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Mr. Howarth: We are anxious to remain as faithful as possible to Patten, who, as my hon. Friend knows, was clear on the colour of the uniform. Such matters would probably be outwith the commissioner's terms of reference. I do not want to be drawn on my hon. Friend's specific example because, although he might disagree with Patten, we are anxious to implement the broad thrust of his recommendations. In fact, we shall do so as closely as possible. I intend to deal with the general point that my hon. Friend makes later in my opening remarks. The Government have made provision for the commissioner to report at least three times a year. As hon. Members will see from the terms of reference, the Government, the Chief Constable, the Policing Board and DPPs will provide objectives, with timetables, and report on progress, so he will regularly updated. The commissioner will then report publicly and would be expected to outline progress achieved, identify any obstacle to progress and seek explanations about delays. Again, we have fully met Patten's recommendations in that regard. I would ask the House to accept Government new clauses 4 and 5 and Government new schedule l. I want make something clear for the benefit of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for South Down and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who are anxious to receive an answer to a question that informs the amendments that they have tabled. They want to know whether the oversight commissioner can go public if he has any serious concerns about how implementation is proceeding and whether he will be at liberty to say whatever he thinks appropriate about any lack of progress. The answer is yes, and any such reports that he may think appropriate will be published. I believe that my hon. Friends' concerns will be addressed because those powers exist. Government amendments Nos. 264 to 266 are standard provisions, by which the oversight commissioner will be added to the list of bodies under the House of Commons and Assembly Disqualification Acts. They are straightforward and should not cause the House any difficulty and I therefore ask hon. Members to accept them.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): I should like to place on record a sincere welcome for the Minister's announcement that the new clause will introduce into statute the office, terms of reference and conditions of the oversight commissioner. That was not the case in Committee, and it represents an important advance in implementing the Patten recommendations. However, having looked a gift horse in the mouth, as it were, we have tabled amendment (a) to new clause 4 and amendment (a) to new schedule 1. They are designed to ensure that the oversight commissioner enjoys the full role that the Patten commission envisaged for that office. We feel that the implementation of all the Patten recommendations is one of the most important innovations to arise from the independent commission's report on policing in Northern Ireland. The oversight commissioner is the safety net--the catch-all. Patten said that that office should not simply involve taking stock and that the

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Patten himself referred to those

but the oversight commissioner should not be the only person who cannot comment on Government policy or point out its obvious deficiencies. We have come some way from where we were in Committee, but I would like the Minister to underscore what I think that he said earlier. Can he state unambiguously that the oversight commissioner will be able to comment on Government decisions on police reform when he believes that to be appropriate? If the Minister can give such an undertaking on taking action in reasonable circumstances, I shall happily withdraw our amendments.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I, too, am concerned about the implications of what the Government have done. Patten said that

However, the new clause says:

The terms of reference say that the oversight commissioner will be responsible for overseeing the

not those recommended in the Patten report. That important distinction will limit his role to considering only what the Government do rather than what happens in the context of the Patten report.

Therefore, it appears that the oversight commissioner will be a messenger for the Government and the Chief Constable, not a guarantor of Patten, which is how we see his role. The Minister must clear up the apparent discrepancy between Patten and both the new clause and the terms of reference. Under Patten, the oversight commissioner was to consider not only legislation, but all other issues in Patten--for example, the drafting of the code of ethics, the establishment of an independent recruitment agency and so on. Will he have a role in the independent study of an alternative to plastic baton rounds in public order situations?

I welcome the fact that plastic baton rounds have not been used in the recent disturbances. I hope that that practice will be maintained. My right hon. Friend the Minister, in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for

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South Down (Mr. McGrady) and to other members of the steering group researching the use of plastic bullets, said that the object was

That is not what Patten said. He said:

Patten said that we should get rid of the plastic baton round and find something else, whereas the steering group asked whether there was something else. There is an important distinction between those two, and I should like to know whether the oversight commissioner will be able to look into matters that are not part of the structures of the police or decided on in the context of the Patten report. Will those matters be covered under these new terms of reference? This is an important issue because, judging by what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, the new clause seems to be a considerable departure from Patten. I hope that, when he replies, he will put my fears, especially about plastic bullets, to rest.

I raised the issue of an oversight commissioner on Second Reading and asked for such a position to be put in the statute. I received an undertaking that that would be done in Committee, and I express my thanks to my right hon. and hon. Friends for putting the proposal into the legislation. I hope that this very good measure will be made perfect by ending my worries on those two small points.

Mr. Maginnis: The amendments are probably unnecessary. The oversight commissioner has been appointed, and the new clause seems like supererogation. Can I persuade the Minister not to listen to the siren voices that say that what goes on in the House does not matter, and that on Northern Ireland issues we must abide by Patten in letter and in spirit to the nth degree? If that were the case, there would be no point coming to the House, because what was happening here would be a charade.

The reality is that the House is responsible for legislation, and the extent to which it takes the advice of Patten and his commission is a matter for the House. I suggest to the Minister that he should not contemplate extending the powers or authority of the oversight commissioner beyond what is contained in legislation--beyond what is lawful.

Mr. McDonnell: I shall try to be a siren voice.

Amendment No. 23 is so meek and mild that I cannot see how it could pose a threat to anyone. It relates to clause 27, under which

I have suggested--very meekly--that

The amendment takes us back to Patten, and to the role of supervision rather than the mild form of oversight proposed by new clause 4. It would also enable us to build on the expertise that the commissioner could use in preparing for improvements in the police service overall.

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Amendment No. 23 is in the spirit of Patten, and I hope that, if it is not accepted tonight, the Government will give it further consideration.

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