Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising that matter. I shall look into it rather than give an answer today.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister was kind enough to correct one error that he made in the course of the Grand Committee proceedings. As a matter of fact, there was another to which I should perhaps draw his attention. It appears in Hansard of 8th June at col. 31 and relates to the fact that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee considered the regulation-making powers in this Bill and reported that it was content, save for one small point in relation to Clause 64(2). In fact, it was in relation to Schedule 1 paragraph 2(2). That was the power which was criticised, though not very strongly. That is why I did not pursue it.

The Minister said a few minutes ago that he was referring to Clause 64(2)(1); I believe he meant Clause 64(2)(l). It is difficult to see in print the difference between a small "l" and a large "1". For the sake of those who might read our proceedings I should like to correct that.

Having said that, I am not entirely happy about the vast amount of matters which have been left to regulation in the Bill. That is part of an undesirable tendency which I endeavoured--not very successfully--to combat while a Minister in the other place. Nevertheless, I do not wish to press the amendments at this point and beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 2.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

22 Jun 1998 : Column 27

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 75 [Commencement]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 4.

Leave out Clause 75.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 4, which seeks to delete Clause 75, is a probing amendment. It provides an opportunity for your Lordships to examine the relationship between the provisions of the Bill and the Patten Commission.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, drew attention to what appeared to be a never-ending stream of reports. We would be doing much to stabilise the situation if we could guarantee a kind of closed season for some years, to allow already approved changes in legislation to become established before we pull up the plant yet again to see how the roots are getting on.

I take the view that there is adequate provision in the Bill to authorise reporting arrangements without overlaying them with yet another layer in the form of the Patten Commission. I sometimes wonder what would have been the reaction of Londoners in September 1940--the climax of the Battle of Britain--if Churchill had established a commission to examine the structures, methods and attitudes of Fighter Command and to take account of the sensitivities of the Luftwaffe bomber crews. Such a proposal may well have been regarded by residents of the South-East generally as ingratitude for the protection provided by the few in those critical months.

In Committee I expressed reservations about the two sets of inquiries proceeding in tandem. The present Police (Northern Ireland) Bill before us is to be implemented as and when the Secretary of State feels it desirable, without at this stage any apparent guidelines as to the timing. While I remain uneasy about the possibility of the Patten Commission producing proposals for measures which will conflict with this Bill, to some extent I was reassured by the reply of the Minister in Committee to my question as to which of the two--the Patten Commission or the Bill--would carry the greater weight. I welcomed the declaration by the Minister on that occasion that Patten is not empowered to override Parliament. I am grateful for that assurance, as I am sure are other noble Lords. That reply clarifies the relative positions and is therefore helpful to all concerned.

In Committee, the Minister was also good enough to explain that it would not be possible to delay Royal Assent given that Patten would not report for around another year. For the avoidance of uncertainty, perhaps it will be possible to reduce that timetable for Patten--a point which seemed to be misunderstood in the earlier debate. That would give the Irish Government time to modernise their rules, declarations and oaths regarding their security forces. In addition, it may be possible for

22 Jun 1998 : Column 28

the Secretary of State, armed with Clause 75(2) terminology, to

    "appoint different days for different purposes and for different provisions",

to ensure that there exists a degree of cross-reference between the mechanisms of this Bill (shortly to be approved by Parliament), and the thrust of the Patten Commission. That may be a useful safety device when the Secretary of State comes to drafting the "principles for policing" as provided for under Clause 37. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: My Lords, though I realise that this is only a probing amendment, I fully understand my noble friend's reasons for moving it. As I said when moving Amendment No. 1, it is the steady drip, drip erosion of the ethos of the RUC which is so demoralising. New legislation seems to arise every few months. Something in the Minister's voice when he was replying to Amendment No. 1 suggested that he might look favourably on the idea of postponing the coming into operation of parts of the Bill, in particular, Schedule 2. I hope I am right in that assumption.

If the Government refuse to yield on anything, they will confirm the growing impression that 90 per cent. of the concessions made in Northern Ireland in recent months, together with those in train, are being made by the unionist community, using the term "unionist community" in its broadest sense. Such an imbalance is not a recipe for long-term peace.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this Bill turns out to be badly timed. I do not think that is entirely the Government's fault. Indeed, the reasons why it has turned out that way are to some extent to the Government's credit because they flow from the successful agreement reached on Good Friday.

The Bill has been a long time in gestation and has now reached its final stages. But it will not come into effect until next year, and by next summer we shall have a report from the Patten Commission which will go over a great deal of this ground again, judging by the enormously long terms of reference given to the Patten Commission. Those terms of reference include the requirement that its proposals should be designed to ensure that the scope for structured co-operation with the Garda Siochana and other police forces is addressed. I am not sure exactly what "the scope for structured co-operation ... is addressed" amounts to, but clearly that is one aspect of it.

At Second Reading in another place the Minister of State said that the Bill might be amended during the course of its passage to allow for any of the effects of the agreement, if an agreement were reached. It is difficult to see that that can be done now unless the coming into effect of the Bill is postponed for a time so as to make sure that we know what the Patten Commission recommends. The Minister seemed to be hinting slightly that the provisions would be brought into effect in different ways. Therefore, I look forward to hearing what he has to say in response to this interesting amendment.

22 Jun 1998 : Column 29

4.15 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the effect of the amendment would be to delete Clause 75 and thus bring the Bill into force immediately on Royal Assent. I think that is contrary to the noble Lord's intention, which is to ask why we are putting forward the Bill at this time. Technically, his amendment is likely to have the opposite result of the one intended.

I am aware of the noble Lord's concerns, which he articulated during our debate in Committee, about implementing the provisions of the Bill in advance of receipt of the findings of the independent commission. Indeed, I recall that he suggested that Royal Assent should be withheld until the Patten Commission had reported. In addressing this concern I cannot overemphasise the importance of the Bill as a clarifying measure. As I have said on a number of occasions in the House, the provisions in the Bill are designed to establish a more efficient, effective, accountable and acceptable police service in Northern Ireland. The Bill contains a number of significant provisions which I believe it would not be proper to delay until the Patten Commission had reported.

Let me remind your Lordships of one or two of those significant provisions. The Bill preserves the operational independence of the chief constable; it preserves and more clearly focuses the role of the police authority; and it introduces new police objective setting and planning mechanisms. In addition, it enables financial responsibility for the day-to-day management of policing to pass to the chief constable from the police authority; it provides for the establishment of a new independent system for investigating complaints against the police; and indeed there are many other important provisions.

I think it would be remiss of the Government not to proceed with the Bill and to give effect to it. After all, we do not know what the Patten Commission will propose and we are liable to delay any changes for a great deal of time because, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said, the Patten Commission will make recommendations. It is likely that to give effect to those, if the Government agreed with the Patten Commission, there would have to be further legislation. That is a quite lengthy process so we would be delaying matters for a long time if we were to go down the path suggested by the noble Lord.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that the Bill will be implemented in April 1999. The Patten Commission is to report in the summer of 1999. To convert the Patten Commission's conclusions into legislation, if the Government were so minded to agree with them, means that we would be talking about another year and a half or longer. I believe that that would not be the right way forward. The Secretary of State is very anxious to make proper progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that 90 per cent. of the Bill's concessions were to nationalists.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page