Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

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Mr. Browne: The hon. Lady's amendment is again intended to be helpful. The Government would expect the consultation that she seeks to enshrine in statute to take place in any event. I cannot imagine the relationship between the Secretary of State and the chief inspector being such that consultation would not take place during their normal communications if the Secretary of State proposed to deploy the powers given him under subsection (6).

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her suggestion, but it is not necessary. My understanding of the word ''advice'' in clause 47 is that it is not intended to be used for the purpose that she suggests. I would be misleading her if I said that it was a catch-all provision. It would not properly include such consultation. The Government anticipate that the Secretary of State will consult the chief inspector. Who better could he go to for advice on whether or not an organisation should be included in the list of those to be inspected? With respect, it is not necessary to put such a provision in the Bill. With that reassurance, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Lady Hermon: I thank the Minister for that explanation. May I tease out a little more information? What is meant by the word ''advice'' in clause 47(7)? Does it include consultation in relation to those organisations listed in clause 46?

Mr. Browne: This provision is included because it is envisaged that, over time, the chief inspector will become the repository of a significant amount of information and knowledge about the organisations that he or she inspects. It seems sensible that the Executive officer—in this case, the Secretary of State—should require such a repository of information to give him advice on a range of matters.

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Lady Hermon: I am perfectly happy with that explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Blunt: I want to make a brief inquiry, to assist me and other members of the Committee. My question could be asked under any of the clauses setting up the chief inspectorate of criminal justice. When the new institutions are set up, it may be necessary--this may have been overlooked--for them to be listed under schedules 2 or 3 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as reserved or excepted matters. Is clarification required in the Bill with regard to the chief inspectorate? Judicial appointments are excepted matters and the criminal law is a reserved matter, but the chief inspectorate sits between the two.

Mr. Browne: I think the answer is that the chief inspector falls within provisions covering criminal justice in schedule 3. If the hon. Gentleman is content with that explanation concerning the chief inspectorate, perhaps we could revisit the matter in relation to other institutions as we proceed.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 47

Further provisions about functions

Mr. Mallon: I beg to move amendment No. 288, in page 27, line 13, at end insert—

    '(1A) The Chief Inspector must carry out an inspection of each organisation specified in subsection 46(1) at least once in every year, unless he is satisfied that the organisation is subject to adequate inspection by someone other than him.'.

This amendment is straightforward and would ensure that criminal justice agencies are subject to annual review and inspection, and provide the chief inspector with statutory direction in drawing up his programme. It would also allow him to exclude an organisation from his annual programme if he is satisfied that it has been adequately inspected by another inspectorate. In the interests of symmetry, I note that the annual inspection of the Police Service is specified under section 41(2) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1988.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Prima facie, the amendment would not only provide belt and braces, but would ensure that the trousers cannot fall down. It is excessive and would require a level of inspection that is too detailed. To take an example from this side of the water, inspection of a single school of moderate size probably requires the chief inspector of schools to appoint a team of 10 to 12 inspectors, who spend four, five or more days in the school after substantial preparation by all the staff of the school, hold a lengthy debriefing, followed by a report, which has to be discussed with the school governors. The chief

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inspector is moving away from a quadrennial inspection of schools because the burden of inspection on each school is too great. He is moving to a system of more inspections for those schools that need them most and fewer for those that need them least.

The hon. Gentleman proposes a system of inspection for each of the categories, except those inspected elsewhere—the Minister might indicate which those are. That will incur an immense cost, and cause immense disruption to the professional services specified in clause 46 (1)(a) to (j). The level of inspection is too demanding. Inspection is important, but it is not in the interest of those running the service, or their customers, to have that level of disruption imposed on them in their everyday work.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I have a question for the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. My main concern is the creeping influence of blame culture. There is an advantage to codifying the work of the inspector. However, precedent and etiquette will establish that, and the amendment may be over-prescriptive. Taking into account the comments of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), how does the hon. Gentleman respond to the concerns that the amendment would tie up the inspectors' resources in investigations that will probably turn up nothing, and that it assumes that organisations must be inspected to maintain probity? We should not send that sort of signal to those organisations or the public.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): I am perturbed that the investigations under clause 46(1)(a) to (j) are to be carried out on an annual basis. The police, the police reserve, the forensic science department, the state pathologists department, the Public Prosecution Service, the probation board, the Prison Service, the juvenile justice board, four health and social service boards, a multiplicity of health trusts and a compensation agency would all be inspected. I partly agree with the analogy of belt and braces that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight used, but the clause seems to provide belt, braces, staples, nails and anything else one could throw at it. I find the amendment superfluous.

Mr. Browne: I am grateful for the support for my resistance to the amendment. I say to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, and I am not inviting him to intervene, that I did not understand his allusion to trousers, but perhaps he will explain it to me later. I may be developing a habit of misinterpreting contributions from the Opposition.

As the title of part 3 suggests, the institution is new. The level of scrutiny necessary for any organisation on the list, which may be expanded, will depend on the organisation. It may be appropriate for one organisation at a particular stage of development to have annual inspections, but inappropriate for another. Clause 47 will grant flexibility to the chief inspector, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to produce a programme of inspection that reflects the level of involvement that an inspector must have with any specified organisation. The clause provides for the approval of the programme of inspection through

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consultation with the Secretary of State, and for the possibility, to which I have already alluded, that the list from the review of the organisations that need to be inspected is not exhaustive. For example, the powers that are exercised by Consignia, to which the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) referred, have a potential impact on the criminal justice system. The period between inspections will be determined by experience, consultation and the body of knowledge that will be built up in the inspectorate.

At this stage, it would not be helpful to require all such organisations to be inspected annually. That would be a disproportionate level of inspection for some, if not all, and would generate an unrealistic programme of work for the body. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

10.15 am

Mr. Mallon: Ironically, I agree with the view of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. In many cases, requirements for inspections are taken to absurdity and there is a counter effect because some organisations, such as schools, spend more time preparing for inspections than doing what they should do, which is help young people to acquire knowledge.

That is not the objective of the amendment—far from it. It is to try to ensure that there is an adequacy of inspectorates other than the chief inspector. I am not sure that in all instances that is the case; we can be reasonably sure that it is not. One example touches on what was discussed yesterday, and I will not go back over it in detail. Some appointments to important areas are not subject to any form of scrutiny: for example, the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland and the ombudsman, who are appointed by the Queen. Unless the position has changed recently—if it has, I shall be delighted to hear about it from the Minister—the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland is not subject to scrutiny by a Minister, Parliament or anybody. That is not satisfactory. You may ask what that has to do with the amendment, Mr. Conway.

The Chairman: Order. I was just about to do that.

Mr. Mallon: I use the amendment to make a point. I am not totally satisfied that, until a problem is obvious, scrutiny or investigation—I do not like using those words—exist for many of the specified areas. A problem that is not dealt with in an ongoing fashion becomes an issue. If the amendment is formalised in legislation, it may have the effect of encouraging other means of inspections to take place more often and more effectively. Had it applied to some in the past, and had there been the possibility of pressure from the chief inspector asking, ''Have you done it and, if you haven't, when and how well will you do it?''—perhaps previous years' inspections had not been good—some problems may not have arisen. I am talking not about security problems, but about problems in other areas. I take the logic of the point, and in essence I agree with it.

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