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Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand entirely the attitude that has been expressed by both noble Lords who have spoken. It may be convenient if we discuss this particular issue in detail when we come to Clause 19 because that clause will provide the new Section 76A. I am not ducking the issue because we need to examine this. However, in a curious way we will have a better opportunity when discussing Clause 19 than at this stage.
Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. As he pointed out, Clause 19 is very much part of this debate. It seems perfectly reasonable that we should have a full and interesting debate when we come to that clause.
The noble Lord said: This clause concerns the number of members voting who can cause an inquiry. Again, I apologise to Members of the Committee as I am feeling decidedly unwell. I hope that they will forgive me and that they can hear what I have to say.
Essentially, the clause makes it easier for the board to cause an inquiry under the 2000 Act. The number of members currently required is 10 out of a board of 19. The clause would require only eight members to cause an inquiry and, in some respects, it turns a minority into a majority.
This issue was visited in Committee in the Commons during the passage of the Bill in 2000, and it is worth noting that the first copy of the Bill required that 12 members would be necessary to cause an inquiry. However, during the passage of the Bill the number
I said earlier that I was minded to move to a majority of board members voting for an inquiry, whatever the size of the board. Then, Adam Ingram illustrated that if there were 19 members of the board, the figure would be 10; if there were 15 members, it would be eight; and so on. Any variation of that would apply only if there were direct rule. He said that he failed to understand why the honourable member for Newry and Armagh did not accept the reasonable proposition that for an inquiry to be triggered, a majority of board members should want it. It would be, in the words of Patten, an extreme measure, so it was not unreasonable to expect the majority to be convinced of the merits of an inquiry before it was triggered. That is the working premise on which this approach has been developed. Those are important words concerning the idea that an inquiry is an extreme measure. I believe that they should be dwelt on at some length.
Let us look at what is likely to happen if we reduce the number not from 12 to 10, as happened in the 2000 Act, but from 10 to eight. There will be a greater likelihood that inquiries will be called for trivial, provocative or malicious reasons merely as a hindrance.
Adam Ingram said that, given that Pattenwe are trying to be true to Pattenreferred to the power of an inquiry as an extreme measure, there can be nothing unsound in persuading a majority of the board to hold such an inquiry. What has changed? What is the reason? Again and again, I hear noble Lords ask the Minister what has changed. I do not hear any convincing answer that things have changed so radically that we need to have a root-and-branch tinkering of the 2000 Act.
Hence, I return to the point I made at the outset; that is, that this Government are prepared to do anything, however irrational that may be, however much that may contradict their original position in terms of policing, to ensure that those who are actively or passively associated with terrorism, whether they be Sinn Fein, IRA or both, become eligible to sit on the Policing Board. Amendments Nos. 18 to 22 run together. Amendment No. 18 simply opposes the clause standing part of the Bill. As I said, the number of members required has already been reduced and this would be the second reduction in two years. The other amendments seek to make it a little more difficult to cause an inquiry and they are in line with Patten.
The Minister must tell us why he believes, or the Government believe, that when it is convenient for the Government and whatever arrangements they made at Weston Park, we can deviate from Patten but when others suggest that Patten is less than adequate, we are told that no changes can be made. I beg to move.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: I have been looking at the numbers here and it seems that the amendment proposed cannot be right. This affects the number required for a quorum. For example, where the quorum with fewer than 16 members is 10, it is now suggested that there should be six required members. It was eight, but now it is suggested there should be nine. The idea that somehow, with as few as 10 members in a quorum of nine must agree and if there are only eight a resolution cannot go forward, does not seem to be right in any form of democracy. Therefore, I do not feel able to support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis.
Lord Rogan: In seeking to tease why these clauses are required, perhaps I may ask the Minister two or three questions. How many inquiries have been ordered since the board became effective? How many inquiries have failed to be ordered because the vote was insufficient? Finally, where would this change have made a difference over the past two years?
Lord Glentoran: Perhaps I may say a few words on clause stand part now, as the issues are similar. Clause 10 concerns the number of members of the board required to initiate an inquiry following a report by the Chief Constable. At present, no such inquiry can be held unless approved by the required number of members of the board10 members out of 19, which is more than 50 per cent.
Clause 10 reduces that number to eight, as long as that represents the majority of the members present and voting. I see no purpose or virtue in this reduction. When the board consists of 19 members, it is perfectly reasonable that the required number of members present and voting to initiate an inquiry should be 10. If 50 per cent of the board cannot be there, it does not sound good, and I would not like the thought that an inquiry of this nature would be started with the support of less than 50 per cent.
We must be aware that it is quite possible under those circumstances that a decision of this nature could be hijacked by either side. The Bill moves powers around and facilitates certain things. My main purpose in opposing the clause is to deal with that.
I do not wish to be taken as a strong unionist or anything like it. My party has remained in a bipartisan agreement with Her Majesty's Government, and we are still there. I apologise for sounding pompous, but we are truly seeking to look after the security and the welfare of my fellow Ulstermen and countrymen.
We are talking about the management of our security force in a country that is riddled with violent crime and terrorism. We are nervous that the Government are going too far, too soon. That said, fiddling about with the numbers of the board required to make a certain type of decision is gerrymandering, and in my humble suggestion is not very intelligent in the current climate.
I give notice that we will come back to Clause 10 on Report and argue that it should not stand part. I hope that what I have said has gone some way to support the current amendment before your Lordships.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: Will the noble Lord consider whether it is proper to have a quorum? The quorums that are suggested here, that are in the Act, are two thirds of the total membership, rounded down to the nearest full number. Therefore, if it is right to have that as a quorum, do these other things not follow through from that in terms of best practice?
Viscount Brookeborough: I, too, want to question the Government on their motives. I must declare an interest in being a member of the Policing Board, but anything I say is of a personal nature on this subject. I understood that the Government had put together this fairly complicated policing Act in order to get consensus on policing in Northern Ireland and, what is more, to show that it was cross-community and accepted by everybody, and that the decisions would be pure and unquestionable in terms of democracy and the rights of minorities, majorities and different sections of the population. The Policing Board has been in being for a year. We are told by the Government that it is working well and now they want to produce an amendment that immediately draws the whole thing into question.
It has been clear until now that a majority of the board was required. Now the Government want to enable certain decisions to be taken by a minority of the board. The credibility of the Policing Board should be uppermost in the Government's mind. Reducing the figures as they wish toagain I say this from a personal point of viewenables the undermining of the people and the system that the Government have put in place and continue to praise. I do not accept that that is right. I hope that we shall return to the issue in the future as a complete clause. We shall most certainly not give up at that stage.
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