Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

This is a tremendous betrayal of what has amounted to people’s conviction and honesty about the future of Northern Ireland from the nationalist side. This is a tremendous betrayal of them. If Sinn Fein takes part, it should either be additional, or the independents should not be disrupted for it. The whole part that the Policing Board and the DPPs play is entirely based on the voluntary side of the independents. The real heroes of that are those who come from the nationalist side of the population and who have played their part in the future.

Lord Rooker: At the outset, given the points that the noble Viscount has just made, I make it clear that draft legislation provides that the decision to reconstitute a district policing partnership is a matter for the Policing Board. The issue must be done at that level. I fully accept what has been said—

Viscount Brookeborough: With all due respect, and the Minister may have something that says entirely different, at any time the Policing Board only operated within the directions of the Government and within the legislation that was laid down. It was never within our power, as far as I am concerned, to alter the formation or the constitution. We chose the members, and we were directed entirely to produce as close a reflection of the local population as possible; and we would have been challenged on anything else. Should the Government follow through with this action, the Policing Board will be challenged on that issue.

22 Nov 2006 : Column 414

Lord Rooker: I will take advice on this; there will be time because I have only just stood up. The Policing Board has issued a press release. My response to it is:

that is this Bill—

I will get more chapter and verse on that as I am going through. If not, I will certainly write to noble Lords. It is a sensitive issue, for the reasons explained. I fully understand that. I am in no way diminishing what has gone on with people who have wanted to help their community by supporting the police and by being part of the district policing partnerships. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, they have been a success, having not initially been fully in favour.

I will take the broad brush of Clause 18. I hope that I can allay the obvious fears of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. The clause places an obligation on the Assembly to provide a report to the Secretary of State before 27 March 2008 on its consideration of policing and justice. The report is to address the preparations that the Assembly has made and intends to make for the devolution of such matters, which matters the Assembly is likely to seek to have devolved, and whether a request is likely to be made before 1 May 2008 that responsibility for such matters should be devolved.

The clause also amends Section 4(2A) and (6) and Section 21A(8) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, all inserted by the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006. All three subsections refer to a

However, while these are matters that the Government are committed to devolving when circumstances are right, they are currently reserved. The clause removes the adjective “devolved” in this context in order to clarify the position.

The clause does not affect any of the safeguards on the transfer of responsibility. It remains the case that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly, must table a Motion for a resolution of the Assembly that policing and justice matters be devolved; the Assembly must resolve that issue with cross-community support; the Secretary of State must concur and lay a draft order before Parliament; and both Houses of Parliament must approve that order. That is a quadruple lock on the devolution of policing and justice matters. None of that is affected in any way, shape or form by Clause 18.

Turning to the specific amendments that were spoken to, Amendment No. 18 relates to the temporary provisions for police recruitment. I know that noble Lords who have spoken and many others harbour principled misgivings about this measure, and that has been raised in the House in recent times. But the misgivings were there when the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, led by Chris Patten, now the noble Lord, Lord Patten, made its report. It reflected the agreed principle of the Belfast agreement that the police service should be representative of the society that it polices.

22 Nov 2006 : Column 415

The report highlighted the imbalance between the number of Catholics and Protestants as “the most striking problem” in the composition of the police, above issues of gender and ethnic minority representation, which the commission acknowledged were important. The report recommended recruitment of Protestants and Catholics on an equal basis as an exceptional measure, because no one knew what would happen, to try to provide a more representative police service within a reasonable timeframe.

An astonishing 70,000 applications have been received from across the whole community since those provisions were introduced, clearly from a new generation of young men and women who are determined to devote their lives to policing. In only five years, because of the 50:50 temporary provisions, Catholic composition among regular officers has risen from 8.3 per cent to 20.79 per cent. In the same time frame, female composition has also risen from 13 per cent to 20.8 per cent. This is undoubtedly a success story by any stretch of the imagination, in terms of both Catholic and female representation in the police service, and it is one of the most significant reasons why public confidence in policing is increasing across most of the community.

I had personal experience of that when I went out with my drivers, if I may call them that, because they were more than that, as colleagues will know. When I have visited certain locations to have a chat with the police on the beat, more often than not I have happened to deal with female officers. That may be a coincidence, but nevertheless, there is a large number of them.

We believe that temporary measures are justified to correct an acute historical imbalance in the composition of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I emphasise “temporary measures”. We have also said, both in this House and another place, that they will not stay in place a day longer than is necessary and that is reinforced in annex B of the St Andrews agreement. Government policy is firmly committed to achieving a progressive increase in Catholic representation in the police service. Our objective is and has always been to reach 30 per cent representation of Catholics as regular police officers by 2010-11.

These temporary provisions are subject to a triennial review and will expire unless specifically renewed by an order, subject to the draft affirmative procedure. The temporary provisions are currently due to expire on 28 March 2007 and the basis for a further review is currently the subject of consultation. The Government intend to introduce a further renewal order to commence with effect from 29 March 2007. This order will be subject to detailed debate in both this House and another place. Therefore, we want to continue with this until we hit the 30 per cent target. If we can do so within the time-frame, that will be excellent. At that point, it will stop because the objective will have been achieved.

I reiterate that these are purely temporary measures. They do not tear up fair jobs and equality agreements. They are designed for a specific purpose out of a specific commission report and, what is more, they are working: the numbers are changing dramatically, as I have explained to the Committee.

22 Nov 2006 : Column 416

9.30 pm

The Government do not support the inclusion of the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 18. A key element of the Patten recommendations was the importance of accountability and, in particular, local accountability. This vital link has been forged by putting structures in place whereby the district policing partnerships are in line with both the PSNI's district command units and district councils. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 gives effect to these structures, requiring the district policing partnerships to have the same boundaries as the PSNI's district command units and district councils. However, the implementation of the Review of Public Administration will have an impact on policing structures. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is currently developing these new structures and the Policing Board is still considering the post-RPA structures for DPPs. That—if I can say it in English—takes account of the decision of direct rule Ministers, which the Assembly will get a grip on, to reduce the number of district councils from 26 to seven. The police agree with that: they want to change their boundaries as well.

We want to ensure that any changes to the current district policing partnerships structures as a result of the implementation of the Review of Public Administration do not weaken local accountability and links to local communities. We want those to continue. We will carry on working with the Policing Board in the development of the post-RPA structures for DPPs to ensure that their proposals reflect Patten’s vision of both strong local accountability and links to the local community.

The Government do not support Amendment No. 30, as it would prolong the period of the review of each district policing partnership. The Government seek to have the Northern Ireland Policing Board undertake the review of each DPP as quickly as possible, as this is the first step in the process of reconstituting affected DPPs. Furthermore, we do not support Amendments Nos. 31, 32 and 35, which are consequential to it.

Viscount Brookeborough: Perhaps either I did not hear clearly or I do not fully understand. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and I were saying that, should the Assembly go ahead in the mean time—and it will be well ahead of the reform of the RPA, which will of course mean a total reorganisation of areas, DPP areas and so on, which we accept—the Policing Board will be under an obligation to reform the DPPs as they presently stand. The noble Lord has answered a different question—namely, would we object to reforming the DPPs post the RPA? We know that. The police have been working on the policing areas since I was on the Policing Board. I completely understand that. But we are asking an entirely different question. The timescales for the two things are not, and will not be, identical.

I could ask the noble Lord when the RPA will come into effect but I am absolutely sure that it will not be in March next year. I am sure that it will be some way ahead. Therefore, our question to the

22 Nov 2006 : Column 417

Minister is: should Sinn Fein be able to take up its position on the DPPs after the resurrection of the Assembly, will or will not the Policing Board be obliged to reform them in the mean time and therefore ditch the loyalty of, in particular, nationalist members of the DPPs?

Lord Rooker: I hear what the noble Viscount says. I realised that there were two questions, and I have answered two questions. I shall give more detail to point to the relevant part of the draft legislation. I appreciate that there are two distinct issues: one is the reconstitution of the partnerships following the change in the boundaries of local government, and the other is the membership relating to the independence if the political composition changes. I may not be giving the answers that are required, as it were, but I appreciate that there are two distinct issues to address.

Before going on to Amendment No. 35, I shall go back to the decision to reconstitute the district policing partnerships. The Policing Board is required to consider the political indications and whether or not they are met in relation to each district policing partnership. That is a judgment for the board. If it is not set, it is the board’s judgment that the DPPs must be reconstituted in accordance with the requirement that the membership taken together is representative of the community in the district—political plus independence.

I draw the noble Viscount’s attention to paragraph 2(6) of Schedule 8, on page 37 of the Bill, which states:

The restoration of the Assembly will not affect the district policing partnerships—only the board. The commencement for the draft in Schedule 8 will be a matter for the Secretary of State, but it could happen before the implementation of the RPA. I understand that the RPA implementation is 2009. There are many changes, which I fully accept, simply because direct rule Ministers have been left to push forward a reform programme. We said that if we were there we would push it faster. That was the incentive for the Assembly to get a grip on it. Many changes are taking place in local government in Northern Ireland in terms of rates, water, education and other things. I appreciate that the coming together of some of these means that some dates and actions could happen inconveniently to people. I fully accept that, and would be happy to put this in a letter if it needs further explanation. But that is where the responsibility lies.

I shall deal briefly with Amendments Nos. 35, 31 and 32. Amendment No. 35 would seek an additional condition for the Northern Ireland Policing Board in reviewing each district policing partnership. The Government would have to have the Northern Ireland Policing Board undertake a review of each DPP using the most objective information available. They believe that the examination of the political membership of the DPP provides that.

22 Nov 2006 : Column 418

Amendment No. 33 requires the board to publish a list of DPPs which do not meet the representative condition set out in Amendment No. 35. We are mindful of the effect that the reconstitution of the DPPs will have on all current independent partnership members. Obviously we pay tribute to the crucial work that all DPPs have been doing since their establishment, and for the sheer courage and determination of people who, in wanting to do their public duty, have faced threats of intimidation. In recognition of the role that existing independent members have played, the Secretary of State will make the necessary amendments to the current code of practice on the appointment of independent members not just to reflect the changes brought about by this draft legislation but to put in place arrangements to facilitate as far as possible currently serving independent DPP members seeking reappointment.

As the Government would seek to ensure that the DPP’s political membership reflects the latest political representation in that district—not just Sinn Fein inclusion but possible changes in other political parties—we do not propose to support Amendment No. 34 either. We wish to maintain the position for those councillors who do not currently hold a party political affiliation. They are currently treated as a party in respect of the appointment of political members of the DPP. It is in line with the current arrangements set out in Schedule 3 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, and ensures that an independent member of the council shall be treated as a party for the purposes of the Bill. Therefore, we do not support Amendment No. 36 either. I hope what I have said is sufficient for the House to approve Clause 18, which is what this is all about.

Lord Trimble: I thank the Minister for his earlier comments—that is a formal statement. In the light of that, I drop my opposition to the Question whether Clause 18 should stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clauses 19 and 20 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.]

Clause 21 [Amendment of Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 etc]:

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 20:

The noble Lord said: I am sorry that the amendment has come at this time of the evening. I would have liked to have had a big Division and won it. This is one of the worst parts of the Bill. It is quite unnecessary. Apart from rates, which we debated under a statutory instrument a week or two ago, if ever there was a decision that should be taken by the Assembly, it is academic selection. It is clearly a major part of the education system.

The Government tell us that the Assembly will be sitting in a few weeks, but they do not have the trust or belief in themselves to wait three months before making a decision on academic selection. It is a dogma of part of the new Labour Party to do away

22 Nov 2006 : Column 419

with academic selection. The Conservative Party strongly believe in it. We accept that the 11-plus has gone, and are not particularly perturbed about that. Academic selection needs reviewing and rehashing, but some form of academic selection is vital. Without it, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, pointed out in his Second Reading speech, there will almost inevitably be chaos in the schools, and the process of various children getting into their parents’ choice of school; or maybe there will be no choice at all. Without any form of selection of this type, the net result will be a pretty disastrous situation in our education process.

My amendment was different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, which was rather stronger. He wanted the complete removal of academic selection from the Bill. My suggestion was based largely on democratic grounds, as well as the political and human grounds I have mentioned, because I do not believe in thrusting things down people’s throats, rightly or wrongly. My amendment was designed to delay the decision until 2010, by which time two good things should have happened: the Assembly should be up and running, and the Tory Party should be governing the country. Having said that, I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: The noble Lord was commendably brief, and I hope to be equally brief. I realise that he would have liked a full House, a big vote and a big shout about this, but we had the full House in July. Nothing has changed since then. By a substantial majority, this House was willing to approve the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. That is the reality.

Grammar schools are not being abolished. They will continue to provide their distinctive curriculum. The basis on which pupils will transfer from primary to secondary education will be a matter for the restored Assembly, if it is there. The Assembly will decide whether this should include academic selection and, if so, what the arrangements should be. We agreed all that in July. Tonight we are simply altering the timetable for restoration. The Government have their own view of what would be the most suitable outcome for Northern Ireland, but we have not imposed it. The Northern Ireland parties will decide, if devolution is restored. That applies equally to many other policies of reform, as we have repeatedly made clear. If devolution is not restored, there is a duty on the Government to act to remove the uncertainty in a way that reflects the outcome of the major reviews that have taken place over four to six years. In contrast, some of the amendments merely delay the decision, which is in nobody’s interest. I hope that the noble Lord does not press his amendment. I have been briefer than he was.

Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for his brief response. I know that we have been over this ground. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

22 Nov 2006 : Column 420

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 21 to 25 not moved.]

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clauses 22 and 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Parliamentary procedure for orders under section 23]:

[Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clauses 25 and 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Commencement]:

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The Transitional Assembly]:

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedules 2 to 7 agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page