Justice and Security (NorthernIreland) Bill

[back to previous text]

Clause 34

Code: effect
Mr. Robertson: I beg to move amendment No. 23, in clause 34, page 23, line 8, at end insert
‘, but all breaches of the code shall subject the police officer to disciplinary procedures.’.
I shall not disappoint you this time, Sir Nicholas. Having examined the Bill more closely, I realised that it was not necessary to move the previous amendment.
Clause 34(1) refers to the effect of the code and states:
“A failure by a police officer to comply with a provision of a code shall not of itself make him liable to criminal or civil proceedings.”
My amendment is designed to give us the facility to discuss why that subsection is in the Bill and what the Minister envisages would happen if a police officer did not comply with the code, which has been compiled by the Secretary of State and approved by both Houses of Parliament.
Paul Goggins: I am happy to try to clarify the powers in the clause and explain what would happen if we adopted the amendment.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment would mean that any breach of the code would automatically result in disciplinary action against the officer who had transgressed it. All Committee members would expect that most breaches of the code—certainly serious ones—would result in disciplinary action under the direction of the Chief Constable.
Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Minister forthat explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 35 to 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 4 agreed to.
Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
3.15 pm
Mark Durkan: Given that, in our earlier exchanges, we touched on the possible role of the independent assessor, it is important that we test a number of points on clause 39. The clause provides for the Secretary of State to appoint a person to review the powers as an independent assessor. That assessor will have limited powers to oversee how the Army investigates complaints and will not have any powers to investigate complaints. That is no substitute for the office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland being able to investigate the Army when it plays a supporting role for policing. The reviewer will come each year, and the British Army is obliged only to give such information and documents as the independent assessor might reasonably require. By contrast, the police ombudsman has the power in the conduct of her duties to get any document that she needs.
Given that the Minister explained earlier and that it is pretty clear in the Bill that the Army does not have to keep any records of what it does or of its justification for it in the exercise of a lot of its powers, it is hard to know what the independent assessor will assess. We are told that the annual review of how the powers work will be the subject of a robust or significant report to the Secretary of State, and so the question arises of how there is to be an independent review that does not require renewal by Parliament if there are no records in relation to the Army.
The Committee earlier dealt with clause 36, which requires the Chief Constable to make records of the use of emergency powers. Of course, that does not apply to the Army. It does not have to keep any records. It is hard to see how the role of the independent assessor is in any way significant in relation to the Army’s use of the powers.
Let us remember that the Bill institutionalises emergency powers for the British Army—emergency powers that used to have to be renewed annually in the heat of the troubles and in the face of all sorts of violence, difficulty and turmoil. Now, in a morebenign situation, they are being institutionalised as permanent. Will the Minister give us a clear assurance that the references throughout the legislation to Her Majesty’s forces will apply only to the Regular Army and not to MI5 or MI6, for instance?
Paul Goggins: The Committee needs to bear in mind when considering the clause the exceptional and limited role that the Army will play in Northern Ireland beyond the summer of this year. My hon. Friend asked about the role of the reviewer. The reviewer will be asked to respond to three specific areas. First, he will be asked to review the operation of sections 20 to 31, which are the measures that we debated this afternoon. What the reviewer has to say about that will play an important part in the Secretary of State’s judgment on whether to repeal any of the powers. The Secretary of State will consider other matters, too, but the reviewer’s report will be essential in the consideration of whether to appeal any of the powers.
The second role of the reviewer relates to military matters. The clause makes it mandatory on the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland to ensure that he passes over to the reviewer all information relating to the investigation of, and response to, complaints so that the reviewer can be satisfied that the complaints have been properly and adequately dealt with. I expect that those complaints would be few in number by virtue of the fact that the military plays a rare role in Northern Ireland at present. I confirm that the only personnel who would be subject to that would be those who were under the command of the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland.
There is a third category of event or circumstance that the reviewer may consider, and that is any specific matter that the Secretary of State asks the reviewer to consider that is not already covered in the first two remits that I have outlined. For example, if the Secretary of State were concerned about the use of baton rounds in a public order scenario, he could ask the reviewer to undertake a piece of analysis and to report back to him. That is a limited role for the reviewer, but it is important both in underpinning public confidence and the confidence of the House in relation to the measures and in informing the Secretary of State and helping him to reach a judgment about when the right time might come to repeal some of the powers.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 40

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 5—Duration of sections 20 to 39—
‘(1) Sections 20 to 39 shall expire at the end of the period of12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(2) The Secretary of State may, by order made by statutory instrument—
(a) repeal sections 20 to 39; or
(b) provide that those sections are not to expire at the time when they would otherwise expire under subsection (1) or in accordance with an order under this subsection but are to continue in force after that time for a period not exceeding 12 months.
(3) No order may be made under this section unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.’.
Mr. Reid: I wish to speak to the new clause that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire. Its effect would be that the powers that we have just debated in clauses 20 to 39 would have to be renewed annually. On Second Reading, we asked the Minister how long he envisaged that the powers in those clauses would be in place; we would like to see a situation in which such powers were no longer necessary in Northern Ireland. Although clause 40 provides for the Secretary of State to repeal sections 20 to 39, there is no provision for Parliament to take stock of whether the powers are still necessary or to debate how they are being used. The clause allows the Secretary of State rather than Parliament to decide when such a debate might take place, and we believe that it is important that Parliament should have an annual debate.
Clause 39 very helpfully requires a reviewer to produce a report on the operation of the powers, but makes no automatic provision for Parliament to consider the reviewer’s findings. It would be useful, given the nature of the powers, for Parliament to discuss how they are being used and to take account of the views expressed by the reviewer. New clause 5 is, therefore, a simple repeal and renewal clause. It states that the provisions of sections 20 to 39 should lapse at the end of a 12-month period, but should be ableto be renewed by statutory instrument for a further12 months. That is similar to mechanisms thatare already in place—for example, the arms decommissioning schemes in Northern Ireland and control orders in the United Kingdom as a whole.
Mr. Robertson: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the provision could be extended for another 12 months, but no longer than that?
Mr. Reid: No, the intention is that it could be extended for 12 months and then for a further 12 months after that.
Mr. Robertson: But no further?
Mr. Reid: The intention—
Mr. Robertson: Perhaps I did not explain myself properly. Would there be only one further period, or could it be repeatedly extended?
Mr. Reid: The intention is that it could be repeatedly extended at 12-month intervals.
Paul Goggins: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman wants to give the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny to these important and significant powers. However, the level of parliamentary scrutiny that is implied in his amendment is unnecessary and I shall explain why.
We have been through an extensive process in considering the powers in part 17 of the Terrorism Act 2000, many of which are being repealed and not being replaced. However, we are replacing those that we regard as necessary to deal with the ongoing situation and the risks that may arise as a result of it. We have already reduced to a minimum the powers in the Bill.
We all look forward to the day when the situation in Northern Ireland is as secure as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom and we work to that end, but at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, we have to prepare on the basis that an additional risk of serious public disorder exists in Northern Ireland. None of us wants it, but what happened at Whiterock shows that such events may still take place. It is a matter of record that, since last summer, the activities of dissident republican groups have caused about £25 million-worth of criminal damage. There is still a residual dissident threat and a threat of paramilitaries feeding into and off organised crime.
The remaining threat must be taken seriously and it may remain for a considerable time. All of us—the police, politicians and communities—do what we can to counter that threat and to build the conditions for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, but it is likely that these powers will be needed for some time. I will come later to the accountability mechanisms.
I will repeat what I said in an earlier debate about the role of the independent reviewer. He will report to the Secretary of State on the working of the new powers and the Secretary of State must then place his report before Parliament on an annual basis. There will be no question of the Secretary of State making secret judgments that no one knows about; the report will have to be placed before Parliament and on the record. Members of the House will be able to scrutinise the report and to ask questions about it. That is a sufficient and proportionate level of accountability; it is not necessary to return to the House every year to renew the powers in the clause.
Mr. Reid: I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument, but I will reflect on it and perhaps return to the issue at a later stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
3.30 pm

Clause 41

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Lady Hermon: You are, as ever, Sir Nicholas, very gracious in allowing hon. Members to participate in stand part debates. Regarding the interpretation section in clause 41, and picking up on the Minister’s point about records, I am unhappy that this is a limited clause. Earlier on in our discussion on clauses 26 and 27, it was brought to the Committee’s attention that members of Her Majesty’s forces could seize documents or records during a search. However, the definition and interpretation in clause 41 are unclear as to whether a record includes computer documents. That was alluded to by the Minister in response to an intervention.
It would be helpful if “record” were defined in the interpretation, particularly in light of clause 27, which we did not discuss. If Committee members turn to that clause, they will see that multiple use of the word “record” creates confusion. Not only does clause 27(1) state that there is a document or record, but clause 27(1)(b) states that whoever examines it also has to make a written record of the document or record.
Clause 27(2) requires that the record describe all sorts of things. We have no idea, apart from the sense of the clause, which record we are talking about. Therefore, it is constructive to suggest to the Minister and his valiant assistants—who do listen to helpful suggestions in Committee—that, rather than clause 41 standing part unamended, it would be beneficial to include “record” as defined.
Paul Goggins: In order not to sound like a broken record, I hope it will be helpful to the hon. Lady if I take that suggestion away further to examine it. I noticed that “hovercraft” is included in the definition of “vehicle”, but not in the provisions on stop and question. I will also take that away and think about it, and I am sure that the hon. Member for East Antrim will be happy if I do so.
Mr. Bone: There also seems to be an error in the definition of “vehicle” not including car.
Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman has once again been persistent and constructive in his interventions. We will look at that. I think that we are getting another “vehicle” coming any time soon.
Lembit Öpik: Does the definition of “aircraft” include hot air balloons and gliders?
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friends were suggesting that, in fact, we might have a bandwagon heading our way. I hope that it is sufficient assurance for the hon. Member for North Down that we will look at the word “record” and whether its definition needs to be set out.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 22 January 2007