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I am hopeful because the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said to me last Friday, when I spoke on much the same matter at somewhat less length, that I had raised an interesting point and assured me that it
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Lord Rooker: I am very grateful for the contributions. We are in Grand Committee and I do not think there is any expectation that I can give anything remotely like a detailed response to all the points made. However, I shall certainly ensure that this debate is read by the Secretary of State so that I am preparedI am not claiming that I am not preparedbecause clearly this issue will be raised on Report.
I do not seek to hide behind the fact that this Bill does not affect the role of the police ombudsman. This is an example of something that I do myself. You look for hooks to hang things on to get issues raised. This Bill is a suitable vehicle to raise the very speeches that we have just heard. I have no complaint about that, but it is not a measure that is central to the police ombudsmans role. I know nothing about the details but an incredibly plausible case for the amendment was made through the issues raised, notwithstanding what the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said about the thing you could never put your finger on; that is, why the agent never came forward, never spoke or made a report. But the noble Baroness put her finger on the possible consequences where matters are disclosed without any intention to do so. I fully accept that. Again, a plausible case can be made.
The role of the police ombudsman is slightly different. It is worth reminding Members of the Committee that the ombudsmans powers are set out in Part VII of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, and broadly speaking we are satisfied that they are appropriate. These include a provision in Section 65(5) for the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland,
That is a wide provision to cover everything, and national security would certainly be an aspect of public interest. I do not know if any such guidance has been given, but I suspect it has not. But the fact is that the provision is on the statute book.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I may be able to help the Minister on that. It would appear that guidance has not been given. It would also appear that although it was a matter of only hours before the public presentation of the McCord report that copies of it were handed to the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State, the police ombudsmans office had been trailing the whole issue literally for weeks. The press had it for weeks and told us what was going to be in the report. I have mentioned before that a television programme for Ulster Television produced by Chris Moore was produced within 24 hours. That gives us an idea not only of the folly of the actions of the police ombudsman, but also in line with a Written Answer from the Minister, she breached confidentialityif not personally, then through her office. I have tabled another Question for Written Answer because I would love to find out how much money she spent on a spin doctor.
Lord Rooker: We will do our best to answer any questions that come our way. As I have said, the argument for placing what we can call Clause 14-type restrictions on the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland might be plausible, but we do not think it is necessary. The remit of the police ombudsman does not extend to the oversight or investigation of the intelligence agencies. The Security Service and the ombudsmans office are currently working together to agree arrangements for access to sensitive information where it is required.
That is the legal duty of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. The jurisdiction currently extends to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and to operations within Northern Ireland of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency as well as other bodies of constables such as the harbour and airport police. The security and intelligence agencies fall outside the remit of the ombudsman. They are not in the category of a body of constables and the ombudsman has no oversight over them whatsoever. The ombudsmans role is, and will remain, properly focused on the police. However, in so far as the ombudsman may have access to sensitive information by virtue of his or her statutory powers to oversee the activities of police officers, that access is essential to the discharge of the ombudsmans duties and role in ensuring an efficient and effective police complaints system that commands public confidence.
That may be considered a wholly unsatisfactory response; indeed, I am not claiming that it is satisfactory. But I have tried to emphasise where we consider the boundaries are, I have given pointers in the statutory framework, and I have given a commitment to ensure the Secretary of State will have a full note about the issues raised in this debate before I have to face the House on Report.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I know that the Minister would not wish to misrepresent the situation. The police ombudsman in the Restorick case invited and interviewed members of the intelligence services. They were under no obligation, but one knows how some people feel it is their duty to co-operate with the authorities. The ombudsman interviewed members of the military. It is here in the reportinquiries relating to Operation Poacher, for example. There was an interview with Officer G, who was a major in the Army. Whatever may be understood to be the parameters within which the ombudsman works, I assure the Minister that I would not have raised this if it had been a straightforward and uncomplicated case. This is interference that is jeopardising the whole of our national and international security.
Lord Rooker: I am not going to repeat anything I have said, because what I have said is clearly on the record. One would be stupid not to note the annoyancealthough I would probably put it stronger than that if I were outside Parliamentof noble Lords at some of the issues they have given examples of today. They have not come with thoughts, feeling and hunches; they are obviously quoting from reports on specific cases. As I said, I will ensure that the Secretary of State is aware of that. We had not planned for this with this legislation; we are dealing with the extended powers of the Human Rights Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, was quite right: what might work for one body might not necessarily work for another. However, the general point of principle, which I have made both in this debate and in response to the noble Baroness in the other one, is extremely valued.
Lord Trimble: It is customary to thank the Minister for his contribution, although I must say at one stage I began to wonder which planet we were on. The Minister said the police ombudsmans remit does not extend to intelligence, and that she has no role with regard to the intelligence services. Would that that were true.
We have dealt with a terrorist situation in Northern Ireland, and we have that situation in Great Britain today. Although I have no direct knowledge of how things are being organised in Great Britain in dealing with Islamist terrorism, I would be very surprised if the same pattern is not developing in the relationship between the intelligence services and the police services largely along the same lines as the relationship developed between those two services in Northern Ireland. In dealing with terrorism, you end up with an almost seamless web between military intelligence, the Security Service and Special Branch, interfacing with uniformed officers as well. I am drawing the line between saying, This is police; the ombudsman looks at this, and, This is intelligence; the ombudsman doesnt look at this. That is not what happens in practice; the one feeds into the other.
Even if it appears to be a purely police operation involving Special Branch and uniformed officers, the methodology adopted can come over from the intelligence services as well. The methodology will run right through it. In the future in Northern Ireland, particularly with regard to these historic inquiries,
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The provision in new Section 69B is not purely about intelligence; it is about national security. The national security consideration can come into inquiries undertaken by the ombudsman. It will not come into run-of-the-mill police complaints about what the police officer on duty happened to do with regard to a specific situation involving a traffic accident or some other offence, but there will be a range of situations involving national security. If this level of protection for national security is considered appropriate for this agency, then it is equally appropriate for the other agencies.
The Minister was clear at the outset about not being able to explore all these matters; he said that he will do what he can to ensure that the Secretary of State focuses on it. I am very glad that he is clearly placing the responsibility on the Secretary of State. We will see on Report the extent to which the Secretary of State has focused on the matter. But it is not open to the Secretary of StateI hope the Secretary of State reads thisto sit there and say, Because it is the police ombudsman Im going to ignore national security
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There is evidence both in the McCord case and in the Restorick case that matters appertaining to national security which should not have been published have been published. That is indisputable. There is now a problem which needs to be addressed. In 1998, when the Police (Northern Ireland) Act was being passed and the ombudsmans office was being created, it may have been thought that the provision on guidance which the Minister quoted was sufficient to cover it, but it is not. It has not worked. The same sort of statutory provisions that are being provided for the Human Rights Commission need to apply to not only its inquiries but all inquiries that touch on national security. However, as the Minister has said he will ensure that this matter is looked at, we shall await the outcome of that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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