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Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

(Second Day) Thursday, 9th January 2003.

The Committee met at a quarter before four of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

Clause 16 [Chief Constable's functions]:

Lord Rogan moved Amendment No. 40:

    Page 9, leave out lines 36 and 37.

The noble Lord said: This clause seeks to prioritise the policing plan over the code of practice. Is it possible to have regard to one before the other, or to give greater weight to one over the other, given that one is having regard to each of them? In any event, when the SDLP in another place sought leave for the Chief Constable to comply with the policing plan, this was properly rejected by the Government.

One should keep in mind that the code of practice is from the Secretary of State and that the policing plan is from the board. Patten does not appear to recommend this clause. I beg to move.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): This amendment runs counter to a commitment in the discussions which led to the Implementation Plan. One finds it at page 5 of that document in relation to Patten Recommendations 10, 11 and 12. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, is right; there is a adjustment of the balance of the tripartite relationship in favour of the board. I suggest that what we see in Clause 16 is perfectly workable:

    "(2) The Chief Constable shall have regard to the policing plan in discharging his functions.

    (3) The Chief Constable shall have regard to any code of practice under section 27 in discharging his functions.

    (4) The duty under subsection (3) applies only so far as consistent with the duty under subsection (2)."

That makes plain that it is the board's policing plan that is to have primacy. I do not think there will be any significant divergence. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, mentioned, the Secretary of State will have consulted the board with a view to reaching agreement on the terms of the code of practice before the code of practice is promulgated. We look to the board as the primary vehicle for police accountability. That is the reason for the change in the Bill.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: As always in the Bill it appears that the explanation given by the Minister indicates the lack of necessity for this clause. If it is all pre-determined because of consultation which has

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taken place, and if the Secretary of State and the board are at one, there should be consistency—a word which came up frequently yesterday. Therefore, I believe that Clause 16 is unnecessary. In that respect, I give notice that, based on the assurances given by the noble and learned Lord, we shall oppose the entire clause.

Lord Glentoran: I should like an explanation. I simply cannot understand what subsection (4) does here; it does not seem to do anything.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It does what I said earlier. Subsection (2) puts certain duties upon the Chief Constable; subsection (3) puts different duties on the Chief Constable; and subsection (4) makes it plain that the duties under subsection (3) apply only so far as is consistent with the duty under subsection (2). It is, curiously—I say this with great respect—remarkably clear.

Lord Rogan: With the assurance that I have heard from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Provision of information to Board]:

Lord Shutt of Greetland moved Amendment No. 41:

    Page 10, line 5, leave out "reasonably"

The noble Lord said: The issue is whether it is reasonable to include the word "reasonably", and I submit that it is not reasonable to do so. The clause should state:

    "The Chief Constable shall supply the Board with such information as the Board may require",

for its purpose. If the board believes that it requires information for its purpose, that should be reasonable because one assumes that we are talking about a reasonable board. It seems to me that, if we were to delete the word "reasonably" at this point, there would not be a dilemma as to whether a request was reasonable or unreasonable and there would be no need for a decision as to who should arbitrate. The situation could arise where, if a Chief Constable did not want to supply something, he could say that he did not consider it to be reasonable. I do not believe that that would be a good position between a Chief Constable and a board.

There is a great deal in the main Act and in this Bill about ensuring that a board is responsible and reflective and so on. Therefore, surely such a board would, in any event, be reasonable. Thus, at this point it seems to be superfluous to include the word "reasonably", and we believe it should be deleted. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: Once again, I shall ask a question as I am not sure whether or not to support the amendment. I would interpret the word "reasonably" according to whether or not "reasonable" is defined by other preconditions elsewhere in the Act. It is clear how the Chief Constable may apply to the Secretary of State not to give certain information, and there are

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other constraints on the Chief Constable's disbursement of information. I assume that that is what is being referred to by the word "reasonably".

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: There is a slight element of dancing on the head of a pin but that is sometimes a necessary exercise, as was elegantly performed just now. Before the noble and learned Lord replies, I wish to suggest to him that we might overcome the difficulty if the word "require" were substituted by the word "need". As presently drafted, it is correct that "reasonably" is required, because "required" equals "making of a requisition" and, as we all know, one cannot simply use a power to make a requisition or any other power, save in a reasonable manner. It may be worth considering that, if we were to use the words,

    "which the board may need for the purposes",

the word "reasonably" could be left out. That is a tiny suggestion but I used to have to deal with these things.

Baroness O'Cathain: Is it not the case that information could be available to the Chief Constable that the board might think it needed in order to come to a decision about something? However, the Chief Constable could convince the board that it should not have information. Although the board is supposed to be reasonable, yesterday we heard much about the doubts and tribal issues which seem to haunt every aspect of the Bill. Being the person on the ground who knows all the information, the Chief Constable might think that an issue is too sensitive for the board and that the board does not need it for what it has to do.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful for that last observation. We hope—I believe this will be the outcome—that the Chief Constable and the board will work increasingly in closer harmony. Indeed, there are good auguries for that. The noble Baroness is also right because if one looks at Section 33A(2), the Chief Constable may decline to supply information if he comes to the conclusion that it should be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in Section 76A(1), to which we shall return. In response to the invitation by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, to the feast of unreason, I make two comments. First, a reasonable board may nevertheless make unreasonable requests, just as do reasonable peers! I understand what the noble Lord says. I am also grateful for the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. Certainly, I shall reflect on what has been said, without particular commitment, to see whether any change is needed and whether the re-nuancing could be presented in a different way. I give a commitment to think carefully about this matter. If we reach the conclusion that it can be improved, I shall come back with a government amendment.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: I am grateful for those comments and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 agreed to.

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Clause 18 [Fixed-term appointments]:

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 43:

    Page 10, line 15, at end insert—

"(1A) The Board may appoint a person of the rank of senior officer to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for a fixed term not exceeding three years."

The noble Baroness said: I shall be brief. We suggest that the board may appoint a person of the rank of senior officer to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for a fixed term not exceeding three years. We do so because we believe that it should be not only the Chief Constable who is able to do that but also the board. The Chief Constable cannot appoint a rank of a senior officer; that is, someone of ACPO rank. That is the responsibility of the board. However, here we are speaking of the Chief Constable directly recruiting sergeants, inspectors and above to the rank of chief superintendent, perhaps using the fast-track procedure. I should be grateful for clarification from the Minister.

There is the also the question of the board being able to undertake the responsibilities of recruiting people of non-uniformed rank, who I would call support staff. There is a range of support staff in middle management who the Chief Constable might want to recruit and, indeed, who the board might want to suggest to the Chief Constable be recruited. We believe that it would not be necessarily suitable to limit such matters to the responsibility of the Chief Constable and would ask that the question of the Board appointing people of the rank of senior officer to the service for a fixed term not exceeding three years be again considered. Amendments Nos. 44 and 46 are consequential. I beg to move.

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