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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for confirmation that my re-draft does not change the effect of the clause. As I made clear, it was not intended to do that. It follows from the fact that it does not change anything that my amendment is not necessary.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful to the noble Lord because I was about to put to him a question and I do not insist on an answer at the moment. If he were ordered secondment to the ranks of the parliamentary draftsmen, would he prepared to consider it?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Only for about 30 seconds, or rather less! If the transfer was compulsory under the clause we were discussing earlier, I would go sick.

Lord Dubs: In my experience of politics--and the noble Lord's is more extensive than mine--it is always good to have a fall-back occupation.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I used to think that in another place, but having arrived here, and having reached a sufficiently advanced age to receive a parliamentary pension, I have slightly changed my view on that matter.

However, the fact is that it is necessary to try to write statutes in understandable English, which often means that they become rather shorter. I entirely agree with what the Minister said about the volume of work that is being placed on the parliamentary draftsmen at the moment in respect of Northern Ireland affairs. Under these circumstances I will not press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 26, line 24, leave out ("desirable") and insert ("reasonable").

The noble Lord said: This amendment attempts to change, in a very small way, the actual sense of this particular clause. The clause provides that:

a complaint. I can see that to give him an open-ended duty to preserve evidence could be difficult, but "desirable" seemed an odd word to choose to express the duty to be laid on the chief constable.

One can imagine a conversation between a little boy and his mother. "Why did you hide the broken bits where I would not find them?" Little boy: "Because I felt like it." That would not be well received, nor would it be if the chief constable turned up in court and said he did not think it was desirable to keep this evidence,

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and that was all he had to do. I therefore suggested that the word "reasonable" should be used instead, so that the chief constable would not necessarily have to keep everything, but if the court or the ombudsman and other people thought it necessary at a subsequent time, then he would have to justify that it was unreasonable to have expected him, in all the circumstances, to have kept the evidence--not merely undesirable in his own opinion.

Lord Alderdice: On this occasion I am rather impressed with what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, says on this matter, particularly when he describes the circumstances where the chief constable might be asked to give an account of himself in a public context. Were he to use the words of the statutes here and say that he felt it was not desirable to do so, those who do not naturally have a very positive opinion of chief constables might well wonder why he did not desire it. Whereas, if he were to say that this was not regarded as reasonable but was going beyond the bounds of what it was reasonable to expect, then in public terms that would be seen to be a much more reasonable defence.

While at this point I have no doubt that the Minister wants to consider the matter further, I hope that he and his colleagues will consider it further at a subsequent stage. Although it is not a matter of great enormity, were a chief constable in a position of having to defend himself in a public fashion the word "desirable" would be less desirable than the word "reasonable", which is very reasonable.

Lord Dubs: All I would say is that the English language is a wonderful thing!

I would caution against the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. There are precedents for the use of the word "desirable" in legislation. It is the wording which is used in the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which established the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, and the Police Act 1996. Both pieces of legislation state that, where a complaint is made, such steps shall be taken "as appear to be desirable" to preserve evidence relating to the conduct complained of.

Moreover, the word "desirable" sets a higher standard. A dictionary definition of "reasonable" is "having modest or moderate expectations"; "reasonable" sets a minimum standard whereas "desirable" exceeds that. I believe that we all desire more than the minimum. I would, therefore, ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Alderdice: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. He referred to the two previous pieces of legislation and I must confess my ignorance of them. However, my assumption--I may be entirely wrong--is that the Independent Commission for Police Complaints would maintain the material as was desirable, rather than the chief constable. I would have much less feeling that in the public mind the Independent Commission for Police Complaints might be questioned on whether or not it had done what was right and reasonable by keeping it only as was desirable. It is the chief constable who is being scrutinised. I may be entirely wrong and it may refer to the chief constable.

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I simply took from what the Minister said that the previous legislation referred to what the Independent Commission for Police Complaints would do.

Lord Dubs: The advice I have is that the previous legislation refers to the chief constable, not the Independent Commission for Police Complaints.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Clearly, we must consider this matter further, but meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 [Complaints - informal resolution]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 27, line 18, after ("gives") insert (", and does not withdraw,").

The noble Lord said: Clause 53 provides for the informal resolution of complaints, one of the highly desirable features of the legislation and one which we all hope will be used to a great extent and will help to deal with many complaints. Among other things, subsection (2)(a) provides that a complaint can be dealt with informally only if in the first place the complainant agrees.

However, I wonder what would happen if later in the progress of the complaint--perhaps because further facts emerge or a different set of circumstances becomes apparent in the course of the investigation and the probing of the complaint--the complainant decides that his complaint is in fact more serious than he originally thought. He may be losing confidence in the informal resolution of it, in which case the complainant should be in the position provided for by my amendment whereby he can withdraw his consent to the continuation of the informal resolution procedure.

In that case, it would be a matter of returning to square one and the complaint would go into the formal procedure and pass through that, resulting, one hopes, in a conclusion in due course.

If it is to be resolved informally, it will not be much good if halfway through the process the complainant has lost confidence in it. It is desirable, therefore, to provide this kind of safety net to allow the complainant to withdraw his consent, if he so wishes, halfway through the investigation of the complaint. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: The first of the noble Lord's amendments to Clause 53 deals with the consent of the complainant to his or her complaint being informally resolved. The noble Lord wishes to include a provision enabling the complainant to withdraw consent to informal resolution. This is not, in fact, necessary. Under the rules of statutory interpretation, the giving of consent by the complainant is--and I hope noble Lords will forgive me for using this technical term--"always speaking". In other words, the complainant's consent can be withdrawn at any stage and the complaint therefore ceases to be suitable for informal resolution.

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I suggest that the noble Lord's amendment is therefore unnecessary. The second amendment would result in the deletion from Clause 53 of subsection (8). I believe that this clause is necessary. Precisely the same provision exists in Section 86 of the Police Act 1996 which applies to complaints in England and Wales, and in Article 22 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, the existing legislation in Northern Ireland.

Subsection (8) states that,

    "A statement is not rendered inadmissible by subsection (7) if it consists of or includes an admission relating to a matter which does not fall to be resolved informally."

It therefore provides an exception to subsection (7) which in turn provides that statements made by any person in an informal resolution case are not admissible in any subsequent criminal, civil or disciplinary proceeding. Subsection (8) would apply, for example, when an officer or complainant made an admission which was completely unrelated to their complaint. It is a sensible provision which deals with the possibility of the complainant or officer seeking to use subsection (7) to protect confessions about matters which were not the subject of the informal resolution. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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