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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Mike Weir
Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con)
Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North) (Lab)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Gibson, Dr. Ian (Norwich, North) (Lab)
Goggins, Paul (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Hermon, Lady (North Down) (UUP)
Lancaster, Mr. Mark (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con)
Lazarowicz, Mark (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Stoate, Dr. Howard (Dartford) (Lab)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Taylor, Mr. Ian (Esher and Walton) (Con)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)
Yeo, Mr. Tim (South Suffolk) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 28 February 2007

[Mr. Mike Weir in the Chair]

Draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
Mr. Weir, it is very good to see you in the Chair this afternoon. Copies of the order were laid before the House on 5 February 2007 and debated in the House of Lords yesterday.
On 9 January 2006, my predecessor asked officials to prepare a draft policing order that would update existing legislation and bring Northern Ireland into line with provisions in England and Wales. Since then officials have been working closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and with other stakeholders on a number of policy areas that are now included in the draft order.
Articles 3 to 7 provide—
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): Will the Minister give way?
Paul Goggins: I am amazed that I managed to get 15 seconds into my speech before the hon. Lady intervened.
Lady Hermon: It is a delight to sit under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Weir. I would hate to disappoint the Minister: others perhaps, but not this one. Given that he has consulted for such a long period on bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of Great Britain in terms of policing, why is he proceeding by a wretched Order in Council, which is unamendable and will be done and dusted in a very short time? Instead he could have used a piece of primary legislation that was introduced recently, the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill. Why is he using this dreadful method this afternoon?
Paul Goggins: The hon. Lady will know, because she attends all our deliberations on these issues, that we have brought a number of measures before the House, such as this order today and the Bill she mentioned. The primary purpose of this draft order is in relation to normal policing matters. The Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill has rather more to do with the security situation in Northern Ireland and making sure that we have in place the necessary safeguards and systems to deal with the remaining threats that are still present in Northern Ireland, despite all the moves towards normalisation that we can see. I hope that the hon. Lady can appreciate that there is a difference. This measure has been consulted on extensively. Indeed, it comes with the support of the Chief Constable and the Policing Board. She will appreciate that some of the measures we are proposing will help to make the police in Northern Ireland even more effective and efficient. I look forward to the further interventions that she will undoubtedly make.
Articles 3 to 7 provide further opportunities for the PSNI to civilianise posts by designating a range of police powers and duties to investigating officers, detention officers and escort officers and through the introduction of two new categories of designated civilian staff: staff custody officers and police community support officers. It might help the Committee if I dwell for a minute or two on the last two of those five civilian posts.
The staff custody officer is a new post that we will seek to introduce in this legislation, but it will not commence immediately. The Home Office is currently engaged with nine police forces across England and Wales, introducing staff custody officers at a range of different pilot sites. It is important to wait and learn from the assessment of those pilots before we introduce these posts in Northern Ireland so that we can introduce them in a well-informed, intelligent way.
We are further down the road in relation to police community support officers. The first phase of the first 400 police community support officers will begin to come on stream in May this year when their recruitment will start. They will then be trained and introduced into active service in around a year’s time. We already know about the effectiveness of PCSOs and we hope to see them on the streets of Northern Ireland then.
Schedule 5 includes the 17 different powers that PCSOs can be given, although it is our intention only in the immediate future that six of those powers could be used by PCSOs.
Lady Hermon: Before the Minister glides on to the next point in his argument to persuade us all that this is a really good idea, will he tell us how long training for CSOs will be compared with that for regular police trainees? What will their pay scale be compared with that of regular constables after a long period of training?
Paul Goggins: The normal training period for PCSOs is about six weeks of full-time training prior to their coming into operation. Of course, the PSNI will recruit people who are ideally suited to that particular role, and PCSOs will learn from experience and their colleagues in the PSNI. I cannot give precise details about pay and conditions, but I will happily make further inquiries and write to the hon. Lady.
Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab):In Birmingham, under the “Fair Cities” initiative and other Learning and Skills Council initiatives, there are schemes through which people who want to be PCSOs are given training before the recruitment process. That is separate from the training that is given to the people who are selected for the job.
Paul Goggins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information about what happens in his constituency. The PSNI has the advantage of being able to learn from recruitment and training procedures elsewhere in the UK. When PCSOs are introduced in Northern Ireland, it will be with the benefit of that experience.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I suggest that the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for North Down would be not to reinvent the wheel but to take the precedents that have been tried out and established in other parts of the UK. There is quite a precedent regarding pay scales. Will the Minister share with the entire Committee his decision on how to proceed in that regard?
Paul Goggins: I will happily write to all Committee members with any details that are pertinent to pay and conditions. The PSNI will want to learn from experience that has been gained elsewhere, so that we can put PCSO training in place in Northern Ireland right from the beginning of the initiative. PCSOs are highly visible and their limited powers mean that they are not drawn into the bureaucracy of policing as readily as others. They can be out there on the street and build up confidence. That is important when policing any area, be it in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the UK.
Article 8 streamlines the police trainee recruitment process to allow the PSNI to make provisional police trainee appointments subject to the satisfactory completion of medical tests and security vetting. Currently, new recruits are drawn into a pool of potential police officers, only some of whom are finally appointed. Everyone who is drawn into the pool is given full medical and security checks, even though many of them will not go on to serve as police officers. Under this measure, only those who are provisionally appointed will be given those checks. That will not reduce the safeguards regarding appointed police officers, but will save about £540,000 a year, which can be redirected to front-line policing. I hope that the Committee will welcome the measure.
Article 9 changes the recruitment procedures for police support staff in line with those for police trainees. The measures that I have just outlined will be replicated for police support staff. Article 9 also includes a power for the Government to introduce regulations to ensure that designated civilians are vetted to the same standard as police trainees. The same benchmark will be set for the vetting of civilian and support staff as for police trainees. That should add to public confidence in Northern Ireland.
Article 10 reintroduces legislative provisions originally contained in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 that enabled the PSNI to address an acute shortage of detective constables by the recruitment from other forces of experienced constables with the required skills. That provision lapsed, so we are seeking to reintroduce it in this draft order. Members of the Committee will know that in recent years the only entry route into the PSNI has been as a trainee. Over time that will mean that the PSNI develops an experienced work force at every level, but it currently has gaps in the provision of necessary skills, particularly at detective constable level. We want to give the Chief Constable the ability to recruit from outside Northern Ireland straight into the more experienced level of detective constable. This sensible move will equip the Chief Constable to be able to do his job properly.
Paul Goggins: I know from previous exchanges, discussions and correspondence that the hon. Lady feels strongly about this. The exceptional measure that we have put in place allows for 50-50 recruitment, ensuring that for every appointment that is made a Catholic appointment is made in parallel. The purpose is clear, and she understands the objective, even if she does not sympathise with the methodology. The aim is to increase the number of Catholics serving in the PSNI.
The Patten commission found that Catholic representation in the PSNI was 8 per cent. That figure has risen to more than 21 per cent. as a result of the recruitment system that is in place and we are confident that by 2010-11 the target proportion of 30 per cent. will be reached. I understand that this mechanism is controversial and exceptional, but, in order to ensure that the PSNI more fully reflects the community that it serves, it is a justifiable one.
We have consulted on bringing an order before Parliament that will re-engage the powers to continue with the 50-50 recruitment procedure. I expect that this will be the last time that we have to do that, because the period up to 2010-11 will then be covered. In the near future, I hope to be able to bring such a proposal before Parliament, so there will doubtless be other opportunities to debate this issue.
Lady Hermon: Does the Minister accept that the circumstances have altogether changed? As I recall it, not so long ago the Government welcomed Sinn Fein’s acceptance of policing. Although 50-50 recruitment was identified by the Patten commission as a way of redressing a historical imbalance, we are talking about a blank sheet of paper: there is no history of any community in Northern Ireland having a low level of representation in the number of community support officers. Why is 50-50 recruitment on the basis of one’s religion, or non-religion, provided for in the draft order that we are to approve this afternoon? I shall vote against this legislation, and I hope that by the time I have finished speaking others will do so too. Given that there is no historical imbalance to correct, why are we using 50-50 recruitment?
Paul Goggins: I, like the hon. Lady, welcome Sinn Fein’s historic commitment to support policing and the rule of law. That is a necessary step in order that next week’s elections will lead to devolved administration and then, rightly, to government in Northern Ireland by Ministers directly accountable to the people of Northern Ireland.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The Minister has not answered the hon. Lady’s question. There is evidently no discrimination in this new sector because the new sector does not yet exist. The only way the Minister can sustain the consistency of his argument in defending positive discrimination is by making the assumption that the recruitment process itself involves some degree of prejudice against Catholic applicants. Given, as the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) rightly points out, that Sinn Fein has now committed itself to policing, I am at a loss to understand what the motivation to introduce a 50-50 requirement is when, by the Minister’s own inference, he is satisfied that the underlying prejudicial problems which existed in the police in the past have now vanished.
Paul Goggins: I am sorry if I am not making myself clear enough. I will have another go. I am not saying that there is prejudice within the recruitment system—we have a fair approach to recruitment within the police service. I am putting it to the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for North Down and indeed the whole Committee that while we welcome Sinn Fein making this historic commitment, we have some way to go before everybody right across every community sees and identifies with the PSNI as their own police service that they want to be a part of. Therefore for this further period the measures I soon hope to bring before this House, which seek a further extension of the 50-50 provisions, will I hope be the last time we have to do so because by the year 2010-11, we will have a much fuller and fairer representation of the Catholic community right across the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We therefore believe that it is necessary to keep these provisions in place in relation to the police community support officers, just as we have it for the rest of the police service. I give way to the hon. Lady.
Lady Hermon: Will the Minister say something encouraging to the ethnic minorities who have remained very loyal to the people of Northern Ireland through what was technically bloody mayhem. This applies particularly to the Chinese community and those of the Jewish and Muslim faith who have moved into Northern Ireland, who effectively will be discriminated against by the legislation which we are going to approve this afternoon.
If the Minister would care to look at the Patten report he would see that in the words of the report, “every effort” was to be made to increase the representation of ethnic minorities within the police service. How does this order help those within ethnic minorities?
Paul Goggins: The measure does not prevent people from any of the communities the hon. Lady has mentioned from applying to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland, either as police officers or as police community support officers once they were introduced, or in any other capacity. Indeed the police service would welcome applications from all of those communities. Patten found that an 8 per cent. representation of Catholics in the police service was not acceptable. It is improving through the special measures that we have and within a period of three or four years we will be in a position where have achieved the 30 per cent. representation recommended by the Patten Commission. Of course the hon. Lady is quite right and we welcome and encourage applications from all sectors of the community in Northern Ireland.
Lembit Öpik: I do not wish to prolong this element of the debate further than this intervention, but the Minister has to accept that there is discrimination against the other ethnic groups which the hon. Member for North Down pointed out, and I too would point out by the nature of the mathematics of the Government’s own arguments. That was quite clearly established in the debates we had on the floor of the House when it was introduced.
The question for the Minister and which he has not yet answered is why, if he feels that the recruitment procedures are now fair and not prejudicial against Catholics, does he want to maintain a 50-50 recruitment policy for new groups of officers who have not even been created yet? Therefore we are starting from a zero base, he recognises that we have a fair recruitment system and yet he wants to introduce something that works on the assumption that the system may not be fair.
Paul Goggins: It is not only about the fairness of the recruitment system, but about the willingness of the people in a particular community to put themselves forward and apply for posts in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Frankly, I do not think that we are where we need to be, but I am sure that Sinn Fein’s commitment will make a huge difference. As we roll the process forward in the months ahead, I expect to see more and more members of all communities applying to the PSNI and for the new positions for police community support officers. I also expect to see people working with the police, reporting crime or appearing as witnesses in court, which is every bit as important. On recruitment, however, it would be premature to say that we are where we need to be at the end of February 2007. That may not satisfy the hon. Gentleman, and it will certainly not satisfy the hon. Member for North Down. We have a difference of opinion, but I think that I have an entirely defendable position, because the fact is that improvements to the make-up of the Police Service of Northern Ireland have been made and we will see further improvements.
Article 11 gives the police ombudsman the power to apply to the Public Prosecution Service for the reinvestigation of police officers who have been acquitted of a qualifying offence where new evidence has been obtained. The hon. Lady will remember—we discuss the matter every time we debate legislation—that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 changed the rules on double jeopardy. Before the 2003 Act, people acquitted of an offence could not be tried again for it. We changed the law so that in cases of murder, sexual assault or other serious offences, in which there is new, compelling evidence, the police can apply to the prosecution service to reinvestigate an individual regarding the original offence, and perhaps bring another prosecution. We have seen prosecutions of cases in which DNA evidence that was not capable of interpretation in an original trial has led to the conviction of people for murder or other heinous crimes. The 2003 Act applies equally to Northern Ireland. The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland can apply to the Public Prosecution Service to re-open an investigation when there is new and compelling evidence in a case involving one of the serious offences listed in the 2003 Act.
However, the reinvestigation of a police officer in relation to a serious offence will be carried out by the police ombudsman, not the Chief Constable. Clearly, that the ombudsman was not given the necessary powers to reinvestigate police officers in a parallel way to the Chief Constable was an oversight in the drafting of the 2003 Act. Police officers who may have been acquitted of an offence may now be reinvestigated for serious offences when there is new and compelling evidence. The measure creates a level playing field for the ombudsman and the Chief Constable as regards applications to the prosecution service.
Articles 12 and 13 provide additional powers to the police. Article 12 allows the police to close roads, divert traffic, or “prohibit or restrict” the use of a road or waterway when that is considered
“necessary for the preservation of the peace or the maintenance of”
public order. Article 13 makes provisions for the police to examine documents or electronic records to establish whether they contain evidence that a person has committed or is preparing to commit a serious crime.
The PSNI has made huge progress in a very short period. Last week’s international policing conference in Belfast underlined the fact that the force is now more representative of the communities that it serves and is as committed to the delivery of neighbourhood policing as to the fight against organised crime. The powers in the draft order will help them to do their job more effectively and efficiently, and I commend it to the Committee.
2.54 pm
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Weir. The hon. Member for North Down, not “North, South”— [Interruption.] I am sorry, I was confused by a Minister who recently referred to another constituency as “Down, South”. I do not think that my slip was quite as bad as that. As she mentioned, we had so much primary legislation going through the House—I think that we had two Bills in one week on one occasion—that one wonders why such issues cannot be includedin it. We had a Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which by its very nature surely could have included such things, and we had a Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill, which also could have included them.
As we have said frequently, it is wrong for a Committee that is small and appointed and cannot amend to decide such things. It is particularly wrong that we cannot amend. There are one or two issues in the order with which, having listened to the debate so far and examined it rather closely, I am a little bit uncomfortable. I said to the Minister that I do not have a major problem with it, but there are a few issues that I should like to think about. I want to hear what other hon. Members have to say and perhaps ask the Minister one or two questions before giving it wholehearted support.
This is an extremely sensitive time. A number of us attended a meeting yesterday with some retired police officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The ombudsman’s recent report, on whose accuracy I am not qualified to comment, has caused a stir to say the least. It is an extremely sensitive time to be talking about the ombudsman and any extra powers or the future role of that person, regardless of which appointee holds the post. It is a very sensitive time in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the report, so I have one or two questions about the ombudsman’s future role.
During Monday’s debate in the House of Lords on extended powers, the hon. Lady the Baroness Amos said that the ombudsman would have no extra powers. Can the Minister confirm that? She also said that the double jeopardy rule that will apply in Northern Ireland is identical to the one that will apply in Great Britain.
Paul Goggins indicated assent.
Mr. Robertson: The Minister is nodding, but I should like him to confirm it, either in an intervention or when he winds up.
If my memory serves me correctly, I was one of the few people who voted against quite a bit of legislation in the late ’90s with regard to the agreement, particularly with regard to the 50-50 recruitment policy. I fully understand the need to get the nationalist and indeed the republican communities behind the police force. They have come kicking and screaming. The words are now there, and the action has yet to follow.
I recognise that in a sensitive area such as Northern Ireland, it is important that the police force, security services and court services should reflect the population. I agree entirely with that, but against that is the position that people are being turned down by the police force for being of the wrong religion. That is a fact that cannot be contested. It is what is happening in Northern Ireland.
Against the desire to see the makeup of the police force reflect the community, we must balance the fact that we have institutionalised sectarianism in recruitment to the police force in Northern Ireland, just as we have done in the Assembly, where one must declare whether one is a unionist or a nationalist. We have institutionalised sectarianism in Northern Ireland when countries such as South Africa and Rwanda have recognised that the way forward is to leave it behind. As far as I can see, the order extends that principle to police support staff. I have concerns about that as well.
The hon. Member for North Down mentioned the recruitment of police community support officers, particularly their training. Again, that issue was raised during debate in the House of Lords. This is no reflection on those doing the training in Northern Ireland; it is just that it is a newly introduced scheme. Can we be sure that those support officers will receive adequate training? Let us be honest: it is a rather more difficult area to police than many if not all parts of the United Kingdom.
I also want to be sure that the order will not lead to a reduction in police numbers. As we know we have seen a drastic reduction in police numbers since Patten. We have not seen the reservists up to the numbers that were promised. In certain areas we have seen that the Army is providing the service that the police should have provided and perhaps did provide in the past. There are many concerns about this. Can we be sure that the recruitment of police community service officers will not become an excuse to reduce the numbers of what might be called regular police officers?
When the order talks about giving positions to civilians to carry out work currently undertaken by police officers, I understand that is to be in line with what happens in Great Britain. But what assessment have the Government made of the success of that process in Great Britain? Those are my questions, but I should just like to make one point, which is one that I have made before and the Minister knows that I will make it.
We talk about normalisation in the Province, but as he and I would agree we are not quite there yet. It is unfortunate that certain powers that do not exist in Great Britain, such the power on road closures, for example, are given to the police in Northern Ireland. It is unfortunate that we are not in the position of full mobilisation. Certain legislation is dropping off the edge, with regard to emergency powers, but is being reintroduced bit by bit in Statutory Instrument Committees. That is unfortunate. The sooner we can get to a position where we can have true normalisation and the Province is run the same as the rest of the United Kingdom, albeit by a devolved Assembly, the better. I hope that the Minister will address those questions when he winds up.
3.2 pm
Lembit Öpik: May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Weir? I hope that our discussion will not go over old ground, save in as much as the Minister needs to account for decisions that are slightly beyond me. May I also make the point, as I have done many times before, that this process really is not how we should be governing the lives of 1.5 million people? We have no capacity in a Statutory Instrument Committee to amend the legislation. As ever, the choice is either accept it or do not accept it.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury rightly observed that there was nothing to prevent the Government from including these measures in primary legislation on the Floor of the House. Had the Government done that we would have been able to debate the details of the proposals at a Committee stage and on Report and make modifications as we saw fit. As it is, once again it is take it or leave it. I do not know how many more times the Government intend to try the patience of those of us who are serious about proper scrutiny of Government decisions. Even if devolution is re-established at the end of next month, as we sincerely hope it will be, the Government must look long and hard at the non-devolved legislation that will continue to be discussed in this place. I sincerely hope that the Government will carry out their promise to review the procedures that we embark on to legislate for the people of Northern Ireland.
There are a lot of serious provisions in the order. We should like to get some reassurances from the Minister today. We have already discussed the question of positive discrimination. The Minister was right to infer that I am not persuaded that the Government are taking a very logical approach to this. Either the current recruitment processes are fair or they are not. The Minister made it quite clear in his response to my intervention that he believes that the process are fair. That being the case, there is no logical reason to maintain the 50-50 quota system for categories of staff within the police which have not even been invented yet. The only possible conclusion is that while the Minister says that he trusts the recruitment processes, somewhere deep down in his heart he does not. He still thinks there may be a risk that Catholics will not get an equal opportunity to be recruited on the basis of merit.
There is not much more we can say. The Minister is unlikely to withdraw the order on the basis of our concerns, but I am disappointed that despite all their assurances when the positive discrimination legislation was forced through the House, the Government now seem to have taken on discriminatory legislation as a habit rather than a one-off exercise.
Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman touched on one point about recruitment. I am sure that it is fair now, but if we continue with the 50-50 split, does that not question the genuineness of the IRA’s statement that it supports the police? There are two aspects: recruitment and intimidation against joining. If we continue with 50-50, we put a big question mark against both those aspects.
Lembit Öpik: The Minister failed to underline a point that I have made many times myself. The biggest single barrier to increasing the proportion of Catholics in the police was Sinn Fein and the IRA themselves. They were preventing Catholics from coming forward to apply through the threat of intimidation or worse against those Catholics who had the courage to apply at the time.
Nevertheless, the points have been made and the Minister has heard them. He may have heard them, but he has not really listened to them. So we end up with an anomaly—a little piece of legislation on 50-50 that is now an anachronism, if all the other positive claims that the Government are making about the recruitment process are correct.
We have seen the police make use of civilian support staff in the roles of investigating officers, detention officers and so forth. I turn to some questions about those. Our primary concern relates to the training of such individuals. Can the Minister inform us whether detailed training schemes for each new type of officer have been developed yet? He has suggested that we will learn from the precedent in other parts of the UK. That is a satisfactory assurance, but we need it. It is particularly important in relation to PCSOs, who will come into daily contact with the public. I hope that he can reassure us that such individuals will be required to undergo a rigorous training programme, and that such programmes will include specific training on relationships with young people.
Does the Minister expect PCSOs immediately to exercise all the powers, or will he be true to his word and introduce six of those powers in the first instance? I ask just for clarification. I can understand why the powers in schedule 5, labelled (a) to (p) in the explanatory memorandum, have been included. If he intends to phase their introduction, what will the rationale be for extending the powers? Is it that the PCSOs will gain more experience in applying power, or does it have more to do with the local circumstances? I ask because there is a danger of ad hoc modification of PCSOs’ powers, which will lead to uncertainty about what those individuals can do and could lead to problems if those individuals are given extra powers without training.
Turning to article 6, can the Minister address the introduction of civilian staff custody officers? He will know that Liberal Democrats expressed a great deal of concern about the designation of that role during the passage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The custody officer acts as a guarantor of the suspect’s rights and is a major—I would say the major—guardian of the standards of the entire system. It is vital that any person exercising such hugely important powers should be properly independent and accountable.
The police custody officer is accountable as an officer of the Crown, and is subject as such to police disciplinary procedures. He or she is expected to resist any illegal order. My concern is that civilian staff may be inclined to worry about the consequences for their employment if they act independently. What assurance will anyone in that role have that they will not be punished for acting independently or put under any undue pressure to act out of expedience rather than principle in their clients’ interest?
In addition, a police custody officer must hold at least the rank of sergeant. A sergeant is an experienced police officer with years of familiarity with police procedures. By contrast, there does not seem to be any requirement for the civilian custody officer to have any particular experience or training. This obviously would be a consideration in the recruitment process, but a policy custody sergeant can also use the right to ensure that police constables treat suspects correctly and follow the PACE code of practice. How can a civilian member of staff be able to assert the proper level of authority over constables and therefore safeguard the suspect’s rights? There is nothing in the legislation before us today which indicates how that will be done. At the very least, the Minister needs to write to the Committee explaining the process and to assure us that there will be a process to ensure that anyone in the civilian role of custody officer is able to exercise powers comparable to those of a police custody sergeant.
Can the Minister also inform us of the experience of police services in England and Wales which have designated custody officers in this way? Is there anything we can learn from that experience which could save us a lot of time and trouble in Northern Ireland?
We welcome the provisions in article 8. It is sensible that the medical and vetting procedures only apply to those who reach the pool of qualified candidates. This will undoubtedly ensure that the process of appointment is conducted more expediently and less expensively than at present. Article 11 is also a welcome provision.
The Liberal Democrats raised concerns about the double jeopardy provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 when it was proceeding through the House. We recognise that it is not necessary to close this potential loophole in regard to police officers by ensuring that the ombudsman is involved.
In conclusion, I will not be opposing this legislation. I am not happy about the process and I maintain my historic concerns about the positive discrimination. But those drawbacks are not in my judgment sufficient to prevent a piece of legislation which, on balance, is likely to do more good than harm going through.
3.12 pm
Lady Hermon: It is a privilege to sit under your chairmanship this afternoon Mr. Weir. It has been an interesting debate thus far and I think the Minister and other Members of the Committee will know from a series of interventions that I am not exactly happy about the order. Since these matters have been in discussion for some period of time it is disgraceful that the Government have chosen that the Minister should introduce the two important issues—these are not just Mickey Mouse affairs—of the introduction to Northern Ireland for the first time ever of community support officers and a further extension to the powers of the police ombudsman. This caused enormous controversy at the time of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and now, by a mere Order in Council, an unamendable secondary piece of legislation, we are going to have these put through this afternoon.
I am highly critical of the Northern Ireland Office and I am sorry that it is this particular Minister who is in the Committee today as I am very reluctant to be critical of him. But since he has responsibility for policing, he must bear the brunt of the criticism. We have a Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006, a Northern Ireland Act 2006, Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, and we currently have the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill, primary legislation which was the appropriate vehicle to allow amendment and open discussion. One wonders why an Order in Council should be used for such controversial introduction of community support officers by 50-50 recruitment procedures and the extension of the powers of the police ombudsman by secondary legislation.
Given the importance of those two areas I must put on the record my intense disappointment that there is not another Northern Ireland MP in the Committee this afternoon. I see that the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) ought to have been here and although Members of the SDLP did not wish to vote on the Committee, they might have expressed a vague interest in policing. That would have been nice, but they obviously do not see it as a priority—a considerable disappointment.
Let me take the matter of community support officers step by step. The Minister told us that we must learn from the experience of Great Britain, and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said that we should learn from examples. The Minister has the benefit of having had more than a year to look at the Home Office research into the effectiveness of community support officers, and of having been a Home Office Minister, although we are glad that he was poached by the Northern Ireland Office. The research is not by a Northern Ireland political party or anyone with an axe to grind, but by the Home Office. On 26 January 2006, the BBC News website stated:
“The Home Office study found CSOs had no ‘measurable impact’ on recorded crime.”
The research, as reported, went on to state:
“‘No discernable differences were found in the trends in the numbers of crimes and incidents between areas with and without CSOs, before and after their introduction.’”
If the Home Office’s evidence suggests that crime is not reduced by the presence on the streets of community support officers in Great Britain, will the Minister explain why on earth are they being introduced in Northern Ireland?
Jan Berry, the notable and distinguished chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, is quoted in an article in The Sunday Telegraph—I am not a regular reader of The Sunday Telegraph or The Daily Telegraph—from 14 January, the headline of which stated:
“Police cut frontline officers in cash crisis”.
The article comments on the Home Secretary’s decision to scrap the crime fighting fund restriction that was introduced in 2002, a measure that was welcomed by police authorities and chief constables. Why? Because it gave them extra flexibility to replace fully-trained police officers with the cheaper police community support officers. I would like the Minister to kick that attitude into touch.
I am sorry that the Minister was unable to tell the Committee the pay scale for community support officers in Northern Ireland. I am sure that he had the opportunity to do an enormous amount of research and was well briefed by hard-working civil servants from the Northern Ireland Office and elsewhere. The chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales contributed to the article to which I referred. She stated:
“‘Police numbers will fall as chief officers hire cheaper alternatives. When the public realise they are not getting the police responses they expect, and crime starts to rise, it will be too late to address the cause.’”
I would like the Minister to assure the Committee that CSOs are not going to be the cheap option in Northern Ireland.
The Home Office research shows no evidence they reduce crime, and the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, where we have CSOs, says that she believes them to be the cheap option compared to regular, full-time police officers. Will the Minister justify their introduction to Northern Ireland?
I now move on to the sensitive issue of the morally repugnant recruitment procedure that is introduced by the draft order. The measure affects police support staff, community support officers, police trainees and others. We are going to adopt a despicable recruitment procedure that sets aside 50 per cent. recruitment for those of the Roman Catholic faith and 50 per cent. for all the others who are left. That means that those of an ethnic minority, those of no faith, and those of Muslim, Jewish or Protestant faith are all thrown together into the alternative 50 per cent. If that does not put those from an ethnic minority at a distinct disadvantage, I do not know what does.
May I just refresh the Minister’s memory about something and bring it to the Committee’s attention? He prayed in aid the findings of the Patten commission. Its report in September 1999 identified that the proportion of Catholic officers in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as it was then, was 8 per cent. In anyone’s judgment, including my own, that is an under-representation of those of the Catholic faith.
A year before the Patten commission was commissioned, the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, of which I was not a member, was unanimous in bringing to the attention of the House and the Government a report on the composition, recruitment and training of the RUC. Paragraph 35 of the third report of the 1997-98 session discussed a community attitude survey of June 1997, which preceded the Patten commission and the agreement. The report stated that the survey
“indicated that the major reason preventing young Roman Catholics coming forward to join the RUC is the fear of violence which would be offered towards them and to members of their family...There are other inhibiting factors as well, such as peer pressure or a reluctance to support the institutions of the state. However, these featured in the Survey much less prominently than the major inhibiting factor of fear of intimidation.”
That was the main inhibiting factor, a consequence of which was the low percentage of those of a Catholic faith joining the RUC.
I sometimes get angry with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who in my view appears too often on things. On “Any Questions?” on Radio 4, which has Mr. Dimbleby in the chair, he has said that as a consequence of the Patten report we increased Catholic recruitment in the RUC from 8 per cent. to 12 per cent., but that before the Patten report it had hardly any Roman Catholics.
To balance that, may I just add something? My husband was the longest serving Chief Constable of the RUC. He served through the awful years of the 1980s, with their hunger strikes and the intense violence. His deputy chief constable was a Roman Catholic, as were two of his very senior assistant chief constables. That was at a time when we did not have ceasefires from the Republican movement. Those men served the RUC loyally and courageously from their Catholic homes and backgrounds, supported valiantly by their families. I do not want them to be written off as if they did not exist by a Secretary of State appearing on Radio 4.
To suggest that the RUC discriminated against Catholics coming into it is erroneous. The major fear was intimidation, which we are now told is gone because Sinn Fein had an overwhelming vote at its ard fheis in Dublin. We saw it televised—it was hands up boys and girls. More than 90 per cent. at that meeting said that they were going to support the police—and the Garda in the Republic. I welcome that hugely because it seems that the war is over. When the Republican movement and Sinn Fein encourage young people from South Armagh and west Belfast to join the police we will know that the war is over. That is what they should be doing now. There is no earthly justification today—on 28 February—for us to legislate to institutionalise religious discrimination in the recruitment of community support officers. The scene has changed.
Lembit Öpik: Is it not symptomatic of mission creep, which is the very thing that the hon. Lady and I have repeatedly warned of? The Government have forced the positive discrimination measure into legislation in a different Bill, and they are now loth to let it go, even though there is no logical reason to maintain it. Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the unfortunate habits of Northern Ireland Ministers is that they do not move with the times, which makes us rather cynical about their willingness to let go of this distasteful piece of legislation?
Lady Hermon: I am enormously grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it shows that he has changed his mind. As he sat down after making his speech, he said that he was not going to vote against the order. He now says that because this part of the order is so despicable, he has changed his mind and could not possible countenance its going on the statute book.
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Lady knows my complete agreement with her on the matter, but I do not want to lead her to think that she will be anything other than alone if she pushes the matter to a Division.
Lady Hermon: I find that an extraordinary volte-face, but I should not be surprised. In true Lib Dem style, he has shown support for a principle, which he has turned on its head when asked whether he will vote against the provision. I am sorry, but I cannot accept any justification from the Lib Dems for supporting the order. The hon. Gentleman’s sister party, the Alliance party, which is fielding candidates in the Assembly elections, will be intrigued by his stance this afternoon. I shall not go down that avenue, because it will not enhance his reputation.
Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Lady Hermon: I will concede and allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene only if he is going to give me some good news.
Lembit Öpik: Carry on.
Lady Hermon: The hon. Gentleman, whichever way he votes—he may yet change his mind—and I are in complete agreement on one point. We are starting with a completely blank sheet, as we have never had the experience of community support officers in Northern Ireland. As I have suggested, the atmosphere and political landscape in Northern Ireland are altogether changed, and Sinn Fein cannot have its cake and eat it. It cannot tell us, after its ard fheis and ard chomhairle, that it now supports policing in order to bring around an Assembly election, but at the same time not encourage young Republicans to join the police service. That being so, and when there is no more intimidation or fear for those of the Catholic faith anywhere in Northern Ireland about applying to join the regular or reserve PSNI or being a community support officer, there is no justification for legislating now, at the end of February 2007, to legalise religious discrimination. I find that morally repulsive.
It is absolutely disgraceful that a Labour Government, who brought home the European convention on human rights, which includes the freedom to exercise one’s religion without discrimination, and made it part and parcel of our domestic law, will now somehow turn that on its head and legalise all that we have hated—all that I have hated—in Northern Ireland, which is discrimination on any grounds. It is a disgrace for the Labour Government to do that this afternoon.
Let me move on to the other major issue. I am intrigued by the lay-out of the order. It is a pity that the Minister did not explain why the Chief Constable is under such pressure to get detectives with specialist skills back into Northern Ireland. Under the Patten reforms, many detectives with such specialist skills felt that their morale, their courage and their determination in the face of 30 years of mayhem were so undermined that they just left the police service. Therefore, we have had to introduce special provisions to allow detectives with the skills that have been lost to be made available to the Chief Constable.
Slipped in between article 10, “Appointment of constables with special policing skills”, and article 12, “Closure of roads, etc.”, we have the very interesting, significant and controversial extension of the police ombudsman’s powers contained in article 11, “Investigation by Police Ombudsman following acquittal”. I preface all my remarks about the police ombudsman with reference to my husband’s former employment as the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He was highly critical that when there was an independent inquiry into alleged misconduct by RUC officers, chief constables from other forces—I will name John Stalker and the Sampson inquiry—were brought in to investigate the RUC. That situation was wholly unsatisfactory, and it went on for far too long and did not give any confidence that there was impartiality.
I am not a criminal lawyer, but I learned an enormous amount from the lengthy and controversial Committee sittings on the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Second Reading debate and the final stages of the legislation’s progress through Parliament. At that time, assurances were given regarding the end of the double jeopardy rule, which has been a fundamental principle of British justice for hundreds of years. The matter was highly controversial, and the wording was extremely well constructed.
The order inserts into the 2003 Act new section 86A, which will, as the heading indicates, allow investigation by the police ombudsman following acquittal, but following acquittal for what? Members will, having done their homework for this Committee—all of them are nodding in agreement—have looked at the 2003 Act and will know that there are qualifying offences of which a person must have been acquitted. They are, as the Minister has said, serious offences including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, war crimes, terrorism and serious sexual offences.
Will the Minister tell us how many police officers in Northern Ireland have been acquitted of one of those offences? I ask that because I know that the police ombudsman’s office is under huge financial pressures regarding the investigation of the cases that are already within its remit. Is it a good use of resources to pursue the remarkably low, low, low—how many “lows” can I get into Hansard?—number of police officers who have committed a qualifying offence in Northern Ireland? The number must be extraordinarily low.
I need the Minister to confirm the situation, as it is not explained in the order. It is discussed in the explanatory memorandum and notes, and again I commend those who draft the notes, which are much more informative than the order itself. Will the Minister confirm whether section 79 will apply now that the police ombudsman must seek the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland to take cases forward? The legislation states that in the “interests of justice” a person can be retried once acquitted for any of the qualifying offences. I need an assurance that the provision will still apply.
The Minister said something that struck me as a sweeping justification. He described it as a mere oversight—I believe that that is what he said; it will be in Hansard tomorrow—that the police ombudsman was not written in when the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was drafted. I find it difficult to accept that that was a mere oversight.
I will be astonished if the Minister can reply to all those remarks, but I am sure that he can enlighten us on some of them. I have to indicate to the Committee that there is no way in my wildest dreams that I would consent to the order, and I urge Labour Members to think seriously about agreeing to it. I would like to pick up on an intervention by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood). I am pleased that he made a contribution. It is always of interest to me when Labour Members contribute to Northern Ireland business, and I am delighted that, by and large, Conservative Members do, although I am not a huge fan of that party. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury is so diligent and does such a load of work and research before coming into a Committee on Northern Ireland business, and that he is always supported by Members of his party. I am embarrassed that I am the only Northern Ireland MP here this afternoon. That is quite regrettable—I must be mild and think carefully about my words. It is disappointing in the extreme that there is no Democratic Unionist party representation.
In response to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr, I was intrigued by evidence given by the Association of Chief Police Officers yesterday to the Home Affairs Committee, which demonstrates why we must be careful about what we do this afternoon. The chief constable of Cheshire, Mr. Peter Fahy, touched on the sensitive issue of recruitment to the police in England and Wales. At the current rate, it will take at least 17 years to achieve a service that is fully representative of the racial make-up of modern Britain.
I shall quote from an article in The Daily Telegraph today. I am not a regular reader, but the article contains factual information:
“A lot of people feel that”—
17 years—
“is too long. Mr. Fahy, the chief constable of Cheshire, told MPs on the home affairs select committee that Acpo wanted to start a debate on the highly controversial issue...After the committee meeting, Mr. Fahy said Acpo had sounded out Government and it had been made clear that affirmative action involving quotas was ‘not politically acceptable’”.
If it is not politically acceptable to make the police service in England and Wales have quotas on the grounds of ethnicity, why is it acceptable this afternoon? According to the Government and Sinn Fein, Sinn Fein has a new dispensation and has signed up to policing. We, collectively, in this Committeeare going to countenance religious discrimination in the recruitment of community support officers in Northern Ireland—let us just think about what we are doing.
3.41 pm
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I should offer some reassurance before seeking reassurance. I do not intend to speak for long—I consider freedom of speech to be a right rather than a continuous obligation. With the devolution and fragmentation of the United Kingdom, there is a danger that regulations under various pieces of legislation may be inconsistent, incompatible, and incongruous. I wonder whether the draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 is another example of that incongruity and inconsistency.
Can the Minister assist by offering the Committee some reassurance and stating how these miscellaneous regulations for Northern Ireland differ from, or are compatible with, the corresponding regulations under the other laws of Great Britain? Considering the previous contributions, will he refer particularly to the ombudsman under article 11 and to the PCSOs under various articles and with reference to schedule 5? What are the key differences between these regulations and the regulations that apply to the rest of the United Kingdom?
3.42 pm
Paul Goggins: Mr. Weir, I shall attempt to deal as effectively as I can with the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury, in his normal, thoughtful way, put his finger on a number of issues, and I shall try to respond. He is right, it is a sensitive time, not least because of the recent publication of the McCord report, which highlights the fact that a small number of police officers had behaved in an unacceptable way. It is important to acknowledge what the ombudsman herself acknowledged, that under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the guidance that is now in place, such circumstances could not occur under the current provisions for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
It is also important to acknowledge that although a small number of officers behaved in an unacceptable way, a great many officers do a very important job in Northern Ireland in gathering human intelligence, which saves lives day in and day out across all communities. I pay tribute to the officers who do that difficult work, because it is important that they continue to do so. The McCord report made several recommendations, which the Chief Constable has already said that he has accepted. He will action those recommendations, including the reinvestigation of a number of potential offences.
In response to the hon. Gentleman’s question about the double jeopardy rule, it applies in exactly the same way in Northern Ireland as it does in the rest of the United Kingdom; the difference is that in England and Wales we do not have a police ombudsman as they do in Northern Ireland. It would be for the ombudsman to reinvestigate cases in relation to police officers rather than for the Chief Constable to carry out those reinvestigations, which is why we need to extend the powers to her. However, the rules, the system, and the provisions of the well-thumbed copy of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 from which the hon. Member for North Down quoted, all apply to Northern Ireland in absolutely the same way as they do elsewhere.
All hon. Members, with the exception of the hon. Member for Windsor, spoke about 50:50, which I acknowledge is controversial. It is not that people are being turned down for being of other religions and backgrounds; it is that all those from diverse religious backgrounds come within the other 50 per cent. that is not Catholic. They are not being turned down—quite the reverse. A great deal of work is done to encourage people from different communities to come forward.
One of the striking aspects of Northern Ireland society today is its increasing diversity. It is important that people from different backgrounds come forward to offer themselves as police officers and other members of the police service. It is not that people are being turned down, to use the hon. Gentleman’s words, because they are Jewish or come from other backgrounds. They can apply and be assessed, but they come within the other 50 per cent.
Mr. Robertson: If they apply, go through the interview procedure and are suitable to be appointed, why are they not then appointed?
Paul Goggins: They might not be appointed because of the demand for places. We should all rejoice in the fact that the number of people from all communities applying to join the PSNI is very large and growing all the time. That is to be welcomed. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and he more or less implied that it was because people were Jewish that they could not get into the PSNI.
Mr. Robertson: I did not say Jewish.
Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of religions. That is not the case. The point is simply that they have to go through the other 50 per cent. I realise that there are hon. Members on this Committee whom I could not persuade, even on my best day, in relation to 50:50, but none the less I think that my position is entirely defensible, on the facts as much as anything else.
Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Minister for displaying his usual courtesy in giving way, but I shall try another point. If the recruitment process is fair and defensible, and if the IRA was genuine in its statement last month that it will support the police, why do we need a 50:50 policy? There can be no reason for it now.
Paul Goggins: I say again, as I said in response to earlier interventions, that I rejoice in the Sinn Fein ard fheis’s decision and the statements that Gerry Adams and others have made since. They mark a tremendous step forward, and I think that they will lead to the restoration of devolved Government in a few weeks’ time. We will all welcome that, and I hope that it will lead to a greater willingness in the Catholic community to apply for positions in the police service, whether as police officers or as police community support officers. However, it is important to acknowledge that there is still some way to go, not just in people’s willingness to come forward, but in the level of representation in the police service. If we were to remove 50:50, maybe people would apply from all sectors of the community, but we would not reach 30 per cent. representation by 2010, to which we are committed and which was recommended by Patten and the commission.
Mr. Robertson: Why not?
Paul Goggins: Because the numbers would not increase sufficiently quickly to get us to 30 per cent. The maths do not work out; it is as simple as that. That is why we must keep the 50:50 provisions in place. Of course people from all communities should and will come forward to join the PSNI. When we get to 2010-11 and have reached 30 per cent. Catholic representation, a natural process will occur, and we should see that level sustained, if not increased, in future. Nature will take its course, but if we stop it now, we will not reach the 30 per cent. level that we need and want to reach by 2010. It is important to reach that level.
We welcome all the steps and developments and the greater willingness to participate. As the hon. Member for North Down has pointed out, it was indeed fear and intimidation that influenced the minds of people who would not apply. That is reducing, which is welcome—hopefully it will disappear—but we will not reach 30 per cent. by 2010 unless we keep the provisions in place.
I shall make some progress, because 50:50 will come up again.
Lady Hermon: The Minster has said that 50:50 recruitment is—I quote directly—“defensible on the facts”. On recruitment from the many ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland, how many members of any ethnic minority are currently represented in the PSNI?
Paul Goggins: The numbers are small, but I will give them to the hon. Lady. The representation of ethnic minority people of working age is 0.48 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland; representation in PSNI is 0.3 per cent. The numbers are small and, as I said a few moments ago, in future society in Northern Ireland will be increasingly diverse. Last week at the conference, the deputy chairman of the Policing Board said that we are moving from policing a divided society to policing a diverse society. That is a profound point, and that diversity will need to be reflected in the make-up of the PSNI.
The hon. Members for Tewkesbury and for Montgomeryshire have mentioned the need for adequate training, with which I entirely agree. I confirm that a training needs analysis is ongoing, and PSNI will learn from the experience of England and Wales.
I say to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury that there are no immediate plans to reduce current numbers of police officers in Northern Ireland, which are at about 7,500. There will certainly not be a trade off between PCSOs and police officers. The 400 police officers provided by the first phase of recruitment are additional to the 7,500 officers in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire welcomed a number of the measures that we are introducing—he left it late to do so, but, nevertheless, I welcome that. He made a number of points about the way in which we are debating this measure, as did the hon. Member for North Down. The Government’s commitment stands, and following devolution we will return to that issue and examine what can be done to improve scrutiny procedures. I accept some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, and the important first step along that road is to restore devolution on 26 March. I am sure that the whole Committee supports that, as it is an essential first step in introducing better, more accountable legislation and scrutiny of legislation in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman has asked about 50:50 recruitment, and I have already covered some aspects of that issue. If we attain the 30 per cent. level by 2010, it should be self-sustaining when it is supported by all communities. He also asked about the training of PCSOs and whether particular attention would be given to the need to train them in how to deal with young people, which will absolutely be the case. Indeed, he will see from schedule 5 that a number of the powers that we intend to introduce—for example, the provision on the confiscation of alcohol—relate specifically to young people. It is important that PCSOs in Northern Ireland help to deal with the issue of social disorder and with young people from across the communities by building relationships with them. That will be an important aspect of the training.
Six out of the 17 powers listed in schedule 5 have been selected on the advice of the Chief Constable. Those powers will be introduced in ways that reflect the level of training received by PCSOs and that will have maximum effectiveness and impact on the ground. Out of the 17 powers listed, I confirm that the implementation of other powers that will not be introduced immediately must be approved by Ministers. It is right to say that we need clarity about those powers, so that people in local communities understand what they are.
Lembit Öpik: Will the Minister confirm for the record that no community support officer will be able to exercise those powers without going through training and demonstrating an understanding of how such powers should be applied, once they are rolled out?
Paul Goggins: I can confirm that. Indeed, in so far as PCSOs exercise police powers, they must do so in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. PCSOs are also held accountable through the management structure of the police and are ultimately accountable to the ombudsman as part of existing scrutiny arrangements in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of points about staff custody officers. National occupational standards relate to staff custody officers, and he is right to say that they must demonstrate fairness in their work. They must be accountable under PACE through management structures, and to the ombudsman.
Clearly, we have much to learn about the role and function of staff custody officers, which is why we want to wait for the pilots that the Home Office is conducting in nine police forces. They are important, and we want to see the assessment before recruiting, training and deploying staff custody officers. However, they will play an important role in future.
The hon. Member for North Down always speaks with authority and passion on these matters, and I pay tribute to her, although we occasionally end up disagreeing on 50:50 and so on. As she said, the powers that we are debating are important. She is unhappy that we are debating them in the draft order, but that does not detract from the importance of the issues: double jeopardy changes, police community support officers and so on.
The hon. Lady asked the reason for the format. Some legislation that we have debated in the past few months has been urgent—for example, emergency legislation arising from the St. Andrews discussions, and the need to advance devolution. Legislation on justice and security covers the minimum powers required when part 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 disappears at the end of July. The policing matters that we are discussing concern normal, everyday policing for the most part, so they are different, but the hon. Lady’s comments are on the record.
I have seen the Home Office’s evaluation of PCSOs, and it is important to say that it is early days in England and Wales. Crime has fallen, but the extent to which that is due to the presence and intervention of PCSOs is a matter of speculation. However, a survey on Merseyside after the introduction of PCSOs showed that the local population had greater confidence—18 per cent. higher than in other areas of the country— and that antisocial behaviour had fallen by 40 per cent. and crime by 30 per cent. My constituency will have 29 PCSOs out and about in the community from next month. They will make a real difference, and I hope that a similar difference will be seen in Northern Ireland.
PCSOs are not a cheap option. I cannot give chapter and verse on pay and conditions, because we are not about to have PCSOs in Northern Ireland. It will be another year before they are there, but they will be properly paid for the job that they do and the responsibilities that they carry. They will be in addition to police officers, and they will be full-time, properly trained professionals.
In terms of 50:50, the 8.3 per cent. Catholic representation that Patten found has risen to 21.4 per cent. and will rise to 30 per cent. by 2010. The Government must pursue that.
The hon. Lady referred to special policing skills. The age profile of the modern Police Service of Northern Ireland is rather young, and it is a great delight for me to take part in a graduation ceremony of new recruits. It is great to see young people from all communities in Northern Ireland committed to policing. However, in time, they will mature into police officers of all ranks who can deploy their commitment and skills to full effect in the communities that they serve, but there is a gap at the moment. The order includes a power that was in the 2003 legislation, but lapsed. We need to put it back in place so that the Chief Constable can have the right sort of officers at his disposal.
I concur absolutely with everything that the hon. Lady said about the importance of the ombudsman’s office and the integrity of the holder of that office. She does a very important job extremely well. The simple fact is that in Northern Ireland nobody could reinvestigate a police officer who had previously been acquitted of a serious offence if there was new and compelling evidence. I cannot give an accurate figure, but the hon. Lady is right to say that few, if any, police officers, have been acquitted of those kinds of offences when new evidence may occur. This is not just a retrospective issue; this is a power for the future too. In the odd instance where a police officer is acquitted when there is new evidence, it is important that we have a system in place that can reinvestigate that offence. The role of the ombudsman is different from that of the independent police complaints body in England. It operates in a different way with different powers.
The hon. Member for Windsor asked me to highlight a number of the differences. Again, I am grateful to him for that. The main purpose of the order is to bring Northern Ireland more into line with England and Wales and the powers that operate here. There are some differences, though. Article 12 deals with road closure powers and article 13 deals with the seizure of documents. Those are in addition to the powers that the police would have under PACE in England and Wales and they reflect the fact that, although Northern Ireland has made massive progress, there is still a threat, particularly from dissident republicans, that needs to be dealt with. These powers will enable the police to do that. Obviously the powers in relation to the ombudsman are different, because we do not have an ombudsman, although the powers are the same as those in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
Adam Afriyie: Could the Minister say a few words about PCSOs and the difference in the powers that they would have in Northern Ireland compared with in Great Britain?
Paul Goggins: The 17 powers that are set out in schedule 5 are the whole range of powers that PCSOs can have in England and Wales. The rate at which those powers are rolled out to PCSOs and whether PCSOs have all or only some of them are matters for further reflection in the Home Office. Ultimately, some of that will depend on decisions of particular chief constables. In particular, the question of whether there is a power to detain for up to 30 minutes is an issue on which the Home Office is in discussion with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the police authorities. We are not now proposing to commence those powers of detention immediately. We will wait to see what conclusions the Home Office comes to. We intend to introduce six of those powers. Any of the other powers that come in will have to come in with ministerial approval. The broad set of powers is the same as for elsewhere.
My final point relates to something to which the hon. Member for North Down drew our attention: the comments of Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Cheshire, in his evidence yesterday. Peter Fahy was one of the chief constables who was in Belfast last weekfor the international policing conference. Whatever remarks he made yesterday, last week, like so many chief constables from England and Wales, Miami, Los Angeles and many other parts of the world, he concluded that the change in policing in Northern Ireland in recent years has been impressive and is reaching out to communities in a way that inspires confidence. We can all celebrate that. The powers in this order will help the police to do their job even more effectively.
Question put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 4.
Division No. 1 ]
AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane
Allen, Mr. Graham
Flello, Mr. Robert
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Goggins, Paul
Lazarowicz, Mark
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Öpik, Lembit
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Waltho, Lynda
NOES
Afriyie, Adam
Hermon, Lady
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Question accordingly agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
Committee rose at five minutes past Four o’clock.
 
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