. This matter is a disciplinary matter. Therefore it should be dealt with in the same manner, before the same tribunal and with the same punishment as any other disciplinary matter. I hope that the Minister will seriously reconsider this ludicrous extension of the criminal law in Northern Ireland.
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