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Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, the amendment was an attempt to answer the problem that many of your Lordships have repeated during our debates:

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how do we gain the confidence of the nationalist community--not the paramilitaries--that the police force will be concerned with human rights and equality? The alternative seems to be not attempting to answer that question.

I understand the arguments. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and I must agree to differ about the value of internationally agreed standards. This is not the first time that we have differed on the subject and I dare say that we will go to our graves on different sides of that argument.

I confess that I do not know how many police forces are required to observe the standards, for which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked. However, I am pretty sure that hardly another police force in the world is confronted with so many problems as the police force of Northern Ireland. If it is a special case, we all understand why.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, if I were a policeman I would probably feel that I was a little over-supervised sometimes, but if I knew that the reason was that we were trying to secure the confidence of a section of the community that was currently doubtful about the force, I might consider it a price worth paying.

However, I know when I am licked. I am grateful for my noble friend's assurances. No purpose would be served by seeking to persuade her to change her mind. I am sure that her comments will provide some reassurance to those who suggested that I table the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Clause 6 [Provision and maintenance of buildings and equipment]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 7:

    Clause 6, page 4, line 18, after ("may") insert (", for the purpose of its functions,").

The noble Lord said: It is vital to protect the operational independence of the Chief Constable in all his decisions. In the current policing debate, the Government have placed great emphasis on considering the needs of the community--or communities, if one prefers it that way--that are to be served and seeking to ensure a policing service that is consensus-based and enjoys the support and confidence of the people whom it serves and protects.

To operate effectively, such a service must have transparency and accountability at its core. Under the current arrangements, while the Chief Constable is responsible for managing RUC buildings, strategy and general procurement, approvals must be sought from the Police Authority, which therefore takes ultimate responsibility for the provision of buildings and equipment.

The amendments would give that responsibility to the policing board, thereby ensuring the retention of the existing system and continued transparency and

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accountability. It goes without saying that the operational management of the buildings and procurement strategies would remain the responsibility of the Chief Constable. The amendments are non-contentious and are not motivated by party political considerations. They would reflect best practice in England and Wales.

Should the Bill remain as it stands, I ask the Minister to confirm who will enter into contracts on behalf of the police service, as it is my understanding that an individual--such as the Chief Constable--is unable to do so, as he is not a legal corporation, or, to be exact, a corporation sole. If that is the case, the policing board would inevitably have to be signatory to such contracts without having any accountability for them.

Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would increase the policing board's ability to hold and dispose of land, not only for police purposes, but for its own purposes. That would be an important aspect of the board's independence, although it does not mean that it would be able to acquire land compulsorily for its own purposes. The power to vest land compulsorily should still apply only to land acquired for police purposes.

The current Police Authority feels that being able to decide on its own location and retaining the flexibility to change that location is crucial to establishing its independence at the outset. There is no logical reason for the new board not to be permitted to hold land for its own purposes. As I have said, that will not apply to compulsory acquisition.

I strongly urge the Minister to accept the amendments, which could only have positive consequences for the new era of policing in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, in his reply I wonder whether the Minister can clarify something for me. In the Patten report it was recommended that police stations built from now on should have so far as possible the appearance of ordinary buildings. They should have low perimeter walls and be clearly visible from the street. I hope that any amendment that is accepted will not give the board the power to do that to police stations until the security situation has changed considerably. I cannot help feeling that I should feel extremely unsafe if I had been taken into custody and knew that it was only too easy for a paramilitary force which disapproved of me to get at me a great deal more easily in an open, cheerful, villa-like building.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. In particular I support Amendment No. 9, which appears to put the police board properly in charge of certain things which I do not believe chief constables should be asked to do.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, after replying to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, I shall refer in detail to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park. Perhaps I may reassure her, as I have done

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before, that all decisions taken with regard to security in Northern Ireland are taken in the light of advice given about the level of security that is necessary.

These amendments have been debated before and the position remains unchanged. Clauses 6 and 7 give effect to Patten's comments at paragraph 5.13 of his report. Patten said that the relationship between the police and the board should be as between a service provider and a regulator, and that the previous arrangement, which conflated those two roles, was seriously flawed. It should not be imagined that the board lacks the means to hold the police to account in this area. The board will have detailed financial controls and is responsible for the acquisition and disposal of land for policing purposes.

I can answer the detailed questions that were asked in relation to the point concerning control and power. Under Clause 7(3) the board can compulsorily acquire land for police purposes but not for its own purpose. It cannot compulsorily acquire buildings. The arrangements for the board in relation to land and buildings are different from those pertaining to planning. I can assure the noble Lord that under Section 5(6) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 there is no difference between the board's powers in relation to buildings and land. The board will be able to change location and will be able to enter into contracts on behalf of the police service.

However, the noble Lord's amendment, and particularly Amendment No. 9, confuses the roles by seeking to inject the board unnecessarily into the management of police buildings. It would insert unnecessary additional bureaucracy and there would be no additional effect on accountability.

The other amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 8, 10 and 11, are based on the false premise that the board's powers to acquire land and buildings for itself are somehow deficient.

I hope that the detailed answers that I have given have helped to reassure noble Lords. Clauses 6 and 7 deal only with police buildings, and paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 1 to the Bill deals with the board in respect of these matters. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, that there is no legal difficulty in the board providing its own land and buildings. If the noble Lord has further detailed factual questions that he wishes to raise, I shall of course be happy to write to him. I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may take her back to what she said a few minutes ago in reply to my noble friend Lady Park. She said that all security decisions are taken in the light of security advice from the relevant authorities. Perhaps I may press her a little on that point. During the time that I had responsibility in Northern Ireland, the formula universally employed was in conformity with security advice. Perhaps I may ask her--she may need a little time to consider this--whether the same applies today. In particular, will that

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formulation in conformity apply to the surveillance powers along the border in County Fermanagh and South Armagh?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I can assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, that changes to buildings are described in exactly the same way as are issues relating to security advice. All judgments taken by the Secretary of State are based on the best possible advice--in particular, that of the Chief Constable.

The noble and learned Lord pressed me on the exact wording of the legislation with regard to the procedure for accepting advice. I should prefer to write to him on that narrow and extremely important point.

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