|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The provision is not about the cantonisation of the sub-groups, any more than it is about the cantonisation of policing. There are two ways of approaching the matter. One could take a heavy-handed, interfering approach--[Interruption.] I am trying to deal with this debate, but the right hon. Member for Upper Bann keeps shouting at me from a sedentary position. I cannot hear what he is saying, but it is a bit off-putting. I am trying to work through his last question, but he is not letting me get 10 words out before he starts disagreeing with my explanation.
We are seeking to establish, in the hands either of the board or of the Secretary of State, powers proportionate to the body to which those powers relate. Those bodies are low-level, and I have tried to set out the fact that they are concerned with local consultation. They do not have the powers of the DPPs. If the Government were to ride in and say that we wanted a certain type of representation, that would be very heavy-handed and would work against the principle of devolution itself. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann may believe that we should interfere, and wish that we would, in every aspect of Northern Ireland society. However, that is not my view, as it runs counter to the principle of devolution and to all the representations concerning the relative powers of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable that we received when the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 was being considered.
The same tripartite structure applies here. Representations were made about the Secretary of State having too much power, and we are trying to ensure that the powers provided for are proportionate to the level of responsibility. I am now being asked to apply a heavy-handed approach, which is inconsistent.
Mr. Trimble: I am sorry to intervene on the Minister again, but he has not answered the question. All I said was that he was being inconsistent. He stands at the Dispatch Box saying that he does not want to be heavy-handed, but he is being heavy-handed on the composition of the board, as he has been on the composition of the partnerships. Why does the principle of representative character not flow through to the sub-groups?
DPPs and the sub-groups will not be successful if they become bodies set up on the basis of sectarian head-counts, as there will be no co-operation across the community divide. I do not believe that there is an inconsistency, as we must seek to ensure that the level of decision making is proportionate to the body being set up. In a sense, we are dealing with a low-level body which has certain points of interface with the police. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann is shaking his head. However, many people in Northern Ireland will not co-operate with the current policing structure. If we say that we have to be prescriptive and insist on a certain structure, the result will be abstentionism. If we decided not to have either the DPP or the sub-groups, what would be lost? We must ensure that the police have that point of contact in their community.
Not for the first time, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone raised the issue of regional commands. I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but in one sense, I have more respect for the Chief Constable, for the way in which his views could impact on my thought process about the proper structures for policing in Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable is highly respected and extremely professional, and has accepted the concept of district commands and the eventual removal of the regional tier. The provision is therefore consistent with what he believes to be effective and efficient policing.
Mr. Maginnis: Does the Minister's justification for accepting the Chief Constable's advice over that of my hon. Friends and myself not conflict with his huge desire to take advice on policing from ex-terrorists who will be members of the district policing partnership? Does the Minister regard my hon. Friends and myself less highly because we do not have that qualification?
Mr. Ingram: I am not conscious of having taken advice of that nature. The hon. Gentleman claims that I have taken such advice, but it may surprise those whom he calls ex-terrorists to hear that they have ready access to me and can influence my thought processes. I see no evidence of that. We have taken account of the views expressed by all the political parties that have sought to make representations on the matter.
I could spend longer on new clause 3 if required, but we have probably exhausted our examination of it. I have set out what I believe to be a reasoned response to the issues that have been raised. There will be one Belfast DPP and four sub-groups, which will respond to the main DPP. I hope that that will satisfy hon. Members.
Mr. Ingram: For CPLCs, the DPPs will have a responsibility to seek to set up local arrangements and to look for ways in which they can penetrate the wider community and be truly representative, and we will
To return to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, we cannot even say that the CPLCs should be representative. In Northern Ireland, the sub-divisions in a particular area such as a cluster of streets are such that it may be very hard to achieve cross-community representation. That in itself does not damage the point of contact between a particular community and the police; its success will depend on the way in which the community deals with its interface with the police, which will be conditioned by the thought processes of the DPPs as they take account of views that are expressed. Those views may be one-sided, but in their consideration of them the DPPs should ask themselves whether or not there is a balance.
Amendment No. 14, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), would place a time limit on district councils, giving them six months to establish a DPP. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, also in my hon. Friend's name, would impose further time limits requiring the council to appoint political members within six months, and the board to appoint independents within one month of receipt of nominations. I am not convinced that those would be wise or necessary moves.
The Patten report made it clear that arrangements should be put in place to facilitate constant dialogue at local levels between the police and the community. We support that vision of the future of policing, and part III will enable it to happen. However, we do not think it necessary to establish time limits now, as we cannot be certain how long the arrangements will reasonably take. For example, the board needs to be appointed before it can consider and approve its code for DPPs. It is also to be consulted, among others, about the Secretary of State's code on appointments. There will then be an appointments process, which our experience of public appointments leads us to think may take from three to six months, depending on when it is run.
We are embarking on a new process, and wrinkles will need to be identified before they can be ironed out. Furthermore, the council will need time to make its decisions on nominations. That all points to a commitment that appointments, independent and political, will be made as soon as possible, but also to a recognition that that could take longer than the amendments anticipate, depending on the starting point. There is a safeguard in clause 15 that gives the Secretary of State the power to intervene; for example, if a district council fails to establish a DPP for its district, he can direct it to comply. If those arrangements are to work, all council areas must play their part and each council area must have a means of promoting and facilitating community-police consultation.
Although I would be sympathetic to the desire to introduce a time scale in other contexts, I do not believe, for the reasons that I have set out, that it would be practical in this case. I hope that amendments Nos. 14, 19 and 20 will not be pressed to a vote.
Amendment No. 56, to which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone spoke, would extend the power given to the Secretary of State in clause 15 which enables him to intervene where a district council fails to establish a DPP. The amendment would require him to take action where a council failed to comply with any of the part III arrangements.
In Committee there were many criticisms about the heavy-handed involvement of the Secretary of State in the Bill's provisions. The Government do not accept those criticisms, but we have taken account of the arguments about the relationships between the Secretary of State, the Policing Board and the Chief Constable. We have sought to take a balanced approach, and we have given the Secretary of State powers and provided safeguards where we believe that they are necessary and justified.
We felt that it was imperative to ensure that a default power was provided in case councils failed to establish DPPs. However, on the general functions of DPPs and their obligations to report to councils and the board, with which the amendment deals, we are not convinced that the Secretary of State needs, or should have, further powers to intervene. Again, we seek to create proportionate powers. We believe that those are more appropriately matters for the board and the council to tackle.
That is why we have provided for the board to set the functions and powers in a code, and why its powers dovetail with those of the DPPs. It is also why it can override DPPs under clause 15, and in setting up local consultative arrangements under clause 22. That relates to the argument about CPLCs advanced by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. We are also considering suggestions made in Committee by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone to add more comment on and assessment of DPPs to the matters that the board is to cover in its annual report.
I remind hon. Members that the functions of DPPs are purely consultative. The powers affecting them should therefore be proportionate, and the amendment does not achieve that objective, so I hope that hon. Members will not press it to a vote.
I turn now to amendments Nos. 59 to 61, to which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone also spoke. I know from his comments in Committee that he has deep concerns about the operation of DPPs, and he has expressed those concerns again tonight. Through amendment No. 59 he seeks to require DPPs to comply with the code of practice on the exercise of their powers and functions rather than to have regard to it. Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 would require the board to issue that code of practice and permit it to be revised from time to time.
I shall deal with the latter issue first. The hon. Gentleman showed in Committee that he favours what I would define as prescriptive, rather than discretionary, powers and would therefore like to bind the DPPs, the board and the Secretary of State at every turn.