House of Commons
|Session 2006 - 07|
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
Thirteenth Delegated Legislation Committee
Thursday 15 March 2007
[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]
Draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007
That the Committee has considered the draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
It is very good to see you in the Chair, Mr. Atkinson.
I must begin with a sincere and profound apology to all members of the Committee, because this is precisely the same order that we debatedperhaps in this very Room, but certainly in Committeeon 28 February, except in one very important respect. If hon. Members look at the order, they will see at the top of page 15 that paragraph 5 of schedule 4 to the order refers to the insertion into the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 of proposed new part 3A, which relates to staff custody officers. The order before us today will insert part 3A after part 3 of schedule 2 to the 2003 Act. When we debated the order before, it referred to inserting part 3A after part 3 of schedule 4, which would have been an entirely inappropriate place in the 2003 Act in which to put the provision.
The error was spotted by officials after we had held the debate. I was faced with the choice of incurring the wrath of colleagues by coming back here on a warm and lovely Thursday afternoon, when the sun is shining, and requesting that hon. Members once again consider the order and approve it, or turning a blind eye. Clearly, it was tempting not to bring colleagues back to Committee, but I could do nothing other than make the amendment and ensure that the order, properly made out, was relaid.
I do not intend to go into any depth on the issues raised by the order. I rehearsed those before. Of course, I am entirely in the hands of members of the Committee, who may want to explore any of those issues; but with that explanation and apology, I commend the order to the Committee.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I know that hon. Members went through the order before, but unfortunately, I was unable to attend because of a clash with a sitting of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, when we were finalising the report on tourism in Northern Ireland, to which I wanted to make a considerable number of amendments. My absence was noted by the hon. Member for North Down, who felt that I was being discourteous or did not really care about the issues, but it was a genuine clash, which was unavoidable as far as I was concerned.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. We hope that this will be a brief sitting of the Committee, but with the hon. Member for East Antrim present, we never know. I acknowledge that there was a clash in his case, but could he explain why none of his colleagues saw fit to make themselves available to speak in that Committee?
Sammy Wilson: The hon. Lady will know that names go in for these Committees in advance, and it was not possible to make changes at that notice.
I want to ask the Minister about a number of issues, because the order exemplifies much of what is wrong, and what is going wrong, with policing in Northern Ireland. The first issue that I am concerned about is the introduction of police community support officers. Many people are concerned about the reductions in the policing budget. Given the position that I held formerly as chairman of the finance and general purposes committee of the Policing Board, I am aware that swingeing cuts to the police budget are proposed in the comprehensive spending review. That could lead to a reduction of as many as 2,500 officers. The introduction of police community support officers is seen as a cheap way to fill that gap.
On the powers of the police community support officers, I have no difficulty if those officers are intended to add to and complement what the police are doing, provided that they have sufficient powers. One of the important things for a community support officer is to have the ability to make a difference if something goes wrong. Under paragraph 4 of schedule 5, the CSO will have the power to compel someone to wait for half an hour. I should like the Minister to confirm whether that is the same as saying that the CSO will have the power to arrest that person if they refuse to wait? Are they free to walk away?
In this instance, the CSO will have the power to require someone to wait if they have refused to give a name and address. If they refuse to do so and the CSO cannot compel them to wait, the CSO is totally ineffective in their duty and can have no effect in a situation where people may well expect them to have an effect. It is not clear whether the CSO will be able to compel them to wait by arresting and restraining them. Indeed, this may well be a matter for the police to decide, but there is no indication in the 2003 Act that the CSO will have any means to restrain someone who does not want to give their name and address or to wait and who wishes to walk away. I should like the Minister to confirm the position.
Although we debated this yesterdayI do not want to go into it, but I want to put it on the recordthe second thing that concerns me is the introduction once again of the 50:50 requirement. This is an extension of the 50:50 requirement, because police community support officers are really designed to replace part-time reserve officers, for whom there was no 50:50 requirement. With this replacement of or move away from part-time reserve officers, the 50:50 requirement has been extended, despite massive opposition to it in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps the Minister would also explain why the order includes no 50:50 requirement for the recruitment
If the 50:50 requirement does not apply, what is the reason? Is it simply that police officers recruited from police forces in England, Scotland or Wales would resent being asked what religion they areindeed, they might find it totally bizarrebefore it was judged whether or not they were qualified to do the job as a detective in Northern Ireland? If so, does that not once again illustrate the absolute absurdity of the 50:50 requirement, which has no justification in Northern Ireland other than to satisfy the political demands of Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour party?
On the police ombudsmans power to reopen cases, I notice that the Minister has made it clear that that can happen only when there is compelling evidence in respect of serious offences. Who will judge whether there is compelling evidence? There is grave suspicion among police officers in Northern IrelandI believe that it is totally justifiedthat the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland does not do justly by police officers. In fact, the surveys, which the ombudsman refused to publish, indicated that the vast majority of police officersmore than 4,000 respondedhad no confidence in the ombudsmans office.
The ombudsman sometimes seems to take cases out of petty vindictiveness, especially if the officer concerned had been a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. On occasion, it appears that cases are taken because of popular demand by people who are anti-police. The real fear among police officers is that the additional power, which is not given to independent police complaints bodies in any other part of the United Kingdom, will be abused, as some of the other powers of the police ombudsmans office appear to have been used over-rigorously in the past.
Will the police ombudsmans office make the decision on whether or not there is compelling evidence? Will standards or criteria be laid down to which the office must work when deciding whether there is compelling evidence? Or is it simply the case that, if the police ombudsman acquits an officer and someone who has a grievance against the police comes along and tells another story, the ombudsman will have the power to reopen the case? Many fear that there is a witch hunt against police officers, and that, on occasion, people in the community have used the police ombudsmans office to that end.
Lastly, I ask about the polices power to close roads. I understood that the police already had that power. In fact, on my way here on Monday, I found that the bridge across the River Lagan had been closed by police officers who were attending the scene of an accident. It caused considerable disruption. Perhaps the Minister will explain why the power in article 12 is required, given that police officers already appear to have that poweror have they been acting illegally?
Lady Hermon: I am glad to speak on this interesting but obnoxious legislation. I specifically wish to record once again my complete and utter contempt for police recruitment being based on religion. It is not acceptable. It should not be acceptable in any part of the United Kingdom. Religious discrimination is being legalised by a British Governmenta Labour Governmentin order to recruit police officers.
As we have only just introduced community support officers to Northern Ireland, it is technically impossible to have a historic imbalance within that community. We are starting with a blank sheet; we should have recruited them on merit alone, without introducing a 50:50 recruitment procedure. My views were given at length in our debate of a fortnight agoon Wednesday 28 Februarya debate to which the Minister referred.
I ask the hon. Member for East Antrim to explain why, when there are nine representatives of the Democratic Unionist party and only one of the Ulster Unionist party, that not one member of the DUP was available to attend on that Wednesday to vote against the order. There has been speculationhow, I have no ideathat one of the reasons behind the rerunning of the order was to allow a representative of the DUP to join the debate. I welcome his attendance; it is always nice to see himwell, mostly nice.
Lady Hermon: It is delightful to see the smiling face of the hon. Member for East Antrim this afternoon.
I should like the Minister to give clarification in response to the speculation about the rerunning of the Committee. The reason that he gave to the Committee was a drafting error, but the blame does not really lie with the person who was responsible for that. I am sure that they felt enormously embarrassed when the mistake was discovered after the Committee sitting, but the Committee membershipcertainly, I am sure, if it had been boosted by a member of the Democratic Unionist partymight have spotted the error two weeks ago.
It is for Committees of the House to scrutinise orders, and the blame lies with us. I should not like the civil servant who was responsible for the mention of schedule 4, instead of schedule 2, to have any sleepless nights over the matter. However, what has happened shows the need for even better scrutiny, and it would be enormously helpful if Labour members of the Committee would pay even greater attention than they are, I am sure, already paying to the order, and not act as rubber stamps.
Perhaps the Minister will answer a couple of additional questions. I tried on an earlier occasion to get a straight answer from him about 50:50 recruitment. However, he uncharacteristically gave an answer to a question that I had not asked. It was a very lengthy and, I am sure, interesting reply, but as it did not answer my question, so I shall put it again. What pressure was brought by the Irish Government at St. Andrews for the maintaining and extension of 50:50 recruitment within the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and what representations have been made by
Secondly, on several recent occasions in Committee, when we have been considering various policing mattersparticularly 50:50 recruitmentthe Minister has called in aid the Patten report. He will be familiar with the recommendation in that report that we should have more part-time police officers. There is no mention of police community support officers in the report; I think that that would have put Mr. Patten a bit ahead of his time. Why have the Government cherry-picked the Patten report?
If the explanation for the introduction of PCSOs is not finance and cost cutting, what is it? Plastic bobbies is a horrible tag to give PCSOs, but it has appeared in various newspaper headlines in Englandand I saw it too in a Belfast Telegraph headline. There is a suspicion that the police budgetthe hon. Member for East Antrim has alluded to thisis under pressure and that PCSOs are being recruited and introduced into Northern Ireland as a cheap option. What became of part-time police officers, as recommended in the Patten report?
Finally, I drew attention to huge criticism of the extension of the police ombudsmans powers to new and compelling evidence on qualifying offences, including genocide, crimes against humanity and kidnapping. I asked the Minister to identify how many police officers had been acquitted of war crimes, genocide, kidnapping, murder or manslaughter in Northern Ireland in the past 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 years. He could not do that a fortnight ago, but I assume that, as he knew that we would have to rerun the Committee this afternoon, he has at his fingertips the number of such acquittals. It is only when a police officer has been acquitted of very serious qualifying offences that the new provisions on new and compelling evidence can come into play. It would be helpful if the Minister replied to those points.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. I observed with interest the hon. Member for North Down commenting on the DUPs absence when we last debated the matter. I note that the Conservative party was absent until a few moments ago. I would have suggested, after last nights vote, that one might have assumed that Minister was speaking on behalf of a Conservative-Labour coalition. The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes has now turned up, so I realise that it was a logistical matter, rather than an intention not to be present. [ Interruption. ] As the hon. Member for Cleethorpes points out, it would have been unjust to have said so.
My real criticism is not about the debate, which predictably enough has been cut and thrust, but the fact that, as ever, we find ourselves working around an utterly unacceptable way of governing the Province. Statutory Instrument Committees do not provide for any amendment, except in so far as we have debated the
As the hon. Member for North Down correctly pointed out, we cannot blame civil servants for having made a fairly small mistake, despite the fact that it has had significant consequences. We could blame the Committee, but primarily I blame it on the fact that we are not considering the legislation as we would have done if we were acting as a Public Bill Committee. If we were doing that, we would have gone through the articles one by one, and I have no doubt that Opposition memberswhether members of the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats, the DUP, the UUP or the Social Democratic and Labour partywould have spotted the mistake. It is also possible that the Governments advisers would have spotted the mistake, and we could then have proceeded in an appropriate fashion. Unfortunately, we were not able to do that.
We had one and a half hours to discuss these weighty issues. Necessarily, things were missed. I have no doubt that there are other mistakes in legislation that has passed through Statutory Instrument Committees; that is bound to happen due to the lack of scrutiny. The process puts an unbearable strain of expectation on the civil servants, who are expected to get it right first time. It also puts an unreasonable limit on our ability to scrutinise and to do the job expected of Opposition members: to hold the Government to account.
Lady Hermon: I am enormously grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I invite him to look on the bright side: the process gives him the opportunity that I am sure he wishes to havethe chance to vote against the 50:50 recruitment procedures introduced under the orderand to correct his mistake of a fortnight ago in supporting the order.
I do not expect a long response from the Minister; he knows my opinion of the process and I know his. I ask him to take on board the fact that it is not reasonable for the Committee or for civil servants because, at the end of the day, we cannot be expected to deliver perfect legislation without scrutiny. Statutory Instrument Committees provide everything except the perfect opportunity to scrutinise orders.
I turn to the comments made by the hon. Member for North Down. I knew that she was going to ask me the question. However, tempted as I am to alter my vote from the positive of two weeks ago to the negative on the 50:50 provision, which I find equally pernicious, it would be wrong for me to do so for the reasons that I outlined yesterday and which I shall briefly summarise now.
The 50:50 process replaces one form of discrimination with another. I know that the hon. Lady feels the same way. Having re-read the text of our debate of two weeks ago, I confirm that the Minister gave no justification whatever for introducing that process for this new additional arm of the police. The hon. Member for East Antrim made exactly the same
Given that the 50:50 process has been introduced in legislation that relates to one part of the police, the Minister assumes, by some fuzzy logic, that we must introduce it for the other part, even though exactly the same objections apply: first, there is no more intimidation, we are told, by Sinn Fein or the IRA of people entering the police service; secondly, there is no prejudice against Catholics in the recruitment system; and thirdly, there is no fear of applying to the police among the Catholic community. Those three things being the case, unless the Minister has a new argument, he is unlikely in any way to persuade the Committeeor at least Opposition Membersthat the 50:50 requirement is an acceptable part of the order.
Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is even more strange that the Minister believes that there would be no difficulty in Northern Ireland if, for example, the 200 detectives who are required for the police all came from one communitywhether Catholic, Protestant or whateverand that no objection would be raised to that in Northern Ireland?
Lembit Öpik: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is correct, and I am sure that the Conservatives position is the same as that of the DUP, the UUP and the Liberal Democrats on 50:50it is just not right; it is not acceptable.
The reason why I would not change my vote, however, is that I think that the substantive aim of the legislation is correct. Yesterday, as the hon. Member for North Down knows, I voted against 50:50. There was no conflict of interest and no priority of interest, because we were exclusively discussing 50:50. That being my position, I nevertheless feel that, on balance, it is useful to have additional officers in the supporting role in the Northern Ireland police. I do not disagree with the hon. Ladys objections to 50:50, but it would be inconsistent of me now to say[Interruption.] Let me finish my point. It would be inconsistent of me now to say that I have changed my view about community support officers. [Interruption.] However, I hear some rumblings from Labour Back Benchers. They might provoke me to change my mind.
Lady Hermon: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman allowing me to intervene again. Will he explain to the Committee why a little bit of religious discrimination, which is so morally contemptible, is acceptable to the Liberal Democrats?
Lembit Öpik: It is not acceptable to the Liberal Democrats, although I shall not repeat what I have just said about my judgment. The hon. Lady takes a different view on the legislation, and I respect that; it is a judgment call.
Let me conclude on the point about inconsistency. I think that that is the problem that Labour Members are worried about. Inconsistency is opposing nuclear weapons and then voting for them. It is not inconsistent to try to find balance in respect of the order and to try to do what is right for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): I apologise to you, Mr. Atkinson, to the Minister and to the Committee for being late for this sitting. It had little to do with logistics, but all Members of Parliament sometimes have to make a decision between family and job, and on this occasion, my family came first. I am sure that the Committee understands that.
Of course we have the advantage that the order was debated two weeks ago. I do not intend to detain the Committee, but having read through the notes after the previous Committee, I should like to ask the Minister a couple of questions that I sense he did not answer last time or at least did not answer fully.
Given that so much primary legislation on Northern Ireland has been going through the House recently, can the Minister explain why the order could not have been included in either the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was enacted last year, or the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill?
I am sure that this point has been made alreadyit is probably made by all Opposition Members regularlybut given that PCSOs constitute a new function, why is the Minister so determined to continue with 50:50 recruitment? There is no historical imbalance to address. Given the unique nature of Northern Ireland, can the Minister explain how the training of PCSOs in Northern Ireland will differ from that in mainland Britain to take the relevant factors into account? Can he also explain why, under schedule 5, only six of the 17 possible powers are to be given to them?
Paul Goggins: I was pleased that the hon. Member for East Antrim had the opportunity to place his views on the record and to ask me questions. He is an assiduous attender of Committees, discussions and debates about policing matters, and he was able to offer his explanation today about the previous Committee. Whether that was to the satisfaction of the hon. Member for North Down is a matter for them, rather than for me.
The hon. Member for East Antrim asked a number of questions, mainly about police community support officers. I say again that PCSOs in Northern Ireland400 of them over the first four yearswill be appointed in addition to the regular police in Northern Ireland. There are about 7,500 regular police officers, and we hope to maintain that figure for the foreseeable future. Of course, we have a comprehensive spending review, but our purpose is to try to ensure that we retain those numbers over the next few years.
We know from studies undertaken by Her Majestys inspectorate of constabulary that Northern Ireland might not need 7,500 officers in more normal times, but that is a question for the longer term and a matter for the Northern Ireland Policing Board, as well as for the Government. I emphasise that the 400 PCSOs are in addition to the existing number of police officers.
The hon. Member for East Antrim asked about powers. Schedule 5 includes a power to detain. We do not intend it to commence immediately; we are
The most important thing is that PCSOs should be effective, and their effectiveness depends on their visibility. The fact that they spent about 80 per cent. of their time on the street and in the community, rather than in the police station, is the reason for their effectiveness. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured.
I turn to the subject of 50:50 recruitment, which has been mentioned by all hon. Members. I do not intend to rerun the entire argument, which has taken place on two occasions recently. We are not introducing a new power to use 50:50 in relation to PCSOs. We have an existing 50:50 power, which extends to civilian staff when six or more posts are advertised. PCSOs are included because they are civilian support staff, and 50:50 applies as much to them as to any other group of civilians when six or more posts have to be filled.
I say again that I respect, understand and acknowledge the strong views held by hon. Members, but when Patten reported, there was 8 per cent. Catholic representation in the PSNI. The figure is now 21 per cent. and rising, and we intend to achieve the 30 per cent. target. Earlier this week, we renewed the 50:50 powers until March 2010. We hope that it will be the last time that those powers need to be renewed. We should reach the 30 per cent. composition in 2010 or shortly afterwards, and we have made a commitment that, once we get there, those powers will lapse.
Sammy Wilson: Does the Minister accept that we are starting from a base of noneno PCSOs at all? The 50:50 requirement will more than exceed the Patten requirement of 30 per cent.. Indeed, the composition of PCSOs will be different from that of Protestants and Catholics in the Northern Ireland community. Indeed, Catholicis will be over-representedwell over-representedin PCSO recruitment.
Paul Goggins: I understand the hon. Gentlemans argument, but we seek to achieve 30 per cent. Catholic representation in the civilian work force and also among regular officers. We cannot take one aspect of the civilian work force and say, We have achieved 30 per cent. there, so everything is all right. It is an overall target, and we are determined to get therenot for its own sake, but because we want a police service in Northern Ireland that truly reflects the community and has its confidence.
Lembit Öpik: I was not intending to intervene, but the Minister made a statement that he did not make in
Paul Goggins: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is trying to ingratiate himself with the hon. Member for North Downwith his argument if not with his vote. At the moment, Catholic representation in the civilian work force in the PSNI stands at around 21 per cent. That is more or less the same level as for regular officers, although it started at a higher levelabout 12 per cent. rather than 8 per cent.but we want to get it to 30 per cent. as well. We will not exempt any aspect of the civilian work force. We want to recruit on the 50:50 basis, so that we reach the 30 per cent. target across the civilian work force and with regular officers if not by 2010, at least very soon thereafter. This week, we renewed the powers to take us to 2010.
There is an issue with detective constables, which the hon. Member for East Antrim recognises, given his experience on the Policing Board. There is a gap. I believe that there are just under 100 vacancies for detective constables. We need more experienced officers to perform that task in Northern Ireland. As new recruits come through and get more experience, that gap will be filled; but in the short term, we want to give the Chief Constable the power to recruit from outside Northern Ireland to fill that gap and ensure that we tackle criminality there. The measure is meant to tackle that specific, short-term issue alone.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about extending the law on double jeopardy, which the hon. Member for North Down and I have discussed many times. Changes under the 2003 Act made it possible to reopen investigations into serious offencesshe mentioned the list of offences in the schedulewhen there is new and compelling evidence. That was not possible before. Thankfully, as a result of the changes, some people who thought that they had literally got away with murder are now being convicted of those murders and are facing the consequences.
The hon. Member for East Antrim asked who makes the decision on reopening investigations: it is the Director of Public Prosecutions. If the Chief Constable believes that there is new and compelling evidence, he can ask the DPP to reopen the investigation. The measure simply extends that by allowing the ombudsman to reopen such an investigation when a police officer might have committed a very grave offence, as that is not possible under existing legislation.
The hon. Member for North Down rightly asks how many serving or ex-police officers have committed such grave offences, but I cannot answer that. It would take considerable time to trawl back over many years and give her an answer. The point is that we need legislation that enables the ombudsman to go to the prosecutor, if that scenario does occur, and say, There is new and compelling evidence, and I want to reopen the investigation. The aim is to create a level playing field.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): The Home Secretary is currently agreeing with the Rwandan authorities the extradition of four asylum seekers who were granted indefinite leave to remain in this country, but were subsequently found to have been involved in the horrendous genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Given that they have leave to remain and could apply for work anywhere in the United Kingdom, does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that this is a necessary and important part of the legislation?
Paul Goggins: I know something of that case, because one of those gentlemen is a constituent of mine, but that is another story.
In the past, if someone committed a very serious offencemurder, rape, serious sexual assault or another of the listed crimes, including genocide, which my hon. Friend has picked up onand then went through the judicial process, but was not convicted, they walked out of court free and thought that they had literally got away with murder. Now, if new DNA or other evidence comes to light, such cases can be reopened and reinvestigated, and that person can be brought back to face justice properly. I should have thought that the whole Committeeindeed, the whole Housewas united in believing that such a measure should be on the statute book.
I think that the hon. Member for East Antrim simply wanted to tease out of me why we are giving such powers to the ombudsman. In doing so, he criticised the ombudsmans office, but I do not share his criticisms. The measure is important because it gives the ombudsman the facility to reopen an investigation into a case that might have involved a police officer and because it creates a level playing field, so that no gap is left.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the road closure powers. Those powers are in part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000. When that is repealed at the end of July, those powers will no longer exist, so we are placing them in legislation here.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Down for putting the blame entirely where it belongsif not in Ministers hands, collectively in the hands and on the shoulders of the Committee. In the end, it is our legislation. I should like to place on the record my appreciation for the officials who served the Committee today and others in the Northern Ireland Office, who do a fantastic job, day in, day out, providing very good advice to Ministers and others. I am very pleased that the hon. Lady said that, because she has given me the opportunity to put that on the record.
The hon. Lady invited me, yet again, to give a running commentary on what was said at St. Andrews. I am not going to do that. I just point out to her, again, the conclusions of those discussions: a commitment to lapse 50:50 provisions when we reach 30 per cent. The Government will abide by that commitment.
Lady Hermon: I am very sorry to intervene on the Minister, but I did not ask for a running commentary of what was said at St. Andrews; I asked a simple and direct question: what pressure has been brought to bear by the Irish Government on the British Government to legalise religious discrimination consistently in the
Paul Goggins: There was no pressure from any quarters in relation to police community support officers. I can confirm that that was not part of our discussions. The hon. Lady was inviting me to place on the record what I might have known about the views of the Irish Government on one or more matters at St. Andrews. I was not prepared to place that on the record, which is perfectly fair. But no specific pressure was brought to bear in relation to PCSOs.
The hon. Lady is right that PCSOs came after the Patten report was published, but that does not mean that we should discount them. The world moves on and we must ensure that we can accommodate what is increasingly recognised as a very effective and visible aspect of policing. Last Friday afternoon, in my own constituency, I was with 19 of the newly-recruited 25 PCSOs, and I can assure hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies that they are a tremendous addition to the police services in our communities.
The hon. Lady also asked about our plans for part-timers. The long-term plan is to recruit about 1,200 part-time officers. Recruitment is continuing, and they are very much part of the future. Again, the flexibility, commitment and so on that they bring is highly valued.
I say to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire that I knew that he would place on record his views. We share at least a common understanding that success on 26 March will mean much less of this kind of thing, more democracy and more local accountability in Northern Ireland. I am sure that he will welcome that a great deal. Perhaps we will not share quite so many debates, although of course we will continue in the immediate future to debate policing matters, which will not be devolved, at least until May 2008.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes again on his recent speeches from the Front Bench. He asked why we are discussing these matters under this order. He will understand that the political situation in Northern Ireland has been evolving in recent times. We have had to legislate to reflect that, and some of the legislation was quite urgent and some less so. The Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill is focused specifically on the need to ensure that we have sufficient powers in place when part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000 lapses at the end of July. The order is rather separate.
I accept that it has been a very busy time and that people have strong views about the Order-in-Council process, but we have tried to do things in as orderly a way as possible. I know that officials have worked very hard to ensure that people are properly briefed and that questions are answered whenever possible. Finally
Lady Hermon: I have been very patient. I think that I asked the Minister at the beginning of my contribution to refute the speculation that the Committee has been rerun to facilitate the attendance of DUP Members. I should also like him to put on record the fact that very few police officers have been acquitted of serious crimes, even if he does not know the exact number. He could at least pay tribute to the police, because the number will be few.
Paul Goggins: I thank the hon. Lady for bringing my attention back to an important question. My notes show that I was intending to address it as a first point, but I got distracted. I am happy to confirm that the fact that we are meeting again today to consider the order has nothing to do with any questions, prompting or pressure brought to bear by any political party that is, or is not, represented here this afternoon. There was a genuine error, which was brought to my attention, so I said that we needed to go back to the House to correct it.
I am also happy to say againI think that I said this last timethat in looking back over many years to see whether any police officer had committed grave offences of which they might have been acquitted and for which they might be liable to further investigation in the future, I would be surprised to see many, if any, such offences. We owe a great debt to those who served as police in the PSNI and, previously, in the RUC.
Finally, I should say to the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes that we intend to learn from the GB experience to determine what works best
The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 3.
Division No. 1 ]
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
Committee rose at twelve minutes to Two oclock.
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