|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Glentoran. Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord whether the contracts to be let by tender will be judged on the basis not of the cheapest but on value for money. That would solve the problems both of the noble Lord on the Cross Benches and of my noble friend on the Front Bench, because clearly it would not be value for money if the potential contracting party was judged to be unsuitable by the Chief Constable or his advisers.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, first I speak to the noble Lord's general point. I take his point that they were complicated amendments. They were available on Tuesday, but effectively there was not an
As to the other aspects, essentially the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Molyneaux, were speaking of security sensibilities and sensitivities. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, put the matter in a slightly different way. I think I can give the assurance that your Lordships are entitled to look to, because this matter is important.
There are already safeguards in place to ensure that contractors taking on work in sensitive areas are appropriately screened. This is already an issue for contracted-out cleaning services and for certain construction work. So similar considerations would apply to the contracts we are discussing here.
Your Lordships will also have noted that Clause 21(3)(d) of the Bill already makes clear that the Chief Constable can designate a person under this section only if he is satisfied that, and I go to paragraph (d),
The noble and learned Lord said: Amendments Nos. 2 to 7, 10 to 13 and 15 to 18 are the group of which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made his "reasonable" criticism. The amendments take a good deal of guiding through and cross referencing in rather a tedious way, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his commendation of the officials who I know took time to go through matters with him and, indeed, other noble Lords. I am personally grateful to them, as well.
I undertook at any stage of our consideration of the Bill to give careful attention to criticisms that were raised to see whether we could meet them provided they were consistent with the general scheme of the Bill. I hope that the amendments illustrate that attitude. We want to ensure appropriate protection for sensitive informationwhich is a public goodwhile ensuring that the board has access to all the information it needs, another public good, which need not necessarily be in competition with the first.
The point of having a small committee from a large board is to provide a mechanism whereby sensitive information can be shared with the board while keeping its circulation to a reasonable minimum. One key factor that your Lordships mentioned is that we must try to keep such information on a need-to-know basis. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, emphasised that point in Grand Committee and I hope that then and now I have responded to his reasonable satisfaction.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 13 propose that, where the Chief Constable receives a request for information under new Section 33A or for a report under Section 59, and where, in his view, some or all of the information is sensitive, he should have the option of providing that information to the small committee, not the full board. If he were to exercise that option, he would be required to supply a summary of the information in his formal report to the full board. Amendment No. 6 deals with similar arrangements relating to inquiries under Section 60. The Chief Constable would then flag up sensitive information that he provided to the person conducting the inquiry. That person could then share sensitive information with the small committee.
New Section 59(4A), inserted by Amendment No. 3, makes clear that the Secretary of State will have the option, where a matter has been referred to him by the Chief Constable under Section 59(3), of insisting that the Chief Constable supply all or part of the information to the small committee rather than to the full board. Again, that reflects the need-to-know approach. "Sensitive information" means information the disclosure of which could put an individual in danger, or any information that could form one of the grounds of referral set out in new Section 76A(1), inserted by Clause 19.
Of course, the board would be entitled to remit any other issue to the committee if it felt that to be appropriate. It might provide a suitable closed forum for the Chief Constable to discuss sensitive issues relating to continuing investigations or operations. But we do not want to be unduly prescriptive, and I hope that we have found a sensible middle way.
I believe that the new arrangements will allow the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State greater flexibility in exercising their judgment on whether sensitive information should be shared with the board. It is already the case that the Chief Constable is not obliged to refer Section 59 or 60 requests to the Secretary of State, even when they deal with some of the issues mentioned in the grounds of referral. That is, and should be, a matter for the Chief Constable's
I hope that there will never be any need for the committee to be brought into action. The Chief Constable may never require that opportunity. But, as your Lordships have said previously, perhaps we ought to have a safety net just in case.
There is one further important safeguard that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned. Amendment No. 15 provides that it will be a criminal offence to disclose any information that the Chief Constable has identified as sensitive when sharing it with the board or the small committee. No offence will be committed where disclosure is to any of the persons or for any of the purposes listed in new subsections (5) and (6).
That replicates the arrangements that already apply to the police ombudsman under Section 63 of the 1998 Act. Again, I hope that your Lordships will feel that we have responded to legitimate concerns about not only sensitive information but any criminal sanction that may be required in case of mischief-making leaks. The remaining amendments in the group are consequential changes.
I have spent a little time on the amendments. I sympathise with all those who required hot coffee and a wet towel, because it is difficult to go through them. I hope that I have explained what we have tried to do: to strike the right balance between proper protection and proper access for the board. I commend the amendments to your Lordships. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that explanation. He gave it extremely well, but it demonstrates the complexity of this series of amendments, which in effect create one happeningthe new sub-committee.
I do not oppose the amendments. The Government have come some way to meeting my anxieties about secure and classified information and interference with the Chief Constable's operational independence. As I told the noble and learned Lord outside the Chamber, it was of considerable relief to me to learn that all those involved will be subject to the Official Secrets Acts and liable for criminal prosecution should they be found to have leaked sensitive information.
I am, however, still uneasy in several respects and want to register that. I am not happy about a whole set of assumptions that underlie the policy shifts. What the Government saw fit to legislate on in 2000 they no longer consider relevant to the situation in Northern Ireland. In 2000, they were sensibly cautious, but it is still advisable to provide for what may or may not happen. The membership of the board is not yet complete, despite what the Government say about it working well. It is working well in its present make-up. With considerable difficulties that many people do not hear about, but one or two of us do, it is managing some pretty complicated decision-making processes.
I should be far more comfortable discussing such important changes to the structure of policing if I knew precisely with what we were dealingin other words, if I knew the whole composition of the board and how it will be operated. So far as I understand it, the reason behind the modification to the second ground of referral is that the Government have received representations suggesting that the board would be better served by its removal.
I do not want to make a big issue of this at Third Reading, but having worked through the Bill with the noble and learned Lord, the Members of the Committee and Northern Ireland officials, some of it is aimed at improving previous police Acts and at better policing. Some of the Bill will deliver an excellent format for policing in times of peace. But there is not peace. It is a time of serious uncertainty. The Bill still takes too many risks in the changes it makes.
However, I am grateful for the way in which the Government have moved and the communication that I have had from the Minister and his officials. We shall wait and see. I sincerely hope that the committee is never needed.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|