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Lord Alderdice: I find this a somewhat puzzling proposition. In putting it forward, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, pointed out that he is concerned about events: unexpected or untoward matters that might arise, probably without much warning, or at least in the operational context as far as the chief constable was concerned; not matters that would be in the policing plan. After all, the policing plan would be in place, it would be agreed and the chief constable would be bound to follow it through. As he has said, therefore, this is in the context of events which have arisen. In that context, however, it could be difficult to bind the chief constable to consultations with the police authority because if it were the case that the chief constable and the policy authority agreed, then so be it. However, these matters often have to be handled with such alacrity that consultation could hardly be very full.

If, however, in the context of some immediate operational, event the chief constable were to find that the police authority did not happen to agree, for whatever reason--whether its members were not as aware of the situation as he was or they simply disagreed--one would be putting him in a position where there could be gridlock in the operational effectiveness of the police. In the context of an event so contentious as to require consultation, to ensure that the chief constable could not act because of gridlock between himself and the police authority might be a most unwise matter. The amendment does not say that the chief constable "may" consult the police authority, because it is obvious that he may. It says that he "shall" consult the police authority.

Therefore, if this amendment were to be passed, would it not, in the context of difficult events, possibly place the chief constable in a most invidious position? Indeed, would it not reduce the operational independence of the chief constable, which is something that we so strongly value?

Lord Dubs: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, because he has really answered for me. In tabling this amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Cope is seeking to require the chief constable to consult with the police authority during the implementation of the annual policing plan.

I am not clear exactly what this amendment seeks to achieve. By virtue of the provisions of Clause 17, the annual policing plan is drafted by the chief constable,

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who in turn submits it to the police authority for its approval. The authority has the power to accept the plan as drafted, or amend it after consultation with the Secretary of State.

It is appropriate for such approval to be sought before publication. However, I believe consultation between the authority and the chief constable during the implementation of the plan could be seen to weaken the chief constable's operational independence, the point most helpfully made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice.

I fear that the impression could be given, if the amendment is accepted, that the chief constable's operational judgments are being made subordinate to the opinion of the police authority. The difficulty in this area is not the problem of differences between the police authority and the chief constable as to what should be done. I am confident that on most matters they will be in agreement. I think it is wrong in principle to tie the chief constable's hands in the way this amendment proposes.

This proposal deviates from the position in England and Wales and in Scotland in a key aspect of operational independence, although I hesitate to make that point in view of the earlier discussions, but it is valid in relation to this particular issue. The police already have power under Clause 48 to require the chief constable to submit reports. These reporting arrangements have been refined to clarify the authority's power to specify the form in which such reports are to be given and to lay down a time limit.

In general terms, but especially in Northern Ireland, we have to ensure the operational independence of the chief constable. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Fitt earlier point to this particular conclusion.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: Before the noble Lord, Lord Cope winds up, I wonder whether we are talking about the same term? As I understand it the amendment does not suggest that the chief constable should consult on the annual policing plan. The amendment is attached to the phrase

    "the statement of principles issued under section 37".

To my mind, therefore, it would appear to give at least a degree of accountability which would be welcome in the light of what has generally been stated in earlier debates.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I certainly have no desire to weaken the operational independence of the chief constable or even to make it appear that it should be weakened. I am therefore impressed with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice and the Minister that my amendment might be taken in that way. I had not intended particularly to attach it to the statement of principles as opposed to the annual policing plan. I merely intended to make sure that the chief constable, in discharging his responsibilities, kept in touch with PANI, and to recognise that the best laid plan at the start might not work out as either of them expected.

However, in view of the comments that have been made, I seek leave at this stage to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Exercise of functions of Chief Constable in cases of absence, incapacity, etc.]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 10, line 21, at end insert--
("( ) If the Chief Constable is unable to act, the Police Authority, after consulting the Secretary of State, may, in an emergency, designate a senior officer as in subsection (1)").

The noble Lord said: This clause is all about what happens if the chief constable becomes unable to exercise his functions for various reasons--if there is a sudden vacancy, or if he is absent, incapacitated or suspended from duty. The clause provides that the chief constable shall, in advance, designate a senior officer to have the powers of chief constable should one of these events occur. This is clearly necessary, and subsection (2) provides that only one officer is to be so designated.

In proposing this amendment, I was looking at the possible very difficult scenario of what might happen if both the person designated and also the chief constable became unable to act--became incapacitated--at the same time. This is not a happy thought, but it is not inconceivable. We know that the Provisional IRA tried in Brighton in 1983 to kill not only the Prime Minister but as many of the other senior members of the government as possible. I have personal reason for remembering that. Later on there was a mortar bomb attempt to kill the right honourable gentleman, Mr John Major, and some of his senior colleagues with a single blow. Both those attempts failed. In another way, the tragic Mull of Kintyre helicopter crash did kill most of the leading figures in the Northern Ireland intelligence community at one time. It is not, therefore, impossible to believe that a situation, either accidental or deliberate on somebody's part, might lead to both the chief constable and the deputy chief constable, or whoever else was designated, being unable to act. We should provide for this, and that is what I have attempted to do in Amendment No. 6. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: The purpose of this amendment is to give the police authority the power, after consultation with the Secretary of State, to designate a senior officer to act in the absence of the chief constable. The power to designate would only be used by the authority in an emergency situation; for example, if the chief constable was unable to exercise his powers by virtue of subsection (1).

I am resisting this amendment on the grounds that I believe it is unnecessary. In the unlikely event of the chief constable and his deputy being simultaneously removed, for whatever reason, the normal chain of command would automatically transfer responsibility on the basis of first rank, and then seniority. The police authority would then have the duty, as quickly as possible, to appoint a new chief constable.

The amendment is unnecessary and could, conceivably, give rise to confusion through preventing the normal transfer of responsibility through the chain of command until the authority had had time to meet

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and decide on its nominee as stand-in for the chief constable. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: However, in the unlikely event occurring, which we are envisaging in considering this clause, it seems that no one would, for a while--until a permanent appointment were made--have the powers of the chief constable. Clearly the immediate operational decisions could still be made, but no one would have the powers of the chief constable. Otherwise there is no need for him to designate anybody to act in his capacity at all, if it is as automatic as the Minister said.

Lord Dubs: My understanding is that if the worst were to happen, and we lost the chief constable and his deputy, there is the system within the RUC on the basis of rank and seniority to decide who would take over. Then the task of the police authority would be as quickly as possible to appoint a new chief constable. In operational terms the police have a system in Northern Ireland which ensures there is always somebody who is in charge, whatever may happen to the senior or more senior people.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Yes, someone would be in charge, but no one would have the powers of the chief constable for the time being. However, I will not press the matter on this occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clauses 21 to 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 [The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland]:

On Question, Whether Clause 51 shall stand part of the Bill?

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