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The Independent Police Complaints Commission

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 10, line 23, after "Majesty", insert—

'on an address presented by the House of Commons and proposed by the Secretary of State with the agreement of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.'.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 3, in clause 12, page 15, line 29, at end insert—

'(d) he is a person accredited under section 41.
(e) he is a person accredited under section 43.'.

Mr. Mullin: The amendment was tabled by me and colleagues from all parties on the Select Committee. It is

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a modest little amendment that gives effect to one of the recommendations in our recent report on the Bill. It requires only the tiniest touch of the tiller in the direction of Parliament and away from the Executive.

Clause 9 currently provides for the chairman of the new Independent Police Complaints Commission to be appointed by Her Majesty, which, in effect, means the Secretary of State or on his recommendation. My amendment would make no difference to the selection process, which would continue to be carried out in line with the procedure set out by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, with the sole exception that once a candidate had been chosen, the Home Secretary would have to secure the agreement of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.

We must bear it in mind that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is supposed to be independent—the word is in the title. One of the reasons the Police Complaints Authority has lacked credibility in the past is that in the eyes of many people it was not sufficiently independent of those whose activities it was supposed to scrutinise. With all due respect, it is no good the Minister saying, "We've always done it this way." The very reason we are having to revisit the subject is the widespread recognition—by both police and public—that the body suffered from a credibility problem in its previous incarnation. The purpose of the proposal is to draw a line under the past and to give the Independent Police Complaints Commission some street credibility. My little amendment seeks to enhance that credibility by giving Parliament a say in the final choice of chairman.

Lady Hermon (North Down): May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, under legislation passed by the House—the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998—a police ombudsman was set up for Northern Ireland. The Act states:

I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not suggest that the independence of the police ombudsman, having been appointed by Her Majesty, is in any way belittled by that appointment procedure.

Mr. Mullin: No, I am not suggesting that, but there is always room for a little improvement here and there. As I said, I am making a modest suggestion, a tiny touch on the tiller in favour of Parliament and away from the Executive.

There are those who believe that Parliament should take a far closer interest in public appointments made by Ministers. Five years ago, the Treasury Committee went so far as to propose that it should be allowed to conduct confirmation hearings for members of the Monetary Policy Committee. One of those who pressed that view was the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who was then a rising Back Bencher. I take comfort, therefore, from knowing that the idea that Parliament should have a say in some public appointments is not entirely without friends in the higher reaches of Government.

There will be those who say that there are no precedents. There is a precedent of sorts, however, although the parallel is not precise. Section 1 of the National Audit Act 1983 provides for the Comptroller and Auditor General to be appointed by the Queen on an

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address presented by the House of Commons and proposed by the Prime Minister with the agreement of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. All I am suggesting is that an arrangement along those lines be devised for appointing the chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

8.15 pm

There will be those who see this as the thin end of a wedge. I hope that it is the thin end of at least a small wedge. Clearly, most of the appointments made by the Home Secretary are not suitable for this kind of treatment. When such posts involve executive functions on behalf of the Government, such as the head of the Prison Service or the chief executive of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, there is clearly no case for the involvement of Parliament. However, inspectors, regulators or ombudsmen depend for their credibility on being able to demonstrate their independence of Government. It is, therefore, in the interests of everyone, including the Home Secretary, that Parliament should have a role in their appointment. I am sure that, when the Minister reflects on the matter, he will be overwhelmed by my argument.

Mr. Hawkins: I can be brief in referring to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Chairman of the Select Committee, and, moving ahead, to amendment No. 3, to which I anticipate the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) will speak in a moment.

We understand the basis of both amendments. We have added our names to amendment No. 3, although the Liberal Democrat names appear first, and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) has added his name. Three Opposition parties therefore support amendment No. 3.

We carefully considered the Select Committee's recommendation. We can see that there is merit in having parliamentary involvement in the appointment, and we will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South will be aware that we expressed the same kind of concerns in Committee about parliamentary scrutiny of the IPCC. I am sure that he has considered what was said then. We raised similar concerns about the House having a role in the way in which the IPCC should operate. We therefore see much merit in the Select Committee's suggestion of an advise and consent procedure for the appointment of the IPPC's chairman, which would be a further guarantee of the chairman's independence.

On amendment No. 3, we sought to support what the Liberal Democrats had to say. I do not wish to take up the time of the House, however, so I shall let the Liberal Democrat spokesman speak to it.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): I support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. I have no doubt that the Minister will give reasons why the amendment should not be accepted. I am more than happy to be disappointed, but I would be most surprised were the answer affirmative, as I would wish.

As my hon. Friend said, there is a strong case for the chairman of the new Independent Police Complaints Commission to be seen as independent in every respect.

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The difficulty is not that the wrong person would be appointed as the chairman—the choice of chairman is likely to be a good one; I have no reason to believe otherwise. However, the suspicion would be—not necessarily among Members of Parliament but in the outside world—that the Government would choose a person who can be relied upon not to be too independent. In a sense, he would be perceived as the Government's nominee.

I am sure that such suspicions would have no foundation, but it is important that the chairman is seen as independent in every possible way. One way of doing that is to follow the suggestion in the amendment. The person would be appointed in the normal way, but confirmed by, among others, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.

An important factor should not be overlooked. The House of Commons or the Select Committee would not make the appointment. They would not put advertisements in the newspapers and would not be responsible for vetting the candidates and drawing up a shortlist. That power will remain with the Home Office. The only difference would be that the person appointed would go through a slightly different procedure. The amendment refers to

In practice, that would mean that the person appointed would appear before the Select Committee, but it is not a question of its Chairman just saying yea or nay.

What is wrong with someone appointed by the Home Office appearing in front of the Select Committee before the appointment is confirmed? I find it difficult to believe that anyone of quality who wants to do the job and recognises its importance would be deterred by the fact that he would have to appear before the Committee. I accept that there is a theoretical possibility that the appointment would not be confirmed, but that is extremely unlikely.

The amendment is a step forward. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I have no doubt that, if the positions were reversed and he were the Minister and not the shadow spokesperson, he would make exactly the same arguments as, I am afraid, my right hon. Friend the Minister will make.

We have yet to recognise the important role that Parliament could play in appointments to important jobs such as chairing the new complaints commission that will examine allegations against the police. Sometimes such allegations are serious, which is all the more reason that the person appointed to head the commission not only has integrity and authority to carry out the work, but is seen as independent. If that person is simply appointed by the Home Office in the usual way, the danger is that his independence will not be recognised outside the House. That would be most unfortunate.

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