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Lord Cope of Berkeley: We have now moved on to Part VII of the Bill. Clause 51 is the basic clause abolishing the Independent Commission for Police Complaints for Northern Ireland and setting up the new ombudsman, which the following clauses spell out in more detail.

I am not exactly clear at the moment when this is to happen, but clearly before it does happen it is right that we should pay tribute to the work that has been done by the commission which is to be abolished. It has had a most difficult job, as indeed the ombudsman--whoever it turns out to be--will in due course discover. In my judgment the commission has performed it well and deserves a tribute from us. I do not think the replacement of the commission by a single individual should be seen as a criticism of its work, which has been outstanding.

There is one other general point which I wish to make at this stage, which concerns the financial effects of the Bill. The financial effects seem to be unusually uncertain, and indeed the financial memorandum that

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was presented with the Bill when it was first introduced in another place some six months ago, said as much. Page viii of the Bill states:

    "The effects on those budgets of the changes proposed in the Bill are still uncertain".

It occurred to me to wonder whether, six months later, the Minister can give us any more information about the expected costs of the new arrangements by comparison with the old ones. They have given rise to a certain discussion, and I have no doubt they have been discussed very carefully, not least in the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland, as well as in other parts of the Northern Ireland Office.

Lord Alderdice: Perhaps I may briefly say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for raising this question. It gives us a chance to pay tribute to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, which has had a very difficult job over a long period of time.

The problem it had from the very beginning was one that I and my colleagues pointed out. It was not seen as fully independent. It was felt that it did not have quite the level of freedom and independence in terms of investigating complaints that will be the case for the ombudsman.

Having expressed some scepticism, at an early stage and on a number of other occasions, about the need for the Bill at this time, I have to say that if there is one reason why the Bill is valuable, and is valuable at this time, it is specifically because of Clause 51 and the clauses following, and the establishment of a truly independent ombudsman on policing.

I do not in any way want to query the independence or the quality of service of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints. It was that the structures under which they were established, in particular the absence of a capacity for fully independent investigation, to some extent tied their hands and in the public mind reduced the degree of independence that was possible for the ICPC. That will be relieved to a great extent in respect of the ombudsman. I welcome very strongly indeed the establishment of the office of ombudsman. I have no doubt that it will be carried through with distinction. This amendment is of value in order to emphasise at this stage of the Bill the tremendous importance that this component has. It seems to be the most valuable part of the Bill. I strongly support it.

Lord Dubs: I am grateful for the supportive comments that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked when it was intended to bring this matter into effect. It is at the discretion of the Secretary of State, but I can tell the Committee that the target date is March 1999, although that is not a firm decision at this stage.

I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, gave me notice of his intention to oppose Clause 51 stand part to ensure that we could have a wider discussion about the concept of the police ombudsman. The discussion indicates that it is an important issue--and one which justifies the Bill, if nothing else does. However, I believe that there are other justifications for the Bill, although this issue is important.

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The purpose of this part of the Bill is clear. It is to give effect to recommendations made by Dr. Maurice Hayes in his report A Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland? which was published in January 1997. Dr. Hayes went to great lengths to consult widely on his report and to achieve support for it. There have been many supportive comments made by politicians from many parts of the political spectrum in Northern Ireland stressing the need to have a completely independent system of investigating police complaints. I know that many years ago, when this was an issue in England, it was also the view of many people that a totally independent system would be helpful to the police and would be another way of achieving accountability, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, referred.

Perhaps I may quote from Dr. Hayes' report:

    "The overwhelming message I got from nearly all sides and from all political parties was the need for the investigation to be independent and to be seen to be independent. Whilst there were systematic failings in the present arrangements they lacked credibility because of lack of independence, because it was the Chief Constable who decided what a complaint was, because there was no power of initiative, and because the complaints were investigated by police and others".

That is the real justification for having an independent system.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked about the costs. It is clear to us that there will be more costs than Dr. Hayes originally envisaged, but the detailed scoping study has not yet been completed, so I am not yet in a position, I fear, to give firm figures. We shall, however, ensure that the work of the ombudsman will be properly resourced.

There is no need for me to make any other point except to repeat my gratitude for the welcome that has been given to this concept and to thank noble Lords for giving me a chance to do so in the debate.

Clause 51 agreed to.

Clause 52 [Complaints--receipt and initial classification of complaints]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 26, line 22, leave out from ("complaint") to end of line 23 and insert ("about the conduct of a member of the police force which is made by, or on behalf of, a member of the public, in so far as the complaint does not relate to the direction and control of the police force by the Chief Constable,").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment I wish also to discuss Amendment No. 9. I start with a confession. I do not know whether other noble Lords find, as I do, that reading Bills induces after a while a terrible frustration at their convoluted language and construction. Every now and again one cannot resist trying to simplify them, and I confess that on this occasion I have succumbed to that temptation and attempted to do just that.

I hope I have not changed the purpose that lies behind this part of the Bill. Clause 52(2) provides for the chief constable to preserve the evidence when there is a complaint about the conduct of a policeman. However, the clause does not say that straightforwardly. It says that he must preserve the evidence in the case of a

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complaint covered by subsection (4), and subsection (4) starts by saying, "Subject to subsection (5)". You have to read all three subsections simply to decide what the clause is about. I have tried to simplify the language and I have used all the same operative words as are used in the Bill, but my version takes 45 words whereas the Bill uses 67 words. In other words, I have cut down by one-third the words used without changing the meaning by one jot. More importantly than merely cutting down the length of this clause, I suggest that my draft is easier and quicker to comprehend. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has rendered some assistance not only to the Committee, but also to the parliamentary draftsmen. He is not really criticising them because they have managed to streamline the process through which they have to work to a form of art. The noble Lord is trying to simplify all of that, and thus to be of assistance to the draftsmen, so that to some extent--perhaps even in a small way--they will be relieved of the pressures under which they are, and have been, working. I paid tribute to them in your Lordships' House only a week ago when I said that we had not realised earlier this year that the Northern Ireland legislation was imposing such a hideous burden on the parliamentary draftsmen not only of Northern Ireland, but of the entire United Kingdom. I repeat that tribute. Anything that can be done to simplify the language, and to assist the draftsmen and draftswomen and the Minister would be worthy of support.

Lord Dubs: I am grateful to the tribute that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has paid to the parliamentary draftsmen. Indeed, with six major Northern Ireland Bills in this Session, an all-time record, it is not surprising that the parliamentary draftsmen are busy, given all the other burdens of the current legislative programme. The parliamentary draftsmen are certainly working very hard at present.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has in the past indicated that he wants government publications, whether legislation or other documents, to be written in good English--and I respect his wish. That is not easy to achieve, however, as no doubt he found out when he was in government. The advice I have been given is that these amendments are not necessary because they do not alter the meaning of the clause, merely its wording. That is probably something with which the noble Lord would agree.

The clause as drafted is clear. Subsection (2) begins:

    "Where a complaint--

    (a) is made to the Chief Constable".

That appears to relate to the conduct of a police officer. It continues:

    "the Chief Constable shall take such steps as appear to him to be desirable for the purpose of preserving evidence relating to the conduct complained of".

The clause then makes it clear that this duty:

    "does not apply to a complaint in so far as it relates to the direction and control of the police force".

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The noble Lord's proposed amendments are a different way of expressing the same thing, but they do not deal with the knock-on effect in subsection (6). In any event, I hope that the noble Lord will understand that I do not want to adjust the current wording which I believe is sufficiently clear. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

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