PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Standing Committee D

POLICE AND MAGISTRATES' COURTS BILL [LORDS]

Thirteenth Sitting

Thursday 16 June 1994

(Afternoon)

CONTENTS

CLAUSES 59 to 61 agreed to.

Adjourned till Tuesday 21 June at half-past ten o'clock.

LONDON: HMSO

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429 Standing Committee D Thursday 16 June 1994

(Afternoon)

[MR. EDWARD O'HARA in the Chair]

Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill [Lords] Clause 59
REGULATIONS FOR ADMINISTRATION, ETC. OF ROYAL ULSTER CONSTABULARY

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 265, in page 30, line 13, at end insert— "(1A) After the word 'Constabulary' in each place where it occurs there shall be inserted the words 'and the Northern Ireland Airport Police'."—[Mr. Mackinlay.]

4.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following: Amendment No. 266 in page 30, line 30, after "Constabulary", insert— "and the Northern Ireland Airport Police." Amendment No. 267, in page 30, line 33, at end add— "and the Northern Ireland Airport Police."

New clause 8—Northern Ireland Airport Police"(1) The Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 shall be amended as follows. (2) In section 1 (establishment of a police authority for Northern Ireland), after subsection (2) there shall be inserted— '(2A) It shall be the duty of the Police Authority to secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient service by the Northern Ireland Airport Police'. (3) In section 2 (transfer of property to the police authority)— (a) after subsection (3) there shall be inserted— '(3A) On an appointed day, which shall be before any day on which the transfer of the assets of Northern Ireland Airports Limited or the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company takes place under the provisions of Articles 50 to 59 of the Airports (Northern Ireland) Order 1993, the property and employment contracts pertaining to the Northern Ireland Airport Police shall be transferred to and vest in the Police Authority.'; and (b) in subsection (4), for words "subsections (1) and (2)" there shall be substituted the words "subsections (1), (2) and (3A)."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle): I rose, I think, at 12.59 to respond to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and when you, Mr. O'Hara, called an end to the sitting this morning I was saying that the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Government security advisers are content with the proposal to transfer the airport constabulary into the private sector. The RUC can step in to take over policing, if required. Therefore, we see no need for another separate police force controlled by the police authority for Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, for all practical purposes the responsibilities, capabilities and professionalism of airport constables will remain unchanged on privatisation. There are precedents where port police functions have been transferred into the private sector without any loss of effectiveness—for example, the Port of London Authority and Tilbury dock. 430 As the hon. Member for Thurrock noted, the position in law, as provided by article 19 of the Airports (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, and before that by section 11 of the Aerodromes Act (Northern Ireland) 1971, allows any airport operator in Northern Ireland, whether public or private, to seek authorisation from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to appoint and manage an airport constabulary. The proposals to transfer the constabulary into the private sector whenever the airport is privatised were thoroughly discussed and approved by the House during the debate on the Airport (Northern Ireland) Order last February, in which the hon. Member for Thurrock took part. The present airport constabulary has operated successfully under the control of the management of Belfast international airport for the past 23 years. Government security advisers and the RUC have carefully considered the issue of policing following the forthcoming privatisation of the airport operating company. They are satisfied with the performance of the present airport constabulary and are content that the force can transfer into the private sector. In conclusion, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the interest of staff representatives at the airport in achieving federated status. The subject was discussed at meetings between Ministers and representatives of the Belfast airport police association. The Government are not prepared to grant federated status, but the order protects and extends the rights of employment of airport constables. The Government propose to safeguard the association's negotiating rights by contractual means, so I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): I am surprised by the Minister's response to the sensible and modest proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock, who has taken a considerable interest in the non-Home Office constabularies in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. The Minister appears to think that there are no problems with the transfer into the private sector, but the House and the public in general know what is meant by terms such as "police force", "police officers" and "responsibility" as applied to constables. A transfer into the private sector is a transfer into unknown territory, where authority is not so easily identified or understood. For example, the role of the constable is very important. The Minister says that that role will be unchanged by the Government's proposals. How can that be so? In England and Wales, a constable is accountable to the Crown and, therefore, to Ministers and the Home Secretary as the representative of the Crown. Earlier we argued that an overriding responsibility to the public was implicit in that historic arrangement. The position in Scotland is simpler. The constable has an overriding responsibility to the public. Such responsibility to the public interest is absolutely clear regarding public servants. That surely cannot remain unchanged in the context of a constabulary in the private sector when the line of public responsibility is not clear. The Minister has not tried to explain how that anomaly can be resolved, which leaves a great question mark over the issue. On the basis of his 431 remarks, I do not understand how he is justified in rejecting the sensible and straightforward amendments of my hon. Friend. The Minister said that the Government's proposals were, in effect, approved in the order passed by the House last February. However, this Bill deals with the nature and role of the police, in which the amendment and the new clause would play an important part. It is rather like the issue that we were unable to debate this morning regarding the impact of a statutory instrument on primary legislation. Whatever the content of a statutory instrument, whether or not the House has approved it, the Bill deals with primary legislation on the nature of the police. I am surprised by the Minister's rather cavalier dismissal of my hon. Friend's proposals. I should have thought that they would commend themselves to Ministers as well as to the public in offering the type of protection that the public want and need. Therefore, the proposals should be approved.

Mr. Andrew MacKinlay (Thurrock): I shall be brief because I do not want to overegg the matter and I realise that there is pressure on hon. Members' time. However, it should be stated for the record that although the issue came before the House through the order that enabled the Government to privatise Belfast international airport, it is a fact that the equivalent of an Act of Parliament was given about an hour and a half of debating time on the Floor of the House and is not amendable. It did not have the type of scrutiny which we are giving to this Bill or which was given to the privatisation of ports in 1991 when there was a full Committee stage in which matters, such as those that I have canvassed today, could be examined thoroughly by Members of Parliament. There is a degree of inevitability about this. Sooner or later, the Administration—no matter who they are—will bring back into public ownership and control Belfast international airport's policing arrangements. Some things are as certain as night turns into day. I regret that the Government cannot see that now, because if they did, it would avoid an hiatus and much anxiety and irritation among all those involved. I regret that the Government have not seen this as an opportunity to reflect and to retain in public ownership and control those proud police officers and forces. It is illogical to treat exclusively that one airport. The dangerous thought could cross the minds of some people in Whitehall that comparable arrangements could be 432 introduced for the airports at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow. Logic dictates that that thought would cross their minds if such arrangements were considered to be good for Belfast. That would be wrong. Finally, I must press the amendment to a Division because, as I have said in the Committee and elsewhere, it is a wholly repugnant notion that police forces should be under anything other than public ownership and control. When members of the public see a police officer's uniform, they make the not unreasonable assumption that they are approaching somebody who is a public servant, unhindered and unencumbered by any consideration other than promoting the public good. For that reason I want to record my desire jealously to safeguard that proud principle of British and Irish policing.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

[Division 19]
AYES
Jackson, Glenda Michael, Mr. Alun
Mackinlay, Mr. Andrew Miller, Mr. Andrew
Meale, Mr. Alan
NOES
Arbuthnot, Mr. Jamas Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Atkinson, Mr. Peter Stephen, Mr. Michael
Congdon, Mr. David Taylor, Mr. John M.
Fabricant, Mr. Michael Trend, Mr. Michael
Greenway, Mr. John Wardle, Mr. Charles
Martin, Mr. David

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 60 and 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Arbuthnot.]

Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes to Five o'clock till Tuesday 21 June at half-past Ten o'clock.

433

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)

Arbuthnot, Mr.

Atkinson, Mr. Peter

Congdon, Mr.

Fabricant, Mr.

Greenway, Mr. John

Jackson, Ms Glenda

Mackinlay, Mr.

Martin, Mr. David

Meale, Mr.

Michael, Mr.

Miller, Mr.

Moss, Mr.

Stephen, Mr.

Trend, Mr.

Wardle, Mr. Charles

434