HC Deb 11 July 2000 vol 353 cc754-82 —(1) The district council for Belfast shall establish a sub-group of its district policing partnership for each police district established under section 20(2). (2) The function of each sub-group shall be to provide views to the district commander of the sub-group's police district and to the Board on any matter concerning policing of that district. (3) Each sub-group shall consist of at least six members of the partnership. (4) The members of a sub-group shall be appointed by the partnership. (5) The members of a sub-group shall appoint a member to act as chairman of the sub-group. (6) If they are unable to agree on whom to appoint as chairman, the partnership shall appoint the chairman. (7) The code issued under section 19 may contain guidance as to the exercise by sub-groups of their functions.'.—[Mr. Ingram.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.45 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 14, in clause 14, page 7 line 32, after "establish", insert— 'within 6 months from the commencement date of this Act'. Amendment No. 56, in clause 15, page 8, line 3, leave out "section 14(1)" and insert— 'any part of Part III of this Act'. Amendment No. 59, in clause 16, page 8, line 44, leave out "have regard to" and insert "comply with".

Amendment No. 60, in clause 19, page 9, line 24, leave out "may" and insert "shall".

Amendment No. 61, in page 9, line 25, after "and", insert "may".

Amendment No. 16, in page 9, line 34, leave out sub-paragraph (b) and insert— '(b) a duty to hold all meetings of the district policing partnership in public;'. Amendment No. 17, in page 9, line 40, leave out from "police" to "for" in line 41 and insert— 'service of their functions and operations in the district to be put by members of the district policing partnership and by members of the public'. Amendment No. 62, in page 10, line 8, at end add— '(3A) Nothing in this section shall require a district commander or his nominee to answer any question or disclose any information which compromises effective policing.'. Amendment No. 63, in clause 54, page 27, line 37, at end add— '(j) the effectiveness of district policing partnerships in the carrying out of their functions; (k) the level of public satisfaction with the performance of individual district policing partnerships.'. Government amendment No. 213.

Amendment No. 6, in schedule 1, page 37, line 30, leave out— 'as far as is practicable'. Amendment No. 8, in page 37, line 33, after "consult", insert— 'for a period not longer than three months'. Amendment No. 7, in page 37, line 38, leave out sub-paragraph (6).

Amendment No. 9, in page 38, line 6, leave out sub-paragraph (9) and insert— '(9) The members of the board shall, at their first meeting, elect a chair and a vice-chair; the appointments will not be confirmed unless the First and Deputy First Ministers agree to them; the Board shall ensure that—

  1. (a) the offices of chair and vice-chair are at all times held by members of different political parties;
  2. (b) a person is appointed to the office of chair and vice-chair for a term of 12 months at a time or, where that period is shorter than 12 months, for a period ending with the date of the next Assembly elections, and
  3. (c) the office of chair is held by each of the four largest parties represented in the Assembly after the last assembly election.'.
Government amendments Nos. 215 and 216. Amendment No. 10, in page 38, line 27, leave out sub-paragraph (c). Amendment No. 11, in page 40, line 45, after— 'consult', insert for a period not longer than three months'. Amendment No. 303, in page 41, line 25, at end insert— '(1A) The Secretary of State shall remove a person from office as an independent or political member of the Board if satisfied that—'. Amendment No. 12, in page 41, line 26, leave out sub-paragraph (c).

Amendment No. 304, in page 41, line 29, at end insert— '( ) any organisation to which he is linked has failed to satisfy any of the four factors set out in Section 3(9)(a), (b), (c) and (d) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998; ( ) any organisation to which he is linked has failed to begin the decommissioning of arms and explosives in a manner verified by the Commission referred to in Section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997.'. Amendment No. 13, in page 41, line 44, leave out sub-paragraph (c).

Amendment No. 305, in page 41, line 45, at end add— '(d) he has at any time been convicted of a scheduled offence under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 or Part VII of the Terrorism Act; (e) he has at any time been convicted in Northern Ireland or elsewhere of any offence and has had passed on him a sentence of imprisonment (whether suspended or not); (f) the political party of which he is a member is linked to any organisation to which he is linked has failed to begin the decommissioning of arms and explosives in a manner verified by the Commission referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997.'. Government amendment No. 218.

Amendment No. 19, in schedule 3, page 48, line 29, after "power", insert— 'within 6 months of the commencement of this Act'. Amendment No. 20, in page 49, line 3, after "council", insert— 'within one month of receipt of the nominations'. Amendment No. 21, in page 49, line 18, at end add '; before making such appointments the Council shall satisfy itself that it has taken all reasonable steps to make the district community aware that nominations are due to be made, that it has invited applications from that community and that, following thorough consideration of all applications, that the persons nominated, so far as is practicable, reflect that community.'. Amendment No. 306, in page 50, line 10, at end insert— '(2A) The Board or the council, with the approval of the Board, shall remove a person from office as a political or independent member of a DPP if satisfied that—

  1. (a) he is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means;
  2. (b) the political party of which he is a member is linked to an organisation that has failed to begin the decommissioning of arms and explosives in a manner verified by the Commission referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997;'.
Amendment No. 307, in page 50, line 24, leave out "an independent" and insert "a".

Amendment No. 22, in page 52, line 2, after first "may", insert— 'with the agreement of the Board'.

Mr. Ingram

I said at the fourth sitting of the Committee on 20 June that the Government were considering Patten's recommendation No. 28 that there should be four sub-groups of the district policing partnership in Belfast. I said that, if the Government decided to amend the Bill—we indicated that we were considering doing so—we would do so on Report. New clause 3 will make that amendment.

The Government concluded that, with an area the size of Belfast, it made sense to establish not four separate DPPs, as some have called for, but four sub-groups of the Belfast DPP, to be established by the council. Each sub-group is to consist of at least six members of the partnership, appointed by the partnership.

The Policing Board's code of practice under clause 19 will cover the operation of those sub-groups. Their function will be to provide views to the police and to the partnership. As the new clause stands, it refers in line 4 to "the Board". That should, of course, be "the partnership". That will be corrected in the other place.

By tabling the new clause, we have implemented Patten's recommendation in paragraph 6.27 of the commission's report, but we have done so in a way that recognises the concerns that have been expressed about the make-up of those sub-groups and how their role will tie in with that of the Belfast DPP. On that basis, I ask the House to accept the new clause.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

The Minister mentioned the relationship between the sub-groups and the Belfast DPP as a whole. To what extent will the sub-groups work with the partnership and to what extent will they take over functions from the partnership? Those questions raise a series of issues on which the new clause gives no information, but which are matters of great concern to us. The Minister should deal with those issues in some detail.

Mr. Ingram

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because it is important for hon. Members to understand the way in which the DPPs will operate, which is in terms of the codes of practice that will be laid down by the Policing Board and conditioned by the Secretary of State's consideration of how they are actually operating. For instance, if a district is not delivering as it should, the Secretary of State will involve himself in that area.

Let me deal with the specific point raised by the right hon. Gentleman; the four sub-groups will report to the Belfast DPP and their work will be conditioned by the other clauses under which the DPPs come under the scrutiny of both the Policing Board and the Secretary of State. They will not be four entities in their own right, but four sub-groups that report to the central DPP.

Mr. Trimble

I apologise if I have not got the details right, but the new clause states: The function of each sub-group shall be to provide views to the district commander of the sub-group's police district. When one compares that to clause 16, which covers the general functions of DPPs, it is in line with clause 16(1)(a). Is it intended that the sub-groups simply take over from the Belfast DPP in that function only, and consequently will have no function in regard to clause 16(1)(a)-(e)? If that is the case, it would be well for the House to know that, However, the language that the Minister used implied that the sub-groups will take over all the functions of the DPPs and simply report to the Belfast partnership.

Mr. Ingram

No. I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that that would not be the case. They would be not separate entities in their own right, but four sub-groups reporting to the DPP, conditioned obviously by the way in which the board interfaces with that and the way in which the Secretary of State can, in consultation with the board and under his own powers, deal with it.

The sub-groups will be an integral part of the Belfast DPP and will report to that district partnership. It is important to understand that they will have purely consultative functions. All the functions of the Belfast DPP remain as for the other DPPs. There is no difference between Belfast DPP and the other equivalent DPPs that will be set up under the structures envisaged. The sub-groups have no role in the local policing plan for Belfast. That remains the responsibility of the Belfast DPP. In that sense, the groups are consultative.

The right hon. Gentleman has concerns about the way in which the groups could have developed. Clearly, there was an argument that there should have been four separate entities in that area. That is the way that some people interpreted Patten; that is not what Patten said, and we have been faithful to what he said. I hope that I have given the right hon. Gentleman assurances about the way in which the sub-groups of the DPP will function.

Government amendment No. 213 is a consequential amendment arising from one that was accepted in Committee on the membership of the direct rule Policing Board. Columns 38 to 45 of the Official Report of Standing Committee B contain references to that matter. The Committee accepted that, during direct rule, there should be between 14 and 19 members on the Policing Board. The amendment alters schedule 1(3)(2) to reflect the fact that, instead of one number, there is now a set of numbers. We want a sliding-scale approach. On that basis, I ask the House to accept the amendment.

Government amendments Nos. 215 and 216 honour a commitment that I made to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) in Committee—I said in column 94 of the Official Report of Standing Committee B that I would table amendments on Report. These amendments affect paragraph (4)(5) of schedule 1, which sets out the provisions for removal from the board during direct rule. Amendment No. 215 provides that removal for a criminal conviction applies to convictions after the date of appointment.

Amendment No. 216 adds to that provision by enabling the Secretary of State to remove a person from the board for non-disclosure of a criminal conviction at the time of appointment. We will want to table similar amendments in the other place for a board set up under the devolved structure. Here, we are dealing only with that set up under the direct rule structure. Similar amendments were made and accepted by the Committee on exactly this issue in relation to the DPPs, as can be seen from column 212 of the Official Report. I ask the House to accept Government amendments Nos. 215 and 216. They honour commitments made in Committee.

On Government amendment No. 218, in Committee on Tuesday 27 June—Official Report columns 114 to 118—I said that the Government would produce amendments to clarify the position on quorums both for appointments of the second and subsequent chairperson and vice-chairperson posts, which are dealt with in schedule 1(17)(2), and the numbers required to determine an inquiry under paragraph (17)(4), which of course relates to a board set up under a devolved Government. Government amendment No. 218 meets that commitment and I ask the House to accept it.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

I shall speak to the amendments that stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench—amendments Nos. 303 to 307. In the limited time available to the House due to the guillotine motion, I shall restrict my remarks to those amendments, which centre on who should sit on the Policing Board and on the district policing partnerships.

It should be common ground on both sides of the House and in all parts of the House that it cannot be right and proper for people who have committed violent criminal and terrorist offences, or who are associated with terrorist groups that have not entered a ceasefire, to sit on the board or the partnerships.

I hope that it is not necessary to dwell at any length on how security sensitive sitting on the board or the partnerships will be. Royal Ulster Constabulary officers, and for that matter other members of the security forces and Ministers, would be put in an impossible position if people were sitting on the partnerships and the board who were not committed to peaceful means of pursuing their political ends. If officers refused to give information to the board or partnership because they were scared of the security implications, the very working of the board and the workings of the partnerships would be put in doubt. The House should accept our amendments. It is inconceivable that such people should be involved in the board or the partnerships.

Let me expand a little: first, we are insisting that political representatives—elected politicians—who are associated with paramilitaries can sit on the board or the partnerships only if the paramilitaries to whom they are inextricably linked have started properly and comprehensively to decommission their illegally held arms and explosives. The Minister will confirm that they are legally obliged to do so under the Belfast agreement, which they signed.

Whereas I would have no objection to the names of people who are to sit on the board and the partnerships being made public, I feel that they should not be able to take their seats until their paramilitary associates have moved considerably towards fulfilling their obligations under the agreement to decommission all their illegally held arms and explosives.

Secondly, anyone sitting on the board or on a partnership must, both in practice and in word, have renounced violence in all its forms for good. I note that that applies to members of the board and of the partnerships who are not elected representatives; obviously, it must also apply to those who are elected.

7 pm

Probably the most important aspect of our amendments is that which relates to people who—in simple layman's language—are committed terrorists. It seems wrong that anyone who has been found guilty of committing a terrorist offence should sit on the board or a partnership. When the Bill was published, it was made clear that, although elected representatives who had committed scheduled offences could sit on those bodies, lay members who had committed such offences could not do so. That was changed in Committee, as the Minister will confirm.

That is regrettable. It is wrong that someone who was a committed terrorist can sit on a police board or body. I hope that, when the Minister reflects on that point, he will agree and that our amendments will be accepted. I offer the Minister and the Secretary of State a gentle warning that, if the amendments are not passed, there will be no confidence in the new policing system—neither in the boards nor the partnerships. The partnerships will not work properly and security will be put at risk in the Province and on the mainland; the Minister is responsible for security in the Province and I know that is the last thing that he wants. I hope that he will realise that our amendments are moderate, sensible and realistic; they should be incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

I shall be brief, so that we can move on to other matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said that many of the amendments are technical, and indeed they are. The amendments that I have tabled are straightforward. They would provide further reassurance to those people—in the House and elsewhere—who are concerned because the Bill does not fully reflect the recommendations of the Patten report, either in regard to openness and transparency or in ensuring the implementation of several issues relating to the establishment of district policing partnerships and the Policing Board.

The amendments would set a timetable for the DPPs—for the commencement of their powers, for their nominations and appointments and for the consultations held by the Secretary of State on those appointments. The second thrust of the amendments is to ensure that there is openness and transparency in the operation of the DPPs. They provide that the partnerships meet in public, that members of the public can put questions to the district police commander, and that there is full and open consultation on policies that have regard to the overall community.

The amendments would ensure that the composition of the DPPs is balanced and that the appointments of the chair and vice-chair of the board are made with the maximum involvement and consultation and have the support of all parties in the Assembly—and, especially, of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. The amendments would strengthen the powers of the board in the establishment of DPPs.

The amendments are technical and relatively uncontentious. I welcome this opportunity for the Government to consider those matters before the Bill makes its way to the other place. The amendments strengthen the commitment to openness and transparency, while securing a timetable for the implementation of the Bill's provisions on DPPs.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I want to speak to amendments Nos. 56 and 59 to 63. They have been tabled to tidy up the fairly flawed provisions on district policing partnerships. It will come as no secret to Ministers that I oppose the whole concept of such partnerships as detailed in the Bill.

We all know that the lowest tier of government is the most difficult place in which to control political ambition. The DPPs will be devised so that they reflect the electoral strengths of district councils, but individuals from those areas will be added to them. Such is the spread—or lack of spread—of population across the political divide in some parts of Northern Ireland, that the lowest common denominator will rule the day if we run with these DPPs. Such is the progress of the Bill that that is inevitable.

We want to put some constraints and controls on the DPPs. Clause 15 provides that if the Secretary of State is satisfied that a district council has failed to comply with…section 14(1) he can take certain steps to remedy the matter. That power is not broad enough, although I am not usually someone who argues for more powers for the Secretary of State. Although it appears that the provision places that condition only on district councils, I do not believe that is what would happen.

The political members of DPPs will come from the district councils; they will be nominated and selected under the d'Hondt system. If there is constant disruption and the DPPs do not fulfil a positive and constructive function, there should be some redress. It may not be possible to seek such redress from the DPPs, but it should be possible to ensure that district councils are subject to responsibilities and constraints for those whom they nominate to represent them on DPPs.

We suggest that the narrow provision that applies only to section 14(1) should be deleted and that the conditions that should apply should extend to the whole of part III. That would ensure that community activists such as those in the Omagh district—to whom I referred in Committee—who work voluntarily with the police, trying to represent society so that policing can function, are not bullied and browbeaten—if not physically beaten—by members of Sinn Fein, led by a Sinn Fein councillor. I gave full details of that incident in Committee, so I shall not repeat them.

Amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 61 are technical. I hope that the Government will accept them because they tidy up the Bill. Amendment No. 59 would amend clause 16, which says that the district policing partnerships shall have regard to a code of practice. We want them to "comply with" a code of practice. I think that in fact they must be bound to comply with a code of practice—otherwise, why would we have a code of practice?

Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 would amend clause 19, which says: The Board may, with the consent of the Secretary of State, issue and from time to time revise a code of practice… I do not believe that it was intended for the board to have an option whether or not to provide and issue a code of practice. I believe that the wording that was intended—our amendment would achieve this—was: The Board shall, with the consent of the Secretary of State, issue and from time to time revise a code of practice and so on. Most of our amendments are technical, and I hope that the Government will take them into consideration as a means of tightening up the legislation. I also hope that the Minister will consider the too, too narrow basis on which the Secretary of State is to make a judgment as to how district councils fulfil their function. It is not just that they have a responsibility to appoint political members to the DPPs, but that they have a responsibility to ensure that those members whom they do appoint fulfil the functions and the conditions that are contained in the rest of part III.

I shall turn briefly to the amendments that originated from the Conservative Front Bench, and simply and without further elaboration say that they appeal to us. We believe that they reflect some of those things that are necessary if DPPs are not to become the focus for dissension and disruption and, indeed, for the impeding of police in the execution of their duties to the whole of society in the areas concerned.

The Government will not be surprised, therefore, to hear me say that I am totally opposed to what is contained in new clause 3. I do not want to suggest that this is a sleight of hand, but if it is not, it is the next best thing to that. It is very clearly stated in clause 14: Each district council shall establish for its district a body to be known as the district policing partnership. It makes no sense whatever that Belfast, any more than Craigavon, Derry City or any other larger urban area, should be subdivided in terms of its district policing partnership differently from what happens within the city council itself.

7.15 pm

The Government may argue that because Belfast has in excess of 500,000 people, and as four local areas of command meet within the city, there should be four sub-committees of the district policing partnership. I hope that the Government will explain why they think that it would be a good thing, in a city that is divided and ghettoised as a result of 30 years of violence, to have one area of the city with a sub-committee that will deal with an almost exclusively republican population and another area with a sub-committee that will deal with an almost exclusively Unionist population.

Is it not the desire of the Government that we move forward—that people stop thinking rigidly, antagonistically and confrontationally in terms of their own tradition? Is it not a fact that people should be reflecting on how the city council area of Belfast can be policed in a way that ensures uniformity, consistency and fair play for each and every citizen? If the Government—I doubt that they will dissent from what I have just suggested—believe that that is the case, why on earth would they want to subdivide a district policing partnership in which huge differences of opinion will have to be accommodated, and can be accommodated only if the individual members are willing to work constructively together?

If there are to be sub-committees, something needs to be said about whether they represent exclusively the tradition that dominates the area that a sub-committee represents, or whether the sub-committees would themselves have some sort of d'Hondt formulation, whereby each would reflect the main DPP overall—but the Bill quite simply does not do that. Instead, it panders, and panders dangerously, to sectarian and partisan points of view. That is a danger. We were given the impression on Second Reading and in Committee—indeed, until we saw new clause 3—that that would not happen. That is one reason why we should have more time to discuss the Bill, because this sort of surprise is more than a surprise—it is an inherent danger for the whole of society in Northern Ireland if, merely to satisfy a sectarian or political demand, we divide our population in this way.

If the Minister wants to find justification in Patten, I should draw attention to the fact that one thing that Patten made very clear was that the RUC was to be a unitary police service. It will not be a unitary police service if it is to be divided into 26—plus now another three in Belfast—virtually autonomous areas, none of which, under the proposals in the Bill, has any conjunction with surrounding local areas of command. If the divisional police stratum of command had remained, the local areas of command would have been conjoined to a degree. We have to remember that it was the present Chief Constable who proposed that divisional areas should be done away with. If we are to do away with divisional areas, the Chief Constable, to put it bluntly, has no right to do away with regional areas. A larger number of local areas of command could be coalesced under a regional command structure.

I hope that I have demonstrated not only the folly and the inept drafting but the inherent danger that derives from the new clause. I do not believe that an area of half a million people is too large to be dealt with under one body, just as every other council area is. If the Minister believes that there is some justification for what he proposes, he has to tell us how he will ensure that in an area such as republican west Belfast, predominantly Sinn Fein influence is not exerted on the police. Similarly for other parts of Belfast, where there is a different influence, the Minister has to explain to us what precautions he will put in place.

The new clause is dangerous, especially for an urban area such as Belfast where crime does not observe any boundary. The drug trafficking that the Minister will hear me speak about again and again and all the other social abuses, such as protection rackets and everything else, are not sicknesses that observe boundaries. The germ of criminality spreads far and wide across the boundaries.

I ask the Minister to consider not pressing this particular new clause to a vote this evening. It has been sprung on us, so we have not had time to consider it. It is full of danger, and the Minister would do well to look again at whether what is being created could be the catalyst for dissension within the city of Belfast.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

I have been fairly sympathetic to the idea of DPPs, and I find new clause 3 logical, in the sense that it fulfils some of the promises made in Committee. However, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) rightly highlights the danger of a compartmentalisation of police operations along the sectarian lines that he described. That would not be good for the effectiveness of the police. So I hope that the Minister can reassure us by explaining how the mechanisms in the Bill will ensure that compartmentalisation does not occur.

The other important point that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone made related to amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 61. We had an extensive debate in Committee on the subject of amendment No. 59, and we did not receive a satisfactory reply. Why do the DPPs need only to have regard to the code rather than to comply with it? As the hon. Gentleman said, either it is a code of practice or it is not. I do not see it as guidelines. The Minister would be well advised to consider accepting amendment No. 59 and recognising that the most effective code of practice is one that does not have to be bent to different circumstances: one that fits all circumstances. It may be more difficult to introduce such a code, but I assure the Minister that it will be an awful lot more messy if various DPPs justify exempting themselves from the details of the code on the grounds of the words "have regard to". They might simply say, "We were not forced to comply with the code; it was simply a guideline and we have handled it accordingly." The Minister should respond to that and to the sensible clarifications in amendments Nos. 60 and 61.

I have been slightly critical of the Government, but I thank the Minister for having listened and introduced amendments Nos. 215 and 216, as he promised he would in Committee. The amendments make it clear that some categories of individual do not have a place in the process of policing in Northern Ireland. Amendment No. 215 will exclude those who have failed to disclose a criminal offence, and amendment No. 216 will exclude those who commit an offence after being appointed. It is right that they should be excluded, and I am glad that the changes that we requested have been made.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) raised an issue in the group of amendments tabled by the official Opposition. If one area was not sufficiently philosophically clarified in Committee with regard to where the Government stand, it is this. Although I have a view different from that expressed by the right hon. Member for Bracknell, it would be helpful to hear clearly why the Government are comfortable with the opportunity that various people who have clearly been involved in illegal actions will have to serve on the new bodies. For me, it is about forgiveness, trust and acting in good faith. If those things are not present, the whole process will not work anyway, and I have no problem with expressing that again. The right hon. Member for Bracknell has been clear about his reservations, as has the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor).

I am comfortable with moving forward on the basis that I have just described. It would help if the Minister stated unequivocally that the Government share my view, or that they have some other rationale. It would be helpful to have that on the record, not least because many people have exactly the same reservations as the right hon. Member for Bracknell expressed.

Mr. Trimble

I rise to support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) on new clause 3. It really ought to be considered again. We have grave concerns about it. Earlier, I asked the Minister just what the relationship between the sub-groups and the partnership would be. I did not appear to get a clear answer from him, despite the notes that were passed to him. Perhaps, now that he has had time to collect his thoughts more fully on the issue, he will go into the relationship between one and the other in greater detail. That ought to be teased out at length rather than rushed into the Bill at this last minute.

The Minister must recognise that there is real concern on our Benches that the new clause is a means of returning to the original proposal, to which we took strong exception, that Belfast should be split into four DPPs. We thought that that was a very serious mistake that would have serious consequences for the effectiveness of policing in the area. It would sectarianise policing in Belfast, and that would be a retrograde step.

7.30 pm

New clause 3 brings the danger that the Government, having realised that the original proposal was mistaken and having moved to a more sensible position, are now heading back by a roundabout route to their original mistake. That is why we need to know much more. This bears particularly on two of the amendments that we have mentioned.

In reply to my intervention, the Minister referred to the code of practice. We would love to see the code of practice being an effective safeguard in this matter, but the Bill does not make it so. The code of practice is something that the board may make; it is under no duty, as the Bill is drafted, to do so. If the board does make a code of practice, the DPPs are simply to "have regard to" it. "Have regard to" is a fairly weak link on this matter.

Our amendments would put the board under a duty to make a code of practice and require the DPPs to comply with it. They would bring about precisely the situation that the Minister hinted at in reply to my intervention, by saying that the code of practice could make provisions which would regulate these matters. It cannot regulate them unless there is a duty to make the code of practice and a duty to comply with it. From the point of view of achieving what the Minister himself set out, he should accept our amendments.

I wish to make some general points, touching on the existence of DPPs and on district council areas as the relevant local area of command in policing terms. One wonders about the coherence of that idea. In Northern Ireland we have 26 district councils, some of them very small. At the other end of the spectrum, we have larger ones, such as Belfast. I hesitate, lest I incur the wrath of my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, to point out that Belfast has a population of 300,000, not 500,000, unless my hon. Friend knows something about changes to Belfast's boundaries that I do not know.

The borough that I represent, Craigavon, has a population of 100,000. Lisburn has a population of over 100,000. Derry city has a population of over 100,000. Is there so much difference between 100,000 and 300,000? Why, then, break up Belfast? The borough of Craigavon has two local areas of command, the sub-divisional area of Portadown and the sub-divisional area for Lurgan. From what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said, I have the impression that there may be similar arrangements within Derry city council as well. There is a question here about consistency.

Then there is the question of what happens if, for example, there is a change in district council boundaries. This legislation relates to the number of district councils. Although no change in their number has been proposed, I have seen speculation in the press. For example, there was an interesting proposal in the editorial column of The Irish News several months ago suggesting that, instead of 26 councils, there should be only 14 or 15 in Northern Ireland. I do not know who inspired the editor of The Irish News to write that; it was certainly not me. Let us say for the sake of argument that that happened. The legislation would then automatically roll through and reduce Northern Ireland to 15 or 16 local areas of command and 15 or 16 DPPs.

I notice that heads are nodding on the Government Front Bench. I hesitate to say anything about how they are nodding! I take it that they are nodding in agreement and that the situation I have described is a consequence that the Government are entirely comfortable with.

That leads one to wonder why we have this arrangement. The Minister knows that one of our concerns about the district council areas being the local areas of command for policing is that there is then no tier within the police service between the local areas of command and headquarters in Belfast, or wherever it happens to be. We are concerned, as are others, about the effectiveness of policing; and this situation exposes a serious danger of a weakness in the command structure within the police service, a greater tendency for the local areas to act independently, and consequently a greater danger that the police officer in charge of each local area will be under undue pressure from a politically motivated DPP. That danger would be minimised if we had an effective structure within the police service.

I know that over the years there has been an argument about the divisional command. Stripping out the divisional command has been suggested; from time to time even her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary has referred to that. Why not, then, provide a regional structure with, say, the equivalent of two or three assistant chief constables grouping the local areas of command so as to provide an effective structure? It is important that, as Patten recommended, we retain a unitary structure within the police service. That is endangered by the proposals before us. I should like to hear the Minister directly address that point.

Another matter of concern at the other end of the spectrum is local areas. We have an extensive structure of local police and community liaison groups. Obviously, with that structure, the community police liaison committees are somewhat uneven, but they bring local communities together, particularly communities that have significant problems. I do not wish to identify the area in question, but in my constituency I know of two housing estates with serious problems. They have formed their own CPLC, which brings together a number of community groups that interact with the local police officers very effectively.

Such CPLCs will disappear. Clause 16(1)(c) says that the DPPs shall make arrangements for obtaining— the views of the public about matters concerning the policing of the district. It is possible within those terms to make arrangements to hear the views of people in particular localities. That should be encouraged. Perhaps it could be covered in a code of practice, but if the code of practice does not have to be made and is not binding, there is not much point in making that provision.

I worry about all the good people in a number of localities who are engaged in handling serious problems in their neighbourhoods. In dealing with criminality and anti-social activity, which are serious problems in some areas, they will now find that the structure they have depended on to try to improve policing in their area will disappear and be replaced by an excessively politicised structure at district council level that does not effectively reach down into local communities.

It is not good enough to say that community groups can go to see the DPP. That does not meet the need. I am reluctant to go into greater detail, because we are so short of time, but there is a serious gap in the legislation, unless it is properly covered by codes of practice. I have heard nothing about that, however, and my colleagues who were on the Committee recall no discussion there dealing specifically with the matter. As I said at the beginning, unless those codes of practice are binding on DPPs and it is mandatory for the board to make them, they will not be effective; they will not be a tool to ensure that this local layer is in place and that the Minister's assurances on the sub-groups in Belfast are implemented.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 62 and 63, tabled by the Ulster Unionist party.

Amendment No. 62 deals with the great danger that we see in the district policing partnership, which we believe will put the district police commander under great pressure, take up a great deal of his time and, indeed, make policing more difficult than it is now. Hence amendment No. 62 would insert a new subsection, which states: Nothing in this section shall require a district commander or his nominee to answer any question or disclose any information which compromises effective policing. Although community relations and seeking the views of the community are useful, they should not in any way compromise the effectiveness of the police in the area. That is why we tabled the amendment.

Amendment No. 63 is designed to ensure that the Policing Board would produce a yearly report on the effectiveness of policing. That report should also include comments on the effectiveness of the district police partnerships, how they operate, how they are received and how they affect good policing in a particular area. The amendment would make it part of the board's remit to report on the effectiveness of district policing partnerships, and on the level of public satisfaction with the performance of individual district policing partnerships. That is essential. There should be continual supervision of the district policing partnerships so that they do not compromise proper and effective policing.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

The reasoned amendment on Second Reading tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) expressed the Conservative party's deep anxieties about the prospect of the political representatives of paramilitary organisations sitting on the policing board and the district policing partnerships without the decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives having started. We also expressed our anxieties about inadequate safeguards against people convicted of terrorist offences serving on the Policing Board or the DPPs. We did not vary our stance on Second Reading or in Committee and we have not done so on Report.

Earlier, my right hon. Friend made perfectly clear who should not serve on the bodies and why they should not serve on them. He spoke in support of amendments No. 303 to 307, and we were subsequently pleased to receive the support of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and the Ulster Unionist party for those five amendments. At no stage this evening—perhaps we will not hear it at any stage—have we heard any convincing rebuttal of the arguments behind the amendments.

I hope that it is not too much to ask the Minister to recognise the force of my right hon. Friend's arguments, which have been consistently maintained since Second Reading. I hope that the Minister will give us a pleasant surprise by accepting the amendments.

Mr. Ingram

We have a cluster of amendments before us, and it will be difficult to deal with all aspects of them. However, I shall try to work through them in a logical and structured fashion.

Before I come to the amendments, it is important to consider the debate that we have had on Government new clause 3. I gave an indication in Committee of how the Government were thinking, so the new clause should not have come as a surprise. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) suggested that it was a new concept, but I gave notice in Committee that we were thinking along those lines. We have reflected that thinking, and given the points that we made in Committee, reference should have been made to the Patten report.

I also tell the hon. Gentleman that we are not limiting the time for this debate; I am quite prepared to continue it. That may mean that we cannot debate other issues, but I am happy to debate this issue to a conclusion, because I recognise that it is important.

7.45 pm
Mr. Maginnis

I remind the Minister that my surprise was not of my own making. It derived from the fact that when the Secretary of State referred to Belfast in the debate on the Patten report, he said: I also intend to consider further the arrangements proposed for Belfast, where I am not satisfied that it would be right to have four separate partnerships.—[Official Report, 19 January 2000; Vol. 342, c. 847.] What the Secretary of State has given us is an apology for four separate partnerships—and he knows it.

Mr. Ingram

I do not accept that assertion at all. I said that the matter was alluded to in Committee. Members of the Democratic Unionist party and the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) have made a great song and dance about the need to debate this measure, but they are not here. For whatever reason, they have absented themselves from the Chamber. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, all parties—perhaps with the exception of those that are not here now—have made representations, and in the discussions, we have sought to find points of common ground. That fact was reflected in the changes made in Committee. All parties in Committee moved amendments, and we have amended the Bill based on reasoned consideration of the arguments put forward.

I cannot enter into a debate about the future of the district council structure, as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). The councils are no longer a matter for the United Kingdom Government. It is for the Assembly on which he serves to determine what the structure should be. If the structure evolves and develops in a particular way, that is an issue for the Assembly.

As the Bill stands, there is provision for 26 councils. However, we anticipate that two or three small councils may wish to come together. That is allowed for if they wish it and if everyone is satisfied that that is the way forward. Rearrangement of the existing structure can take place if there is agreement.

I do not accept the point made by the right hon. Gentleman that new clause 3 was not explained, but I shall explain it further, to help him to appreciate what we are doing. The Belfast district policing partnership, out of which will come the four sub-groups, will continue to have the powers set out in clause 16. Those are the same as for all other DPPs; there is no difference between Belfast and anywhere else. Those powers will not be delegated to the four sub-groups; there is no delegation of powers on that basis. The sub-groups will remain subordinate to the main Belfast DPP and they will have the function of providing views and holding discussions with the local police commander. They will also offer to the main Belfast DPP views on policing in their areas.

As I said earlier, the sub-groups will have no role in the main planning process for Belfast except in offering views to the Belfast DPP, of which they are an integral part. The local police planning function is for the Belfast DPP as a whole. There is no question of transferring power down to the sub-groups in that way. They have certain limited functions.

Mr. Thompson

Am I right in thinking that a DPP can delegate its responsibilities to a committee and give it the powers of the partnership? Can that happen in this case? Furthermore, the Minister has referred to six nominees to a partnership, so why does he not insist that three are elected and three are independent members?

Mr. Ingram

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes, that is how the Bill can apply. Of course, there must be sensible arrangements to ensure the best and maximum point of contact and the best communications at local level between the local community and the police and vice versa. That is the underlying principle of the Bill, and it seeks to achieve that. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would disagree with the principle that the local community should engage with the local police. The problem in too many areas of Northern Ireland is that the local community does not engage with the police—[Interruption.] Well, to find ways to encourage that to happen was obviously one of the underlying motives and drivers of the Patten report and of what we are seeking to deliver.

As for the four sub-divisions of Belfast, there are already four police districts in Belfast. Clause 20 makes provision for police districts and the way in which they will be established. Each district commander should deal with a specific sub-group of the Belfast district policing partnership. That goes back to the point that I was making to the hon. Gentleman about the need for a close relationship with the local district commander, which concerns effective community policing as well as effective accountability for policing. The further that is from the reality on the street, the less effective it is.

As set out in new clause 3, each sub-group will have six members, so individual members of the DPP will be represented on more than one sub-group. The partnership itself will appoint members of the sub-group. As the Government do not intend to intervene in any way whatever, that is in effect a devolution of responsibility. If the Government intervened and were heavy-handed, that would work against the very principle which, I would have thought, we all seek to achieve. I repeat that the provision is about consultation on policing, not sectarian head counts, as has been suggested, or the cantonisation of policing.

Mr. Trimble

May I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), as there is an inconsistency in the Government's approach to the Policing Board for Northern Ireland and to individual district policing partnerships. The Bill contains elaborate provisions to ensure balance, and make sure that the board is representative of the Assembly, the partnerships of the district councils, and so on. The Government are not reluctant to impose on the Assembly and the local councils provisions that ensure balance. Why, then, is there no provision to ensure balance in the sub-groups? Why does the Minister forswear the desire to have balance there? It is important that that issue is addressed, as it would help to restore confidence if we were sure that the sub-groups were reflective of the partnership as a whole, and that the door was not being opened to the creation of sub-groups that were not representative of the partnership as a whole, which would lead to sectarianisation or cantonisation of the sub-groups.

Mr. Ingram

They will certainly not be cantonised in the terms suggested.

The provision is not about the cantonisation of the sub-groups, any more than it is about the cantonisation of policing. There are two ways of approaching the matter. One could take a heavy-handed, interfering approach—[Interruption.] I am trying to deal with this debate, but the right hon. Member for Upper Bann keeps shouting at me from a sedentary position. I cannot hear what he is saying, but it is a bit off-putting. I am trying to work through his last question, but he is not letting me get 10 words out before he starts disagreeing with my explanation.

We are seeking to establish, in the hands either of the board or of the Secretary of State, powers proportionate to the body to which those powers relate. Those bodies are low-level, and I have tried to set out the fact that they are concerned with local consultation. They do not have the powers of the DPPs. If the Government were to ride in and say that we wanted a certain type of representation, that would be very heavy-handed and would work against the principle of devolution itself. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann may believe that we should interfere, and wish that we would, in every aspect of Northern Ireland society. However, that is not my view, as it runs counter to the principle of devolution and to all the representations concerning the relative powers of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable that we received when the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 was being considered.

The same tripartite structure applies here. Representations were made about the Secretary of State having too much power, and we are trying to ensure that the powers provided for are proportionate to the level of responsibility. I am now being asked to apply a heavy-handed approach, which is inconsistent.

Mr. Trimble

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ingram

I shall, but we have a lot of progress to make.

Mr. Trimble

I am sorry to intervene on the Minister again, but he has not answered the question. All I said was that he was being inconsistent. He stands at the Dispatch Box saying that he does not want to be heavy-handed, but he is being heavy-handed on the composition of the board, as he has been on the composition of the partnerships. Why does the principle of representative character not flow through to the sub-groups?

Mr. Ingram

We must look at the size of the sub-groups. The way in which these bodies are set up means that the DPP itself must take that sort of view into account. However, if we are over-prescriptive, that militates against the principle that the provision is about people's local communities.

DPPs and the sub-groups will not be successful if they become bodies set up on the basis of sectarian head-counts, as there will be no co-operation across the community divide. I do not believe that there is an inconsistency, as we must seek to ensure that the level of decision making is proportionate to the body being set up. In a sense, we are dealing with a low-level body which has certain points of interface with the police. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann is shaking his head. However, many people in Northern Ireland will not co-operate with the current policing structure. If we say that we have to be prescriptive and insist on a certain structure, the result will be abstentionism. If we decided not to have either the DPP or the sub-groups, what would be lost? We must ensure that the police have that point of contact in their community.

Not for the first time, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone raised the issue of regional commands. I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but in one sense, I have more respect for the Chief Constable, for the way in which his views could impact on my thought process about the proper structures for policing in Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable is highly respected and extremely professional, and has accepted the concept of district commands and the eventual removal of the regional tier. The provision is therefore consistent with what he believes to be effective and efficient policing.

Mr. Maginnis

Does the Minister's justification for accepting the Chief Constable's advice over that of my hon. Friends and myself not conflict with his huge desire to take advice on policing from ex-terrorists who will be members of the district policing partnership? Does the Minister regard my hon. Friends and myself less highly because we do not have that qualification?

8 pm

Mr. Ingram

I am not conscious of having taken advice of that nature. The hon. Gentleman claims that I have taken such advice, but it may surprise those whom he calls ex-terrorists to hear that they have ready access to me and can influence my thought processes. I see no evidence of that. We have taken account of the views expressed by all the political parties that have sought to make representations on the matter.

I could spend longer on new clause 3 if required, but we have probably exhausted our examination of it. I have set out what I believe to be a reasoned response to the issues that have been raised. There will be one Belfast DPP and four sub-groups, which will respond to the main DPP. I hope that that will satisfy hon. Members.

Mr. Trimble

What about the community police liaison committees?

Mr. Ingram

For CPLCs, the DPPs will have a responsibility to seek to set up local arrangements and to look for ways in which they can penetrate the wider community and be truly representative, and we will encourage that. The DPPs will not be omnipotent bodies, and they should not sit in their ivory towers and claim that they are the only people who understand policing. Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman pointed out the need to ensure that the point of contact is as close as possible to the direct interface. We cannot be prescriptive about that and say that the focus should be on a cluster of, say, four streets.

To return to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, we cannot even say that the CPLCs should be representative. In Northern Ireland, the sub-divisions in a particular area such as a cluster of streets are such that it may be very hard to achieve cross-community representation. That in itself does not damage the point of contact between a particular community and the police; its success will depend on the way in which the community deals with its interface with the police, which will be conditioned by the thought processes of the DPPs as they take account of views that are expressed. Those views may be one-sided, but in their consideration of them the DPPs should ask themselves whether or not there is a balance.

Amendment No. 14, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), would place a time limit on district councils, giving them six months to establish a DPP. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, also in my hon. Friend's name, would impose further time limits requiring the council to appoint political members within six months, and the board to appoint independents within one month of receipt of nominations. I am not convinced that those would be wise or necessary moves.

The Patten report made it clear that arrangements should be put in place to facilitate constant dialogue at local levels between the police and the community. We support that vision of the future of policing, and part III will enable it to happen. However, we do not think it necessary to establish time limits now, as we cannot be certain how long the arrangements will reasonably take. For example, the board needs to be appointed before it can consider and approve its code for DPPs. It is also to be consulted, among others, about the Secretary of State's code on appointments. There will then be an appointments process, which our experience of public appointments leads us to think may take from three to six months, depending on when it is run.

We are embarking on a new process, and wrinkles will need to be identified before they can be ironed out. Furthermore, the council will need time to make its decisions on nominations. That all points to a commitment that appointments, independent and political, will be made as soon as possible, but also to a recognition that that could take longer than the amendments anticipate, depending on the starting point. There is a safeguard in clause 15 that gives the Secretary of State the power to intervene; for example, if a district council fails to establish a DPP for its district, he can direct it to comply. If those arrangements are to work, all council areas must play their part and each council area must have a means of promoting and facilitating community-police consultation.

Although I would be sympathetic to the desire to introduce a time scale in other contexts, I do not believe, for the reasons that I have set out, that it would be practical in this case. I hope that amendments Nos. 14, 19 and 20 will not be pressed to a vote.

Amendment No. 56, to which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone spoke, would extend the power given to the Secretary of State in clause 15 which enables him to intervene where a district council fails to establish a DPP. The amendment would require him to take action where a council failed to comply with any of the part III arrangements.

In Committee there were many criticisms about the heavy-handed involvement of the Secretary of State in the Bill's provisions. The Government do not accept those criticisms, but we have taken account of the arguments about the relationships between the Secretary of State, the Policing Board and the Chief Constable. We have sought to take a balanced approach, and we have given the Secretary of State powers and provided safeguards where we believe that they are necessary and justified.

We felt that it was imperative to ensure that a default power was provided in case councils failed to establish DPPs. However, on the general functions of DPPs and their obligations to report to councils and the board, with which the amendment deals, we are not convinced that the Secretary of State needs, or should have, further powers to intervene. Again, we seek to create proportionate powers. We believe that those are more appropriately matters for the board and the council to tackle.

That is why we have provided for the board to set the functions and powers in a code, and why its powers dovetail with those of the DPPs. It is also why it can override DPPs under clause 15, and in setting up local consultative arrangements under clause 22. That relates to the argument about CPLCs advanced by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. We are also considering suggestions made in Committee by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone to add more comment on and assessment of DPPs to the matters that the board is to cover in its annual report.

I remind hon. Members that the functions of DPPs are purely consultative. The powers affecting them should therefore be proportionate, and the amendment does not achieve that objective, so I hope that hon. Members will not press it to a vote.

I turn now to amendments Nos. 59 to 61, to which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone also spoke. I know from his comments in Committee that he has deep concerns about the operation of DPPs, and he has expressed those concerns again tonight. Through amendment No. 59 he seeks to require DPPs to comply with the code of practice on the exercise of their powers and functions rather than to have regard to it. Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 would require the board to issue that code of practice and permit it to be revised from time to time.

I shall deal with the latter issue first. The hon. Gentleman showed in Committee that he favours what I would define as prescriptive, rather than discretionary, powers and would therefore like to bind the DPPs, the board and the Secretary of State at every turn.

Mr. Maginnis

indicated assent.

Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman nods his agreement that he would like the process to develop in that way.

The important point is that the functions of the boards are clearly set out. The code will be a translation into guidance of those functions. Clause 16 clearly sets out the functions. We have also stated that the DPPs shall report to the district council and that they shall report to the board.

Notwithstanding that, I have no doubt that the board will issue a code of practice covering the exercise by DPPs of their powers and functions, and indeed we plan to give the board a draft code from which to work. We envisage that the DPPs will, in the early days of their operation, need that code and find it most useful. As they begin to develop their own knowledge and become more experienced, they will require less guidance from the Secretary of State. We genuinely believe that that is the way in which the Bill should be constructed. We are not convinced that a requirement for a code is justified. I ask the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone not to press for a vote on amendments Nos. 59 to 61.

As I have mentioned, the functions are clear in clause 16. The code of practice gives guidance on the exercise of them. We need to understand that adherence to the guidance cannot be too prescriptive. Flexibility will be needed so that each council area is able to adapt the best practice set out in the code in a way which suits its own needs. Tight compliance is not, therefore, sensible. As we stated in Committee, what could be best practice in Moyle district, for example, may not necessarily be best practice in another district. Flexibility is a desirable approach. A too prescriptive approach would tie down the ways in which these bodies could operate.

The code cannot override the statutory functions in clause 16. It cannot take away that which is set out in the Bill. If it had to be complied with, the board could stray beyond the clause and the DPPs would be asked and expected to extend beyond their powers. There is nothing underhand about the way in which we are approaching these issues. It is about saying where respective powers should rest. That is a further argument against amendment No. 59, which I hope will convince the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone not to press it to a Division.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington spoke to amendments Nos. 16 and 17. Amendment No. 16 places a duty upon DPPs to hold all meetings in public. As we discussed in Committee, the amendment goes well beyond the Patten report, which recommended in paragraph 6.37 a meeting in public once a month. We have provided for the Patten recommendation to be implemented by the Policing Board issuing a code to the partnerships, on the exercise of their functions, under clause 19. The clause lists the areas to be covered by the code, including procedures for meetings and public meetings. While partnerships should operate in an open manner, the chairperson should have discretion to hold parts of the meeting in private or to remove the public.

I shall give the House an example. A district commander may be talking about the building of a new police station. That may have implications for land price. He may want to give some advice or knowledge to the DPP. If the meeting were held in public, that might lead to speculation. We do not believe that the standard approach should be meetings in camera, but there may be occasions when that happens. The requirement suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that all meetings should be in public would militate against that. I ask him not to press amendment No. 16 to a Division.

Amendment No. 17 seeks to provide that the code of practice will cover the arrangements for enabling DPP members and the public to ask the police questions about the discharge of their functions and police operations in the district. In paragraph 6.30 the Patten report recommended meetings between the DPP and the district commander at which the police would present reports and answer questions, and the partnership would reflect community concerns and priorities to the police. The report recommends also that questions by the public should go through the chair.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington is seeking to insert in the Bill a considerable amount of detail which we believe is more appropriately dealt with in the code of practice. Clause 19(3) specifically provides for the issues mentioned in the amendment to be dealt with in the code. We believe that the code is a much more sensible approach to what was envisaged and set out in the Patten report. I ask my hon. Friend not to proceed to Divisions on his amendments.

A complicated range of issues are raised by the amendments and I apologise for the time that I have taken. However, important issues are contained within each of the elements that has been raised.

Amendment No. 62, which was moved by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, seeks to ensure that nothing in the code of practice will require a district commander to disclose any information which would compromise effective policing. If I interpret the purpose behind the amendment correctly, the hon. Gentleman is seeking to preserve the operational independence of the police. I can assure him that that is already entirely the case.

8.15 pm

The Patten report specifically states in paragraph 6.21 that it is the Chief Constable's right and duty to take operational decisions and that no one should direct him how to conduct an operation. The paragraph also points out that police officers, while accountable, must be free to exercise their responsibilities. The Patten report adopted a sensible and powerful view.

I have explained that DPPs are consultative bodies. The police may operate as they wish but they are accountable to the community, in this instance through the DPPs. The police have said that they want to work in partnership with the DPPs, which will allow for greater consultation between local communities and the police in identifying concerns and priorities at local level. The code of practice on the functions of DPPs will detail what is expected of the police. However, it is clear that police commanders will not, and should not, be expected to disclose details of on-going operations or criminal investigations. To do so would be entirely wrong. I think that that is what amendment No. 62 is seeking to establish. If so, it is not necessary. We believe that the matter is already covered within the Bill.

Amendment No. 63 was tabled by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), and I do not disagree with its general thrust. Indeed, I gave an assurance in Committee that I would consider an amendment that would require a public satisfaction assessment for DPPs. I regret that I have not yet been able to do so. I am taking a legal view on how we can best achieve such assessment. When that has been clarified and the parliamentary draftsmen have advised us on how the provision can be put in place in legal terms, we shall return to the matter in another place. In a sense, I am accepting the amendment in principle once the matter has been clarified.

Amendments Nos. 6 to 9, which stand in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, relate to part II of schedule 1, which relates to the constitution of the Policing Board during direct rule immediately after the devolved Government have been suspended. None of us wants to see that eventuality happening. Amendment No. 11 relates to part III, dealing with a board established immediately following devolution.

Amendment No. 6 seeks to remove the element of flexibility which has been given to the Secretary of State in terms of the representativeness of appointments to the board. Our intention in including such flexibility was not to permit the Secretary of State to appoint at random with no regard to representativeness. It was to acknowledge that there may be occasions when a representative selection of people does not come forward. I have said that there is a sizeable body of opinion in Northern Ireland which does not co-operate with the existing police authority. If there are abstentions and a boycott, how can we deliver on representativeness? Problems would be created. It is important that we have structures and that those who decide not to co-operate should not have the veto in those circumstances.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, when taken together, would require the Secretary of State to consult on first and subsequent appointments to the board, and seek to limit the time for that to three months. Given the way in which the matter has been addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, there may be some confusion. The first thing to understand is that the provisions that he is tackling will apply only in very specific circumstances, and that is where devolution is suspended. In this circumstance, sub-paragraph (6) of paragraph 3 applies to enable a board to be established quickly by the Secretary of State, as otherwise there will be a vacuum, with no board at all. We wish to avoid that.

There will have been consultation on the appointment of the nine independent members of the devolved board, and the likelihood is that others will be shortlisted at that time. The Secretary of State would undoubtedly seek to appoint the nine who are already serving and up to nine others. A direct rule board can have between 14 and 19 members. There could be up to nine others in those circumstances. That would be done as far as practicable to create a representative board.

Who knows who might wish to co-operate and participate as we moved from devolution to direct rule? There would undoubtedly be difficulties, but our assumption would be that the nine independents appointed under devolution would wish to serve on an on-going basis and would therefore automatically be appointed, bringing the strength of the board to between 14 and 19 members. It is important that we could move very quickly in a very unfortunate set of circumstances. It would be wrong to create a vacuum. That is why I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the amendments to a vote.

Amendment No. 11 places a nominal three-month limit on consultation on appointments of independents to a devolved board and, in effect, would tie the consultation process down. The Government will make appointments to the board as quickly as we can, and we have already established a timetable, with shadow appointments in January. The process will not be helped by absolute time limits that bear no relation to the practicalities of making such appointments. This is not an easy road to tread, as we have experienced when previously encouraging people to serve. To impose strict time limits could prove unhelpful.

Amendment No. 9, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington also spoke, is simply not in keeping with Patten. The amendment would replace appointment of the first chairperson and vice-chairperson of the direct rule board by the Secretary of State, under schedule 1(3)(9), with a provision placing responsibility in the hands of the board and allowing for rotation.

Patten said in paragraph 6.14: that the chairperson be appointed by the Secretary of State. That is a very clear direction. Knowing that my hon. Friend supports the general thrust of the Patten commission's report, I suggest that his amendment does not comply with it and that therefore he should not press it to a vote.

Amendments Nos. 10, 12 and 13, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington also spoke, would enable persons who were not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means to retain their seats on the board, whether during direct rule or devolved government. Absurdly, they would also enable a person who has been excluded from holding the office of Minister in the Assembly not to be disqualified from appointment to the board. That would not be a sensible provision. The Government are not prepared to remove what we believe to be important safeguards in the appointments process. Parliament has already seen fit to enact such safeguards under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I do not for a moment believe that it would be the wish of the House to move back from that position. I would not seek support for the amendments.

I turn to amendments Nos. 303 to 307, to which the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) spoke. We dealt with the matter that they concern on Second Reading and in Committee, and I have asked the right hon. Gentleman to clear up some confusion, which is perhaps only in my mind. He is not prepared for particular people, who have been elected, to serve on the Policing Board, yet he is prepared to allow them to continue to serve as Ministers in a devolved Administration.

The right hon. Gentleman thinks that, under the new political settlement, responsible Members of the devolved Assembly should not be allowed to serve on the Policing Board. I take account of his comments on security matters, and so on, but I am sure that the Chief Constable and others will be wholly cognisant of what they should be reporting to the board. They will be reporting not on national security issues but on policing issues relating to the functions of the Policing Board.

Mr. MacKay

I am glad that, at last, it has dawned on the Minister that he might be the only person who is confused. For that I am grateful. Let me again from this Dispatch Box say clearly that we see a distinction between being a Minister in the Executive, responsible for, for instance, education or health, and serving on a police board or in a police partnership. We envisage severe security implications.

We need an answer to the following question: is he not concerned that it would be dangerous and wrong for ex-convicted terrorists to have security-sensitive information? I think that he probably is concerned, because he has just admitted that the Chief Constable would be aware that he could give only certain information to the board and partnerships. That seems a great pity; I thought that we wanted the fullest possible information to be given.

Mr. Ingram

I have not cleared up the confusion in my mind. In the memorable phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) in Committee, the Conservative party seems to hide behind the bush and shake it at the same time. That became a touchstone for those of us who were trying to understand the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman's party.

The Conservatives are prepared to accept the political settlement and to have—the right hon. Gentleman should be direct about this—Sinn Fein Members in the Government of Northern Ireland, who could interface with me as the security Minister on matters relating to, let us say, drugs or juvenile justice. There is a substantial interface. Is he saying that I should not talk to such Members about those policing matters? The more that we can encourage representative parties that hitherto have not done so to talk about policing or to talk to representatives of those who express views on policing or police officers, the more that we demonstrate considerable progress.

Mr. MacKay

Does not the Minister realise that there is a difference between what he refers to as the interface between him and any Minister in the Executive on one hand, and people sitting on the board or police partnerships, who will be more than "interfacing"? They will have considerable responsibilities. A proper relationship between the police and the board, which the Minister and I want, and proper relationships between the police and the partnerships can be created only by trust. There is no way that the police can trust ex-terrorist criminals. The Minister must know that. I know it and it is why our amendments should be accepted.

Mr. Ingram

We are talking about an interface between the police and the Policing Board or, indeed, between the police and DPPs, just as we are talking about an interface between representatives of, perhaps, more than one party about which the right hon. Gentleman has concerns and myself, given my responsibility for policing in prisons and criminal justice matters.

I can limit my discussions and the basis on which I seek to communicate information on our objectives. The wide parameters within which the Policing Board and the DPPs will have responsibility will not include responsibility for national security issues. Such issues are, of course, completely precluded not just under the Northern Ireland Act but under other Acts on the devolved Administrations that this Government have set up. [Interruption.] I cannot deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point if he is speaking to me from a sedentary position. If he wants to make another point, I will give way to him. He does not.

The right hon. Gentleman's fear simply does not hold water because such circumstances will not arise. The amendments fail to acknowledge the already extensive disqualification and removal criteria for board members. The Government have provided safeguards that we believe are necessary, strictly proportionate and measured given the political settlement with which we are dealing.

Unlike the existing Police Authority for Northern Ireland, members of the board will be required to pass a test of upholding the principles of non-violence and of commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means. If they do not, the Secretary of State will be able to remove them. I explained in Committee that there are many other safeguards—we do not need to go into all the details—such as character checks, which are based on the very highest standards of probity and integrity. There is a fundamental difference between the right hon. Gentleman's argument and the Government's view. I am not so sure that we will be able to clear it up; we tried to do so in Committee and on Second Reading.

We, from the Government's point of view, are prepared to look at the new political settlement, to move it forward progressively and to implement mechanisms, but let us remember, they will not be delivered as of this evening but at some future point, when, hopefully, the settlement will be further embedded and there will be an even more peaceful environment in Northern Ireland.

8.30 pm

We must also put the matter in a particular time scale. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is inconsistent with what the Patten commission sought to achieve—inclusivity, without risking respect for non-violence and the principles of democracy. Those safeguards will be applied rigorously. I therefore do not believe that more safeguards are needed.

This evening and on previous occasions, the right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the relationship with decommissioning. We share some objectives, but decommissioning is a separate test. The Government believe that substantial progress has been made. The right hon. Gentleman's party may not be wholly convinced of that, but we are satisfied that progress has been made, and we want to build on it.

Finally, I shall deal with the two amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. Amendment No. 21 requires the council to satisfy itself on a number of fronts before putting nominations to the board. It requires the council to ensure that the district is aware that appointments are to be made, that applications have been invited from the district, that the applications have been carefully considered, and that the final nominations reflect that community.

Those are all objectives that the Government share and are exactly the type of issues that the code on appointments will cover. The code will provide guidance to councils on the advertising of independent posts and on interviewing and selection procedures. I said in Committee, and it is worth repeating, that there will be an independent element at both selection and appointment stages.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I appreciate the way in which he is responding to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and me. If those are the Government's objectives, as I am sure they are, what is wrong with writing them into the Bill?

Mr. Ingram

Those matters will be covered by the code on appointments. We do not want to clutter the Bill with the minutiae of the management of the system. We leave that for the code, which is flexible and amendable. That is the reason for our approach. I hope that my hon. Friends will accept my assurances that the code will cover the situation adequately and the amendment is not required.

Amendment No. 21 would require the Secretary of State to obtain the agreement of the board before providing that two or more councils may establish a single DPP for their district. I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that the remainder of clause 16, to which the amendment relates, provides that the councils must agree to such an amalgamation. It cannot be imposed. We do not envisage the Secretary of State riding in to bring the councils together. If they want to amalgamate for more convenient management of the area through their interface as a DPP, we have provided for that, and the amendment is not necessary.

As I said at the outset, this is a comprehensive group of amendments. I am aware of the time that I have taken, but there are important issues under consideration. I hope that I have answered all the points raised during the debate. I ask the House to support Government new clause 3, and Government amendments Nos. 213, 215, 216 and 218, and to resist all other amendments.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 338, Noes 7.

Division No. 255] [8.34 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Buck, Ms Karen
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Burden, Richard
Ainger, Nick Burnett, John
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Burstow, Paul
Allan, Richard Butler, Mrs Christine
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Atkins, Charlotte Campbel-Savours, Dale
Ballard, Jackie Casale, Roger
Barnes, Harry Caton, Martin
Barron, Kevin Cawsey, Ian
Battle, John Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bayley, Hugh Chidgey, David
Beard, Nigel Chisholm, Malcolm
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clapham, Michael
Begg, Miss Anne Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bennett, Andrew F Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Berry, Roger Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Best, Harold Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Blackman, Liz Clelland, David
Blizzard, Bob Clwyd, Ann
Borrow, David Coaker, Vernon
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Coffey, Ms Ann
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Coleman, Iain
Bradshaw, Ben Colman, Tony
Brand, Dr Peter Connarty, Michael
Brinton, Mrs Helen Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cooper, Yvette
Browne, Desmond Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cotter, Brian Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cousins, Jim Hoyle, Lindsay
Cox, Tom Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Crausby, David Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hume, John
Cummings, John Hurst, Alan
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jenkins, Brian
Darvill, Keith Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Denham, John Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dobbin, Jim Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Donohoe, Brian H Keeble, Ms Sally
Doran, Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Dowd, Jim Kemp, Fraser
Drew, David Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Khabra, Piara S
Edwards, Huw Kidney, David
Efford, Clive Kilfoyle, Peter
Ellman, Mrs Louise King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Etherington, Bill Kirkwood, Archy
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fearn, Ronnie Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Fisher, Mark Lammy, David
Fitzpatrick, Jim Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Laxton, Bob
Follett, Barbara Lepper, David
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Leslie, Christopher
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Levitt, Tom
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Fyfe, Maria Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Galloway, George Linton, Martin
George, Andrew (St Ives) Livsey, Richard
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gerrard, Neil Llwyd, Elfyn
Gidley, Sandra Lock, David
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Love, Andrew
Godman, Dr Norman A McAvoy, Thomas
Godsiff, Roger McCafferty, Ms Chris
Goggins, Paul Macdonald, Calum
Golding, Mrs Llin McDonnell, John
Gorrie, Donald McFall, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McGrady, Eddie
Grocott, Bruce McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gunnell, John McIsaac, Shona
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McNamara, Kevin
Hancock, Mike McNulty, Tony
Hanson, David MacShane, Denis
Harvey, Nick McWalter, Tony
Heal, Mrs Sylvia McWilliam, John
Healey, John Mahon, Mrs Alice
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Mallaber, Judy
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mallon, Seamus
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Hepburn, Stephen Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Heppell, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hill, Keith Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hodge, Ms Margaret Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hood, Jimmy Martlew, Eric
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Meale, Alan
Hope, Phil Merron, Gillian
Hopkins, Kelvin Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Miller, Andrew Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moore, Michael Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Moran, Ms Margaret Snape, Peter
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Soley, Clive
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Southworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mountford, Kali Steinberg, Gerry
Mudie, George Stevenson, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stinchcombe, Paul
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stoate, Dr Howard
Naysmith, Dr Doug Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Norris, Dan Stringer, Graham
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Olner, Bill Stunell, Andrew
O'Neill, Martin Sutcliffe, Gerry
Öpik, Lembit Swinney, John
Organ, Mrs Diana Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Pearson, Ian Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pendry, Tom Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Perham, Ms Linda Temple-Morris, Peter
Pickthall, Colin Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pike, Peter L Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Plaskitt, James Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Pond, Chris Timms, Stephen
Pope, Greg Todd, Mark
Pound, Stephen Tonge, Dr Jenny
Powell, Sir Raymond Trickett, Jon
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Truswell, Paul
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Purchase, Ken Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Quinn, Lawrie Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rammell, Bill Tyler, Paul
Rapson, Syd Tynan, Bill
Raynsford, Nick Vis, Dr Rudi
Rendel, David Walley, Ms Joan
Roche, Mrs Barbara Ward, Ms Claire
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Wareing, Robert N
Rooney, Terry Watts, David
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Webb, Steve
Rowlands, Ted Welsh, Andrew
Roy, Frank White, Brian
Ruane, Chris Whitehead, Dr Alan
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Salter, Martin Winnick, David
Sanders, Adrian Wood, Mike
Sarwar, Mohammad Woolas, Phil
Sawford, Phil Worthington, Tony
Shaw, Jonathan Wray, James
Sheerman, Barry Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Mr. Don Touhig and
Mr. Graham Allen.
McCartney, Robert (N Down) Thompson, William
Maginnis, Ken Trimble, Rt Hon David
Paisley, Rev Ian
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Tellers for the Noes:
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Mr. Roy Beggs and
Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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