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Notwithstanding that, I have no doubt that the board will issue a code of practice covering the exercise by DPPs of their powers and functions, and indeed we plan to give the board a draft code from which to work. We envisage that the DPPs will, in the early days of their operation, need that code and find it most useful. As they begin to develop their own knowledge and become more experienced, they will require less guidance from the Secretary of State. We genuinely believe that that is the way in which the Bill should be constructed. We are not convinced that a requirement for a code is justified. I ask the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone not to press for a vote on amendments Nos. 59 to 61.
As I have mentioned, the functions are clear in clause 16. The code of practice gives guidance on the exercise of them. We need to understand that adherence to the guidance cannot be too prescriptive. Flexibility will be needed so that each council area is able to adapt the best practice set out in the code in a way which suits its own needs. Tight compliance is not, therefore, sensible. As we stated in Committee, what could be best practice in Moyle district, for example, may not necessarily be best practice in another district. Flexibility is a desirable approach. A too prescriptive approach would tie down the ways in which these bodies could operate.
The code cannot override the statutory functions in clause 16. It cannot take away that which is set out in the Bill. If it had to be complied with, the board could stray beyond the clause and the DPPs would be asked and expected to extend beyond their powers. There is nothing underhand about the way in which we are approaching these issues. It is about saying where respective powers should rest. That is a further argument against amendment No. 59, which I hope will convince the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone not to press it to a Division.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington spoke to amendments Nos. 16 and 17. Amendment No. 16 places a duty upon DPPs to hold all meetings in public. As we discussed in Committee, the amendment goes well beyond the Patten report, which recommended in paragraph 6.37 a meeting in public once a month. We have provided for the Patten recommendation to be implemented by the Policing Board issuing a code to the partnerships, on the exercise of their functions, under clause 19. The clause lists the areas to be covered by the code, including procedures for meetings and public meetings. While partnerships should operate in an open manner, the chairperson should have discretion to hold parts of the meeting in private or to remove the public.
I shall give the House an example. A district commander may be talking about the building of a new police station. That may have implications for land price. He may want to give some advice or knowledge to the DPP. If the meeting were held in public, that might lead to speculation. We do not believe that the standard approach should be meetings in camera, but there may be occasions when that happens. The requirement suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that all meetings should be in public would militate against that. I ask him not to press amendment No. 16 to a Division.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington is seeking to insert in the Bill a considerable amount of detail which we believe is more appropriately dealt with in the code of practice. Clause 19(3) specifically provides for the issues mentioned in the amendment to be dealt with in the code. We believe that the code is a much more sensible approach to what was envisaged and set out in the Patten report. I ask my hon. Friend not to proceed to Divisions on his amendments.
Amendment No. 62, which was moved by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, seeks to ensure that nothing in the code of practice will require a district commander to disclose any information which would compromise effective policing. If I interpret the purpose behind the amendment correctly, the hon. Gentleman is seeking to preserve the operational independence of the police. I can assure him that that is already entirely the case.
The Patten report specifically states in paragraph 6.21 that it is the Chief Constable's right and duty to take operational decisions and that no one should direct him how to conduct an operation. The paragraph also points out that police officers, while accountable, must
I have explained that DPPs are consultative bodies. The police may operate as they wish but they are accountable to the community, in this instance through the DPPs. The police have said that they want to work in partnership with the DPPs, which will allow for greater consultation between local communities and the police in identifying concerns and priorities at local level. The code of practice on the functions of DPPs will detail what is expected of the police. However, it is clear that police commanders will not, and should not, be expected to disclose details of on-going operations or criminal investigations. To do so would be entirely wrong. I think that that is what amendment No. 62 is seeking to establish. If so, it is not necessary. We believe that the matter is already covered within the Bill.
Amendment No. 63 was tabled by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), and I do not disagree with its general thrust. Indeed, I gave an assurance in Committee that I would consider an amendment that would require a public satisfaction assessment for DPPs. I regret that I have not yet been able to do so. I am taking a legal view on how we can best achieve such assessment. When that has been clarified and the parliamentary
Amendments Nos. 6 to 9, which stand in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, relate to part II of schedule 1, which relates to the constitution of the Policing Board during direct rule immediately after the devolved Government have been suspended. None of us wants to see that eventuality happening. Amendment No. 11 relates to part III, dealing with a board established immediately following devolution.
Amendment No. 6 seeks to remove the element of flexibility which has been given to the Secretary of State in terms of the representativeness of appointments to the board. Our intention in including such flexibility was not to permit the Secretary of State to appoint at random with no regard to representativeness. It was to acknowledge that there may be occasions when a representative selection of people does not come forward. I have said that there is a sizeable body of opinion in Northern Ireland which does not co-operate with the existing police authority. If there are abstentions and a boycott, how can we deliver on representativeness? Problems would be created. It is important that we have structures and that those who decide not to co-operate should not have the veto in those circumstances.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, when taken together, would require the Secretary of State to consult on first and subsequent appointments to the board, and seek to limit the time for that to three months. Given the way in which the matter has been addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, there may be some confusion. The first thing to understand is that the provisions that he is tackling will apply only in very specific circumstances, and that is where devolution is suspended. In this circumstance, sub-paragraph (6) of paragraph 3 applies to enable a board to be established quickly by the Secretary of State, as otherwise there will be a vacuum, with no board at all. We wish to avoid that.
There will have been consultation on the appointment of the nine independent members of the devolved board, and the likelihood is that others will be shortlisted at that time. The Secretary of State would undoubtedly seek to appoint the nine who are already serving and up to nine others. A direct rule board can have between 14 and 19 members. There could be up to nine others in those circumstances. That would be done as far as practicable to create a representative board.
Who knows who might wish to co-operate and participate as we moved from devolution to direct rule? There would undoubtedly be difficulties, but our assumption would be that the nine independents appointed under devolution would wish to serve on an on-going basis and would therefore automatically be appointed, bringing the strength of the board to between 14 and 19 members. It is important that we could move very quickly in a very unfortunate set of circumstances. It would be wrong to create a vacuum. That is why I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the amendments to a vote.
Amendment No. 11 places a nominal three-month limit on consultation on appointments of independents to a devolved board and, in effect, would tie the consultation process down. The Government will make appointments
Amendment No. 9, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington also spoke, is simply not in keeping with Patten. The amendment would replace appointment of the first chairperson and vice-chairperson of the direct rule board by the Secretary of State, under schedule 1(3)(9), with a provision placing responsibility in the hands of the board and allowing for rotation.
Amendments Nos. 10, 12 and 13, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington also spoke, would enable persons who were not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means to retain their seats on the board, whether during direct rule or devolved government. Absurdly, they would also enable a person who has been excluded from holding the office of Minister in the Assembly not to be disqualified from appointment to the board. That would not be a sensible provision. The Government are not prepared to remove what we believe to be important safeguards in the appointments process. Parliament has already seen fit to enact such safeguards under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. I do not for a moment believe that it would be the wish of the House to move back from that position. I would not seek support for the amendments.
I turn to amendments Nos. 303 to 307, to which the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) spoke. We dealt with the matter that they concern on Second Reading and in Committee, and I have asked the right hon. Gentleman to clear up some confusion, which is perhaps only in my mind. He is not prepared for particular people, who have been elected, to serve on the Policing Board, yet he is prepared to allow them to continue to serve as Ministers in a devolved Administration.
The right hon. Gentleman thinks that, under the new political settlement, responsible Members of the devolved Assembly should not be allowed to serve on the Policing Board. I take account of his comments on security matters, and so on, but I am sure that the Chief Constable and others will be wholly cognisant of what they should be reporting to the board. They will be reporting not on national security issues but on policing issues relating to the functions of the Policing Board.