HL Deb 25 October 2000 vol 618 cc378-91

(" .—(1) After section 58 of the 1998 Act there shall be inserted—

"Steps to be taken after investigation - mediation.

58A.—(1) If the Ombudsman—

  1. (a) determines that a report made under section 56(6) or 57(8) does not indicate that a criminal offence may have been committed by a member of the police force, and
  2. (b) considers that the complaint is not a serious one,
he may determine that the complaint is suitable for resolution through mediation.

(2) If he does so, he must inform the complainant and the member of the police force concerned.

(3) If the complainant and the member of the police force concerned agree to attempt to resolve the complaint through mediation, the Ombudsman shall act as mediator.

(4) Anything communicated to the Ombudsman while acting as mediator is not admissible in evidence in any subsequent criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings.

(5) But that does not make inadmissible anything communicated to the Ombudsman if it consists of or includes an admission relating to a matter which does not fall to be resolved through mediation.

(6) If a complaint is resolved through mediation under this section, no further proceedings under this Act shall be taken against the member of the police force concerned in respect of the subject matter of the complaint."

(2) For subsection (1) of section 59 of the 1998 Act (disciplinary proceedings) there shall be substituted—

"(1) Subsection (1B) applies if—

  1. (a) the Director decides not to initiate criminal proceedings in relation to the subject matter of a report under section 56(6) or 57(8) sent to him under section 58(2); or
  2. (b) criminal proceedings initiated by the Director in relation to the subject matter of such a report have been concluded.

(1A) Subsection (1B) also applies if the Ombudsman determines that a report under section 56(6) or 57(8) does not indicate that a criminal offence may have been committed by a member of the police force and—

  1. (a) he determines that the complaint is not suitable for resolution through mediation under section 58A; or
  2. (b) he determines that the complaint is suitable for resolution through mediation under that section but—
    1. (i) the complainant or the member of the police force concerned does not agree to attempt to resolve it in that way; or
    2. (ii) attempts to resolve the complaint in that way have been unsuccessful.

(1B) The Ombudsman shall consider the question of disciplinary proceedings."

(3) After subsection (2) of that section, there shall be inserted—

"(2A) In a case mentioned in subsection (1A)(b), the Ombudsman shall, in considering the recommendation to be made in his memorandum, take into account the conduct of the member of the police force concerned in relation to the proposed resolution of the complaint through mediation."

(4) In section 64(2) of the 1998 Act (regulations)—

  1. (a) in paragraph (b), after "resolution" insert "or mediation";
  2. (b) in paragraph (c), after "informally" insert "or through mediation"; and
  3. (c) in sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (d), after "informally" insert "or through mediation". ").

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 219, perhaps I may also deal with a number of other amendments in this group which are associated with government amendments.

The Police Ombudsman asked the Government to include a provision in the Bill to enable her to attempt to resolve complaints through mediation. She agreed the approach with a number of people, including Maurice Hayes, the author of the report which led to the establishment of her office, the Chief Constable and police staff associations. It is a sensible provision aimed at addressing as quickly and at as low a level as possible complaints which are not criminal or otherwise serious. In order to use mediation, the ombudsman must first obtain the agreement of the complainant and the officer concerned.

My noble friend Lord Desai tabled Amendments Nos. 220 and 221. With the Committee's permission, I should like to deal with those along with the related Amendment No. 222 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and government Amendment No. 222A. Amendments Nos. 220, 221 and 222 would enable the ombudsman to investigate police policies and practices. The Government do not accept that the ombudsman should have a roving role in commenting on such issues, and they do not believe that that is what Patten intended.

Furthermore, the Government see such an approach as inappropriate, given that it is the role of the policing board and not the ombudsman to deal with police policies and practices. The ombudsman's primary function is to investigate police conduct.

Nevertheless, taking account of concern in that area, the Government introduced Amendment No. 222A, which will enable the ombudsman to conduct research into reporting on policies and practices arising from her investigations into complaints. That is a sensible provision which I know the ombudsman will welcome.

I ask the noble Lord, Lord Desai, not to move Amendments Nos. 220 and 221, and I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, not to move Amendment No. 222 as I shall be moving Amendment No. 222A at the appropriate moment.

Perhaps I may deal with Amendment No. 223 in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith. When considered from the point of view of the policing board, that amendment appears most attractive. Of course, the Government must look at it from a number of different angles, including that of the ombudsman. There are a number of important points to be made. First, the board and the ombudsman are both independent bodies. Secondly, the ombudsman is already required to supply information to the board together with other general information which she considers should be brought to the board's attention under Clause 61. The current provision appears to be reasonable and sensible and, again, I ask for the amendment not to be pursued.

Government Amendment No. 223A deals with the recently enacted Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It enables the Secretary of State to make regulations covering the relationship between the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act Tribunal, which considers complaints under the 2000 Act, and the Police Ombudsman. The ombudsman is content with the provision, as are the police. The regulations would naturally be subject to consultation with the ombudsman. At this stage I shall not deal with Amendment No. 224 in the name of my noble friend Lord Desai. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

After my noble and learned friend has been so accommodating, it may sound almost churlish on my part if I reprimand him for a bad habit which the whole Front Bench are now getting into; that is, answering arguments before they have heard them. I have not even moved my amendment yet.

Perhaps I may say a word about Amendment No. 222. As at present drafted, the Bill envisages that the ombudsman will act only in relation to individual complaints and only when the process is initiated by an individual complainant. Indeed, in the other place the Secretary of State confirmed that that was the intention.

The problem is this. The ombudsman is really the only person provided for in the Bill who will be able to investigate the impact of policing on individuals. But there are ways in which policing can have an impact on individuals which do not readily lend themselves to individual complaints. Certainly it may not always be easy to single out a specific police officer against whom a complaint is made. One example cited to me is the incident at Drumcree in 1998. Plastic bullets were fired at people in the crowd. No individuals were willing to single themselves out as making a complaint, and it was virtually impossible to identify a specific police officer who fired a specific bullet. Yet it may well call for someone who is empowered to investigate the incident and, since we are all agreed that we want to avoid an unnecessary inquiry, preferably without the necessity of establishing an inquiry.

The clause says that the ombudsman may report on matters which come to his attention "under this part"—that means of the 1998 Act. Of course, we know that those are related to individual complaints. I am grateful for Amendment No. 222A, but, as I read it, it still confines any information which the ombudsman gives to matters arising from a complaint.

The Patten commission declared in its recommendation 38 that the ombudsman should take initiatives and not merely react to specific complaints received. So it is not clear why she is now denied that power. I must not look a gift horse in the mouth, and I must perhaps ignore old proverbs about Greeks bearing gifts. However, between now and Report stage I promise to look carefully at the half-way house where my noble and learned friend is meeting us and I shall not take this matter further this afternoon.

Amendment No. 223 is a probing amendment. Clause 61 imposes on the ombudsman an obligation to supply the board with necessary statistical information. The Human Rights Commission raised the question whether that exhausts all the useful information which he may give to the board. In paragraph 6.41 of the Patten report, it was recommended that he should compile data on trends and patterns, and that is no doubt what the provision addresses. But it goes on to say that he, should work with the police to address issues emerging from this [statistical] data". So there should be what the commission calls a "dynamic cooperative relationship".

In particular the commission recommends that the ombudsman should supply data on, accumulations of complaints against individual officers". Yesterday, on the Freedom of Information Bill, we became involved in an interesting debate as to what is and what is not a statistic. This afternoon the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, raised the question of what is and what is not a fact. One could spend a great deal of time on this issue in a seminar. If the ombudsman says that there is a complaint about a specific officer; that is a fact. If he says that there have been two complaints about the officer, that is a statistic. If he said that the officer was placed in a situation which made undue demands on him, that is not a statistic; it is simply information.

I do not propose to elaborate at great length; I am not being paid to deliver a lecture. But, having answered the argument which I had not then advanced, my noble friend may wish to think about it again.

Lord Rogan

I, too, wish to speak to Amendment No. 223. Its effect would enable the board to have sufficient information to adequately carry out the functions ascribed to it in Clause 3 of the Bill, in particular subsection (3)(c)(i).

The board must, keep itself informed [about] … (police complaints and disciplinary proceedings) and trends and patterns". It is my contention that pure statistical information for which the legislation provides between the ombudsman and the board, would not enable it to fulfil those obligations. While one could live in hope that the ombudsman would be generous in the supply of other information, as is common practice in Great Britain, I am anxious that that should happen in reality. My concern rests on the fact that Section 61(7) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 provided for, statistical or other general information", the latter may now only be provided at the discretion of the ombudsman.

I shall be grateful for the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on how he sees the police board being able to fulfil the duties I outlined if it only has statistical information. Does he not agree that the board, in order properly to keep itself informed about the workings of the complaints and disciplinary proceedings, needs access to examine completed case files? That has certainly been the experience of the complaints monitoring committee of the current Police Authority for Northern Ireland.

Surely by not requiring the ombudsman to supply other information in effect renders the ombudsman less accountable and less transparent. I am keen to know why the legislation has been drafted so that the ombudsman is the sole determiner of what information the board will and will not need to carry out its duties effectively. I appreciate that that is how the 1998 Act was worded. But I should have thought that it makes a nonsense of openness and accountability and that this opportunity to rectify the legislation should be taken.

If this argument were to be followed through, then Clause 63 would require amendment to enable the board and the Chief Constable to determine the access to be afforded to the ombudsman in the exercise of her duties. For those reasons I ask the Minister to give Amendment No. 233 serious consideration.

Lord Hylton

I welcome Amendment No. 219. Mediation can be extremely helpful and there will no doubt be circumstances in which the ombudsman could and should act as the mediator.

As I corresponded and had a session with Dr Maurice Hayes prior to his report, it may be an appropriate moment to offer best wishes to the ombudsman in the discharge of her duties, when she starts. No doubt they will be tricky and complicated and I am sure that she will need and receive support.

We know that the handling of police complaints was often unsatisfactory in the sense that examination never got to the root of the problem or went sufficiently deep. We hope that that will improve in future.

I am happy to support Amendments Nos. 222 and 223, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. I want to stress the principle that the police board should be able to decide what information it needs to carry out its functions and should not be limited only to statistical records of data.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

First, I apologise to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer for answering his amendments before he moved them. I did so because Amendment No. 222A is grouped with his amendments. The point he made in response to my comments about his still unmoved amendments was that the ombudsman should have a role, and he gave the example of Drumcree. The position under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 is that there does not require to be a specific complaint before an incident is investigated. The ombudsman may call herself in to investigate police conduct. That explanation may go some way towards dealing with the noble and learned Lord's point.

The other point most touched on during our short debate was the ombudsman's position in relation to providing information, other than statistical information, to the board in relation to carrying out its functions as regards police complaints. I believe that the provision that has been made is sensible. It places a duty on the ombudsman to provide such general information which she considers should be brought to the attention of the board in connection with the police board's relevant function. The ombudsman is a public body. Someone must decide what information shall be provided because a huge range of information, other than statistical, could be provided. It must be sensible that the ombudsman is under a duty to provide the relevant information but that she shall make the decision about what will be helpful in relation to the board's performance of that function. I believe the provision to be sensible and ask Members of the Committee not to move their amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 60 [Reports by Ombudsman to Chief Constable and Board]:

[Amendments Nos. 220 to 222 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 222A: Page 32, line 11, at end insert— ("(2) The Ombudsman may carry out research into any matter which may be the subject of a report under subsection (1)."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 60, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 61 [Supply of information by Ombudsman to Board]:

[Amendment No. 223 not moved.]

Clause 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Time limit for complaints and references to Ombudsman]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 223A: Page 33, line 7, at end insert— ("(d) to the extent that the subject matter of a complaint falls within the jurisdiction of a prescribed person or body, the Ombudsman shall not investigate it."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 62, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 63 [Access by Ombudsman to information and documents]:

Lord Desai had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 224: Page 33, line 10, at end insert— ("(2) Any person who knowingly withholds from the Ombudsman such information and documents as she has required under subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence. (3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (2) shall be liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both:
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to a fine, or to both.").

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I hesitate to say "Not moved" because I may be arrogating to myself a prerogative which I do not have. My noble friend Lord Desai did not authorise me to say that, but he is not here to do so.

[Amendment No. 224 not moved.]

Clause 63 agreed to.

Clause 64 [The Commissioner]:

Lord Desai had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 225: Page 33, line 18, leave out from ("the") to end of line 20 and insert ("process of police reform in Northern Ireland").

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I wonder whether I might be permitted formally to move the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Desai if only because it gives me an opportunity to move my amendment which is part of the group. The list suggests that with this amendment the Committee might want to debate Amendments Nos. 225A, 226 to 229, 237, 238, 249 and 250. Arithmetically, that includes my Amendment No. 228.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

The groupings are not binding so the noble and learned Lord can perfectly well speak to his amendment without moving that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for which he does not seem to have the authority.

[Amendment No. 225 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 225A: Page 33, line 19, after ("Ireland") insert ("including, in particular, those resulting from this Act,").

The noble Baroness said: I am now in a little difficulty. As a result of considering the points which lie behind Amendment No. 225, tabled by my noble friend Lord Desai, we decided to table Amendment No. 225A, which will provide that the terms of reference of the oversight commissioner should include in particular those changes resulting from the Bill. The amendment puts it beyond doubt that the implementation of Patten's recommendations includes the changes in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend Lord Desai, when he reads Hansard, will believe that his Amendments Nos. 225 and 227 are not necessary.

Perhaps I may speak also to government Amendments Nos. 226 and 229 to Schedule 4, which also deal with the oversight commissioner. The first honours a commitment given in another place to add a provision along standard lines dealing with the removal of the commissioner if he becomes unfit or unable to discharge his functions. The second removes an erroneous reference concerning the commissioner. I shall move those amendments when we come to them.

Given that the oversight commissioner is already in place on a designate basis, it is appropriate for the provision formally creating the office to commence on Royal Assent. Government Amendments Nos. 237, 238, 249 and 250 have that effect. I shall reply to points raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer on Amendment No. 228 if he moves it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 64, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 4 [The commissioner]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 226: Page 54, line 8, at end insert ("; or ("( ) become unfit or unable to discharge his functions.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 227 not moved.]

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 228: Page 54, line 20, at end insert— ("(3) The terms of reference shall set forth the powers of the Commission to prescribe time limits for effecting such changes.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My noble friend Lady Farrington announced that she would riot reply to my argument before I made it. Over the years, I have learnt more from her than I can ever hope to acknowledge and I see that she is beginning to learn something from me!

I should, first, apologise for a printing error in the amendment that I failed to notice until last weekend: the word "Commission" should be "Commissioner". Paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 prescribes that the Secretary of State shall give the commissioner "terms of reference". Subparagraph (2) states that those terms of reference, shall, in particular, set out the changes in policing", that are now envisaged and which the commissioner is to oversee. It is significant that there are few time limits for these changes. I understand that they cannot take place overnight and that any attempt to rush them through would probably create more problems than it would solve. However, there may be those who are far from feeling a sense of urgency and who may not wish to lend any degree of acceleration to the changes. We are all familiar with situations where those who wanted to see the changes simply became exhausted and gave up because all their efforts at expedition had failed, and the inertia had ground them down. It would be a tragedy if that were to happen in this case.

My amendment simply seeks to suggest that the commissioner should have power to inject time limits where they are appropriate. I cannot believe that the commissioner would seek to do more than use such limits where it is fairly clear that they are necessary. That is the purport of my amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

This amendment would enable the commissioner to set time limits for change. At paragraph 19.5, Patten recommended that the Government, the police service and the policing board should provide the commissioner with objectives and timetables covering their responsibilities and that they should report on progress achieved at periodic review meetings and account for failures to achieve objectives. The commissioner can then comment on progress by way of a report. That is what will happen under the Government's proposals. It must be for the Government to set the timetable and then to be held publicly to account against it. That is what Patten recommended. However, my noble and learned friend's amendment goes beyond that which Patten called for and, therefore, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

I am grateful to my noble friend. I was concerned that someone should have power to impose time limits. Perhaps I should have read through the whole of the schedule. I would then have realised what my noble friend has just pointed out to the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 229: Page 54, line 40, leave out ("Police Reform Commissioner for Northern Ireland") and insert ("Commissioner appointed under section 64 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 65 agreed to.

Clause 66 [General duty of Secretary of State]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 230: Page 34, line 6, at end insert— ("( ) In carrying out those functions, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the principle that the policing of Northern Ireland is to be conducted in an impartial manner.").

The noble Baroness said: The Government committed themselves in another place to tabling an amendment to include a reference to the need to have regard to the principle that policing is to be conducted in an impartial manner. This amendment ties in with the requirement for the board, in exercising its function, to have regard to the same principle, as set out in Clause 3(4)(a). I believe this to be self-explanatory; indeed, it is not a novel measure. Under Section 37 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 the Secretary of State was obliged to issue a statement regarding policing principles. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran

I have but one comment to make. It is extremely sad that we have to include such a clause; indeed, I do not think that it does the Bill any good.

Lord Hylton

This is an excellent principle, but I just wonder whether the Government could find a rather more prominent position in the Bill to state this particular line of policy.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

All I can do is to acknowledge the fact that, on the one hand, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, believes that we have not gone far enough and that we should have placed more emphasise on this, while, on the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, feels that we should not have gone so far. Perhaps, therefore, the balance rests with the Government. I hope that the Committee will support this amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 66, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 67 [The Royal Ulster Constabulary GC Foundation]:

Lord Laird moved Amendment No. 231: Page 34, line 21, at end insert— ("( ) The foundation shall—

  1. (a) make provision to support the development of the RUC Widows' Association and the RUC Benevolent Fund;
  2. (b) make provisions for injured police officers, retired officers and their families.").

The noble Lord said: I have talked on a number of occasions in this Chamber about the hardship experienced by widows and disabled policemen in Northern Ireland. I should like to put on the record the fact that I have had discussions with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and discovered that he is a compassionate man with regard to this topic. He has been helpful in preparing a way to secure better conditions, especially for the widows, some of whom have been living in scandalous circumstances. I do not want to rehearse the arguments that I put forward previously, but I should like to place on the record the case of one widow in Northern Ireland who has been widowed for several decades and who, after inflation, lives on a £134 per month RUC widow's pension.

We are asking that there should be recognition of the widows, the disabled and injured police officers and of retired police officers and their families. We ask that there should be support for them by way of inserting the additional points outlined in the amendment into Clause 67, which refers to the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation. Obviously, we have no objection to the latter; indeed, we believe that it is an extremely good idea. However, we urge the Government to help us with the widows, the disabled and injured police officers and with retired policemen and their families. I beg to move.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

I support the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and the other noble Lords who have attached their names to this amendment. I agree wholeheartedly with its intention. It was an express recommendation of Patten that a substantial fund should be established to assist injured officers, both retired and serving, as well as their families and their widows. I congratulate the Government on having conducted a review of that recommendation and look forward to hearing the outcome, which, I believe, will be announced shortly.

The people whom this fund is intended to assist are, to my mind, entirely deserving of whatever assistance the Government can give. Some officers have paid the ultimate price for simply doing their duty. Although I feel for the widows left behind, I know that I cannot begin fully to imagine the pain that they must suffer each day. No amount of money can repay them for that pain. Other officers have sustained serious injuries as a result of doing their job—that is to say, upholding the law in Northern Ireland and preserving the peace for the citizens of the Province. They, their children, husbands, wives and those in the wider family circle are reminded on a daily basis of the sacrifice that they have given. Equally, they cannot be repaid for the price that they have paid.

None the less, if the fund is substantial and properly administered, I believe that it could help to ease some of the burden that I know is carried by widows of officers and by injured officers and their families. No one can compensate them for their loss, but they deserve to be looked after. I reiterate my support for a fund that would achieve just that aim.

7 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

I, too, strongly support all that has been said. I am particularly concerned for the Disabled Police Officers Association. I know that there is a reference here to injured police officers, but there is a specific group which has suffered terribly. Many are tetraplegics and paraplegics. Their families necessarily live in extraordinarily painful conditions. Quite apart from poverty and pain, they have the considerable problem of trauma. To do anything about all of that costs money. I therefore hope that specific provision will be made for the Disabled Police Officers Association with the rest, and that as much money as possible will be made available. I should like to return on Report to pursue the point further in terms of bringing pressure to bear for their compensation to be reviewed.

Baroness Strange

I support the amendment, which is noble and honourable. This is something we should all do to support the widows and orphans. Those of us who are lucky enough not to be widows and certainly an orphan know how people feel. They suffer a great deal of pain. They have been pursuing their duty and we really owe this to them. I hope the Government will support the amendment.

Lord Eames

Next Sunday I shall be dedicating a memorial window to officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in a certain area who have paid the supreme sacrifice. I can tell at this moment the congregation I shall look at. I simply say to the Minister that any generosity found possible by Her Majesty's Government in the days to come would be responding to a great need in our society at home. I would gladly welcome what was offered.

Lord Glentoran

I have two comments: first, I made representations to the Minister and his right honourable friend on this subject some months ago. I support the idea and the principle of the amendment. I am a little concerned that maybe paragraph (b) could lay the foundation for getting involved with pensions and so forth. If the Minister is minded to accept the amendment, I would ask him to ensure that it is drafted in the Bill in such a way that the foundation is not laid for getting into an area in the statutory business of pensions. However, I support the amendment.

Lord Hylton

I am happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Laird. Indeed, bearing in mind what I said on Monday, I hope he expected that I would. However, perhaps I may put a small drafting point to the noble Lord and to the Government. It concerns the last word in the amendment; that is, "families". That may be too wide. The Minister may like to consider substituting "dependants", which is tighter wording that might prevent unnecessary or frivolous applications to the proposed foundation.

Lord Monson

It is only right that yet another voice from this side of the water should rise to support the principle of this excellent amendment.

Viscount Brookeborough

I support the amendment. The widows, the injured and the retired are proud and honourable. Rather like the war widows, discussed in recent months in this place, they will not go begging. The reason we are here is to look after people who have given such service to their country. We should do that by introducing, if not this amendment, an amendment to the same effect.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

Lest it be thought that silence from these Back Benches betokens any lack of enthusiasm for the amendment, perhaps I may say that we are wholly behind it. We think that it is admirable and we are delighted to see it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The Government entirely agree with the sentiments expressed in the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Laird, has been a persistent and effective advocate on behalf of injured policemen and the widows of policemen. I readily acknowledge the work of the RUC Benevolent Fund and the fine job it does for members and former members. With regard to the RUC Widows' Association, the Government have already fully met Patten's recommendation 88 that it should be given an office free of charge and a regular source of finance adequate to run its organisation. I am pleased to report that the widows' association is now conducting its affairs from premises adjacent to the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust in Belfast and has agreed with the Secretary of State the amount of financial support which it believes is needed to provide reasonable funding for its organisation.

As regards the second part of the amendment, the Government are committed to implementing recommendation 87 of the Patten report which states that a substantial fund should be set up to help injured police officers, injured retired officers and their families, as well as police widows. Noble Lords will recall that I prefaced my comments at Second Reading on 27th July by announcing that the Government had appointed the highly respected former Northern Ireland Office civil servant John Steele to examine and make recommendations about the needs of those listed in this amendment and arrangements for establishing and administering such a fund. I know that his report will be presented to the Secretary of State by the end of this month. In substance, therefore, the Government are already going beyond what the amendment seeks to do.

I turn to the RUC GC Foundation. The noble Lord will recall that the Government set up this foundation in response to Her Majesty's fitting award of the George Cross to the RUC to mark the sacrifices and honour the achievements of the brave officers of the RUC and their families. A working group set up by the Secretary of State is currently considering how best to give effect to those proposals, though noble Lords will see listed in Clause 67 of the Bill that the general thrust of the foundation is towards the professional development of police officers and innovations in policing. Invitations to sit on the working group have been extended to the Police Federation, the superintendents and the Chief Police Officers Staff Association.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred on Monday to the possibility of fortification of the RUC GC Foundation with a royal charter. That, of course, is not something within the Government's gift. However, I understand that the Secretary of State would seek to support any such application that might be made by the foundation. For all those reasons I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Laird

I thank the Minister for his words, and other noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. I am prepared to withdraw the amendment. However, I should like to discuss the issue with the Minister and perhaps refer back to it on another occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 67 agreed to.

Clauses 68 and 69 agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 232: After Clause 69, insert the following new clause—