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The noble Lord said: We now take a little leap back into the past, because this amendment and Clause 19 encompass the short debates that we had yesterday on Clauses 8 and 9. The amendment concerns the rules governing the Chief Constable's ability to withhold information or an inquiry. It concerns disclosure of information on holding inquiries.
By and large, there is not a great deal to say, except to point out one massive omission. I ask the Government: why? What was the motivation for removing Section 60(3)(d) of the 2000 Act, under which the Chief Constable could ask for an inquiry not to take place,
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I am afraid that this is an example of the technique of doing everything by stealth. If this change to the relevant provision of the 2000 Act were to find its way into law, it would do ill, for the reasons touched on in shorthand by my noble friend Lord Glentoran.
The reason why I say that it is sought to be achieved by stealth is that by some tortuous drafting, it is tucked away into a new Section 76A to the borrowed and much abused 2000 Act, so that it will fall under the heading "Supplementary", after,
The general heading for Part VII of that Act is "Reports and inquiries". Section 58 requires the Chief Constable to submit an annual report to the board, but it is followed by Section 59. That imposes a general duty on the Chief Constable to report but, in subsection (3) includes what has always seemed to me a sensible balancing provision. It states:
However, I want to go a wee bit further, because I hold that those mattersthe question of who is to be prosecuted, in the first instance, although of course not ultimately, "the apprehension or prosecution of offenders" and not less "the prevention or detection of crime"are essentially operational matters. I should be grateful if the Lord Privy Seal would address that. Under our constitutional arrangements, as much in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the United Kingdom, they are for the Chief Constable's operational independence.
We have set our faces sternly against executive interference in those matters. It is most important for the maintenance of our democracy and for the rule of law that that should be maintained. Reference has already been made to Drumcree. I must say that principle was absolutely, explicitly and meticulously upheld by me in that circumstancemelancholy though the whole week proved to bebecause it was an operational matter for the Chief Constable whether or not that march proceeded, in my view.
How will that principle suffer if the clause is enacted? It will suffers in this way, I suggest. Let us consider the question of the apprehension of an offenderI shall come to the prosecution of an offender in a moment. I repeat that that is entirely a matter for the operational discretion of the Chief Constable. If the Chief Constable's objection, on the grounds that to provide the required report would prejudice the apprehension of an offender, can be overridden without recourse to the Secretary of State, that provides a covert way to secure that a particular offender is not prosecuted because the whole trail will have been obfuscated. Similarly, in relation to the question of prosecution of an offender, the point is the same and does not need to be repeated.
The prevention and detection of crime are perhaps more straightforward issues. In my view, they should not be interfered with in this way without the ability of the Chief Constable to refer the matter to the Secretary of State. He would say, "This is what the board is doing. This, in my professional opinion, is what the consequence will be. Over to you, Secretary of State".
The matter that I have tried to describe is a rather serious constitutional as well as practical one. I believe I know enough about the noble and learned Lord to say that he would not wish knowingly to undermine or in any way make more difficult the maintenance of the operational independence of the Chief Constable. I know that he recognises how important it is for the rule of law, for the reasons that I have given.
Viscount Brookeborough: I support the amendment. I shall not talk at length about it but I should like to know who applied the pressure for this provision to be dropped. It is as simple as that. I ask that from a personal and not from a board's point of view. I do not know who within or outside the political system in Northern Ireland would have done it. However, especially from what the noble and learned Lord said, it does not appear that it would have been from a judicial point of view or from the point of view of preserving law and order.
Therefore, my question is: who asked for it to be done? The noble and learned Lord may say that the provision is partly covered elsewhere in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, but I do not accept that
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I, too, support the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. I shall accept guidance from the Chairman on this point but it has been intimated that it may not be possible to take Amendments Nos. 51 to 56 if this amendment is accepted. However, as it will not be accepted in this Committee, and my intention is to assist the Committee, in supporting Amendment No. 50 I want to refer to the other amendments because that will help to speed up the proceedings . I hope that that is acceptable.
I cannot pose the question any more cogently or positively than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, has done. Why on earth are we faced here with a series of changes which appear to be of no benefit to society or to individual policemen and women or policemen and women in general? The idea that somehow the Chief Constable could not take into consideration an ongoing inquiry and its significance and knock-on effect in terms of serious crime is, bluntly, ludicrous.
It is no secret that, for example, burglarya topic current throughout the United Kingdomcertainly in my district of Northern Ireland, is up by 32 per cent. If there is that amount of burglary, there must be a degree of organisation which, to investigate, would involve a huge amount of resources. Can one imagine a question being asked and the Chief Constable not having the ability to withhold that information, the publishing or publicising of which would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders?
I turn to Amendments Nos. 51 to 56. It is not just here that it appears that the interests of the individual are being sacrificed in the Bill. For example, we see the word "personal" substituted by the word "personnel". To many that would seem an academic point, but it is more than that. Where one has responsibility for the welfare of individual policemen, any good leader will look to the interests of the individual within the group which he leads as well as to the interests of the group overall. To decide whether something is in the interests or against the interests of personnel is so generic as to risk the interests of one individual who may be endangered. That is why we tabled Amendments Nos. 51, 54 and 57 to 59. All those amendments are concerned with whether it is the general or specific interest in the safety of police, and indeed others in society, that should be taken into account.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, has intimated that this is incremental. Nothing in itself could be deemed to be of the utmost importance, but cumulatively there is an undermining of the interests and the safety of members of the police in carrying out their duties.
The points we have raised in Amendments Nos. 53 and 56 are covered by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I beseechif that is not too strong a wordthe noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal to look to the interests of individual policemen and individual members of the law-abiding community so that none is endangered by the interest being swept away in generic terms or by omission.
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