Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10 Feb 2003 : Column 655—continued

David Burnside: The Secretary of State has given us some interesting figures on organised crime. Could he inform the House how many members of the Provisional IRA and how many members of mainstream loyalist terrorist organisations—the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force—have been arrested and convicted for involvement in racketeering, especially drug dealing, in the past 12 months?

Mr. Murphy: No figures are yet available, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman, as I take his point.

Lembit Öpik: Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the interesting changes in Northern Ireland society in some areas where there was great scepticism about policing is a greater willingness to accept the rule of law rather than vigilantism? One example lies in the concerted efforts of families bereaved through car crime,

10 Feb 2003 : Column 656

particularly joyriding, to effect changes in the law with the apparent support of the local community. I do not think that that would have happened 10 or 15 years ago.

Mr. Murphy: I am sure that it would not. Those changes demonstrate that the community at all levels and in all its variety supports policing to deal with so-called joyriding.

Having set out its context, I shall now turn to the Bill, which focuses on strengthening the role of the Policing Board and clarifying its relationship with the Chief Constable and me in my role as Secretary of State. That is consistent with Patten's vision of a more accountable police service. Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to consult the board with a view to reaching agreement when drawing up both long-term policing objectives and codes of practice. The board in turn must take account of the Secretary of State's objectives in framing its policing plan, as laid out in clause 2. The final piece of the jigsaw is the obligation on the Chief Constable to take account of the Secretary of State's long-term objectives, only insofar as that is consistent with the board's policing plan. At the specific request of the Policing Board, and in light of its experience over the past year, the Bill gives it greater flexibility on the frequency and spacing of its public meetings, as well as flexibility in the timing of the publication of the best-value performance summary.

As for reports and inquiries, the Bill introduces two changes to bring the law more fully into line with Patten, followed by provisions allowing for the handling of sensitive information by the board and measures against any misuse of it. Clause 21 would require the board to set up a small but representative committee to deal with sensitive information. Wherever the Chief Constable was sharing with the board or the committee sensitive information as defined by the Bill, he would be obliged to flag it up as sensitive. That is particularly important as, under clause 20, it would be a criminal offence for a member of the board or of the committee to disclose any information shared with them by the Chief Constable that had been specifically identified as sensitive.

Clause 18 places a general obligation on the Chief Constable to supply the board with such information as it requires to carry out its functions. Finally, on the approval of proposals relating to inquiries by the board, clause 11 amends the threshold of board members required to vote for an inquiry, reducing it from 10 to eight, provided that that is the majority of those present and voting.

Mr. Quentin Davies: When the right hon. Gentleman described the proposed powers or conditions in clause 20 to impose confidentiality on members of the Policing Board, he said that members both of the committee and the board would face criminal sanctions if there was a breach of confidence. Could he confirm that he meant "and", and that it is not simply members of the committee.

Mr. Murphy: I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman, in case I say the wrong thing. As far as I can see from the information before me, it would be the committee and the board, but I will clarify that before the night is out.

10 Feb 2003 : Column 657

Clause 12 gives the police ombudsman the power to investigate current police practices and policies, rather than, as at present, simply research them. Under the clause, the ombudsman will have access to all the information that she requires although, as already noted, the existing safeguards on disclosure of information are retained. The Bill also clarifies the extent of the ombudsman's remit in this regard relative to the separate supervisory arrangements set up under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. There has been extensive and fruitful consultation with the ombudsman on all the changes that I have just described.

Lady Hermon (North Down): Can the Secretary of State confirm that the increased powers of the police ombudsman do not include power to investigate restrospectively—that "current" means current and on-going into the future, not trawling back through the past?

Mr. Murphy: I can confirm that.

At the request of the board, the Bill places an obligation on the Policing Board to secure representativeness in appointing independent members to district policing partnerships, and clarifies the position for appointing individuals who have previously been removed from a DPP. Clause 16 makes it clear that policing with the community is to be one of the core policing principles, along with the human rights-based approach to policing that is enshrined in the new code of ethics. For policing to be effective, it must have at its heart the fundamental principle of human rights for all and it must command the support and co-operation of all sections of the community. The Bill reinforces those principles.

The Bill will enable the Chief Constable to make fixed-term appointments at ranks from sergeant to chief superintendent in order to facilitate secondments with policing powers from non-UK police forces. Part 2 contains important measures brought forward at the request of the Chief Constable with the support of the Policing Board. They build on provisions introduced for England and Wales by the Police Reform Act 2002. Clauses 23 and 24 give the Chief Constable greater flexibility in the deployment of civilian staff, including contracted-out staff, under his control. The duties that those individuals may take on are set out in schedule 1. They are mainly the roles of investigation officers, detention officers and escort officers.

Clauses 29 and 30 make it clear that designated civilians are subject to the same requirements in relation to notifiable memberships as apply to police officers, and they are to be guided by the police code of ethics. In addition, where there are complaints about the exercise of police powers by these civilians, those complaints will be handled by the ombudsman. These measures will allow the Chief Constable to use civilian staff, including contracted-out staff, on some of the more routine policing duties, such as escorting detainees and operating custody suites, thus freeing up officers for front-line duties.

I should not close without saying something about the "text for consideration" that the Government published last November. During the passage of the 2000 Act

10 Feb 2003 : Column 658

through Parliament, the Government made it clear that it was our hope that in the future the sensitivities surrounding the issue of ex-prisoners joining DPPs would subside. I give the House an assurance today that the changes proposed in the "text for consideration" will be brought forward only in the context of acts of completion on the part of the paramilitaries, and I emphasise that by "acts of completion" I mean, in the words of the Prime Minister,

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way a second time. He will be well aware of the recommendation in the Patten report that the independent members who serve on DPPs should bring with them

How can anyone with a criminal conviction or a terrorist conviction bring with them expertise in community safety? How does that implement Patten?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Lady has her interpretation of Patten. Similar individuals can serve on boards as a result of political appointments. However, the proposed appointments are independent ones. The hon. Lady saw the "text for consideration" and knows that it contained considerable safeguards, first by way of a five-year gap between having served a sentence and serving on one of the new bodies, and secondly, by giving the House order-making powers so that the House would be conscious of the time necessary for that to happen. I also say to her that, if we indeed see a major change in the way in which Northern Ireland develops over the next few months and years, there may well be circumstances in which members of parties that have been linked to paramilitary activities in the past would play their role. I re-emphasise, however, that that has to be done in the context of major changes that have been defined by the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and me.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. In respect of the last question asked by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), surely it is perfectly possible for a reformed terrorist to consider local community matters, policing interests and community safety as issues of importance. Is that not further defined in the code of practice relating to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, so that there are clear criteria about the obligations that an individual must fulfil?

Next Section

IndexHome Page