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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I shall take that advice, however intentioned. I am disappointed by the noble and learned Lord's response but I do not believe that that will surprise him. However, at least he appears to have confirmed my fears that, at some stage during the Bill, we shall have something that will not have the benefit of a Second Reading or Committee stage debate but will be introduced at a later stage without debate.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I distinctly did not say that. I said the opposite. I said that I did not know how history would unfold. I said that I did not know whether amendments would be introduced here or in another place but that, if they were introduced here, we would have a full discussion. If they are introduced in the Commons, they will have to come back here for full Lords consideration of Commons amendments. I said specifically that I shall ensure that we have ample time to discuss these questions and, indeed, your Lordships are entitled to demand that.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I am grateful that the noble and learned Lord has clarified that. It is some comfort. But the idea that the Bill is designed exclusively for the benefit of Sinn Fein/IRA when that organisation is involved in terrorist activity and in spying operations at the very heart of government and when, in other words, it is not to be trusted, is, to me, an absolute and utter folly. However sceptical Members of the Committee may be on the whole issue of policing in Northern Ireland, it is not to be taken lightly that a society which has, at first hand on home ground, had to endure 30 years of terrorism should now be sold out.
Members of the Committee who will have known me in another place know that I am not a scaremonger or someone who tries to agitate beyond what is reasonable. But, on this occasion, I feel that there is an element of selling out and of sleight of hand. I believe that the way that we are now arriving at the third police Bill in four years is simply an incremental surrender to the threat of violence, if not violence itself.
At a time when the Government are talking in tough terms about how they will fight a war at international levelbut not on home ground, we hopeagainst international terrorism, we should remember that those whom we seek to accommodate have had associations with every other terrorist group that one could name throughout the world, with gangsterism and with organised crime in America and elsewhere.
I do not want to intrude on the Committee's time by commenting further but I have to underline the fact that nothing I have heard reassures me that there is not an alternative. This is not complementary law; this is not to underpin law; this is to undermine it.
Baroness O'Cathain: I think the Bill has been drafted by people who are not necessarily going through the whole 30 years of history, but it seems reasonable to me. We have the Secretary of State, who is the chairman; a non-executive board and the chief executive. In any organisation when considering objectivesthe big word in this clause is objectives and the revision of the objectivesit is always the duty of a board to set the objectives for the organisation and then to consult. However, the consultation is not after the objectives are set; it would be ongoing. I cannot see the Chief Constable not being able to talk to the Secretary of State, or indeed members of the board, during the whole process of considering whether the objectives which are originally in their strategy are right for the circumstances, which are always dynamically changing, or whether they should be revised. I do not think it is put into little compartments. In the interests of the long-term peace and stability in Northern Ireland it is better to try to have a loose relationship, but the board would always have to be consulted in order to agree the objectives. Am I wrong or am I wrong?
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: With respect, I think the noble Baroness is wrong on this issue. She alludes to putting things into compartments. The Act is structured in the way that she imagines. The amendments to that Act put things into compartments as she implies would be harmful. Long-term objectives have more to do with political than operational issues. They are concerned with the structuring of policing. The Chief Constable has to interpret those in an operational manner. It is wrong to use the analogy of a company. That is a different situation. The board is the representative, and one would hope the honourable representative; people with integrity representing the best interest of society.
Of course the Secretary of State will consult. The Act allows him to consult but he has to consult with a view to obtaining agreement. It places an onus on him that is unreasonable and politicises those within the board who are not meant to be there for political purposes, in the narrowest sense, but rather for the purpose of representing the interest of the community in relation to how the Chief Constable interprets the objectives and implements them in an operational sense. That is where the difficulties arise. We are putting into compartments the relationship between the various elements as has not occurred in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.
Lord Rogan: May I say a few words? If we are going to use the analogy of a board of directors of a commercial company, let us assume for the moment that the Secretary of State is the chairman. The Policing Board contains the non-executives and the Chief Constable is the chief executive or, in American
If this clause goes through, that primacy will be taken away. Not only will the Chief Constable not have that primacy, but in fact he will have a lesser role than the boardor the non-executives. That is what we object to.
The noble Lord said: My noble friends and I are strong supporters of the Policing Board. We believe that it has been working well. That is the view of the Oversight Commissioner, who highlighted several achievements of the board since its creation. We would like to strengthen this aspect of the board by this amendment.
The clause appears to be designed to increase the power of the board. If so, the clause is welcome. However, it is difficult to decide whether this will make a difference in practice. We therefore believe that there is a need for legislation to tease out the differences between consultation, on the one hand, and consultation with a view to obtaining agreement. Our amendment proposes a tighter formulation. It would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to get the agreement of the board before he or she set out changes in the long-term objectives or codes of practice. I beg to move.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful for the noble Lord's commendation of the board, which I believe is well justified. I cannot accept these amendments, or anything like them, because they would not simply enhance the power of the board, but give it an absolute veto on long-term objectives and codes of practice, whatever the strength of the argument and the conviction that the Secretary of State had. I do not think that any responsible Secretary of State at this stage could contemplate that. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I invite the noble and learned Lord to deal a little more fully with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, about the difference between consulting and consulting with a view to securing agreement. I asked that question in my own rather halting remarks earlier but I did not detect an answer. I gave one or two illustrations of the difficulty to which this sort of drafting seems to give rise.
If you are inviting a contrast to be made between consulting, and consulting with a view to securing agreement, then the question arises as to what movement is expected to be made, and how one judges whether sufficient attention has been paid to what Parliament will be taken to have intended. Could the Minister help me a little on that, and at the same time help the noble Lord, Lord Smith?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Certainly. It seems to me that undoubtedly consultation with a view to securing agreement has a different shade of nuance from simply consultation. It is right, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith says, that this is a modest enhancement of the board's significance and authority. That is why we have done it, pursuant to our undertaking in August 2001.