Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Cranborne: Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she confirm that, in order to encourage such desirable co-operation--an aim shared by every Member of the Committee--it is clear that legislation is needed?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: This is being done in order to implement Patten and to establish clearly--beyond peradventure and beyond doubt--a framework in which co-operation can take place. I assure the noble Viscount that those are the principal objectives. Given that, this clause is not only necessary; it is also extremely desirable.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am astonished at the response of the noble Baroness. Clearly there has been a failure of understanding here. We are all in favour of the kind of co-operation she has outlined. Indeed, I and several other noble Lords have mentioned similar

25 Oct 2000 : Column 366

areas of policing where co-operation should take place. However, a clause of this character is not in any way recommended in the Patten report.

The Patten report does recommend that the two police services should have written protocols, but that does not mean that the governments should negotiate what is to be done. The report draws on the model of the Kent police. In paragraph 18.6, it states:

    "Kent police have signed several protocols with police services across the Channel".

Paragraph 18.7 goes on to say,

    "We recommend that the two police services"--

the RUC and the Garda--should sign protocols between themselves. However, the clause does not acknowledge that. It concerns an agreement that is to be reached between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland rather than the police services.

Nothing is required in the Bill to permit the police services to make agreements; there are already quite a number of them. Furthermore, nothing is required from the Bill to permit co-operation on paedophiles or any of the other matters that we have discussed.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that the provisions under which the Kent police service operates are enshrined in law. Perhaps I may also reassure the noble Lord that, although the agreement sets out the scope, it most certainly does not instruct or empower anyone to interfere with the operational independence of the Chief Constable and the RUC. I believe that we are at cross purposes here. If it would be helpful to discuss this matter in more detail before Report, we would be only too happy so to do.

Viscount Brookeborough: Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she tell us if the Irish Government have stated that they felt that they must legislate in exactly this way in order to keep their side of any bargain that may be in the offing?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I am afraid that I am unable to do that--just as I am unable to say whether the French had to change their legislation to enable the Kent police to co-operate with them. I cannot answer for the legislative procedure needed to operate such an agreement.

The agreement is the framework to allow and legitimise areas of co-operation--nothing more. Noble Lords' fears are unfounded.

Lord Hylton: Before the noble Lord, Lord Cope, replies, my understanding is that "arrangements" in Clause 54 means "protocols". If a protocol is agreed, surely the governments responsible for those making the protocols must also be engaged.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: We are at cross purposes. Part of my doubt, which the noble Baroness has not resolved, is that we are frequently told by lawyers in the course of debating Bills that giving legal authority

25 Oct 2000 : Column 367

to one specific matter implies that there is not legal authority for matters which are adjacent to it but for which authority is not given. That worries me.

So far as concerns the Kent police, I am aware that there are various agreements--I was involved in them during another stage of my career--in regard to the Channel Tunnel and the operations of the two police forces in a foreign jurisdiction. Under agreements, there are small areas of Kent and small areas of the Pas-de-Calais which are regarded as the territory of the other country. Obviously, such agreements have to be negotiated between governments.

However, we are not discussing that here. We are discussing the kind of thing that Patten discussed--that is, an annual conference between the two police forces, liaison officers, co-operation in training and so on. These do not require a government agreement; they require an agreement between the two police forces primarily. That is the level at which it should be done.

I am, of course, aware that policing in the Republic of Ireland is subject to much closer day-by-day political control--down to quite a low level in the police force--than would be acceptable in our tradition. Both jurisdictions and both police forces will have to take that into account in dealing with one another.

The amendment seeks to widen the responsibility of the Chief Constable and the board in order to improve co-operation in regard to the matters discussed. As the noble Baroness said, there seems to be a disagreement about the purpose of this and the extent to which it is made necessary by Patten, which I think it is not. In the circumstances we shall gladly take up her offer to discuss the issue further between now and Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 [Annual and other reports by Board to the Secretary of State]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 201 and 202:

    Page 28, line 38, at end insert--

("( ) the level of public satisfaction with the performance of district policing partnerships;").

    Page 28, line 39, after ("effectiveness") insert ("of district policing partnerships in performing their functions and, in particular,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 203 and 204 not moved.]

Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clause 57 [General duty of Chief Constable to report to Board]:

5.45 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 205:

    Page 29, line 40, leave out from ("it") to end of line 41 and insert ("concerns sensitive personal matters").

25 Oct 2000 : Column 368

The noble and learned Lord said: To his great regret, my noble friend Lord Desai has been suddenly and unavoidably called away. He asked me to do two things: first, to apologise to the Committee; and, secondly, to move his amendment. It may be convenient to the Committee if, in considering Amendment No. 205, we debate all the amendments down to Amendment No. 218, and then Amendment No. 236.

Before he left, my noble friend Lord Desai spent all of 45 seconds explaining to me the purport of Amendment No. 205. If my exposition appears a little inadequate, I trust that the Committee will find it in its heart to forgive me. As I understand it, he wishes to raise the question of whether the powers of the Chief Constable to decline the board's invitation to submit a report, or to frustrate the board's intention to hold an inquiry, are too wide.

The Patten commission said that he should have power to decline if the information concerned a sensitive "personnel" matter. That appears in the Bill as a sensitive "personal" matter. Whether that is deliberate, I am not sure--no doubt my noble and learned friend will be able to tell us--but I have thought for a long time that there is room for a book on how printers' errors and clerical errors have changed the course of history.

The difficulty is that there are a number of sensitive "personal" matters which may require a report and which may very properly give rise to an inquiry. If, for example, the question arose as to whether someone had a criminal record, that may well be a proper occasion for a report--but it would be of course a "personal" matter. That, as I understand it, is the purport of what my noble friend Lord Desai wished to raise. I am not sure that I can helpfully carry it much further.

However, I can speak to my own amendments, Amendments Nos. 209 and 210. We are considering the powers of the board to establish an inquiry into a matter of concern. It is obviously not intended that an inquiry should be held lightly. The power is activated only when the board is so concerned about the matter in question that it has required a report from the Chief Constable, and that report has persuaded them that it is a grave matter or that the circumstances are exceptional. The Patten commission believed that the freedom of the board to appoint an inquiry was important. That importance was emphasised in paragraph 6.23

The clause then goes into the hypothetical mode. Suppose the Chief Constable does not agree with the board that an inquiry should be held. I assume that that is not a view he would reach lightly. It would be virtually bound to become public that the board wanted an inquiry and the Chief Constable, as it might well be seen, wanted the matter hushed up. The Patten commission said that if there is a difference of opinion between the board and the Chief Constable as to whether an inquiry should be held, the issue should be referred to the Secretary of State. The Bill seeks to give effect to that and so lists the grounds which would

25 Oct 2000 : Column 369

justify the Chief Constable referring the issue to the Secretary of State. The grounds are carefully defined. We probably all agree that they are indeed grounds which would require careful consideration.

In that situation, the Secretary of State must decide between the board and the Chief Constable. It would not be an enviable position in which he would find himself. Whatever he decides would attract criticism. But we would expect him to make himself familiar with the grounds on which the Chief Constable had reached his decision to oppose the appointment of an inquiry. If the Secretary of State decides that one of the grounds listed in the Bill and specified by the Chief Constable is established, he must weigh the consequences of holding an inquiry against the consequences of not holding it. Up to that point, I have no quarrel with the Bill.

But suppose the Secretary of State is not satisfied that the Chief Constable has made his case; that he is not persuaded that, for the reason advanced by the Chief Constable, the inquiry ought not to be held? I apologise for the double negative; it probably requires a visual aid. If he reached that conclusion, one might have thought that that would be the end of the matter. But, no--the Secretary of State may also overrule the board and decide that there should be no inquiry if it,

    "would serve no useful purpose".

The board has already decided that the matter is so grave that there should be an inquiry. The Chief Constable has argued why there should not be an inquiry. The Secretary of State has decided that he does not agree with him. After all that, the Secretary of State may still say, "Oh, but I do not think the inquiry would serve a useful purpose". Members of the Committee will remember that if the Chief Constable had not referred the matter to the Secretary of State, he would not have been involved at all. He would have had no opportunity to ask himself whether it would serve a useful purpose. But having decided that the reason why the question was referred to him will not hold water, he can now say, "But having got my hands on the matter I can decide it on a ground which was not previously ventilated".

This situation has arisen because in another place the Secretary of State was persuaded that he had gone too far in imposing limitations on the board and sought to modify his own powers. Members of the Committee will recollect that if the Chief Constable is required by the board to submit a report at the very inception of the process, he may at that stage appeal to the Secretary of state and argue that he should not be called on to submit a report--but only under one of the grounds set out in Clause 57. Even then he is not entitled to submit that it would serve no useful purpose. So why, when the board is so concerned that it proposes to hold an inquiry, is the Secretary of State given power to second guess it, but to do so only if the Chief Constable thinks there is some different objection to holding an inquiry?

If the Secretary of State ever exercises that power, one might imagine the outcry at the suspicion that something is being hushed up. None of the other

25 Oct 2000 : Column 370

objections to an inquiry has been argued or, if argued, upheld. But the Secretary of State tells us that it would serve no useful purpose. Later today your Lordships will be debating the Freedom of Information Bill where concern has been expressed that the Government are afraid to let go of nurse's hand and leave behind the culture of secrecy. Is this not a classic example?

I turn to Amendment No. 210. This is a very narrow issue. But in Northern Ireland, it is so often the narrow issues which spark off the controversies. Clause 58 states that the board, having decided to hold an inquiry, may appoint one of the persons listed in subsection (6) to conduct it. If it decides that there is a reason why it should not be conducted by one of those persons but by someone else, it may appoint another person. I understand that in that situation it would be wise to consult the Secretary of State. I have included that provision in Amendment No. 210. The Bill would go further. The Bill would require the approval of the Secretary of State; he can veto the proposal.

We would hope that the board would not take leave of its senses and decide to appoint someone who was wholly inappropriate. Surely those appointed to the board will be sensible and reasonable people who can be relied on not to go mad. If not, the whole scheme of the Bill collapses. Surely they should be permitted a measure of independence. I am bound to say that if, per impossibilia, I were the Secretary of State, I should not wish to be placed in a position where if I decided to overrule the board I would be widely suspected of being afraid of a serious inquiry and wishing to appoint my own nominee; while if I refrained from overruling the board and anything went wrong I would share the blame. So one would rather hope that the Secretary of State would not be minded to take advantage of the power. But would it not be wiser to allow the board to let go of nurse's hand and take responsibility for its own decisions? On behalf of my noble friend Lord Desai in relation to Amendment No. 205, I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page