§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 61, in page 16, line 9 [Clause 23], at end insert—'(d) the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.'.Amendment No. 84, in page 16, line 9 [Clause 23], at end insert—'(d) the information would, or would be likely, to prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'Amendment No. 62, in page 16, line 16 [Clause 23], at end insert—'(d) the inquiry would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.'.Amendment No. 85, in page 16, line 16 [Clause 23], at end insert—'(d) the information would, or would be likely, to prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'.Government amendments Nos. 30 and 31.
Amendment No. 59, in page 15, line 31 [Clause 22], leave out 'shall' and insert 'may'.
Amendment No. 83, in page 15, line 46 [Clause 22], leave out paragraph (c).
Government amendment No. 32.
Amendment No. 52, in page 12, line 1, leave out Clause 18.
Government amendment No. 9.
Amendment No. 56, in page 12, line 8 [Clause 18], leave out'it appears to the Chief Constable that'.Government amendment No. 10.
Amendment No. 78, in page 12, line 10 [Clause 18], at end insert—'(2A) Subsection (1) does not require the Chief Constable to supply any information to the Board if it appears to the Chief Constable that the information ought not to be disclosed on the grounds that it would, or would be likely to, prejudice ongoing police investigations and operations.'.Government amendment No. 11.
466 Amendment No. 53, in page 12, line 14 [Clause 18], at end insert'or is information that would or be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders'.Amendment No. 79, in page 12, line 14 [Clause 18], at end insert'or would, or would be likely to, prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations'.Government amendment No. 12.
Amendment No. 57, in page 12, line 19 [Clause 18], leave out 'in his opinion'.
Amendment No. 58, in page 12, line 20 [Clause 18], after 'would', insert in his opinion'.
Amendment No. 54, in page 12, line 21 [Clause 18], leave out 'or'.
Amendment No. 55, in page 12, line 23 [Clause 18], at end insert'or(c) information that would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.'.Government amendments Nos. 13 and 14.
Amendment No. 38, in page 6, line 10, leave out Clause 9.
Amendment No. 70, in page 6, line 13 [Clause 9], at end insert—(1A) In subsection (2) at the beginning insert 'Except where subsection (2A) applies(1B) After subsection (2) insert—(2A) Subsection (2) shall not apply where a longer period for the purposes of (2)(b) is not agreed by the Chief Constable and the Board.(2B) Where there is no agreement between the Chief Constable and the Board for the purposes of (2)(b) a report shall be made within a longer period as may be determined by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary.".'.Amendment No. 71, in page 6, line 19 [Clause 9], at end insert—'(3A) The Chief Constable may refer to the Secretary of State a requirement to submit a report under subsection (1) if it appears to the Chief Constable that a report in compliance with the requirement would contain information that ought not to be disclosed because it would, or would be likely, to prejudice ongoing police investigations and operations.'.Amendment No. 72, in page 6, line 27 [Clause 9], at end insert—'(aa) exempting the Chief Constable from the obligation to 18], report to the Board information the disclosure of which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, would, or would be likely, to prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations;'.Government amendment No. 3.
Amendment No. 40, in page 6, line 38 [Clause 9], leave out 'or (b)' and insert (b) or (c)'.
Amendment No. 41, in page 7, line 2 [Clause 9], at end insert
'or(c) information that would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.'.467 Amendment No. 73, in page 7, line 2 [Clause 9], at end insert—'(c) information the disclosure of which would, or would be likely to, prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'.Government amendments Nos. 4 to 7.
Amendment No. 42, in page 7, line 32, leave out Clause 10.
Amendment No. 74, in page 7, line 40 [Clause 10], at end insert—'(2A) The Chief Constable may refer to the Secretary of State the decision of the Board to cause an inquiry held under this section if it appears to the Chief Constable that such an inquiry ought not to be held because it would, or would be likely to, prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'.Amendment No. 43, in page 8, line 7 [Clause 10], at end insert'or(c) information that would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.'.Amendment No. 75, in page 8, line 7 [Clause 10], at end insert—'(c) information the disclosure of which would, or would be likely to, prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'.Government amendment No. 18.
Amendment No. 80, in page 14, line 11 [Clause 21], at end insert—'(d) the Chief Constable informs the person that, in his opinion, the information would, or would be likely, to prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'.Government amendments Nos. 19 to 22.
Amendment No. 81, in page 14, line 18 [Clause 21], at end insert—'(c) the Chief Constable informs the Board or the Committee under section 33A(6) or 59(4H) that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind that would, or would be likely, to prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'.Government amendments Nos. 23 to 29.
Amendment No. 86, in page 8, line 25, leave out Clause 11.
Amendment No. 44, in page 8, line 36 [Clause 11], leave out subsection (4).
Government amendment No. 8.
Amendment No. 76, in page 10, line 10 [Clause 12], at end insert—(c) information the disclosure of which would, or would be likely to, prejudice ongoing police investigations or operations.'.New clause 21—Majority of Board to approve inquiries under section 60—'(1) Paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (procedure for decisions of Board relating to Inquiries under section 60) is amended as set out in subsections (2) and (3).(2) For subparagraph (5) substitute—(5) The Board shall not take any of the steps mentioned in subparagraph (1)(a) unless a proposal to that effect has been approved by a majority of members of the Board.".(3) For subparagraph (6) substitute—(6) The required number of members is a majority of the Board.".'.
§ Lady Hermon
I am very happy indeed that the Government are responsible for most of the amendments that we are going to discuss. My right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and I are responsible for a minority of them—I hasten to add that it is only a minority. I apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend, who has commitments at home in Northern Ireland, although my colleagues will help throughout the afternoon. Of course, when Democratic Unionist party Members take up their positions at the end of the Bench—we hope that they will do so at some stage—they will make a very constructive contribution.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Of course, we regret the absence of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), but may I assure her that this House, as far as I can tell, is never happier than when she is here and on her feet? [Interruption.]
§ Lady Hermon
I thank the hon. Gentleman; I am so pleased with those remarks, especially as they appear to have been generously endorsed by the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell). I am delighted that they have endorsed his comments.
I should like to preface my remarks about amendment No. 60 and associated amendments by reminding the House and the Minister in particular of words that she used only a few days ago in relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill. On 17 March—that is, St. Patrick's day, when, if my memory serves me correctly, we were all blessed with great generosity of spirit in this House—she said:there had been a catastrophic breakdown of trustthatmade the effective functioning of devolved government impossible."—[Official Report, 17 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 641.]Thus, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—now the Minister without Portfolio—had to make what was a difficult, controversial and, I think, courageous decision to suspend the Assembly.
Against the background of a huge and dramatic breakdown in trust, which the Minister rightly identified, may I remind her and her colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office that it is absolutely essential to build back that trust? When we go to the Assembly elections, which are set in stone, concrete or whatever—they have been set in tablets in this House—for 29 May, if Sinn Fein decides to come into the Policing Board after acts of completion, as I hope it will, the composition of the board, which now has 19 members, will change. There are currently 10 political members and nine independents. After the Assembly election, the composition of the political members will inevitably change. If confidence is to be rebuilt in the communities, we must have confidence in the Sinn Fein members of that Policing Board.
It is therefore not helpful that the Bill removes one of the four original grounds on which the Chief Constable could withhold information from the entire board, reducing their number to three. I shall not rehearse the arguments that we heard in Standing Committee, but the net effect of the amendments would be to restore the 469 Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 to its original form. Hon. Members will know that section 59 of that Act sets out the four grounds on which the Chief Constable is entitled to withhold information from the entire Policing Board and also from the police ombudsman and from inquiries following reports to the Policing Board. It states that information should not be disclosedin the interests of national security … because it relates to an individual and is of a sensitive personal nature"—I emphasise that the word used is "personal", rather than "personnel"—…because it would, or would be likely to, prejudice proceedings which have been commenced in a court of law, or"—this is the key point—because it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders".In those four cases, the Chief Constable could exercise his discretion and refer the report to the Secretary of State rather than the Policing Board.
I greatly regret that, to bitter opposition, the Bill deletes the fourth of those grounds. I know that the old excuse is trotted out that maintaining the three conditions and dropping the fourth more closely reflects the much quoted Patten report. However, paragraph 6.22 of that report makes this recommendation:the Policing Board should have the power to require the Chief Constable to report on any issue pertaining to the performance of his functions or those of the police service … The grounds on which the Chief Constable might question this requirement should be strictly limited to issues such as those involving national security, sensitive personnel matters and cases before the courts.The Patten report has 20 chapters, chapter 20 consisting of a summary of all the firm recommendations. The exemptions applying to matters of national security, sensitive personnel matters and cases before the courts are not repeated as recommendations in that chapter. This is simply an explanation, rather than a definite, exhaustive list of circumstances in which the Chief Constable could withhold information from the Policing Board. I do not buy into the excuse—for that is what it is—that the Bill reflects the Patten report more closely than the 2000 Act did.
The Government have attempted to deal with the change in another way as well. They propose the establishment of a special committee in the Policing Board. Government amendment No. 31 places a duty on the board to establish such a committee in certain circumstances, but we want a discretion rather than a duty. In fact, to be honest, we do not want special committees at all. It is regrettable that the Government should use and quote from the Patten report when it suits them, for purposes of political expediency. The report contains no recommendation for the establishment of special committees, and we will oppose that move.
I ask the Government to reflect more carefully, and to reinstate the fourth ground on which the Chief Constable can withhold delicate information in the run-up to court proceedings. We do not want criminal proceedings to be jeopardised or undermined by the premature disclosure of such information to the board. 470 The Minister should bear in mind what she rightly said about the catastrophic breakdown of confidence. That confidence must be restored, and if Sinn Fein chooses to sit on the board the process must be carried through and must be seen to be carried through.
§ Mr. John Taylor (Solihull)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). We all know of her knowledge of these matters.
If I may say so, in a deliberately self-denigrating way, although I have been here for a number of years I have never entirely mastered the process by which amendments are called for voting purposes. I will leave it to the invisible ones to have a word with the Chair about the point at which my party would like to divide the House and express its view.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. The visible one in the Chair will do his best to keep him informed.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am utterly confident of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am relieved to learn that, in biblical terms, the cup passes from me.
My party is in considerable sympathy with amendments Nos. 60 and 61, to which the hon. Lady spoke so well, but I want to say something about amendments Nos. 84 and 85, tabled by members of my party. Clause 23 inserts a new section 76A in the 2000 Act, sometimes called the Mandelson Act, entitled "Disclosure of information and holding of inquiries". The new section would reduce the number of grounds for appeal by the Chief Constable to the Secretary of State under sections 59 and 60 of the 2000 Act from four to three.
Section 59 currently requires the Chief Constable to submit reports whenever he is required to do so by the Policing Board, but if he thinks that a report would contain information that ought not to be disclosed, there are four grounds on which he can refer such a requirement to the Secretary of State. He can do that if he thinks that the information should not be disclosed
The same four grounds apply to the setting up of inquiries under section 60 of the Act.
- "(a) in the interests of national security,
- (b) because it relates to an individual and is of a sensitive personal nature,
- (c) because it would, or would be likely to, prejudice proceedings which have been commenced in a court of law, or
- (d) because it would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders".
Under clause 23, the grounds on which the Chief Constable can appeal are that(a) it is in the interests of national security—not disclosing the information, that is—(b) the information is sensitive personnel information",or information whose disclosure would be likely to put an individual in danger, and(c) the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice proceedings which have been commenced in a court of law.Crucially, the fourth ground has been abolished.
471 Throughout the Bill's passage so far, we have argued that the change could seriously undermine the operational independence and effectiveness of the Chief Constable, who would now have a statutory obligation to provide the board with reports relating to the conduct of ongoing investigations. That is unacceptable. Significantly, the Government have not pointed to a single deficiency in the current legislation, passed less than three years ago, that justifies the change. We appreciate the changes made to the Bill on Third Reading in the House of Lords, but they remain very much second best to retention of the existing appeal grounds.
Following our failure to reinsert the existing fourth ground, our amendments Nos. 84 and 85 offer the Government an alternative wording—although that should not imply any less support for the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and the hon. Member for North Down. For all practical purposes, our amendments are designed to achieve the same objective. They would give the Chief Constable a fourth ground for appeal, namely that the information requested under section 59would, or would be likely to, prejudice on-going police investigations or operations.That ought to be unobjectionable to anyone whose primary objective is policing that is free from undue political interference.
We are sympathetic to amendment No. 59, and we tabled amendment No. 83 ourselves. We cannot support the requirement in new sub-paragraph (1B)(c), proposed in clause 22(3), for any special committee set up to handle sensitive information supplied to it by the Chief Constable to be "as far as practicable … representative of the Board". Surely that is interfering too much in the internal affairs of the board. Put simply, we believe that that should be a matter for the chairman and deputy chairman of the board to decide. Surely, if we believe that the board is a grown-up body properly carrying out its functions, as Ministers have repeatedly said that it is, that sort of matter should be decided internally. That is what our amendment would allow.
I turn to amendment No. 52, with which we are broadly sympathetic, and to our amendments Nos. 78 and 79. It will come as no surprise that those amendments have an objective similar to amendments Nos. 84 and 85. As right hon. and hon. Members are aware, clause 18 inserts new section 33A into the 2000 Act relating to the provision of information by the Chief Constable to the board. The clause sets it out that the Chief Constable is not required to supply information to the board on any of the grounds set out in the new section 76A and if it is information whose disclosure would be likely to put an individual in danger. That is not good enough, especially as new section 76A unamended contains only three restrictions and not the four that were in the 2000 Act.
As it stands, therefore, the board could request sensitive information relating to an ongoing investigation or operation and the Chief Constable would be required to oblige. For that reason, amendment No. 79 would provide the Chief Constable 472 with the additional ground on which he is not required to supply information to the board—namely, that it ought not to be disclosed on the grounds that itwould, or would be likely to, prejudice on-going police investigations or operations.Again, we believe that to be a sensible additional safeguard for the Chief Constable, solely in the interests of efficient and impartial policing.
Amendment No. 79 is basically consequential on amendment No. 78 in that, if amendment No. 79 were passed, it is right that the requirement set out in clause 18(6) should apply. That does exactly the same as Conservative amendment No. 78, except that it uses the wording for the ground of appeal in sections 59(3)(d) and 60(3)(d) of the 2000 Act, namely thatit would, or would be likely to, prejudice the detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders".Accordingly, it has our backing.
Conservative amendment No. 70 arises out of a commitment given on Third Reading in another place by the Lord Privy Seal, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Currently, the Chief Constable is supposed to respond to any request for information within one month, though that period can be extended if the board agrees, yet there may be occasions on which the board and Chief Constable disagree.
As a result, on Third Reading in the Lords, Lord Williams indicated that the Government would change the code of practice on the conduct of the board under section 27(1)(a) of the 2000 Act, so that where there was no agreement between the Chief Constable and the board, and where the Chief Constable's concern relates to the impact of a particular time scale on the police's ability to prevent or to detect crime, that disagreement could be referred to Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary. Amendment No. 70 merely gives added strength to the commitment made by the Lord Privy Seal by inserting it in section 50(2) of the 2000 Act.
When I moved the same amendment in Standing Committee, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office said that she had much sympathy with the thinking behind the amendment and that there was not much between the Government and the Opposition on the issue. The hon. Lady agreed then to reflect on what I said and consider whether we should return to the matter on Report. That non-controversial amendment would help to give greater substance to the commitment already given by the Government.
Conservative amendments Nos. 71 to 75 relate to clauses 9 and 10. Clauses 9 and 10 amend sections 59 and 60 of the 2000 Act relating to the provision of information and the holding of inquiries. Section 59 requires the Chief Constable to submit reports whenever required to do so by the Policing Board. If, however, the Chief Constable thinks that a report would contain information that ought not to be disclosed, there are currently four grounds under section 59(3) on which he can refer such a requirement to the Secretary of State. As the House is aware, subsection (2) of clause 9 restricts the grounds on which the Chief Constable can refer requests for a report to the Secretary of State to those set out in new section 76A in clause 23.
Clause 10 makes similar changes to section 60 of the 2000 Act that deals with the initiation of an inquiry by the board following a report to it by the Chief 473 Constable. Without rehearsing the same arguments again, because the same arguments apply, we believe that that is mistaken. It could seriously undermine the operational independence of the Chief Constable, opening up the possibility of the board being allowed to conduct inquiries into matters that are currently the subject of police investigation. Our amendments would reinsert a fourth ground of appeal for the Chief Constable in sections 59 and 60 of the 2000 Act, so that he could refer requests for information or proposals for inquiries in circumstances where, in his opinion, itwould, or would be likely to, prejudice on-going police investigations or operations".
§ Lady Hermon
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on a statement that was made by the Minister of State in Committee, on which he served, I am sure, very well, as he always does in Committee? She said that if anything that the board was doing should adversely affect the work of the police,it would be open to the Chief Constable to seek judicial review of the reasonableness of the board's request".—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 25 February 2003; c. 67.]Would it not be most regrettable and unfortunate if the Chief Constable had to waste his resources and take legal action against his Policing Board for a power that should properly be in the Bill and that was in the 2000 Act?
§ Mr. Taylor
I could not agree more. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It should not be left open to the Chief Constable judicially to review the police board. The measure should be in the Bill as clear guidance to those concerned.
I support the amendments in the name of the hon. Lady's party: Nos. 40, 41, 42 and 43. The amendments seek to achieve the same objective as the Conservative amendments by reinserting the fourth ground of appeal in clauses 9 and 10. Unlike our amendments, though, they use the wording from the 2000 Act.
I turn now to amendments Nos. 80 and 81. I am sorry if I am taking a little time but I should like to cover the entirety of the first group of amendments in one trip to the Dispatch Box. The amendments relate to clause 21, which inserts a new section 74A after section 74 of the 2000 Act in respect of restrictions on the disclosure of information. Our amendments add to the grounds on which the disclosure of information is restricted to include information thatwould, or would be likely to, prejudice on-going police investigations or operations.As in other parts of the Bill, we believe that to be a necessary restriction.
Amendment No. 76 amends clause 12, which deals with matters relating to the functions and powers of the police ombudsman. The purpose is mainly one of consistency. Whereas clause 12(4) refers to information that ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1) of clause 23, we believe that added to that ought to beinformation the disclosure of which would, or would be likely to, prejudice on-going police investigations or operations.474 That would bring clause 12 into line with other parts of the Bill where we have moved similar amendments.
In passing, I offer my support to amendment No. 44, tabled by the Ulster Unionist party, and turn to our amendment No. 86 and new clause 21. The purpose of the new clause is straightforward; it is to ensure that the initiation of any reports or inquiries by the Policing Board is undertaken by a majority of the board. As the Bill stands, clause 11 amends the existing paragraph 18 of schedule 1 to the 2000 Act, relating to the number of members of the board required to initiate an inquiry under section 60 following a report by the Chief Constable. Currently, no such inquiry can be held unless approved by the required number of members of the board, present and voting. Under paragraph 18(6) of schedule 1 to the 2000 Act, the required number of members of the board who need to be present is 10. That is a majority, as the board consists of 19 members.
Under clause 11, the required number of members of the board that need to be present is reduced from 10 to eight, so long as that is a majority of members present and voting. I refer to clause 11(2) and (3). We believe that the existing arrangement should remain unchanged and that when the board consists of 19 members, it is perfectly reasonable and proper that the required number of members present and voting to initiate an inquiry should be 10.
We believe that this is an unwarranted concession, aimed at making it easier for the board to initiate inquiries following a report from the Chief Constable. It makes it easier for those with excessive political zeal—or, indeed, those who wish the police no good whatever—to make the life of the Chief Constable intolerable. That is a particular worry, if and when Sinn Fein members take up their positions on the board. We believe that, taken with the reduction of the grounds on which the Chief Constable can refer such inquiries to the Secretary of State, this should be opposed.
§ Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
Surely it cuts both ways; it is possible that there may be circumstances in which the hon. Gentleman might find it helpful to have an inquiry. There should be flexibility there, also. Secondly, why does he feel that this necessarily will favour Sinn Fein?
§ Mr. Taylor
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has detected a slight partiality in my remarks. I do not intend to sustain that impression. I will content myself with the more objective view—that 10 is more appropriate as representing an overall majority. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)—the former Secretary of State and largely the architect of the 2000 Act—said that he thought that 10 was possibly too small a number and that he heartily resisted any suggestions of going down to eight. I take the same stance and believe that he was correct.
On Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman said:If one considers police authorities in most parts of the United Kingdom, most people would think it extraordinary that it would take only eight members of a board to bring about the instigation of what could be a very major and expensive inquiry with major 475 long-term implications for the police. I recall that there was huge pressure to agree to the paltry figure of eight in the original Bill, and the Government believed that the figure of 10 was very much on the low side. We made it absolutely clear that, if we conceded to an ever-lower figure, that would risk exposing the police to unreasonable political pressure that would reduce the credibility of any such decision by the board. After all, it is a major step to set up an inquiry and, if it can be agreed by eight out of 18 or 19 members, that is bound to reduce the credibility of the decision. If the power was unreasonably or improperly used, it could lead to an unravelling of confidence by the police and the public in the PSNI's governance. I have heard the reassurances offered by Ministers on that point, but I have yet to be fully convinced that this particular change is necessary or desirable."—[Official Report, 10 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 684–85.]It is not just the right hon. Member for Hartlepool who supports our position. The Committee on the Administration of Justice—not an organisation that is always sympathetic to the pronouncements of Conservative politicians—in its submission to the Northern Ireland Select Committee said:We believe that, while the holding of inquiries is an important power, there is no reason to lay down such weighted voting procedures in legislation and we would recommend that decisions to hold inquiries should be taken by a simple majority.As with other aspects of the Bill, the Government have not even sought to justify this change with regard to the efficiency of the board or the operational effectiveness of the police. They cannot point to any deficiency in the current legislation that warrants it. That is because this change is driven purely by politics and by the Government's desire to accommodate Sinn Fein and the SDLP at Weston Park in July 2001. The change proposed by the Government is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Our new clause would restore common sense and basic fairness to the Bill.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a proposal that the membership of any committee should take a decision through a minority of its members can only be a recipe for dissension within the group as a whole, because those who opposed the minority decision could come back in force and reverse it? We would be creating conflict where we should be creating harmony.
§ Mr. Taylor
I should probably go and sit in the fourth row back below the Gangway, because I am finding myself absolutely ad idem with the hon. Members who are currently in their places there.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's observation that he might move to the fourth row back. This proposal does not deal with a simple minority of the committee but with a majority of those present and voting. The difference is crucial and should be remembered. How is it that the Government felt it necessary to deem the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) to have got it wrong on 14 substantive elements of the Bill that was written in 2000? That is why we now find ourselves going through another process of legislation. Can the hon. Gentleman explain that?
§ Mr. Taylor
No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any explanation why what was right in 2000 is wrong now. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool moved heaven and earth to get the 2000 Act, in its present form, 476 on to the statute book, and the Government have produced almost no evidence that it needs amending. Many people who are much more likely to be listened to than me have described it as "Patten enacted". My party did not come to the Patten proposals with any great enthusiasm, but we are prepared to live in the world in which we are, and if the consensus is that Northern Ireland should be policed as faithfully as possible in accordance with the principles of Patten, it seems to me that the 2000 Act is closer to Patten than the measure that is now before us.
§ Lady Hermon
I endorse entirely what the hon. Gentleman has just said. In defence of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who is not here but was a very good Secretary of State, it is a fact that, when the Policing Board was being set up in the autumn of 2000, the Irish Government, the British Government, the American Government and the Catholic Church all said that the 2000 Act and the implementation plan embodied both the letter and the spirit of the Patten report. It is, therefore, grossly unfair to criticise him.
§ Mr. Taylor
Were it possible to gild the lily, that contribution just did. Once again, I completely agree with the hon. Lady. In the absence of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool, I would gladly speak highly of his discharge of his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It was a case of an extremely able man doing his best, and his best was not bad at all.
I have given way from time to time, and I accept that in the spirit of this place, but it is probably time for me to draw my remarks to a conclusion. I shall pick up the threads of what I was saying before I took those interventions, when I was addressing myself to amendment No. 86 and new clause 21. The Government should display some common sense and accept our new clause. Failing that, they should support amendment No. 86, which proposes to omit clause 11 and maintain the status quo, or support amendment No. 44, tabled in the names of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann and the hon. Member for North Down, which proposes to leave out subsection (4).
I thank the House for its indulgence this afternoon. I dare say that this is the longest speech that I have ever made in the House of Commons—if it deserves the status of "speech", that is; it was probably more of a stream of consciousness. It is with that same consciousness and good attention that I shall listen with interest in due course to the Minister's reply.
§ Mr. Mallon
It was very apt of the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) to talk about a stream of consciousness. Given the stream of amendments and new clauses that we have grouped together here, there will be a certain stream of consciousness in everyone's contribution. I sought advice from the Chair—prior to your taking the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and I wish to support, within this gaggle of amendments and new clauses, those tabled by the Government. I do so for various reasons, to which I shall turn very quickly.
The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made a point about what was said by the Irish Government, the Catholic Church and others. I think that she got her years wrong. Those observations 477 actually stated that the Weston Park changes had the essence and the spirit of Patten. They were made post-Weston Park—not in relation to the 2000 Act—and very much in regard to the changes made at Weston Park in relation to the 2000 Act.
I want to divide my comments into the three areas in which I am especially interested. They are the parts of the Bill relating to reports and inquiries, to the Policing Board seeking information and documents, and to the right—indeed, the duty—of the ombudsman to seek information in relation to the pursuance of her duty. I hope that I shall confine myself to those three areas. It is essential that we recognise that there are two different elements of the Bill: reports and inquiries on one hand, and the board's seeking information on the other. It is on that matter that some of the confusion arises, certainly so far as I have been concerned. The changes relating to reports and inquiries are now being clarified fairly quickly in the Bill.
The important features of the special committee are crucial, and it is worth looking at them again. The first is that it must be representative of the board. I note that previous speakers said that there was a danger in that, but there is always a danger in everything when it comes to getting things done. I said in the Standing Committee, and I say again today, that nothing could be more damaging internally for any board than for a small group of people within it to be privy to special and sensitive information to the exclusion of others. That would create a running, festering sore within the board.
Indeed, when the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) addressed this issue in Committee, he said that one of the problems with the old Police Authority was that it was run by an inner sanctum that had access to information that was not shared by other members of the authority. So, the wider the committee is and the greater the number of members it has, the more effective it will be. I welcome the fact that the Government have increased the number from five to seven; I sought that increase for many a long month, and again in Committee.
The crucial difference in this Bill in relation to reports and inquiries is that information would not be withheld on the ground that it would put the life of an individual in danger. That actually applies now to the board's seeking information and documents, the substantive difference being that the Chief Constable will probably be able to deal with the confidentiality of the special committee in a much more effective way than any of the other proposed provisions would enable him to do. The Government have made it clear on a number of occasions that the purpose of the special committee and of this approach is to ensure that the Chief Constable can increase the provision of information to the Policing Board. I welcome that, because if the board is to deal with the many difficult matters that it will have to deal with, it must have people's trust in respect of such information.
478 2 pm
I am not sure that it was necessary to rename the committee the "special purposes committee", but I can live with that change. The Chief Constable will be obliged to seek the agreement of the special committee to any summary of the sensitive information going to the board. That is crucial, because we cannot have two levels of people on the Policing Board: those who get information and those who do not. [Interruption.]Does the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Mallon
It will be very difficult to run a Policing Board properly if there are those who get information and those who do not. In order to avoid that problem, the summary that the Chief Constable will send to the board should be agreed by the special committee. Doing so would also relieve the board of any obligation to establish the special purposes committee before the Chief Constable indicates that he wishes to do so. That is crucial, because it will not be a special purposes committee in waiting, as it were; as I understand it, it will be set up when there is a need for it. It will not be a special caucus of the Policing Board that is waiting for a function.
I welcome these provisions, but I sound one note of caution. I am always wary of special committees, whether they are called "special purposes committees" or some other type of special committee. However, I recognise the difficulties, and this is one way of dealing with the problem of giving sensitive information. Although it may not be ideal, it is operative and fair, and it will protect the Chief Constable and his giving of sensitive information, and protect members of the board in terms of their dealing with it.
Government amendments Nos. 9 and 10 deal with information sought by the board, and I welcome the fact that they include not only the word "information" but the word "documents". Indeed, 1 tabled such an amendment in Committee on this crucial issue. Without documents, information does not exist. As the Americans might say, "If it ain't on paper, it doesn't exist". Incidents such as the taking—or seizing, depending on what one wants to call it—of documents and information in recent times in the north of Ireland would have had no substance whatever had those documents not been there, so it is right that this change be made.
It is interesting to note that the reason for the change came from the board itself. It asked for the change because during its short life, its request for sight of a Police Service report on the handling of the Omagh bombing had been refused. Ultimately, it did receive the report. It then became clear that if it were properly to fulfil its functions, it would not be enough simply for it to be given information, regardless of how that information was given; it is entitled to documentation, and it is on the basis of such documentation that it must make important decisions on crucial issues.
I turn to the third and final issue on which I wish to comment. I am pleased to note the change to the ombudsman's accessing of information. The relevant 479 provision ensures that any sensitive information arising in the context of a report and inquiry can be given to the police ombudsman in the context of any of his functions. It used to be possible for the ombudsman to receive such information only in the context of his investigations into police policies and practices, as opposed to his other functions, including investigating criminal and disciplinary matters. That put the ombudsman in a totally invidious position, and left him in a huge vacuum in terms of his responsibility to investigate and to deal with the problems that any ombudsman must deal with. I welcome the inclusion of the word "any", which fills that vacuum and removes a great difficulty for the ombudsman.
I will vote with the Government on the new clause and the related amendments. I have discussed such provisions and aspects of the Bill for a very long time and, happily, these changes enable me to say with some confidence that we are getting it right this time. In getting it right, we can be much more hopeful that in future, we can make the entire policing process work. For those reasons, I shall vote with the Government.
§ Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)
Like the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), I shall confine my remarks on this abundance of amendments to a few specific areas that, I understand, are likely to cause the House to divide, rather than trying to emulate the tour de force of the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor).
I turn first to the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and her colleagues, of which I am broadly supportive. The restoration of the fourth ground for the non-disclosure of information is in my view important. In moving the amendment, the hon. Lady referred to the Patten report and to paragraph 6.22 in particular. It is worth emphasising the terms of that paragraph, which states:The grounds on which the Chief Constable might question this requirement should be strictly limited to issues such as those involving national security, sensitive personnel matters and cases before the courts.In my view, the important phrase is "such as". It is clear that the detection of crime or the apprehension of offenders is very much of the same nature as the first three grounds.
That takes me back to a point that I made yesterday about how we should approach the Bill. We must consider the signals that we send out. The House must ask itself what signal it will send out to the community in Northern Ireland if we say that we want to remove this ground—to do with the detection of crime or apprehension of offenders—from the Bill. Removing that ground would be a retrograde step. The hon. Member for North Down said that the list in Patten was descriptive and not exhaustive. She was absolutely right.
The hon. Lady referred to the constitution of the special committees and reminded the House that the committees did not have their genesis in the Patten report. Yesterday, we spoke about sub-groups for district policing partnerships; today, we are talking about special committees. I am reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith's observation that the good Lord so loved the world that He sent His only son, and not a committee. Much of the Government's approach is 480 bureaucratic and a little top-heavy. The special committees seem to be yet another layer of bureaucracy. I see no particular reason for them and I hope that the Government will reconsider their position.
The other matters on which I understand that the House may divide are Conservative amendment No. 86 and new clause 21. I made my position clear on this matter on Second Reading. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh reminded the House that, although it is possible for the decision to be made by a minority of the total committee, it still requires a majority of those who are present and voting. We should not lose sight of that important point. For that reason, the Liberal Democrats will support the Government should the House divide on this point.
§ Mr. Gregory Campbell
I will confine my remarks to new clause 21, in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) and other colleagues. The holding of inquiries in Northern Ireland is a controversial issue that should concentrate the minds of hon. Members. The Northern Ireland Policing Board has been praised—rightly—for its constructive work thus far. Some would argue that it has been able to work so constructively only because of the absence of those who would pollute its deliberations and undermine its activities—the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein.
The Policing Board has worked well on a number of issues. Much mention has been made of the implementation of the Patten report. The board—not only by a majority but unanimously—agreed in the early months of its life the establishment of the badge and logos. On those issues, the board went beyond Patten, yet the fervent advocates of Patten seem conveniently to forget that. None the less, the holding of inquiries by the board ought to be an issue that commands a significant amount of attention.
In Northern Ireland, there is a preponderance of demands for inquiries. At times, the demand for inquiries can seem insatiable. A current inquiry, albeit not one that is under the auspices of the Chief Constable, is taking place just several hundred metres from the House. It will cost more than £150 million of public money, and it is being held because of the demand for inquiries in Northern Ireland.
I have a significant amount of sympathy with the Government in that there must be a degree of reasonableness when considering inquiries. On the one hand, one cannot set the bar so high, or make it so difficult to hold an inquiry, that the community sees little point in asking for one; but, on the other hand, one cannot set the bar so low as to ensure that inquiries are demanded weekly. I was at a public meeting in my constituency earlier this week with the chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, Bryce Dickson. His view was that, if the Chief Constable is not able, under current legislation, to conduct certain investigations despite the demand for them, he could be in breach of the European convention on human rights. If that is the case—and I understand that discussions are to take place between the Chief Constable and the Human Rights Commission—an outcome will have to be sought. Depending on that outcome, people may be encouraged to make demands With the result that the Chief Constable will be severely constrained because of 481 resources and might be in grave difficulty with the European Court. There will have to be reasonableness in establishing how inquiries might be conducted by the board.
Hon. Members have suggested that a reduction from 10 to eight in the number of members required to support a proposition is reasonable because of the requirement that there be a majority among members who are in attendance and voting. I suggest that the importance of inquiries, and the preponderance of demands for them, mean that the requirement for there to be 10 members should be retained. If inquiries are demanded and if new evidence is submitted—and my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) and I have made demands for inquiries in cases where there is new evidence—there ought to be a sufficient number of members who are in attendance and voting at the Policing Board to ensure that at least 10 are in favour of the proposition. To lower the bar to eight would, I believe, open the door to an endless demand that would have, as its raison dêtre, martyrdom, the blame culture in Northern Ireland, and the need to dig up the past again and again and again.
§ Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)
My hon. Friend is talking about drawing a line under the past. Is he encouraged by the fact that, recently in this Chamber, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) made exactly that point—that the time had come to draw a line under the past? Does that add weight to my hon. Friend's argument on inquiries?
§ Mr. Campbell
I have heard the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) say that again and again and again. I hope that his colleagues and others will pay attention to it, so that we can move forward. We should be dealing with the issues of the present and the future, rather than constantly rehearsing the blame culture of the past.
If Her Majesty's Government are going to have a rationale in the Bill that means that demands for inquiries and redress are constantly perceived to be coming from a particular section of the community, and if a response has to be made to those demands from that particular section of the community, obviously there will be resistance in the other community that feels that its demands are not being listened to and that it is not receiving a response. They will always get it wrong if they seek to redress an imbalance that is presented from one section of the community and one only. If demands for an inquiry are heeded when they come from one section of the community but not when they come from the other, there will be resentment within the other section of the community. For that reason, I would support new clause 21.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)
Hon. Members are already aware of the changes that have been made to the Bill. However, before I go into details I want to express my gratitude for the support of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh 482 (Mr. Mallon), and of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Their encouragement is very welcome.
The second ground of referral has been changed to information of a "sensitive personnel" nature. That relates to sensitive information related to the individual's holding of office or to their employment in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I shall make it clear who would be covered. As hon. Members are aware, the following categories are already defined elsewhere in the legislation: police officers including reservists, police support staff, police trainees and police reserve trainees, traffic wardens and police cadets, and now secondees and designated contractors' staff under the Bill.
The fourth ground of referral, which has generated the most discussion this afternoon, has been dropped under the Bill. It dealt with information likely to prejudice the detection of crime or prosecution of offenders. I will use the phrase that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)—whom I hesitate to call my hon. Friend but who is indeed a friend—suggested I should not use: by dropping that fourth ground of referral we are more fully implementing the Patten recommendations.
The issue of the fourth ground of referral has been debated at length in Committee and in the other place, but I remind hon. Members that the Policing Board's primary statutory duty is to maintain an effective police service in Northern Ireland. It would therefore be contrary to that duty for the board to request information or a report within a time scale that could prejudice a major or an ongoing investigation. Under section 59 of the 2000 Act there is already provision for the board and the Chief Constable to agree a time scale for the production of a report. I have every confidence that both organisations would seek to reach a sensible accommodation to avoid prejudicing ongoing investigations.
The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) said that we had not presented any arguments in favour of that move. I shall attempt to explain the rationale for the change and invite the House to consider the issue from a different perspective. As hon. Members know, the grounds of referral, currently four in number, are a basis on which the Chief Constable, with the Secretary of State's agreement, could block a report or prevent an inquiry, and there is nothing on the face of the 2000 Act requiring the Secretary of State to give his reasons. There is a concern, particularly among constitutional nationalists, that these wide-ranging powers could be abused—if not by a Secretary of State, possibly by a devolved Minister of Justice—and the board thwarted in its proper role of holding the Chief Constable to account.
It was against that background that the Government considered where the balance should properly be struck. We believe that the grounds as they are now set out in the Bill, when taken with the other safeguards provided by the Bill and existing legislation, get the balance right between ensuring that the board has proper access to information and protecting sensitive information appropriately.
A large number of amendments seek to reinstate that fourth ground of referral. Unlike other hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon, I may not avoid 483 commenting on them because I need to give the Government's response to some of them. Amendments Nos. 52 and 60, in the name of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), would also reinstate the fourth ground of referral by removing clauses 18 and 23 respectively, in their entirety. For the reasons that I have outlined, I do not believe that to be necessary or appropriate, and I am afraid that I cannot accept those amendments.
(Mr Davies) Amendment No. 70, in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, would apply when the Chief Constable and the board failed to agree a time scale for the production of a report under section 59. It provides that in that event Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary should determine the time scale. I have every confidence that the board and the Chief Constable would seek to reach a sensible accommodation on time scale. However, I would also draw attention to section 27 of the 2000 Act, under which the Secretary of State can issued—and, indeed, has issued—a code of practice on the board's conduct in respect of any of its functions.
On this function, as we have made clear in another place, we propose to provide, through a code of practice, that if the board and the Chief Constable cannot agree a time scale for the production of a report, which may impact on the police's ability to prevent or detect crime, the board can refer the matter to HMIC. The inspectorate is an independent organisation and has extensive operational policing experience, so it is well placed to advise the board. The board would then be able to take account of the recommendation in finally determining that deadline. The Government believe that it is appropriate that this procedure should be provided for in the code of practice, rather than here in primary legislation, and for that reason I cannot accept the amendment, although I do feel that we are accepting the principle that the hon. Member for Solihull expounded.
§ Lady Hermon
I presume that the Minister has consulted HMIC about this proposal. What response was received from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary? What was the Chief Constable's response to the dropping of the fourth ground and allowing information prejudicial to an investigation to be given to the full board or a special committee? What was his feeling on the issue?
§ Jane Kennedy
I know that Her Majesty's inspectorate will be willing to co-operate with the arrangements that we are discussing. I consulted the Chief Constable before these matters were considered in Committee, and I had another opportunity to discuss them with him after Committee, having heard the concerns that were raised there. He is satisfied with the safeguards in the Bill and he believes that the concept of a special purposes committee would work and that he could work within that structure. He has assured me that he feels that he would still be able to protect information that he regarded as sensitive, and work within the openness that he seeks to establish with the board, in that he wishes to share as much information as possible, within the constraints. I shall come to that in a moment.
484 I shall now speak to new clause 21 and amendment No. 86 in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford and amendment No. 44 in the name of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. These amendments relate to clause 11. That reduces the threshold of members that is required to initiate an inquiry under section 60. We have heard some discussion about that already. New clause 21 and amendments Nos. 44 and 86 would undo the arrangements in clause 11.
Hon. Members will recall that the Government have already outlined at length why we believe that this change is appropriate and why, as I believe, the fears of the hon. Members concerned are unfounded. The provisions set out in clause 11 have been made in response to a genuine feeling among some members of the board that the existing arrangements set too high a threshold. The clause does not give any member of the board, or any group within it, licence to force through unpopular or unrepresentative decisions. However, it provides a prospect that a group that perceives itself as a minority on the board might at least have an opportunity to seek to initiate an inquiry if the circumstances warrant it.
Again, I stress that that will not enable a minority to force through an unpopular inquiry and that appropriate safeguards and guidelines have been set out in the 2000 Act to ensure that all board members are given adequate notice to attend any meeting to vote on an inquiry. The safeguards are set out in paragraph 18 of schedule 1 to the 2000 Act. The Government are content that the provisions in clause 11 are appropriate, and I will certainly resist those amendments if they are pressed to a Division.
In Committee, a number of hon. Members commented on the complexity of the inter-relationship between the provisions of new section 33A and existing section 59 of the 2000 Act. I have since reflected on the issues raised, and in the amendments that we have introduced today, we seek, among other things, to streamline those interlocking provisions.
We see new section 33A, which will be inserted by clause 18, as very much an everyday power of the board to request and receive information from the Chief Constable. It is not envisaged that sensitive information would be routinely supplied through that route, unless it was deemed appropriate by the Chief Constable. So the board is guaranteed access to any non-sensitive information it seeks through that route and, in certain circumstances, might also gain access to sensitive information, subject to the professional judgment of the Chief Constable.
The Chief Constable may withhold information in respect of a request made under new section 33A, under criteria set out in Government amendment No. 10. In light of that change, I no longer see the need for the small committee, provided for under clause 22, to have a role in relation to new section 33A or to restrict the board's access to documents. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh has said, we have widened that provision.
485 Government amendment No. 11, therefore, will remove the provisions that related to the committee, and amendments Nos. 12 to 14, 18 to 20, 22 and 26 are consequential upon it. Government amendment No. 9 will give the board access to documents, as I have just said, as well as information. It may be worth saying that, based on our legal advice that subsequent references to information in the clause would encompass documents, as well as other information, the Government also seek to amend clause 12, with Government amendment No. 8, to make the legislation consistent.
Amendments Nos. 56 to 58, tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, would delete the references to the Chief Constable's discretion in new section 33A. We believe that those amendments are inappropriate and that the existing formulation is consistent with other statutes, so I am afraid that I cannot accept those amendments either. We believe that it is right for the Chief Constable to be empowered to exercise such discretion since he is the best person to judge, within the parameters set by legislation, which information should or should not be shared.
I shall briefly touch on the issue of the special committee for handling sensitive information. I paid careful heed to the criticisms of the arrangements that we have proposed that hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, voiced in Committee. The amendments reflect some changes as a consequence of those debates. As I have said, we do not see the committee as having a role in relation to new section 33A.
Under Government amendment No. 31, the board should have discretion over whether or not to set up a committee to deal with sensitive information, where it would be essential to establish such a committee to safeguard information that the Chief Constable or the Secretary of State determined should be shared with a limited number of individuals. That will give the board freedom to decide whether to establish a committee from the outset. The board can also decide whether it is a standing or an ad hoc committee. That proposal is very much in response to the points made, in particular, by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann and by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire).
That amendment will also increase the committee's size to seven members, and I shall take a moment to explain that. It will allow the board greater flexibility in its selection processes. We would expect that it would normally wish to include both the chairman and the vice-chairman, but membership could also include representatives from the political parties on the board, as well as independent members. All other terms of the constitution of that committee remain as previously set out in the Bill.
By contrast, amendment No. 83, tabled by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, would remove the requirement that that small committee should be, as far as practicable, representative of the board. In my view, removing such a requirement is not appropriate in the context of Northern Ireland. The Patten report was clear on the need for a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland, where the police service would be acceptable to and supported by the whole community.
486 The new beginning to policing is now well under way, very strongly underpinned by the cross-community nature of the Policing Board. In that context, I could not support an arrangement by which that small committee of the Policing Board did not reflect the spectrum of political opinion represented on the board. It is not for the Government to prescribe how the board should constitute the committee, but it is surely right that it should not be unrepresentative, which could be the effect of amendment No. 83. That might leave a majority of any hue able to skew the committee's composition.
In reflecting on the maturity of the board so far, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, and its possible future composition, I believe that amendment No. 83 would be inadvisable and, therefore, ask that it not be pressed to a Division, although the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford will make up his own mind on that.
Amendment No. 59, tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, would also allow the board discretion about whether to establish a small committee for handling sensitive information. I have already outlined our proposals in relation that point. In particular, Government amendment No. 31 will allow the board the same discretion, while ensuring that the committee would be brought into being in particular circumstances. Amendment No. 59 is therefore unnecessary, and I will ask my hon. Friends to resist it.
Government amendment No. 32 will give that small committee a specific title—the special purposes committee. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh for saying that he does not particularly quarrel with giving it a special name. The purpose of doing so was to clarify its special function and to make less cumbersome the references to it in the legislation. As a result of that change, we have tabled a number of consequential amendments.
Clause 9 deals with the reports of the Chief Constable. Government amendment No. 6 will oblige the Chief Constable to seek to obtain the agreement of the special purposes committee to the terms of a non-sensitive summary of the information that he has supplied to it. In doing that, the Chief Constable must make real and demonstrable efforts to reach agreement with the special purposes committee.
If and when agreement is reached, the summary will be provided to the board as part of the Chief Constable's report, under section 59 of the 2000 Act. I point out that that will put a greater onus on the Chief Constable in relation to the board than the previous formulation, which merely required him to take account of the committee's views. That is yet another step that we are taking in recognising the role of the board.
Hon. Members will recall that I explained in Committee that I supported, in principle, the amendment introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh, which would have provided that it should not be an offence for the board, or any special purposes committee of it, to share sensitive information with the ombudsman's staff, in connection with any of her functions. Government amendments Nos. 24, 28 and 29 duly clarify that position, and I am grateful to him for his proposal in that regard.
487 The arrangements surrounding access to information, particularly sensitive information, are of necessity complex. Transparency and accountability are principles that have underpinned the establishment of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but that is balanced by the need for appropriate safeguards on sensitive information. The Chief Constable has to reflect that balance, too, in relation to his duty to protect life, under section 32(l) of the 2000 Act. In addition, as a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, he, too, is bound by the code of ethics, under section 52 of the 2000 Act, and by the terms of the attestation to uphold fundamental human rights.
There are already some safeguards in section 59 of the 2000 Act that allow the Chief Constable to refer certain requests to the Secretary of State. There are further safeguards in the amendments that we are introducing as part of the Bill that would allow him to limit the distribution of certain information within the Board.
The issue is not whether the Chief Constable provides a complete report or no report at all. He would be obliged to provide information to the board in such a way as to avoid any risk to an individual's life. For example, he could ensure that he avoided mentioning vulnerable individuals by name or identifying them. That would protect an individual's right to life while ensuring that the board had access to information. The requirements are delicately balanced, but the Government amendments strike the correct balance and help to streamline the complex nature of the arrangements.
I sense a growing interest in these matters in the House, so I commend the Government amendments to hon. Members.
§ Lady Hermon
I hope that the Minister also gets the impression that we are not persuaded at all. Although she probably does not need reminding of this, hon. Members might be interested to know that the Patten report always anticipated that the Policing Board would be a robust institution of central importance. It was never recommended that it should have specialist committees, little ad hoc committees or add-on extras.
I pay tribute to the Policing Board that we have at present. It has members from the Social Democratic and Labour party—I am glad that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) is in the Chamber—the Democratic Unionist party and, of course, the Ulster Unionist party. They have worked as a unanimous team to make the Policing Board, quite frankly, an unexpected success. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) referred to the unanimous agreement on the policing badge. The Patten report recommended that the policing badge should be neutral, but the Policing Board had the courage of its convictions and agreed to make the policing badge reflective of both communities' traditions. The Belfast agreement urged symbols to be used to show mutual respect, not neutrality. That meant that the recommendation in Patten was in breach of the agreement, so I was glad when the board reached a unanimous decision on the new badge.
Given that members of the Policing Board are working so well together, the introduction of specialist committees would be divisive and counter-productive. 488 Therefore, with much regret, I must tell the Minister that we shall press amendment No. 61 to a Division. However, we shall not press amendment No. 60, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 61, in page 16, line 9, at end insert—'(d) the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.'.—.[Lady Hermon.]Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 147, Noes 241.491
|Division No.143]||[2:43 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Flook, Adrian|
|Allan,Richard||Forth, rh Eric|
|Arbuthnot, rh James||Fox, Dr. Liam|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Francois, Mark|
|Bacon, Richard||George, Andrew (St. Ives)|
|Barker, Gregory||Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)|
|Baron, John (Billericay)||Gidley, Sandra|
|Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)||Goodman, Paul|
|Beith, rh A. J.||Gray, James (N Wilts)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Grayling, Chris|
|Bercow, John||Green, Damian (Ashford)|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Greenway, John|
|Blunt, Crispin||Grieve, Dominic|
|Boswell, Tim||Gummer, rh John|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Hammond, Philip|
|Brady, Graham||Hancock, Mike|
|Brake, Torn (Carshalton)||Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)|
|Brooke, Mrs Annette L.||Hawkins, Nick|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Hayes, John (S Holland)|
|Burns, Simon||Heald, Oliver|
|Burnside, David||Heath, David|
|Burstow, Paul||Heathcoat-Amory, rh David|
|Cable, Dr. Vincent||Hendry, Charles|
|Calton, Mrs Patsy||Hermon, Lady|
|Cameron, David||Horam, John (Orpington)|
|Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)||Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)|
|Carmichael, Alistair||Hunter, Andrew|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Jack, rh Michael|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Chidgey, David||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Chope, Christopher||Johnson, Boris (Henley)|
|Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Key, Robert (Salisbury)|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Kirkwood, Sir Archy|
|Conway, Derek||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Lamb, Norman|
|Cotter, Brian||Lansley, Andrew|
|Cran, James (Beverley)||Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)|
|Curry, rh David||Liddell-Grainger, Ian|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Lidington, David|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)||Loughton, Tim|
|Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)|
|Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Mackay, rh Andrew|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Dodds, Nigel||Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian|
|Donaldson, Jeffrey M.||Mercer, Patrick|
|Doughty, Sue||Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)|
|Duncan, Alan (Rutland)|
|Duncan Smith, rh Iain||Moss, Malcolm|
|Ewing, Annabelle||Murrison, Dr. Andrew|
|Fabricant, Michael||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Fallon, Michael||Öpik, Lembit|
|Field, Mark(Cities of London&Westminster)||Osborne, George (Tatton)|
|Flight, Howard||Paice, James|
|Randall, John||Syms, Robert|
|Redwood, rh John||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Robathan, Andrew||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)||Thurso, John|
|Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)||Tonge, Dr. Jenny|
|Rosindell, Andrew||Tredinnick, David|
|Ruffley, David||Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Sanders, Adrian||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Waterson, Nigel|
|Selous, Andrew||Watkinson, Angela|
|Shepherd, Richard||Wiggin, Bill|
|Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)||Wilkinson, John|
|Spicer, Sir Michael||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|Spink, Bob (Castle Point)||Wilshire, David|
|Spring, Richard||Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Stanley, rh Sir John||Wishart, Pete|
|Stunell, Andrew||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Swayne, Desmond||Mr. Mark Hoban and|
|Swire, Hugo (E Devon)||Mr. Laurence Robertson|
|Adams, Irene (Paisley N)||Crausby, David|
|Ainger, Nick||Cruddas, Jon|
|Allen, Graham||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)||Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)|
|Cunningham, Tony (Workington)|
|Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Davidson, Ian|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Austin, John||Dawson, Hilton|
|Baird, Vera||Denham, rh John|
|Barnes, Harry||Dhanda, Parmjit|
|Barron, rh Kevin||Dismore, Andrew|
|Beckett, rh Margaret||Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Berry, Roger||Doran, Frank|
|Blackman, Liz||Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Drew, David (Stroud)|
|Blizzard, Bob||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Efford, Clive|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)||Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)|
|Browne, Desmond||Farrelly, Paul|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Fisher, Mark|
|Burden, Richard||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Burgon, Colin||Follett, Barbara|
|Byers, rh Stephen||Foster, rh Derek|
|Cairns, David||Foster, Michael (Worcester)|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)|
|Casale, Roger||Gardiner, Barry|
|Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)||George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Challen, Colin||Gerrard, Neil|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Goggins, Paul|
|Chaytor, David||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Clapham, Michael||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)||Hain, rh Peter|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)|
|Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hamilton, David (Midlothian)|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Hanson, David|
|Coleman, Iain||Healey, John|
|Connarty, Michael||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Cooper, Yvette||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Heppell, John|
|Corston, Jean||Hesford, Stephen|
|Cousins, Jim||Heyes, David|
|Cox, Tom (Tooting)||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Cranston, Ross||Hodge, Margaret|
|Hope, Phil (Corby)||Palmer, Dr. Nick|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Perham, Linda|
|Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)||Picking, Anne|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Pike, Peter (Burnley)|
|Howells, Dr. Kim||Plaskitt, James|
|Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)||Pollard, Kerry|
|Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Pound, Stephen|
|Hurst, Alan (Braintree)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Iddon, Dr. Brian|
|Ingram, rh Adam||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)||Prescott, rh John|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Purnell, James|
|Jamieson, David||Quin, rh Joyce|
|Jenkins, Brian||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Jones, Kevan (N Durham)||Reed, Andy (Loughborough)|
|Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Kaufman, rh Gerald||Roy, Frank (Motherwell)|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford)||Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Salter, Martin|
|Kidney, David||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Savidge, Malcolm|
|King, Andy (Rugby)||Sawford, Phil|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Knight, Jim (S Dorset)||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Ladyman Dr. Stephen||Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)|
|Lammy, David||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Lawrence, Mrs Jackie||Singh, Marsha|
|Laxton, Bob (Derby N)||Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Leslie, Christopher||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Levitt, Tom (High Peak)||Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)|
|Luke, Iain (Dundee E)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|McCabe, Stephen||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|McCafferty, Chris||Soley, Clive|
|McCartney, rh Ian||Southwonh, Helen|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Squire, Rachel|
|McDonnell, John||Starkey, Dr. Phyllis|
|McIsaac, Shona||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McKechin, Ann||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|McKenna, Rosemary||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|McNulty, Tony||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|McWalter, Tony||Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)|
|McWilliam, John||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Mallaber, Judy||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Mallon, Seamus||Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)|
|Mandelson, rh Peter||Tipping, Paddy|
|Mann, John (Bassetlaw)||Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Trickett, Jon|
|Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)||Truswell, Paul|
|Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)|
|Marshall Andrews, Robert|
|Martlew, Eric||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Meale, Alan (Mansfield)||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Miller, Andrew||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Moffatt, Laura||Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)|
|Moran, Margaret||Vis, Dr. Rudi|
|Morley, Elliot||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Morris, rh Estelle||Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)|
|Mountford, Kali||Watts, David|
|Mudie, George||White, Brian|
|Munn, Ms Meg||Whitehead, Dr. Alan|
|Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Naysmith, Dr. Doug||Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)|
|Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)||Williams, Betty (Conwy)|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Winnick, David|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Olner, Bill||Wright Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)|
|Wright, David (Telford)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wright, Tony (Cannock)||Mr. Phil Woolas and|
|Wyatt, Derek||Gillian Merron|
§ Question accordingly negatived.