HL Deb 03 April 2003 vol 646 cc1474-9

15After Clause 15, insert the following new clause—

"BELFAST (1) Schedule (Belfast) makes provision in relation to Belfast. (2) Subsection (1) comes into force in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State by order.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15.

The new clause and schedule inserted by Amendments Nos. 15 and 52 relate to arrangements within Belfast for the sub-groups of the DPPs. If passed, they would replace the existing Section 21 of the 2000 Act and make a series of supplementary consequential amendments. As noble Lords will have noted, Amendment No. 56 is consequential upon Amendment No. 52. We have dealt with the issue of commencement. I hope that I have covered fully the matters covered by Amendment No. 15B in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rogan, and Lord Maginnis.

There is a police district for every district council area in Northern Ireland except Belfast. Belfast City Council's jurisdiction is split into four police districts: north, south, east and west. That reflects a Patten recommendation because of the generally larger size of the population and, therefore, the work of the police in Belfast. Each of the four police districts in Belfast covers a population very nearly the size of the next largest district outside Belfast.

It is already a requirement under Section 21 of the 2000 Act for Belfast City Council to establish a subgroup of its DPP for each of the police districts within Belfast; that is, four. At present, the sub-groups' only function is to give views on any matter concerning the policing of that police district to the district commander and to the DPP itself. That is in contrast to the functions of a full DPP.

We undertook to consider, in the context of a review of police, whether those limited powers remained appropriate. That is what we have done. We are persuaded that there is justification in the sub-groups for the four Belfast districts having extended functions covering most of the functions enjoyed by full DPPs. We propose, therefore, that the sub-groups should have functions mirroring those contained in Section 16(1)(a) to (d) of the Act. We think that that should help to strengthen local relationships.

Patten specifically referred to these as being subgroups or sub-committees. So, unlike full DPPs, the sub-groups will not be accountable to the Policing Board or the local council. That will remain, I stress, the role of the Belfast DPP itself. We have included, therefore, within this clause provisions requiring subgroups to provide annual reports to the DPP which will enable it in turn to give its own annual report to Belfast City Council.

The powers and duties of the Belfast DPP would change in three respects. First, it is given the power to require a sub-group to provide a report on any matter concerned with the exercise of its functions. This may be for the benefit of the DPP or to enable it to respond to a request from the board for a report covering the whole of Belfast.

Secondly, the Belfast DPP is given slightly longer than other DPPs to submit its annual report to the council. That is to allow it sufficient time to have commissioned and received the relevant reports, as I indicated earlier.

Thirdly, we wish to avoid unnecessary duplication. The DPP retains the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the functions of consultation are adequately fulfilled. But if the DPP itself is satisfied that a function is already being adequately carried out by a sub-group, it is exempted from the obligation to duplicate that work in respect of that sub-group. This is a practical measure to prevent wasteful and unnecessary duplication and cost.

Other than those flexibilities, the functions, powers and role of the Belfast DPP remain in line with those that apply to other DPPs. To ensure an effective link with the sub-groups, four of the political seats on the DPP will be held by the chairmen of the sub-groups. Those offices will be rotated between the four largest political parties on the council, so there will be a slight change in DPP membership each year.

We have looked again at the regulation of subgroup procedures. At present, each sub-group has to, consist of at least six members of the partnership". There is no maximum size; nor is there any specified balance between political and independent members; nor is there any arrangement for rotating chairmanship. We are aware, of course, that even with sub-groups of the minimum size, members of the DPP would have to sit on both it and at least one subgroup—and in some cases more than one. That is a significant workload for councillors who will have many other calls on their time.

Since the sub-groups will take on additional functions, we believe that there will be benefit in increasing the size of the sub-groups and being more specific about membership arrangements. Paragraph 13 of the schedule inserted by Amendment No. 52 inserts a new Schedule 3A in the Act. This mirrors in almost every respect the provisions of Schedule 3 in relation to DPPs. I concentrate, therefore, on the differences.

We propose that each sub-group should consist of 11 members made up of six political members appointed from among the members of the board and five independent members appointed by the board. This is a similar proportion to the balance on other DPPs but a smaller size to reflect the lesser role.

The council is charged, in appointing political members of a sub-group, to seek to ensure that the sum total of all the political members of all the sub-groups taken together reflects the balance of parties within the council. The board has to ensure, in appointing independent members of a sub-group, that so far as is practicable members of the sub-group, taken together, are representative of the community.

In addition, the schedule provides that the council should also notify the board whether applicants are interested in being considered for appointments to only one sub-group or whether there is flexibility.

There is a slight difference for the appointment and rotation of chairmen and vice-chairmen. They will be appointed by the council which will be required to ensure, so far as is practicable, that the office of chairman and vice-chairman in each sub-group is at all times held by members of different political parties; and that the office of chairman is held in turn by each of the largest four parties represented on Belfast City Council.

In addition to those provisions which apply also to DPPs, the council will be obliged to ensure that no one party holds more than one sub-group chairmanship at any point in time. The rules for disqualification and removal are exactly the same as those for membership of DPPs; and, similarly, as regards allowances, indemnities, insurance, finance, validity of proceedings and disclosure of interests.

The arrangements relating to procedure reflect very closely the provisions for DPPs. The only difference is that the Belfast DPP is given the power to give directions to a sub-group about the regulation of its procedure.

The arrangements for constituting committees are very similar to the DPP arrangements. A sub-group can set up a committee of its own volition or may be required to do so by the DPP. The Belfast DPP would need to approve the constitution of any committee set up by the sub-group of its own volition, its membership, the functions to be delegated to it and any directions that that sub-group might choose to give to the committee as to the way in which it carries out its work.

Since they carry out a number of independent functions, we believe that it is appropriate for each sub-group to be designated in its own right for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Commissioner for Complaints (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. Noble Lords will have noted that the latter designation automatically brings sub-groups, in their own right, within the scope of the statutory equality duties set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

The final part of the new schedule goes to transitional arrangements. We wanted to keep disruption to a minimum. It is heartening that to date over 200 persons have applied to serve on the Belfast DPP. We are proposing that, if it believes it necessary in order to create a place for the sub-group chairmen on the main DPP, the council should be able to move one or more existing political members of the DPP to serve instead on one or more sub-groups.

There is no equivalent provision for independent members. It would be inappropriate to alter the appointment of members of the public who have applied for appointment to the DPP.

There is a provision that allows the board to consider as potential members of sub-groups individuals already appointed by independent membership of the Belfast DPP. That obviates the need for individuals to go through the full application process a second time.

To address one or two further matters, I explained, when we discussed Amendments Nos. 48 and 49, that the provisions relating to Belfast will be commenced separately by order, subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses. Amendment No. 48A, tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Glentoran, creates an important further safeguard.

That is a limited change from the original text for consideration, but, having listened carefully to representations, we thought it right that both issues be subject to the affirmative resolution commencement procedure. I hope that that commends itself to your Lordships as a useful improvement. I therefore reiterate my assurance that both Houses will have the opportunity to have a full debate.

Paragraph 10 of the new schedule inserted by Amendment No. 52 provides that, before issuing or revising a local policing plan under Section 22 of the 2000 Act, the district commander shall consult the relevant sub-group, in addition to the main DPP, and take account of any views expressed.

We think that to be a practical requirement. It would be odd if the district commander were to be denied the views of the sub-groups when it came to drawing up the annual plan. However, I assure your Lordships that each commander will also be required to seek the views of the main Belfast DPP, and I am sure that the PSNI will ensure a homogeneity about the policy approach to Belfast while recognising the relevance of local issues.

Finally, I turn to paragraph 2 of the new schedule, inserted by Amendment No. 52. Section 15 of the 2000 Act provides for the circumstances in which a district council fails to set up a DPP. We wanted to ensure a similar provision if Belfast City Council failed to set up the sub-groups. New Section 15A does just that.

I hope that the amendments commend themselves to your Lordships and that, in due time, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, will be sufficiently content not to press his amendments. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No I 5.—(The Lord Privy Seal.)

4.30 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

rose to move, as art amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15:

15ALeave out "agree" and insert "disagree".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for so clearly laying the Commons amendment before us. As he rightly pointed out, the amendment is covered by Amendment No. 48A, which is to come, but he indicated that the Government will agree to that amendment. I have three issues 'with the amendment. I start with the second, the first having been debated on my Amendment No 14A when we lost the Division.

This amendment is equally iniquitous. To divide Belfast into four segments, as planned, for four sub-group DPPs—one for each tribal area, as it were—although two areas are perhaps not totally tribal; one is divided and, sadly, continually fighting against itself at present; the other tends to be rather more peaceful. East Belfast is dominated by gang lands of one sort of another; West Belfast is dominated by the paramilitaries of Sinn Fein/IRA.

What Sinn Fein really wants is to get control of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. There is a strange similarity between the demands that Martin McGuinness made in his speech at the Ard Fheis and in his comments to The Times—to which I referred earlier—and those in the Weston Park agreements. I do not suppose that your Lordships will be surprised about that.

However, I shall be at risk of repeating myself if I say much more. I think that I made my arguments clear during the Bill's earlier stages. My view has not changed, but perhaps I tend to become more pragmatic as the day goes on. I hope that the amendment to which the noble and learned Lord will later agree will give us what we want—further safeguards about timing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rogan

had given notice of his intention to move, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 15, Amendment No. 15B:

15BLine 5, at end insert— (3) The Secretary of State shall not make an order under subsection (2) until acts of completion have occurred. (4) In subsection (3), "acts of completion" means—

  1. (a) that the decommissioning of firearms, ammunition and explosives held by one of the organisations specified under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 has occurred and has been verified under section 3 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 by the Commission;
  2. (b) there has been a statement from that organisation ordering the termination of acts of paramilitary violence by that organisation, including—
    1. (i) shootings;
    2. (ii) beatings;
    3. (iii) threats;
    4. (iv) intimidations; and
  3. (c) there has been a statement from that organisation removing any threats to those who left their homes due to intimidation by that organisation.
(5) The Secretary of State may by order add further acts to those listed in subsection (4) above.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the competent arguments that I would plead to support Amendment No. 15B I made before lunch when speaking to Amendment No. 14C—obviously not terribly effectively as I lost the Division. I therefore do not want to move Amendment No. 15B.

[Amendment No. 15B not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 15 agreed to.