PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS OFFICIAL REPORT

Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT POLICE (AMENDMENT) (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1995

Wednesday 18 October 1995

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: MR. JOHN MAXTON

Brown, Mr. Michael (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Cohen, Mr. Harry (Leyton)

Devlin, Mr. Tim (Stockton, South)

Howell, Sir Ralph (Norfolk, North)

Lester, Mr. Jim (Broxtowe)

Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)

Mackay, Mr. Andrew (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick (New Forest)

Madden, Mr. Max (Bradford, West)

Maginnis, Mr. Ken (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Marshall, Mr. John (Hendon, South)

Parry, Mr. Robert (Liverpool, Riverside)

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget (Lewisham, East)

Rathbone, Mr. Tim (Lewes)

Wheeler, Sir John (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)

Wicks, Mr. Malcolm (Croydon, North-West)

Winnick, Mr. David (Walsall, North)

Worthington, Mr. Tony (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Mr. E. P. Silk, Committee Clerk

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3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 18 October 1995

[MR. JOHN MAXTON in the Chair]

Draft Police (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

4.30 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Police (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The order was laid before the House on 14 July 1995. Its purpose is to make changes to police powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, and to police discipline and police complaints procedures. Part II makes changes to police powers to take body samples which will help the Royal Ulster Constabulary to maintain its high level of success in clearing up crime. The majority of the amendments are analogous to changes that the Government have implemented in England and Wales, principally through the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Part II makes changes to disciplinary procedures, which will enable police managers to improve standards still further, while ensuring that procedures are fair. Part IV of the order makes changes to the police complaints system. There was wide consultation on the draft order. Some respondents were concerned about the application of sample-taking powers set out in articles 10 to 13 of the draft order. There was also concern about the potential tension between police and public as a result of the amendment to mouth-searching powers in draft article 5. I shall consider both those concerns by introducing guidelines and safeguards—again, after consultation—to the Northern Ireland PACE codes of practce that were currently under review. The majority of respondents welcomed the abolition of double jeopardy in disciplinary proceedings. There was also support for the Government's intention to streamline disciplinary and complaints systems. Some respondents supported calls to give the Independent Commission for Police Complaints a power to call in for supervision those cases that were not the subject of a complaint. We have not met that recommendation entirely but have given the commission a new power to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State non-complaint matters that have aroused public concern. He has the power to refer the matter to the independent commission. In that context, the Government announced in a Written Answer yesterday that we will appoint an independent reviewer to conduct a wide-ranging examination of the police complaints system. One amendment has been made to the draft order at the request of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints. Draft article 29 provides that the commission must be consulted about regulations made under part IV of the order. The provisions of the order follow wide consultation and the majority are analogous to changes that the Government have implemented in England and Wales. The 4 reforms represent a balanced package of measures, allowing the Royal Ulster Constabulary to take full advantage of developments in the investigation and detection of crime while enhancing police accountability through the modernisation of complaints and discipline procedures. I commend the order to the Committee.

4.34 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington: (Clydebank and Milngavie): I am afraid that I shall take a little longer than the Minister on this issue, which although significant is not the most important matter that will affect the police in the next few months as part of the general peace process. Some of what I say will relate to what, surprisingly, is not included in the order. We would all agree that getting policing in Northern Ireland right is crucial to any constitutional settlement that may be reached. We must judge the order in that context and decide whether it allows us to move to a more normal, peaceful, balanced system of policing. We must remember that the Royal Ulster Constabulary has borne the brunt of the troubles: 300 officers have died and 7,000 have been injured—perhaps wounded would be a more appropriate word. Our gratitude to them should be not short-term, but long lasting. There are conflicting perceptions of the role of the police in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein demands the disbanding of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, while at the other extreme the Unionist see little need for significant change. We must find a way forward. The current cost of policing in Northern Ireland is extremely heavy. It costs every citizen of Northern Ireland over £1 a day to be policed. The policing for every family of four costs more than £30 a week. We must find a way forward so that that money can be used to promote a prosperous and peaceful society, rather than simply to protect people. It will be interesting to see where the Government expect their imminent White Paper on the police to take us. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when he expects it to be published. I understood that it was to be published around November, but there are rumours that it has been delayed. Hon. Members will be interested to know the latest estimate. Can the Minister also tell us what is happening to the form and structure of the investigation into the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991. That review was promised in the summer, before the recess, and there has been no further statement on it. As part of our discussion on policing in Northern Ireland, it is important for the Government to tell us their intentions with regard to that review. Who is to chair the review? What is the stature of that person? Will that person be assisted by assessors? What will be the time scale for reporting to the Minister? As the Minister said, the measure originates partly from two Acts that went through the House last year and apply to other parts of the United Kingdom—the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994. Parts of those Acts, however, are not being applied to Northern Ireland, and it is important to ask why. If the origin of the order is in those Acts, why have parts of the Acts been omitted from the order? 5 For example, a major part of the Police and Magistrates Courts Act concerned ranks in the police forces. There is no mention of that in the order. On the Second Reading of the Police and Magistrates Courts Bill, the Home Secretary said that in the special context of Northern Ireland it was not proposed to remove the rank of deputy chief constable. Why did the Government decide in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland not to tackle the ranks as they did in Great Britain? Why did the Government take that attitude? I am not disagreeing with it, but we should use this opportunity to find out from the Government why they did not adopt the same approach to the Royal Ulster Constabulary as they did to police forces in Great Britain. Similarly, the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 makes controversial changes to the relationships in the tripartite structure of Home Secretary, chief constable and police authority, which in England and Wales has had a strong local government content. The Northern Ireland Office apparently proposes to reshape what it calls a tripartite structure in Northern Ireland, but there is no mention of that in the order. How does the Minister propose to proceed with those changes and when? While on that topic, the Government should stop pretending, as they do in the White Paper "Policing in the Community", that Northern Ireland has a tripartite structure based on the English model. That is bunkum. The White Paper states: "The setting up of a Police Authority represented the extension to Northern Ireland of the English model of policing … The 1970 Act enshrines in legislation a tripartite structure for the administration of justice". That is not true. The differences are more profound than the similarities. For example, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has total control of the budget. That is not so in England and Wales, where the police authorities consists of independently appointed councillors and magistrates, totally outwith the control of the Home Secretary. The Police and Magistrates' Courts Act was savaged during its passage through Parliament, particularly in the House of Lords, because the Home Secretary sought to take control of police authorities by appointing his placemen and the chairmen. He had to back down. However, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland appoints everybody. To call that a tripartite structure on the English model—whatever the rights and wrongs of it—is not accurate. The Police Authority in Northern Ireland is a dependent and puny creature. The Police and Magistrates' Courts Act gave police authorities the duty to produce development plans. The Police Authority in Northern Ireland wants to do that, but the chief constable is determined that the authority should not have the power to plan strategy, despite the fact, that it is connected not with operational matters but with the development of policing plans. The Government are saying to the police authorities of England and Wales that a key part of the reform is that they should be able to produce development plans, yet the Government seem to side with the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland. I call on the Minister to say why the order makes no provision for what was a key issue in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act. That difference should be explained, especially as taking away from the Police Authority of Northern Ireland its duty to provide support services to the Royal Ulster Constabulary leaves it more marginalised. I believe that the Minister met the members 6 of that police authority last Thursday. Did he discuss their wish to have the same role in making development plans as the English and Welsh authorities and what view did he take? According to The Irish Times, the members of the police authority emerged from that meeting reassured. Will the Minister give us the same reassurance? Why is there nothing in the order on that matter? How is the matter to be resolved? I shall now speak about specific parts of the order. The Committee will be glad to know that I shall not discuss matters in detail that were debated in another place, because we do not have the power to amend the order. The question of double jeopardy has been considered already, so I shall not do so again. Much in the order is unexceptional—for example, the change in disciplinary procedures, the power of arrest for failure to answer police bail or the removal of the anomaly whereby a mouth swab was an intimate sample in one part of the United Kingdom but not in another. Such matters are not worth debating today, but the Minister needs to explain some other issues. I am puzzled by article 13, which deals with "Retention of samples in certain cases". I understand that where one of a group of people who have given samples to the police is detained and I assume, charged the police will have the power to retain the samples given by those not charged, but they will not be allowed to do anything with those samples. Those samples will not be able to be used in future investigations or as part of other charges against those people. So why will those shelves full of samples be kept? Perhaps they could be used for future purposes—for example, to build up a DNA library—or, on civil liberties grounds, one could say that the samples should be returned to the people who provided them. To give the police the power to keep such samples but not to use them for any purpose needs an explanation. The second nitty-gritty question is on the right of police officers to appeal to a tribunal if they are disciplined. It is right that an appeal tribunal should be set up. Under the order, police officers will have a right of appeal in severe cases, such as when dismissal is involved, or when an officer has to resign or is reduced in rank. In the other place, Lord Harris raised the issue of reduction in pay. He made the point effectively that a reduction in pay could involve many thousands of pounds if yearly pay and pension rights were taken into account. The decision not to allow a right of appeal in such circumstances should be reconsidered. The consequences of damaging an individual officer's future living standard without allowing the officer a right of appeal is an important matter. The consequences for an officer of having his or her pay reduced is similar to being reduced in rank: it is a black mark which an officer finds difficult to overcome. We welcome the Government's decision—announced yesterday—to hold a wide-ranging review of the role of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, which has done much valuable work. Will the Minister tell us more about the intended terms of reference of the review? In the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, it is crucial to the future policing of the Province that the police have the support and confidence of all sections of the people—a key aspect of which is the investigation of complaints against the police. 7 The Chief Constable is reported to have said that if the present system whereby the Royal Ulster Constabulary investigates complaints against itself does not command assent, then he would not stand in the way of independent investigation. Will the terms of reference of the review body allow the review committee to consider not only whether there should be independent review but allow it to go further? The mechanics of an independent review are complicated. I would not want a review body that simply looked theoretically at the issue, but one that would go further than that so that ground that should be covered would be covered. The Minister referred to the part of the order in which the Independent Commission for Police Complaints sought the power to investigate areas of concern that had not been the subject of specific complaints. Complainants are always vulnerable and may not wish to complain personally, but outsiders are not so vulnerable and may wish to make a specific complaint. The Independent Commission for Police Complaints said that in recent years it had wanted to examine perhaps six areas of concern about policing. The Secretary of State has come up with a compromise—or a fudge. He has not given the Independent Commission for Police Complaints the power to investigate independently those areas of concern, but he has given it the power to seek his permission to investigate such matters. Apart from anything else, I wonder whether that was wise politically. Let us suppose that that body of the great and good decides that there is an area that needs to be investigated and seeks approval from the Secretary of State to do so. If the Secretary of State says no, there is a great danger that that would lead to a politicising of policing in a way that would not be attractive. Will the Minister explain further the thinking behind that measure. I have one final question. Can the Minister say which constabularies referred to in article 26 are not maintained by the Police Authority? For example, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners have their own police force. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's reply.

Sir John Wheeler: I am happy to reply to the points that have been raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr Worthington) seemed to range beyond the scope of the order. However, I suspect that if I were to trespass further upon your generosity, Mr. Maxton, I should soon be called to order. Perhaps you will allow me to deal briefly with one or two aspects of the debate. The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the sterling work of the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the past 25 years, as he was right to talk about public confidence in the constabulary service in Northern Ireland. I will share with the Committee one brief fact before I deal with the detail of what the hon. Gentleman raised. I refer to new recruits to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There are now more applicants from the minority community than perhaps ever before in modern times. The most recent trawl for applicants produced a response of about 22 per cent. from that community.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): What is the present ratio of applicants from the two communities in Northern Ireland? It would be useful if the Minister could give details of the ratio between the majority and minority communities.

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Sir John Wheeler: I shall seek to answer that, but I must discipline myself against being drawn too far down the enticing road of a wide-ranging debate on the Royal Ulster Constabulary. From memory, I can say to the hon. Gentleman that the figure is about 8 per cent. The present interest in recruiting suggests that that figure will improve as it is now safe for members of the minority community to come forward because of the ceasefire: they and their families are unlikely to be specifically targeted by the terrorist gangs who heretofore have sought to kill them at every conceivable opportunity. The Committee will understand something of the background to that. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) asked about the White Paper. I hope that the Government will be able to publish it before the year is out. However, it is important that the consultations that I am conducting with many interested parties in Northern Ireland continue, to ensure that we have the widest basis of support. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the likely character of the White Paper and the relationships within the tripartite arrangement in Northern Ireland. He inquired about the difference between that arrangement and that which prevails in England and Wales. There are indeed differences, financial and historical. Financially, 100 per cent. of the funding for the constabularly service in Northern Ireland comes from the Northern Ireland block grant and must be won by the Secretary of State in the annual public expenditure survey round. As the hon. Gentleman and other Committee members will know, in England and Wales the funding comes from three sources: around 50 per cent. from the Home Office police grant, about 40 per cent. from the Department of the Environment grant mechanism and 10 per cent. from local government tax.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): Does the Minister agree that, in the Northern Ireland rating system, a notional amount is raised for policing? Although moneys come back to us through the block grant, the regional rate raised is included in that. I should not like the Minister to give the impression that the good people of Northern Ireland do not contribute to the funding of their police in the same way as people in Great Britain.

Sir John Wheeler: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. A swill of money slops backwards and forwards between the taxpayer and the Treasury, and it is true that concealed in the Northern Ireland rating system is the notional amount contributing towards the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The difference is that in England and Wales there is a direct form of taxation contributing about 10 per cent. I do not want to be drawn into discussing the likely content of the White Paper but, to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, it has as its kernel the ability of a police authority in Northern Ireland to set up and approve the policing plan and strategic objective. It will be about holding the Chief Constable to account for the use of resources. That is as far as I can go without trespassing on your generosity, Mr. Maxton. I notice that you nod accordingly. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the review of emergency provisions. The Government have always said that the powers contained in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 and the Prevention of 9 Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 will remain in force no longer than is necessary. The Government have already announced their intention to carry out a review into the continued need for counter-terrorist legislation throughout the United Kingdom, and that will start as soon as possible. It is unlikely that those conducting the review will be able to report before the successor legislation to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 is introduced, and the new emergency provisions Bill will therefore be explicitly temporary. It might also be possible to suspend some of its provisions from the outset, depending on the security situation at the time. I can also tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government will seek to appoint to the reviewing post a person of great distinction and eminence who will command widespread confidence throughout the United Kingdom, and in Northern Ireland in particular. The hon. Gentleman also asked in relation to article 13 why it is that samples are retained. The power is discretionary and covers cases in which convictions have taken place in controversial or disputed circumstances and where an appeal is likely. In such cases, the Government contend, it is important that all the evidence be available to avoid miscarriages of justice. Clear safeguards exist where samples of unconvicted persons are retained. They cannot be used in evidence against that person or for the purposes of investigating an offence. I think that the hon. Gentleman will understand the point about miscarriages of justice—a matter that he and I have considered elsewhere in our parliamentary service. The hon. Gentleman asked why in article 14—appeal to the tribunal is restricted to the punishments of dismissal, requirement to resign or reduction in rank. The right of officers—other than senior officers—to appeal all punishments in the first instance to the Chief Constable will remain. Lesser punishments are essentially a matter of internal police management. It would be inappropriate for an officer to appeal the punishment of a fine all the way to the tribunal. Officers will have the right of appeal to the Chief Constable against reductions in pay; that is how the article is intended to operate. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie asked about the complaints review. The answer is that it will be a wide-ranging review of the complaints system, as I announced yesterday on the Floor of the House. Its objectives are as set out in detail in a written answer. There is no reason why any aspect of the success of the police complaints system in Northern Ireland should not be considered. 10 The Government greatly value the work of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints. It has been in operation for seven years and it is now right, in the context of the emerging policing scene in Northern Ireland, to consider whether it is appropriate for the future, and how it can be built upon and extended. That is the basic reason for the review. The hon. Gentleman asked why we have not given the commission a call-in power, as was requested. That would mean a change in the role of the commission, taking it beyond its responsibility for supervising the investigation of complaints. Granting that request would require the commission to instigate police investigations rather than to respond to complaints or the concerns of the Secretary of State or the police authority. The new power of the commission to draw matters to the attention of the Secretary of State will enable the commission to raise its concerns. Of course, that will be a matter to be considered during the review, and it may well be that the reviewer will make his own recommendation upon it, in which case I assure the Committee that it will be very carefully considered. The hon. Gentleman asked about the powers of the other constabularies that operate in Northern Ireland. The constabulary referred to is the harbour and dock police—a small police service that is provided for in section 79 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847. The appointment of constables is referred to in article 19 of the Airports (Northern Ireland) Order 1993. The hon. Gentleman also inquired why the rank of deputy chief constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been retained. The Royal Ulster Constabulary is the second largest police service in the United Kingdom, with about 8,000 regular police officers and 3,000 reservists in two different categories. During the 25 years of the emergency, that rank was essential for the management of such a large constabulary. Any future review of the Royal Ulster Constabulary will consider whether there is still a need for that rank, however. I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman's questions to his satisfaction.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Police (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

Committee rose at five minutes past Five o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Maxton, Mr. John (Chairman)

Brown, Mr. Michael

Devlin, Mr.

Howell, Sir Ralph

Lloyd, Sir Peter

MacKay, Mr.

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick

Madden, Mr.

Maginnis, Mr.

Marshall, Mr. John

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget

Rathbone, Mr.

Wheeler, Sir John

Winnick, Mr.

Worthington, Mr.

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