HL Deb 08 June 1998 vol 590 cc1-32GC

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux)

Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Except in one respect, our proceedings are exactly as in a normal Committee of the Whole House. We shall go through the Bill clause by clause; noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be recorded in Hansard. The one difference is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in the Grand Committee. Any issue on which agreement cannot be reached should be considered again at the Report stage when, if necessary, a Division may be called. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

I should also explain what will happen if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting. The Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes, and if the noble Lord who is speaking could finish his sentence, then we can adjourn.

Title postponed.

Clause 1 [The Police Authority for Northern Ireland]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The Bill had a very important and extended Committee stage in another place and was extensively amended in the later stages. I do not believe, therefore, that it will need extensive discussion but I should like to raise a few points in the course of our consideration this afternoon.

The first set of clauses, starting with Clause 1, set out the relative responsibilities of the Secretary of State, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland (PANI) and the chief constable. It is quite complicated to understand the nuances of the responsibilities between the three parts of the tripartite structure. That is important because, unless the public understand where the responsibility lies in any particular instance, it is difficult to see that accountability is really being satisfied.

The other feature which seems to me to flow from the Bill is that an awful lot of paper will be required. The Secretary of State is to issue a statement of principles for policing which will be laid before Parliament in due course under Clause 37; codes of practice for PANI under Clause 38; regulations for the administration of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and for the administration of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve under Clauses 25 and 26; and general guidance for policemen under Clause 39. The Secretary of State is also to issue three to five-year objectives for policing under Clause 14, and the chief constable is to issue the three to five-year strategic policing plan under Clause 16. The Police Authority for Northern Ireland is to issue annual objectives and annual performance targets under Clause 15. Finally, PANI is to issue the annual policing plan, which will originally have been drafted by the chief constable and then discussed with PANI. That is to say, nine documents have to be drawn up, consulted on and issued before anyone starts policing anybody under the Bill.

There is later to be an annual report within three months from the chief constable to PANI, and an annual report within six months from PANI to the Secretary of State. There may also be special reports from the chief constable to PANI, from PANI to the Secretary of State and perhaps even special reports from the chief constable to the Secretary of State which would also have to be laid before Parliament. All this seems to amount to a huge weight of paper which it will be difficult for individuals to follow unless they are involved in the structure themselves and following the process quite carefully.

The other thought which strikes me about all of this is that the documents to which I have referred are all in the future. There have been numerous documents building up to this Bill. The principle one was the consultation paper on Policing in the Community issued in 1994, which was followed by a White Paper from the previous government and a Labour Party shadow White Paper covering similar ground from their point of view. There was a fundamental review, as well as Maurice Hayes' report on the complaints system. Now there is to be this legislation, and before all of this comes into force the Patten Commission will start its work to re-think the whole issue. The RUC must therefore be the most examined and reported on police force in the world.

Throughout it all they continue to do an extremely difficult job to protect the public from ordinary crime as well as to protect the whole democratic system from that minority which tries to shoot and bomb their way to a different form of government. The RUC and the RUC Reserve, and everyone connected with them, deserve our highest praise, but also our circumspection in proposing yet further upheavals to their system of management. I hope, therefore, that the Patten Commission will give thought to whether all this paperwork is necessary and to how many changes will actually be beneficial, given the tremendous upheavals involved and the consideration that has already been given to the matter. First in the Commission's mind must be the question whether any future changes will help both acceptability and accountability.

As far as I am concerned, although this Bill should certainly pass into law in much the form now before us, we need to reflect a little before making further changes to the RUC and the whole system of managing it, at least allowing these changes to bed down and be well understood before we take any further steps.

Lord Alderdice

Perhaps I may remark briefly on the Question that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill. I have some sympathy with the view that the police authority may, in its current form, not represent the best way of carrying things forward. Indeed, I have made it clear on a number of occasions that I take the view, as do my colleagues, that if we could move to a situation in the next couple of years whereby a democratically elected parliamentary assembly in Northern Ireland were able to take responsibility for policing and other justice matters, that would ensure a degree of accountability far beyond what has been achieved by the police authority.

Indeed, I recall speaking in South Africa not very long after the agreement was reached there, to some folk about the situation concerning the South African police. They said the situation had changed quite radically. I asked whether this was because representation on police matters had changed: they said it was not that. I asked whether they had brought in completely different staff: it was not that. I asked whether the name had changed, and they said it had changed from the South African police to the South African police service but that was all. I asked them what had made the difference, and they said it was accountability. This had been a police force which existed to maintain apartheid, but now it was Mr Mandela's police force, and that had made the difference.

The one factor which will ensure much greater acceptability of the police is not endlessly revising the RUC but ensuring that it is accountable to the people through their elected representatives. That is why I have some sympathy with the view which questions whether the police authority in its present form is the best way of running things.

However, that is something for further down the line. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I welcome the appointment of Mr. Chris Patten as head of the new commission. He is a man of enormous substance and qualification in this matter and I believe that his appointment has relieved some of the anxieties that were felt.

Let us be clear, however. Any reassurance that that might bring, and any reasonableness with which people might approach this matter, can only occur when people understand that we are talking about improving the context in which policing can be carried out—that is, an entirely peaceful one without terrorism leaving the police able to address civil policing matters as they would do in the rest of the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Also, for there to be suggestions in the public domain—though I hasten to say not from more responsible politicians or indeed from the Government—that we are looking to a time when former terrorists might be part of the RUC is both absurd and extremely destructive. I can only assume that some of those who are putting forward the ideas are doing so in order to destabilise matters and to stir up trouble. They know perfectly well that that is not a possibility, nor should it be.

Let us be clear that it is not a possibility—now or at any stage in the future. We look to people who are involved in the police service as people who are upholders of the law, not conscious breachers of the law. That is not to say, of course, that where some young people at the age of 15, 16 or 17 years old were caught with stones in their hands—in the context that the community was in utter turmoil—that should for ever and a day be held against them. That is a different matter entirely and should not be confused. The idea that people consciously involved in terrorism should ever be in a position to act as members of a legitimate police service in Northern Ireland is unacceptable. We must make that very clear.

If we can move forward with the Bill and build further upon that with the Patten Commission, ensuring a degree of accountability which goes way beyond the police authority, I believe it is legitimate for this Bill to pass into legislation, although not as an end in itself. Frankly, if it were to be that I should be most unhappy. Perhaps we can receive reassurances from the Government, as I hope we can, that this is merely an enabling step to ensure that we can fulfil the reasonable undertakings that we reached on 10th April. It would be helpful if the Minister would simply state this. It will not introduce some of the extraordinary suggestions that there have been from others, either about the structure of the police, fragmenting it and breaking it up, or in terms of membership of the police. Those are matters that are of some concern in Northern Ireland.

I look forward to receiving those reassurance from the Minister and I heartily suppose that he will not have too much difficulty giving them.

Lord Blease

We have jumped to Part III of the Bill. In the general remarks at this stage I wish to put forward a point although not to deal with it in detail. It has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. The word "force" is a descriptive word which in my view leads to some problems: I prefer the word "service".

I say this with a good deal of experience and understanding of the role of the RUC in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it has had a very challenging, serious and difficult task over a number of years. We know that that load has been carried with great purpose in trying to maintain peace and order in Northern Ireland. I feel that the word "force" as used in Part III of the Bill does not properly incorporate the real work that the police service does in Northern Ireland and I would prefer to see the word "service".

I realise at this stage of the Bill that it is not appropriate to make any suggestions. However, I draw attention to this matter. I believe that it is possible to incorporate in the definition that the word "service" includes force and other duties that the police carry out for the people of Northern Ireland. I want to give notice that I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, but I shall not press the matter until later in the Bill.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Fitt

I wonder whether it was worth coming here or whether it was a waste of time. This Bill is going to be dissected, bisected and, inquired into by the Patten Commission. It seems that we are going through an awful lot of deliberations on a Bill, and whatever decisions may be taken here may be overturned by the Patten Commission. The Patten Commission is to inquire into the whole structure of the RUC.

This Bill had its foundations in another place under the Conservative government. Why was it thought necessary to introduce this Bill? Coming from Northern Ireland and recognising the dissentions and divisions within that community, I say that the Conservative government thought this Bill necessary because one section of the community in Northern Ireland did not trust the RUC, as at present constituted, for a single second. I do not think that was right.

I was a Catholic—I still am—a member of the minority community, and had nationalist intentions during my political career. There were occasions when the RUC appeared to be showing undue bias towards the unionist community. On one famous occasion when I was taking part in the civil rights demonstration on 5th October 1968, I was beaten by the RUC by a baton. That fact has been recorded on many occasions.

The police did that—not because they were a biased police force, not because they were anti-Catholic or pro-Protestant or pro-unionist; but because they were under the control of the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland. It was the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland who banned that particular civil rights demonstration in Derry. The police were acting under the instructions of the Minister of Home Affairs.

We now have a police authority, and the police are no longer under the control of a single political individual. I have to say—and I say it with a great deal of regret—that the party which I formerly led, the SDLP, was composed of three men from the urban society of Belfast and four from outside Belfast. I had some reservations about the RUC, but nothing to compare with the extent to which that force has been maligned and castigated by my former colleagues—and not only then, but up to the present day. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why I found it necessary to give up the leadership and to resign from that party.

I remember very well on one occasion the RUC preventing me from traversing particular streets in different geographic areas in the course of fighting an election. Again, that was advocated by the Minister of Home Affairs. I recall sitting in the gallery of the Old Stormont Parliament—I believe in 1953—when the Flags and Emblems Bill was debated and put on the statute book. That Bill was one of the most bigoted, sectarian, biased pieces of legislation ever to be put on the statute book of Northern Ireland.

The police had to police that particular Act, under which it was agreed that it was a grievous sin to be seen flying an Irish tricolour or to be wearing any nationalist insignia by way of a uniform or a badge. Again, that was down to the Minister of Home Affairs; it was not the police who did that just because they did not like the minority community.

Many of the allegations made against the RUC were totally and absolutely unfair. At the moment we hear Sinn Fein talking about the nationalist community. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, mentioned that last week. One of the Sinn Fein councillors, now a candidate for the assembly election, gave a very belligerent, bellicose, vindictive statement against the RUC saying it had to be disbanded because it was not acceptable to the nationalist people.

I wonder who gave him the idea that he was in a position to determine what the nationalist people thought. The nationalist people in Bangor, Portadown, Donaghadee and other parts of Northern Ireland find the RUC quite acceptable. It is only in the ghettos, which have been created by gunmen and terrorists, that the RUC is not acceptable. The reason it is not acceptable in those ghetto areas is that it is the RUC which has apprehended, brought to the courts and had convicted people who were guilty of the most heinous crimes.

I can understand the spokesmen for the IRA and Sinn Fein being vindictive against the RUC but what I regret totally is that the party which I formerly led, the SDLP, was the very first, before Sinn Fein became a political force to be reckoned with in Northern Ireland, to start off this campaign of vituperation and condemnation against the RUC, and it is still doing it.

Last week and the week before, the police authority asked the political representatives of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and others to come to talk to it, to see what their ideas were and what their concerns were about the RUC. Sinn Fein said that it would not go. That is understandable from Sinn Fein, as spokesman for a terrorist organisation. It is not, however, understandable for a legitimate constitutional political party like the SDLP to say it will not attend either. That only gives support and succour to the spokesmen and the representatives of terrorists.

Three or four weeks ago the Daily Telegraph published the photographs of 289—it should have been 301—members of the RUC who were killed by terrorists. I recognised 43 of them. I was frequently in contact with members of the RUC and I must say that morale is very low at the present moment. Whatever excuses may be put forward for this Bill—that changing the name to police service would make it the same as a police service in Sussex or in Wolverhampton—the RUC see this as an attack on their name. It will no longer be the RUC that they joined. Morale within the RUC is extremely low at the moment.

In anything that is said or done in this House or outside it in relation to this Bill, we must be very careful that nothing should be done further to lower morale in the RUC. It is a force which has withstood attacks such as no other force in western Europe has had to withstand over these past 30 years. The force has given sterling service, as I said on Second Reading. Had it not been for the morale and courage of the RUC during the past 30 years, Northern Ireland would have been in a state of total anarchy.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I wonder what will happen if the Patten Commission duplicates what both Houses of Parliament have thus far produced. We have all these reports—and your Lordships may be adding further light reading in the course of the next few days. If Parliament and the Patten Commission flatly contradict each other, which will carry the greater weight?

I do not know whether it would be touching on the Royal Prerogative to suggest that if this Bill goes through both Houses of Parliament, the Royal Assent should be withheld until the Patten Commission has reported.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs)

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for giving notice of his intention to oppose Clause 1. It gives me an opportunity to deal with some of the Bill's fundamental points although I realise that we are dealing with it in Committee and not at Second Reading. Nevertheless, noble Lords have highlighted some important issues to which I should like to respond in some detail. I do not want to trespass too long on the time of the Grand Committee but, given the importance of this particular debate, I will take a little more time in dealing with these points than I would wish to do in the normal course of Committee procedures.

It might be helpful if I were very quickly to summarise the Government's aim as regards the relationships between the police authority and other partners in the tripartite structure, which is the nub of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

As I indicated when noble Lords first debated this Bill, the aim of the legislation is to make the policing of Northern Ireland more efficient, more effective, more accountable, and, as a result, more acceptable, thereby commanding increased confidence across the whole community.

I have used the term "more accountable". I know the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, developed the theme of accountability, and that he would prefer accountability to be of a different form from the sort envisaged in the Bill. It may well be that in the fullness of time one may be able to move to the position which the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, suggested, but at the moment, in the real world that we are dealing with in Northern Ireland, I believe that in terms of accountability, the Bill represents a good way forward.

The Bill clarifies the relative responsibilities of the chief constable, the police authority, and the Secretary of State in the governance of policing in Northern Ireland; otherwise known as the tripartite structure.

The Bill introduces a range of measures intended to make the RUC and the police authority more accountable; for example, through police planning and objective setting. As I said during our previous debate, the provisions in the Bill are the building blocks on which other sensible improvements can be made if found to be necessary in the future.

The Bill introduces moderate and timely measures which will enable the police service in Northern Ireland to evolve to face whatever challenges the future holds, including the threat of resurgent terrorism.

The provisions, which will ensure better policing for everyone in Northern Ireland, are supported by the chief constable and by the police authority.

Some noble Lords have referred to the work of the independent commission. I do not want to spend a great deal of time going through the arguments about the commission which have been well aired and are reasonably well understood, but I believe the commission will have an important role, bringing together ideas and making proposals on policing in order that we can have a new beginning, with the prospect of a more stable and peaceful future based firmly on democratic values. That stems from the "yes" vote which I believe was a turning point for Northern Ireland in the recent referendum.

The commission has an important part to play, but I believe that the strength of the Bill is that it stands on what it puts forward. It may well be that, in the fullness of time, the commission will want to take that work further, but the Bill itself makes important changes which will improve policing in Northern Ireland. It is not dependent upon the commission, but of course the work of the commission may well take this a great deal further.

However, before I consider the details, I should like to pay tribute to those who have served and protected the people of Northern Ireland from the scourge of terrorism. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and others, that the work of the men and women of the RUC, and of those who work alongside them, has been outstanding over many years.

Over the past 29 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, 301 officers have lost their lives as a result of terrorist attacks, and many thousands more have been injured. All officers and their families have had to live with the constant danger of terrorism and we have not forgotten the sacrifice that they have made.

In paying tribute to the RUC, we should remember that the RUC, in providing a community police service for all the people in Northern Ireland, continues to face unique and all-too-often dangerous circumstances as its officers go about their daily duties. Despite this, they continue to uphold the rule of law and to safeguard the lives and the property of all the people of Northern Ireland.

I should like to say a few words about the work of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. Clause 1 of the Bill provides for the continued existence of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. The clause replaces, with some amendment, Section 1 of the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970. The police authority was created to ensure the operational independence of the police, by putting them at arm's length from government, and to represent the interests of the community in policing matters. The Government are strongly committed to the tripartite structure as an effective system of police governance. The Bill maintains a strong police authority with an enhanced role in representing the community and holding the chief constable to account.

The Government, as a demonstration of their commitment to the future of the police authority, published a consultation document, entitled Your Voice, Your Choice, on 9th February 1998. The document, copies of which are available in the Library, outlined options for reforming the method of appointment of the membership of the authority, with a view to making it more representative of the community. The period of consultation is ongoing. It is an issue which the commission may wish to examine, and which, as the new arrangements for Northern Ireland take shape, the political parties there may wish to consider further.

It is clear that the police authority, both members and staff, has over the years given sterling service to the people of Northern Ireland. It has had to operate under the threat of attack. The Government and the community in Northern Ireland are indebted to it.

I now deal with one or two specific points which were raised in the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, expressed concern about the allegations that in future paramilitaries might serve in the police. As the Prime Minister said, the agreement does not mean that we are going to have gangs of former paramilitaries. I understand that the police authority and the chief constable have been jointly examining recruitment procedures to determine how under-representation of different groups can be remedied. I welcome this initiative. The chief constable is considering the recommendations of the report, which include reviewing the current criteria on criminal convictions". Perhaps I may give an example of that lest there be any misunderstanding. There might be a person who as an adolescent has thrown stones and was either cautioned or convicted for such an offence. That is what I believe may be the outcome of this review. Therefore, one might wish to see whether people who have committed offences of that sort—what I would regard as minor offences, not that I condone them—should be debarred for ever from serving in the police in Northern Ireland. We should await the conclusions of this exercise. However, those convicted of serious offences are not fit to be in the police. As the Prime Minister has said, that is foreign to our way of thinking and will not happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, commented on the use of the word "force" rather than "service" in Part III of the Bill. We have used the word "service" in the new umbrella title "Northern Ireland police service". "Force" is a technical, collective term for a body of constables throughout the UK and all the body of legislation which the police enforce. So we are simply using normal terminology when we refer to the word police "force".

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked what would be the position if the Patten Commission contradicted the Bill and which of the two would carry the greater weight. The Patten Commission will make recommendations. The Government are obliged under the agreement to consult the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government on implementing them. If that requires legislation, the normal democratic process here and, if agreement on devolving policing has been reached, in Northern Ireland, will take that legislation forward. Patten is not empowered to override Parliament. He will make proposals to the British Government, who will then take those further.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, also asked whether Royal Assent might not be delayed until after the Patten Commission has reported. The Patten Commission is to report in a year. If the Bill does not receive Royal Assent this Session, it would fall for all time. Therefore, it would not be possible to delay Royal Assent for that reason. I believe that there are important respects in which the Bill ought to get on the statute book and delaying it for a year would not be in the best interests of policing in Northern Ireland. I fear very much that, if we did what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, suggests, we would lose time and gain nothing.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I am most grateful to the Minister. I apologise for interrupting him. That presumably means that Clause 7 (on the arrangements for obtaining the views of the public on policing) authorises the police authority to make arrangements for obtaining the views of the public on policing in Northern Ireland. It will be able to proceed with that the moment the Bill receives Royal Assent, in tandem with the Patten Commission going along parallel lines—perhaps not seeking the opinion of the same people, but perhaps obtaining very different views as there would not appear to be any interrelationship between them.

Lord Dubs

My understanding—we have now jumped to Clause 7—is that the Bill contains provisions, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, refers, stating that the police authority shall have the responsibility of ascertaining the views of the public about matters concerning policing, and of gaining the co-operation of the public in preventing crime.

The Patten Commission has a wider remit. Clause 7 restates the existing powers of the police authority—it simply repeats the powers which already exist as regards Northern Ireland—but the Patten Commission has a wider remit which will enable it for the next year to investigate all these matters in some detail. So, although at one level it might appear that there is an overlap between the two, for the sake of orderliness the Bill continues the present powers, but the Patten Commission has a wider remit with which the noble Lord is familiar.

I think that deals with all the points raised. The provisions in this Bill are the building blocks on which other sensible improvements can be made if time permits in the future. I hope that the Committee will feel that this is an appropriate clause to stand part of the Bill.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the points that have been made in this short debate and I welcome what he said, particularly about the employment of former terrorists in the police force, which was extremely important.

I should like to comment very briefly on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, about responsibility for the police transferring to the assembly at some date in the future. The Minister said that that might happen in the fullness of time, which is not a bad phrase to use about this because a prerequisite is that first there should be peace. Terrorism should be fully over—not only from those who supported the Good Friday Agreement, more or less, but also from those who did not support it. We all know that there are terrorist organisations which did not support it. In particular, the transfer of responsibility cannot take place until after there is no further need for the use of troops in support of the civil power. I cannot see that happening very quickly although, obviously, the sooner it happens, the better.

There is another prerequisite, which I hope will also be met in a similar period of time: the assembly and new executive should have the chance to prove themselves to be effective and working bodies which can take clear decisions and give clear instructions to the police. If that does not happen, it would be extremely difficult for responsibility to be transferred because police forces need clear instructions which they can carry out, and which everyone understands that they are carrying out. What the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said about what happened in former times, such as 1968, makes that clear. When instructions to the police are given by the political representatives responsible, people should be able to see that the police are carrying out the democratic wishes through the mechanisms which have been set up. With those further thoughts, I am entirely content that Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Staff of the Police Authority]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 37, after ("subsection") insert ("(3) or").

The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 1 it is convenient for us to discuss Amendment No. 2 also.

Clause 3 deals with the staff of the police authority. They are to be partly employed directly by PANI under subsection (3), partly supplied from the Civil Service under subsection (4). In both cases, as far as most of the staff are concerned, the chief constable is to have the direction and control, although he can only engage and dismiss those directly employed under subsection (3). Those Civil Service staff designated under subsection (6) remain civil servants, not under the chief constable and not employed by the police authority. They are not, incidentally, called police service staff; they are presumably the staff of the authority.

I found that subsection very confusingly worded, I must admit, but the wording of subsection (7) means that the civil servants who are not so designated under subsection (6) are to be described as "police service staff". It also says that those employed directly by the police authority are police service staff.

If the chief constable alone engages an employee, alone can fire that employee and also exercises all the other powers and duties of an employer, which is what the clause provides, it is difficult to see who is really the employer. The employees are not being employed in any meaningful way by the police authority itself. I suppose we shall be told that although they may not be in any ordinary sense employed by the police authority, they will be in a legal sense; therefore my amendment will be unnecessary because of that legal fiction, as it seems to me.

The underlying question is why do we need this convoluted legal apparatus to enable PANI to do its job? In one way I should like to have rewritten the clause completely to say that there are three types of people involved: policemen, who are members of the RUC or the RUC Reserve; police service staff, who help the policemen directly under the control of the chief constable; and police authority staff, who help the authority to do its job. Unfortunately, at this stage we cannot rewrite the whole clause, and that is to some extent what is achieved by the subsections, as I read them. However, they are not at all clear.

All those who will actually work for the police authority itself in doing its job appear to be civil servants on secondment, apart from the chief executive, and there may be one or two others. I am not sure that that is entirely desirable, but no doubt the Minister will tell us if I am right.

Amendment No. 2 covers a different point. Clause 4 provides a power for a civil servant who works for PANI under the arrangements under Clause 3(4) to be transferred to work directly for PANI or to serve under the chief constable, depending on whether he is designated under Clause 3(6).

As drafted, the transfer seems to be compulsory; the individual has no choice in the matter, and that seems unsatisfactory. I realise that it might be covered in the regulations that are to be introduced to develop these matters further, but as far as I know we have seen no draft regulations so far. In any case, it seems to me that the protection of the voluntary nature of the transfer should perhaps be in the primary legislation. PANI and its Civil Service staff seem to be concerned at the moment about those compulsory transfer provisions. They seek assurances that in the event of any down-sizing of civilian staff such staff should receive the same consideration as police officers, especially if early retirement or other schemes are introduced to reduce the numbers.

They have also noted that the Secretary of State said there will be a two-year period after any regulations are introduced beyond which no current civil servant will be able to get back into the Civil Service proper. The authority's view is that this should be extended to at least five years in the present circumstances, or preferably that the staff should be able to compete for civil service vacancies over an indefinite period.

They are also concerned that civilian staff who might find themselves dismissed by the chief constable should have a right of appeal to the police authority. This would help to put some fabric on what I described earlier as the fiction that the police authority employs them. However, if they appealed against the chief constable's decision in case of dismissal, that should be considered most carefully. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Blease

I wonder whether we could include consideration of terms and conditions of employment in relation to ancillary workers who may possibly be employed in departments. I know that that goes down the line a fair way; it possibly comes within the ambit of this clause, although I do not see reference to civil staff. Reference to police staff I can well understand. However, there are other civil employments and perhaps the terms and conditions of their employment are drawn up in detail. Under those terms and conditions it may be necessary to embrace some form of commitment to the services in which they have been engaged.

Lord Dubs

Perhaps it would be helpful if I were first to deal with Amendment No. 1.

Clause 3 sets out the administrative arrangements governing the police service staff of the police authority. The main thrust of the clause centres on the delegation of management functions in respect of police service staff to the chief constable. The clause allows the police authority, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to employ staff to assist the police force or the police authority in the discharge of their functions, and provides for the secondment of members of the civil service to the police authority.

The purpose of subsection (7) is to clarify who is to be covered by the term police service staff. In tabling his amendment the noble Lord is seeking to include within subsection (7) those staff who are employed by virtue of the provisions of subsection (3).

Following consultation with the legislative draftsman, I am advised that those staff falling within the provisions of subsection (3) are already covered. The words "are employed by" recorded on line 36 refer to the staff who fall under the terms of subsection (3).

I appreciate the point is somewhat technical, but I believe the position is already covered. In the circumstances I do not believe that the noble Lord's amendment is necessary or would take us any further forward.

Perhaps I may turn now to Amendment No. 2. Clause 4 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations through which civil servants seconded to the police authority may be transferred to the employ of the authority. It also requires the Secretary of State to consult the authority, the chief constable, and any organisations representing staff, before making such regulations.

Giving the chief constable proper authority over police and support staff under his direction and control is a central principle of this legislation. By making those seconded staff employees of the authority, not only will they then come under the chief constable's direction and control, but, crucially, he will have full managerial responsibility for them.

This Government recognise the sensitivities in this area. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already consulted with trade unions and other interested bodies. We have given an assurance that adequate time will be allowed for extensive consultation before regulations are brought into force. In essence that means that unless agreement is reached, they will not invoked before 2001. The Government are committed to ensuring that the chief constable is given proper managerial responsibility for all his staff and believes that this clause is the correct way to achieve that. The noble Lord's amendment would have the effect of providing that even after the full consultation had taken place, members of staff would individually have to consent to transfer. That would be potentially disastrous, both to the chief constable, the police authority and the staff. What if large numbers of staff refuse to transfer? They could not be retained in the Civil Service group and would consequently have to be made redundant. As that is surely not the noble Lord's intention, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

I wish to make one other point on the question of civilian staffing. There is a four-way split: civil servants and police authority employees; and working for the RUC or working for the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. Anyone working for the RUC, be it a civil servant or a PANI direct employee, will be a member of the police service staff. Anyone—that is to say a civil servant or a PANI direct employee—working for PANI itself will not be. Only police service staff will be under the control of the chief constable. Civil servants can be sacked only by the Civil Service Commission. But the chief constable will be allowed to carry out all other management functions.

It is convoluted, but gives effect to the desire to give the chief constable the same powers as his colleagues in the rest of the UK. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will in the circumstances withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I am not surprised to be told that Amendment No. 1 is unnecessary. At present, I shall do as the Minister suggests.

With regard to the compulsory transfer, it was no wish of mine that large numbers of this staffing concern should be made redundant. But the fact that it might happen may be a spur to them not to resist compulsory transfer—certainly not in large numbers. However, it might be desirable for there to be a voluntary element, rather than that PANI and the chief constable find themselves with a large number of staff who do not wish to work for them. That would not be a very good arrangement.

I have reflected on what the Minister said: that we should return to this at a later stage in our proceedings. However, for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Power to transfer staff to employment of Police Authority]:

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clauses 4 agreed to.

Clauses 5 to 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Setting of policing objectives by Secretary of State]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 7, line 33, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: Amendments No. 3 and 4 together make a single small point. Clause 14 provides for the setting of policing objectives by the Secretary of State. However, as drafted the Secretary of State "may" produce such objectives; and by implication may not if she, or he as it is expressed in the Bill, does not feel like it.

On the other hand, under Clause 15 PANI must determine annual objectives for policing. Those objectives under Clause 15 must be consistent with the objectives of the Secretary of State, which may not have been produced. We in Parliament are being asked to pass a law to lay a duty on PANI to frame objectives consistent with the objectives of the Secretary of State even if there are none. The Government propose duties for other people, but only a permissive clause for Secretaries of State. Therefore, perhaps we should say that the Secretary of State "shall" produce these policing objectives. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs

As noble Lords will know, the provisions giving the Secretary of State the authority to set policing objectives broadly mirror those contained in Sections 37 and 38 of the Police Act 1996 which apply to England and Wales.

As it is the intention of the Government to maintain, as far as possible, parity with mainland legislation, perhaps it would be helpful if I were to address each of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, in turn.

Amendment No. 4 seeks further to clarify the responsibilities of the Secretary of State in relation to her discretion to revise her objectives. The Bill, as drafted, indicates that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State may determine, and from time to time revise, objectives for the policing of Northern Ireland. While I accept that the amendment seeks to make clear the discretion that the Secretary of State has, I believe that the position is already sufficiently implicit in the wording of the clause. In view of this, I believe that the amendment is superfluous.

Amendment No. 3, which has also been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, seeks to place a statutory requirement on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to determine policing objectives. Such a requirement is not placed on my right honourable friend the Home Secretary under the Police Act 1996; the word used is "may". I do not believe that Northern Ireland should be treated differently. It is clear that the objective-setting mechanism that the Bill will put in Statute is already operating successfully. It has been tried and tested, both in Northern Ireland during the shadow exercise and in England and Wales.

It may be helpful if I say a little more about the 1998–99 objective-setting process. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced her objectives on 25th October 1997. These were finalised following consultation with the police authority and the RUC, and both welcomed them at their launch. The police authority subsequently launched its objectives for 1998–99 on 19th February, and the first Northern Ireland annual policing plan was jointly published by the chairman of the authority and the chief constable towards the end of March. The shadow exercise proved that the process is working effectively.

Perhaps I may make a further point about the amendment. The Secretary of State need not set objectives, but PANI's objectives must be consistent with any set by the Secretary of State. Accordingly, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Alderdice

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may make one comment. He has raised—I have no doubt that this will come up again and again—the question of carrying out policing and other functions in Northern Ireland in the same way as in the rest of the United Kingdom. In many senses the process of "reading across" is rather helpful, but there are certain senses in which it manifestly is not.

The whole subject of policing is particularly questionable because the purpose of the police in Northern Ireland has been quite different, up until now, from that of the police in the rest of the United Kingdom. The RUC—and its predecessors, the RIC—was put in place to maintain the integrity of the state as well as to contend with ordinary civil policing matters. This is the kind of "reading across" which is simply not a possibility. The Police Authority for Northern Ireland is the subject of contention in the way that no police authority on this side of the water is, and its membership is not entirely balanced in the way that one would expect on this side of the water. The relationship between the Secretary of State, the police authority and the chief constable is radically different from the relationship between a Cabinet Minister here, police authorities and chief constables. Its very name—the very fact that it is called the "Royal Ulster Constabulary"—gives it a charter which I believe is shared with only the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The whole subject of policing is different in Northern Ireland. Although I have no great argument with the Minister on this matter, I would caution against repeatedly thinking that, by getting "reading across" on a contentious issue like policing, you are always solving the problem. Frequently, you are simply ignoring a problem which is there and which is not going to be resolved simply by "reading across", any more than it will be resolved by "reading up" from the Garda Siochana.

5 p.m.

Lord Dubs

I take the noble Lord's point. That is why we have a separate Bill for policing in Northern Ireland and why we are having the Patten Commission, neither of which is comparable to anything happening in other parts of the United Kingdom. I was simply referring to the practice in England and Wales where we had tested a particular and, in this context of policing as a whole, a fairly minor but detailed point. It had been shown to work and it made sense to apply that to Northern Ireland. As a general principle, I accept the noble Lord's point that policing in Northern Ireland is different. The Government see it as being different; that is why we are addressing it in a way that is specially geared to Northern Ireland.

I may have misled the Committee a few minutes ago. I was making a point about the Secretary of State setting objectives. I should like to clarify that. It was in relation to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. If the Secretary of State were not to set objectives, PANI would simply have a wider discretion but it would still have to set objectives for the police service. That is the proper way of dealing with the point made by the noble Lord. I believe he has indicated that he will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

First, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that reading across from the rest of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland is not always appropriate in these cases, although I am in favour of it as a general proposition as far as possible.

The point that I was making was quite small. It was really only a verbal point. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will set objectives; it would be astonishing if he did not set objectives under the clause. However, the clause only provides that the Secretary of State "may", whereas Clause 15(2) gives a clear impression that there will be such objectives. It says that the PANT objectives, in any event shall be so framed as to be consistent with the objectives determined under [Section 14]". However, I shall not press the matter. It is a small verbal point rather than one of principle. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clauses 15 to 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [General functions of Chief Constable]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 10, line 15, at end insert— ("and shall consult the Police Authority during the implementation of the plan.").

The noble Lord said: Apart from the objectives that we have been talking about, PANI also has to agree in public to the annual policing plan. This will be drafted in the first instance by the chief constable but it is PANI's plan in the end. The chief constable then has to have regard to the plan under this clause in running the police force.

What lies behind the amendment is the fact that we all know that the best laid plans, particularly in situations such as are found in Northern Ireland, cannot always be followed. The first Earl of Stockton pointed out that "Events, old boy, events" are very significant in political and governmental matters. That led me to wonder what will happen when the plan cannot be followed exactly and when a variation from the plan is desirable. Therefore, I suggest in the amendment that the chief constable should consult PANI as the year progresses, not merely report at the end about how he has fared. I am sure that he will do so in practice. The amendment seeks to recognise that he is likely to do so by setting it out on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Alderdice

I find this a somewhat puzzling proposition. In putting it forward, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, pointed out that he is concerned about events: unexpected or untoward matters that might arise, probably without much warning, or at least in the operational context as far as the chief constable was concerned; not matters that would be in the policing plan. After all, the policing plan would be in place, it would be agreed and the chief constable would be bound to follow it through. As he has said, therefore, this is in the context of events which have arisen. In that context, however, it could be difficult to bind the chief constable to consultations with the police authority because if it were the case that the chief constable and the policy authority agreed, then so be it. However, these matters often have to be handled with such alacrity that consultation could hardly be very full.

If, however, in the context of some immediate operational, event the chief constable were to find that the police authority did not happen to agree, for whatever reason—whether its members were not as aware of the situation as he was or they simply disagreed—one would be putting him in a position where there could be gridlock in the operational effectiveness of the police. In the context of an event so contentious as to require consultation, to ensure that the chief constable could not act because of gridlock between himself and the police authority might be a most unwise matter. The amendment does not say that the chief constable "may" consult the police authority, because it is obvious that he may. It says that he "shall" consult the police authority.

Therefore, if this amendment were to be passed, would it not, in the context of difficult events, possibly place the chief constable in a most invidious position? Indeed, would it not reduce the operational independence of the chief constable, which is something that we so strongly value?

Lord Dubs

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, because he has really answered for me. In tabling this amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Cope is seeking to require the chief constable to consult with the police authority during the implementation of the annual policing plan.

I am not clear exactly what this amendment seeks to achieve. By virtue of the provisions of Clause 17, the annual policing plan is drafted by the chief constable, who in turn submits it to the police authority for its approval. The authority has the power to accept the plan as drafted, or amend it after consultation with the Secretary of State.

It is appropriate for such approval to be sought before publication. However, I believe consultation between the authority and the chief constable during the implementation of the plan could be seen to weaken the chief constable's operational independence, the point most helpfully made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice.

I fear that the impression could be given, if the amendment is accepted, that the chief constable's operational judgments are being made subordinate to the opinion of the police authority. The difficulty in this area is not the problem of differences between the police authority and the chief constable as to what should be done. I am confident that on most matters they will be in agreement. I think it is wrong in principle to tie the chief constable's hands in the way this amendment proposes.

This proposal deviates from the position in England and Wales and in Scotland in a key aspect of operational independence, although I hesitate to make that point in view of the earlier discussions, but it is valid in relation to this particular issue. The police already have power under Clause 48 to require the chief constable to submit reports. These reporting arrangements have been refined to clarify the authority's power to specify the form in which such reports are to be given and to lay down a time limit.

In general terms, but especially in Northern Ireland, we have to ensure the operational independence of the chief constable. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Fitt earlier point to this particular conclusion.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

Before the noble Lord, Lord Cope winds up, I wonder whether we are talking about the same term? As I understand it the amendment does not suggest that the chief constable should consult on the annual policing plan. The amendment is attached to the phrase the statement of principles issued under section 37". To my mind, therefore, it would appear to give at least a degree of accountability which would be welcome in the light of what has generally been stated in earlier debates.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I certainly have no desire to weaken the operational independence of the chief constable or even to make it appear that it should be weakened. I am therefore impressed with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice and the Minister that my amendment might be taken in that way. I had not intended particularly to attach it to the statement of principles as opposed to the annual policing plan. I merely intended to make sure that the chief constable, in discharging his responsibilities, kept in touch with PANI, and to recognise that the best laid plan at the start might not work out as either of them expected.

However, in view of the comments that have been made, I seek leave at this stage to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Exercise of functions of Chief Constable in cases of absence, incapacity, etc.]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 10, line 21, at end insert— ("( ) If the Chief Constable is unable to act, the Police Authority, after consulting the Secretary of State, may, in an emergency, designate a senior officer as in subsection (1)").

The noble Lord said: This clause is all about what happens if the chief constable becomes unable to exercise his functions for various reasons—if there is a sudden vacancy, or if he is absent, incapacitated or suspended from duty. The clause provides that the chief constable shall, in advance, designate a senior officer to have the powers of chief constable should one of these events occur. This is clearly necessary, and subsection (2) provides that only one officer is to be so designated.

In proposing this amendment, I was looking at the possible very difficult scenario of what might happen if both the person designated and also the chief constable became unable to act—became incapacitated—at the same time. This is not a happy thought, but it is not inconceivable. We know that the Provisional IRA tried in Brighton in 1983 to kill not only the Prime Minister but as many of the other senior members of the government as possible. I have personal reason for remembering that. Later on there was a mortar bomb attempt to kill the right honourable gentleman, Mr John Major, and some of his senior colleagues with a single blow. Both those attempts failed. In another way, the tragic Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash did kill most of the leading figures in the Northern Ireland intelligence community at one time. It is not, therefore, impossible to believe that a situation, either accidental or deliberate on somebody's part, might lead to both the chief constable and the deputy chief constable, or whoever else was designated, being unable to act. We should provide for this, and that is what I have attempted to do in Amendment No. 6. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs

The purpose of this amendment is to give the police authority the power, after consultation with the Secretary of State, to designate a senior officer to act in the absence of the chief constable. The power to designate would only be used by the authority in an emergency situation; for example, if the chief constable was unable to exercise his powers by virtue of subsection (1).

I am resisting this amendment on the grounds that I believe it is unnecessary. In the unlikely event of the chief constable and his deputy being simultaneously removed, for whatever reason, the normal chain of command would automatically transfer responsibility on the basis of first rank, and then seniority. The police authority would then have the duty, as quickly as possible, to appoint a new chief constable.

The amendment is unnecessary and could, conceivably, give rise to confusion through preventing the normal transfer of responsibility through the chain of command until the authority had had time to meet and decide on its nominee as stand-in for the chief constable. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment

Lord Cope of Berkeley

However, in the unlikely event occurring, which we are envisaging in considering this clause, it seems that no one would, for a while—until a permanent appointment were made—have the powers of the chief constable. Clearly the immediate operational decisions could still be made, but no one would have the powers of the chief constable. Otherwise there is no need for him to designate anybody to act in his capacity at all, if it is as automatic as the Minister said.

Lord Dubs

My understanding is that if the worst were to happen, and we lost the chief constable and his deputy, there is the system within the RUC on the basis of rank and seniority to decide who would take over. Then the task of the police authority would be as quickly as possible to appoint a new chief constable. In operational terms the police have a system in Northern Ireland which ensures there is always somebody who is in charge, whatever may happen to the senior or more senior people.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Yes, someone would be in charge, but no one would have the powers of the chief constable for the time being. However, I will not press the matter on this occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clauses 21 to 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 [The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland]:

On Question, Whether Clause 51 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Cope of Berkeley

We have now moved on to Part VII of the Bill. Clause 51 is the basic clause abolishing the Independent Commission for Police Complaints for Northern Ireland and setting up the new ombudsman, which the following clauses spell out in more detail.

I am not exactly clear at the moment when this is to happen, but clearly before it does happen it is right that we should pay tribute to the work that has been done by the commission which is to be abolished. It has had a most difficult job, as indeed the ombudsman—whoever it turns out to be—will in due course discover. In my judgment the commission has performed it well and deserves a tribute from us. I do not think the replacement of the commission by a single individual should be seen as a criticism of its work, which has been outstanding.

There is one other general point which I wish to make at this stage, which concerns the financial effects of the Bill. The financial effects seem to be unusually uncertain, and indeed the financial memorandum that was presented with the Bill when it was first introduced in another place some six months ago, said as much. Page viii of the Bill states: The effects on those budgets of the changes proposed in the Bill are still uncertain". It occurred to me to wonder whether, six months later, the Minister can give us any more information about the expected costs of the new arrangements by comparison with the old ones. They have given rise to a certain discussion, and I have no doubt they have been discussed very carefully, not least in the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland, as well as in other parts of the Northern Ireland Office.

Lord Alderdice

Perhaps I may briefly say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for raising this question. It gives us a chance to pay tribute to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, which has had a very difficult job over a long period of time.

The problem it had from the very beginning was one that I and my colleagues pointed out. It was not seen as fully independent. It was felt that it did not have quite the level of freedom and independence in terms of investigating complaints that will be the case for the ombudsman.

Having expressed some scepticism, at an early stage and on a number of other occasions, about the need for the Bill at this time, I have to say that if there is one reason why the Bill is valuable, and is valuable at this time, it is specifically because of Clause 51 and the clauses following, and the establishment of a truly independent ombudsman on policing.

I do not in any way want to query the independence or the quality of service of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints. It was that the structures under which they were established, in particular the absence of a capacity for fully independent investigation, to some extent tied their hands and in the public mind reduced the degree of independence that was possible for the ICPC. That will be relieved to a great extent in respect of the ombudsman. I welcome very strongly indeed the establishment of the office of ombudsman. I have no doubt that it will be carried through with distinction. This amendment is of value in order to emphasise at this stage of the Bill the tremendous importance that this component has. It seems to be the most valuable part of the Bill. I strongly support it.

Lord Dubs

I am grateful for the supportive comments that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked when it was intended to bring this matter into effect. It is at the discretion of the Secretary of State, but I can tell the Committee that the target date is March 1999, although that is not a firm decision at this stage.

I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, gave me notice of his intention to oppose Clause 51 stand part to ensure that we could have a wider discussion about the concept of the police ombudsman. The discussion indicates that it is an important issue—and one which justifies the Bill, if nothing else does. However, I believe that there are other justifications for the Bill, although this issue is important.

The purpose of this part of the Bill is clear. It is to give effect to recommendations made by Dr. Maurice Hayes in his report A Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland? which was published in January 1997. Dr. Hayes went to great lengths to consult widely on his report and to achieve support for it. There have been many supportive comments made by politicians from many parts of the political spectrum in Northern Ireland stressing the need to have a completely independent system of investigating police complaints. I know that many years ago, when this was an issue in England, it was also the view of many people that a totally independent system would be helpful to the police and would be another way of achieving accountability, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, referred.

Perhaps I may quote from Dr. Hayes' report: The overwhelming message I got from nearly all sides and from all political parties was the need for the investigation to be independent and to be seen to be independent. Whilst there were systematic failings in the present arrangements they lacked credibility because of lack of independence, because it was the Chief Constable who decided what a complaint was, because there was no power of initiative, and because the complaints were investigated by police and others". That is the real justification for having an independent system.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked about the costs. It is clear to us that there will be more costs than Dr. Hayes originally envisaged, but the detailed scoping study has not yet been completed, so I am not yet in a position, I fear, to give firm figures. We shall, however, ensure that the work of the ombudsman will be properly resourced.

There is no need for me to make any other point except to repeat my gratitude for the welcome that has been given to this concept and to thank noble Lords for giving me a chance to do so in the debate.

Clause 51 agreed to.

Clause 52 [Complaints—receipt and initial classification of complaints]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 26, line 22, leave out from ("complaint") to end of line 23 and insert ("about the conduct of a member of the police force which is made by, or on behalf of, a member of the public, in so far as the complaint does not relate to the direction and control of the police force by the Chief Constable,").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment I wish also to discuss Amendment No. 9. I start with a confession. I do not know whether other noble Lords find, as I do, that reading Bills induces after a while a terrible frustration at their convoluted language and construction. Every now and again one cannot resist trying to simplify them, and I confess that on this occasion I have succumbed to that temptation and attempted to do just that.

I hope I have not changed the purpose that lies behind this part of the Bill. Clause 52(2) provides for the chief constable to preserve the evidence when there is a complaint about the conduct of a policeman. However, the clause does not say that straightforwardly. It says that he must preserve the evidence in the case of a complaint covered by subsection (4), and subsection (4) starts by saying, "Subject to subsection (5)". You have to read all three subsections simply to decide what the clause is about. I have tried to simplify the language and I have used all the same operative words as are used in the Bill, but my version takes 45 words whereas the Bill uses 67 words. In other words, I have cut down by one-third the words used without changing the meaning by one jot. More importantly than merely cutting down the length of this clause, I suggest that my draft is easier and quicker to comprehend. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has rendered some assistance not only to the Committee, but also to the parliamentary draftsmen. He is not really criticising them because they have managed to streamline the process through which they have to work to a form of art. The noble Lord is trying to simplify all of that, and thus to be of assistance to the draftsmen, so that to some extent—perhaps even in a small way—they will be relieved of the pressures under which they are, and have been, working. I paid tribute to them in your Lordships' House only a week ago when I said that we had not realised earlier this year that the Northern Ireland legislation was imposing such a hideous burden on the parliamentary draftsmen not only of Northern Ireland, but of the entire United Kingdom. I repeat that tribute. Anything that can be done to simplify the language, and to assist the draftsmen and draftswomen and the Minister would be worthy of support.

Lord Dubs

I am grateful to the tribute that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has paid to the parliamentary draftsmen. Indeed, with six major Northern Ireland Bills in this Session, an all-time record, it is not surprising that the parliamentary draftsmen are busy, given all the other burdens of the current legislative programme. The parliamentary draftsmen are certainly working very hard at present.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has in the past indicated that he wants government publications, whether legislation or other documents, to be written in good English—and I respect his wish. That is not easy to achieve, however, as no doubt he found out when he was in government. The advice I have been given is that these amendments are not necessary because they do not alter the meaning of the clause, merely its wording. That is probably something with which the noble Lord would agree.

The clause as drafted is clear. Subsection (2) begins: Where a complaint— (a) is made to the Chief Constable". That appears to relate to the conduct of a police officer. It continues: the Chief Constable shall take such steps as appear to him to be desirable for the purpose of preserving evidence relating to the conduct complained of". The clause then makes it clear that this duty: does not apply to a complaint in so far as it relates to the direction and control of the police force". The noble Lord's proposed amendments are a different way of expressing the same thing, but they do not deal with the knock-on effect in subsection (6). In any event, I hope that the noble Lord will understand that I do not want to adjust the current wording which I believe is sufficiently clear. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for confirmation that my re-draft does not change the effect of the clause. As I made clear, it was not intended to do that. It follows from the fact that it does not change anything that my amendment is not necessary.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I am grateful to the noble Lord because I was about to put to him a question and I do not insist on an answer at the moment. If he were ordered secondment to the ranks of the parliamentary draftsmen, would he prepared to consider it?

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Only for about 30 seconds, or rather less! If the transfer was compulsory under the clause we were discussing earlier, I would go sick.

Lord Dubs

In my experience of politics—and the noble Lord's is more extensive than mine—it is always good to have a fall-back occupation.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I used to think that in another place, but having arrived here, and having reached a sufficiently advanced age to receive a parliamentary pension, I have slightly changed my view on that matter.

However, the fact is that it is necessary to try to write statutes in understandable English, which often means that they become rather shorter. I entirely agree with what the Minister said about the volume of work that is being placed on the parliamentary draftsmen at the moment in respect of Northern Ireland affairs. Under these circumstances I will not press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 26, line 24, leave out ("desirable") and insert ("reasonable").

The noble Lord said: This amendment attempts to change, in a very small way, the actual sense of this particular clause. The clause provides that: the chief constable shall take such steps as appear to him to be desirable for the purpose of preserving evidence relating to a complaint. I can see that to give him an open-ended duty to preserve evidence could be difficult, but "desirable" seemed an odd word to choose to express the duty to be laid on the chief constable.

One can imagine a conversation between a little boy and his mother. "Why did you hide the broken bits where I would not find them?" Little boy: "Because I felt like it." That would not be well received, nor would it be if the chief constable turned up in court and said he did not think it was desirable to keep this evidence, and that was all he had to do. I therefore suggested that the word "reasonable" should be used instead, so that the chief constable would not necessarily have to keep everything, but if the court or the ombudsman and other people thought it necessary at a subsequent time, then he would have to justify that it was unreasonable to have expected him, in all the circumstances, to have kept the evidence—not merely undesirable in his own opinion.

Lord Alderdice

On this occasion I am rather impressed with what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, says on this matter, particularly when he describes the circumstances where the chief constable might be asked to give an account of himself in a public context. Were he to use the words of the statutes here and say that he felt it was not desirable to do so, those who do not naturally have a very positive opinion of chief constables might well wonder why he did not desire it. Whereas, if he were to say that this was not regarded as reasonable but was going beyond the bounds of what it was reasonable to expect, then in public terms that would be seen to be a much more reasonable defence.

While at this point I have no doubt that the Minister wants to consider the matter further, I hope that he and his colleagues will consider it further at a subsequent stage. Although it is not a matter of great enormity, were a chief constable in a position of having to defend himself in a public fashion the word "desirable" would be less desirable than the word "reasonable", which is very reasonable.

Lord Dubs

All I would say is that the English language is a wonderful thing!

I would caution against the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. There are precedents for the use of the word "desirable" in legislation. It is the wording which is used in the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which established the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, and the Police Act 1996. Both pieces of legislation state that, where a complaint is made, such steps shall be taken "as appear to be desirable" to preserve evidence relating to the conduct complained of.

Moreover, the word "desirable" sets a higher standard. A dictionary definition of "reasonable" is "having modest or moderate expectations"; "reasonable" sets a minimum standard whereas "desirable" exceeds that. I believe that we all desire more than the minimum. I would, therefore, ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Alderdice

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. He referred to the two previous pieces of legislation and I must confess my ignorance of them. However, my assumption—I may be entirely wrong—is that the Independent Commission for Police Complaints would maintain the material as was desirable, rather than the chief constable. I would have much less feeling that in the public mind the Independent Commission for Police Complaints might be questioned on whether or not it had done what was right and reasonable by keeping it only as was desirable. It is the chief constable who is being scrutinised. I may be entirely wrong and it may refer to the chief constable. I simply took from what the Minister said that the previous legislation referred to what the Independent Commission for Police Complaints would do.

Lord Dubs

The advice I have is that the previous legislation refers to the chief constable, not the Independent Commission for Police Complaints.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Clearly, we must consider this matter further, but meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 [Complaints - informal resolution]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 27, line 18, after ("gives") insert (", and does not withdraw,").

The noble Lord said: Clause 53 provides for the informal resolution of complaints, one of the highly desirable features of the legislation and one which we all hope will be used to a great extent and will help to deal with many complaints. Among other things, subsection (2)(a) provides that a complaint can be dealt with informally only if in the first place the complainant agrees.

However, I wonder what would happen if later in the progress of the complaint—perhaps because further facts emerge or a different set of circumstances becomes apparent in the course of the investigation and the probing of the complaint—the complainant decides that his complaint is in fact more serious than he originally thought. He may be losing confidence in the informal resolution of it, in which case the complainant should be in the position provided for by my amendment whereby he can withdraw his consent to the continuation of the informal resolution procedure.

In that case, it would be a matter of returning to square one and the complaint would go into the formal procedure and pass through that, resulting, one hopes, in a conclusion in due course.

If it is to be resolved informally, it will not be much good if halfway through the process the complainant has lost confidence in it. It is desirable, therefore, to provide this kind of safety net to allow the complainant to withdraw his consent, if he so wishes, halfway through the investigation of the complaint. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs

The first of the noble Lord's amendments to Clause 53 deals with the consent of the complainant to his or her complaint being informally resolved. The noble Lord wishes to include a provision enabling the complainant to withdraw consent to informal resolution. This is not, in fact, necessary. Under the rules of statutory interpretation, the giving of consent by the complainant is—and I hope noble Lords will forgive me for using this technical term—"always speaking". In other words, the complainant's consent can be withdrawn at any stage and the complaint therefore ceases to be suitable for informal resolution.

I suggest that the noble Lord's amendment is therefore unnecessary. The second amendment would result in the deletion from Clause 53 of subsection (8). I believe that this clause is necessary. Precisely the same provision exists in Section 86 of the Police Act 1996 which applies to complaints in England and Wales, and in Article 22 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, the existing legislation in Northern Ireland.

Subsection (8) states that, A statement is not rendered inadmissible by subsection (7) if it consists of or includes an admission relating to a matter which does not fall to be resolved informally. It therefore provides an exception to subsection (7) which in turn provides that statements made by any person in an informal resolution case are not admissible in any subsequent criminal, civil or disciplinary proceeding. Subsection (8) would apply, for example, when an officer or complainant made an admission which was completely unrelated to their complaint. It is a sensible provision which deals with the possibility of the complainant or officer seeking to use subsection (7) to protect confessions about matters which were not the subject of the informal resolution. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The Minister says that the first amendment is unnecessary because of a statutory rule. That simply demonstrates that I am not qualified to be a parliamentary draftsman, which lets me off the earlier hook on which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, sought to attach me.

I do not wish to pursue that. I did not speak to Amendment No. 11 because I could not quite work out what the subsection was intended to mean. The Minister has given us some assistance on that matter.

I am still not entirely clear about the matter. If someone makes a statement in the course of the investigation of an informal complaint, it cannot be used in any subsequent case unless it is regarded as an admission about something else. Admission is not defined as far as I can discover. There could be difficulty in deciding whether it was an admission. Clearly if someone says, "I committed an unrelated crime", that is an admission. All sorts of statements might be regarded as an admission, in ordinary English.

I have studied Clauses 50 and 73. They set out many definitions but do not define "admission". Perhaps the definition is well known in law.

It may be desirable that a statement taken when trying to resolve a dispute should not be used in court in connection with the matter which is the subject of the dispute, because if it were allowed to be admissible people would be less likely to give information which might lead to resolution of the matter. If there is an admission of something else in the course of the informal resolution procedure the whole statement becomes admissible even in a case which flows directly from the complaint. That does not seem to me desirable. It will make people less likely to be frank while trying to resolve the complaint informally.

An unrelated admission could make the related matters covered in the statement admissible in a court case arising out of the complaint itself. That is why I queried subsection (8). Clearly I do not wish to take subsection (8), or anything like it, out of the Bill. I believe that some provision should be in the Bill. In seeking to speak to Amendment No. 11 I am querying whether the wording of subsection (8) is correct.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs

First, on the question of admissibility, my advice is that this is for the court to determine.

I thought the noble Lord intended to say that as subsection (8) had three negatives in it, it was difficult to follow. I was hoping that he would come up with better wording. However, I am advised that it is necessary and that it fulfils the purpose, as I have said. Therefore I urge the noble Lord not to proceed with his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

In that case, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 10.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved]

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clauses 54 to 63 agreed to.

Clause 64 [Regulations]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 34, leave out lines 25 and 26.

The noble Lord said: We have all become used to seeing Bills littered with powers for the making of orders, regulations and statutory instruments of one sort and another. It is an entirely legitimate practice in moderation, but, carried to excess, it can be pernicious because it devalues Parliament, even if negative or affirmative procedures are provided for. It allows very provisional, almost sloppy, thinking to take place because it gives the power to change anything at a later date. It means that, as in this case, we are asked to pass highly provisional legislation which may change almost out of recognition as a result of the powers being granted in this clause as a whole.

Of course, I realise why Ministers and civil servants like the practice, particularly when they are struggling for parliamentary time. They can easily slip into the idea of putting in an order-making power which can be altered without having to bother returning to Parliament too often in the future.

I have not proposed that this whole clause of regulating powers should be deleted, but only much more modestly, in Amendment No. 12, that the Secretary of State should not be able to allow the ombudsman to ignore the Bill. I cannot see much point in Parliament labouring over all these clauses if they can be set aside by subsection (2)(e), which would enable the ombudsman to dispense with any requirement of the Bill.

Amendment No. 13 also attacks a regulatory power proposed in the Bill which would otherwise allow the Secretary of State to make provision for, as far as I can see, absolutely anything, for any purposes specified in that regulation. That does not even seem to me to limit the provision to anything to do with the police in the sense that the Secretary of State might say that he wishes to make a regulation about something else, and that he has the power to make a regulation under this clause for any purposes specified in the regulation. It may be nothing to do with the provisions of the Bill. Indeed, it sounds like carte blanche permission for absolutely anything. I would be grateful to know from the Minister what sort of things he and his advisers had in mind when providing this all-purpose power to alter anything, not only in the Bill but almost outside the scope of the Bill, as far as I can see. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I shall be brief, but I wonder whether it will be possible for the Minister to take seriously the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and whether he can give us an indication—I appreciate that this may be difficult—of whether giving such a power to the ombudsman is common practice with regard to other ombudsmen in Northern Ireland and wider afield in the United Kingdom generally.

Lord Alderdice

I wonder whether I might ask the Minister to suggest under what sort of circumstances he would expect that the ombudsman might wish to dispense with some of the regulations and with which regulations he might dispense. It seems rather strange that we should be suggesting that the ombudsman might dispense with some of the regulations that the Government and Parliament have felt it right to put into place. Will the Minister give us some indication of what those circumstances are so that we may understand it better?

Lord Dubs

The noble Lord's amendments seek to delete the power of the Secretary of State, by regulation, to enable the ombudsman to dispense with any requirement of this part of the Bill. This particular provision, about which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked, replicates Article 19(2)(E) of the Police (NI) Order 1987 and was a power available to the Secretary of State regarding the Independent Commission for Police Complaints.

The provision is required to allow for circumstances where the ombudsman, perhaps in a report under Clause 61 of the Bill, advises the Secretary of State that some procedure is, for example, not working well or at all or is particularly onerous. The ombudsman might recommend removing the provision and the Secretary of State may agree and so bring forward regulations. Those regulations, of course, would be laid before Parliament and so an opportunity for debate would be available.

To turn to the noble Lord's second amendment, he seeks to remove the powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations to give effect to any purpose specified in the regulation-making power. This again replicates provisions in the Police (NI) Order 1987—those in Article 19(3).

The provision is required to allow for sub-delegation. For example, if under Clause 64(2)(a) regulations provided for a copy of a complaint to be furnished to an officer, then those regulations could also state that the precise form in which the complaint should be presented would be left to the Secretary of State to prescribe.

Any regulations made under this procedure would, of course, be made only after consultation with the ombudsman, the police authority and the police association.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and I believe the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Alderdice, asked a more general question about the regulation-making powers of the Bill. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has considered the regulation-making power and reported to say it was content save for one small point. That was in relation to Clause 64(2), which replicates Article 19(2)(F) of the Police (NI) Order 1987. It is required to allow the chief constable to delegate his functions. It is peculiar to police legislation. It has not normally been on the face of police legislation, either in Northern Ireland or in England and Wales, but has been left to regulations.

Although I understand the concerns about the excessive use of regulations rather than having matters on the face of the Bill, the fact is that in these instances we are simply taking forward into the new legislation provisions which already exist in the previous legislation. We are not breaking any new ground; we are simply continuing what has been existing practice.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

In the light of that response, which I shall consider carefully between now and the later stages of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Clause 64 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedules 1 to 6 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

That concludes the Committee's proceedings on the Bill.

The Committee adjourned at six minutes before six o'clock.