HL Deb 11 July 2002 vol 637 cc872-6

6.35 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 46 [Functions Chief Inspector]:

Lord Glentoran

moved Amendment No.1: Page 28, line 6, at end insert— () the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I speak to the amendment, I shall take a moment of the House's time to thank the Minister and all his team for their care and patience in handling our amendments from day one. We have had many meetings outside the Chamber as well as long and interesting debates in it. I feel—perhaps slightly conceitedly—that the Bill has been given a serious and thorough examination. That examination has been treated courteously, carefully and diligently by the Government.

I return to the amendment. The arguments for the proposed change have been made two or three times. The amendment refers to the remit of the chief inspector of criminal justice and to the areas that he should inspect. There is, as I shall hear shortly from the Minister, common ground between us. We agree that the list is not complete. It is also common ground that there are powers for the Secretary of State to add to the list. However, I must make the point a last time. There are organisations in Northern Ireland that are, clearly, part and parcel of the judicial system. Unlike certain noble Lords, I shall not pick on one. Noble Lords will know that people feel more strongly about some of those organisations than they do about others. I sincerely hope that the logic will bear fruit in due course and that we will see a comprehensive list of organisations that will be inspected by the chief inspector of criminal justice. I beg to move.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I support the amendment, but, before I proceed with the debate, I join the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in expressing gratitude to the Minister and to his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, who, I understand, has to be in Brussels today. Both have been exceedingly courteous.

I hope that, in the passage of the Bill through Committee and Report, we have managed to exchange ideas and concerns to the extent that the Bill will benefit society in Northern Ireland. I listened carefully as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal assured us again and again that the Bill would not be implemented or the relevant matters devolved until the situation was right and that nothing would be done that would jeopardise that tender plant, the devolved arrangement in Northern Ireland.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I am concerned that there are 19 organisations invited to come under the scrutiny of the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, which, despite having been asked as long ago as February to consult and consider that particular matter, have been unable four months later to respond positively. I cannot believe that all 19 organisations under consideration have been as reluctant. I therefore cannot understand why responses have not been put forward. It appears to me that the Police Ombudsman, whose task is to ensure transparency and openness in terms of policing in Northern Ireland, would not wish to be seen as reluctant to be open and transparent in the way in which her duties and those of her office are carried out.

Will the Minister therefore indicate the reason for four months of wavering and indifference on the part of those organisations, or some of them? Will he at least give your Lordships an assurance that, subsequent to today's proceedings, there will be no opportunity for any of those 19 organisations to opt out of their responsibilities to participate in the scrutiny procedure to which this clause of the Bill relates? It would be a matter of particular concern should any of the organisations be able to say, "We are not prepared to participate in the scrutiny for which this Bill makes provision".

The noble and learned Lord knows that I still have considerable concerns with regard to the remainder of the Bill. However, he has endeavoured to reassure me on many matters. I appreciate the correspondence that I have received from him. I hope that he is able further to reassure me today.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, I am conscious that we are revisiting unfinished business in more ways than one. In that context, I must apologise to your Lordships' House that in my final speech on this matter at Report stage a week ago I appear by some Fawkesian slip to have said "5th November" when I meant to say "5th February", which will have made my speech extremely difficult to follow.

To make sense of what I had made a nonsense, the true chronology was that Mr Browne in Committee in the Commons on 5th February had said that he might complete the consultation that underlies this amendment by Report stage in the Commons. The latter occurred on 4th March, and the noble and learned Lord the Minister revealed on Report here on 1st July that Mr Browne had written to the consultees on 28th February, four days earlier. As we now know, that consultation has still not been completed, four months later. I acknowledge that the bodies already on the face of the Bill had two years of consultation. By comparison, therefore, four months is a bagatelle. Equally, however, Mr Browne's original estimate of four days was perhaps a little optimistic.

As the Bill has moved towards the slipway leading to enactment, another drama has been played in parallel. At this elegiac moment in the Bill's progress, I hope I shall be allowed the indulgence of saying that, however sorry I may be that the Government's consultation in this instance has taken four months and may take up to two years altogether, I am delighted that they have taken longer than the period of less than two weeks taken by Queen's University, Belfast to consult on its decision to end the teaching of Greek, Latin and classical studies. If any of your Lordships wonder at the relevance of that, some of us who had small parts to play in the 30 years of the Troubles have been aware of their classical resonance. The great Seamus Heaney, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature, even before John Hume and David Trimble won theirs for Peace, adapted a Sophoclean episode from the 20 Homeric years of the Trojan Wars into a contemporary play.

In the 17th century, another era of internecine conflict, Dryden translated the epigrammatic Latin of one of his contemporaries to read, For those whom God to ruin has designed, He fits for fate, and first destroys their mind". I regret the decision to end classical studies at Queen's University, Belfast, which was a most distinguished department. Of course, I do not lay that at the Government's door, but I hope that their consultation has a happier outcome than the one I have just described.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords. I recognise that the noble and learned Lord made it clear at Report stage that a consultation period is still taking place. However, it is strange that the Police Ombudsman, who, above many others, must be seen to be connected with criminal justice, has still been unable to reply. It is equally extremely difficult to believe that, when she does answer, she could answer other than by saying that she would be prepared to submit herself to the inspector's remit. I make a last plea to the Government to consider putting the Police Ombudsman on the list, on the assumption that, no person thinking properly about her duty to criminal justice could very well do otherwise than say that she will submit herself.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I am very grateful for the courteous remarks introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and echoed by other noble Lords. I shall respond, because it has never been a requirement for any of us to be relevant when speaking to any amendment on the face of this Bill.

We are reaching the end of a difficult journey. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, who I am pleased to see in her place, expressed serious, reasoned concerns about the Grand Committee procedure. I am happy to pay tribute to all who participated. It was a model of its kind; the House authorities were excellent in providing us with proper accommodation after the first two days; and I believe that in the scrutiny of this Bill we have done our duty properly to the people of Northern Ireland.

I have reminded myself of the areas in which improvements have been made: the judiciary; the lay members of the commission to declare in writing their commitment to non-violence, exclusively peaceful and democratic means; that the pool of candidates is to be reflective of the community; that appointment can be made only on merit; the roll-out in an orderly way of the new Public Prosecution Service; the designation of the DPP under Sections 75 and 76 of the Act; that we listened particularly carefully to the concerns expressed on community safety partnerships, about which we have tabled amendments; and, not least, that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, achieved his requirement that the Secretary of State should be obliged to publish reports. Without being unduly self-congratulatory, we have done good work.

Perhaps I may say also that I am pleased to see the noble and redoubtable Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, back with us after her recent indisposition. Furthermore, I welcome in particular the generous and good-hearted words of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. He does not agree with me on all occasions; indeed, he has not agreed on any occasion, but throughout we have had a civilised discourse and debate.

I turn now to Amendment No. 1. I can confirm for the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that there is no question of any organisation being able to opt out or to have a veto. We are continuing with our consultations. They are lengthy, but we have approached the matter on the basis that it is better to have a willing rather than an unwilling co-operator. That is the key to what we are doing. Some organisations have proved to be reluctant. Some claim to have sent letters to my honourable friend Mr Browne. I had better not mention one which claims that its letter has been lost. I shall leave noble Lords to draw their own ignoble conclusions as regards whose letter might have been lost in the post.

Noble Lords are entitled to something more definite than I have said in the past. What I am undertaking is this: the Secretary of State does intend to use this power and there is no prospect that the present limited list will remain. I have said privately to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and f repeat for the benefit of all noble Lords the following. In the first week back after the Recess I shall undertake to write an update letter to all noble Lords and to place a copy in the Library of the House. That will set a terminal point at which decisions will have to have been made.

On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel content that he has achieved his substantial purpose.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that explanation which very generously he gave me earlier today in his office. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Smith of Clifton

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2: Page 28, line 6, at end insert— (k) any other organisations which the Secretary of State may by order specify from time to time. () No order may he made under paragraph (k) unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to reiterate what has been said by other noble Lords. The deliberations on this Bill have been lengthy—indeed, on occasion they have been too lengthy—but ultimately the legislation has come through well. On Second Reading I said that I felt that we were creating an overly elaborate judicial infrastructure, and I am still not persuaded on that point. However, I wish the Bill well. I think that some parts of it are excellent, in particular the provisions dealing with the treatment of young offenders. They are truly pioneering and I hope that they will be extended throughout the United Kingdom once they are up and running in Northern Ireland.

Overall, we welcome the Bill. Its enactment will properly devolve judicial arrangements to Northern Ireland. I wish to add my thanks to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. His discussions with all noble Lords have been of the highest order.

I do not intend to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, in these happy and felicitous circumstances, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.