Clause 47 - Further provisions about functions

Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 7 Chwefror 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 10:00, 7 Chwefror 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 288, in page 27, line 13, at end insert—

'(1A) The Chief Inspector must carry out an inspection of each organisation specified in subsection 46(1) at least once in every year, unless he is satisfied that the organisation is subject to adequate inspection by someone other than him.'.

This amendment is straightforward and would ensure that criminal justice agencies are subject to annual review and inspection, and provide the chief inspector with statutory direction in drawing up his programme. It would also allow him to exclude an organisation from his annual programme if he is satisfied that it has been adequately inspected by another inspectorate. In the interests of symmetry, I note that the annual inspection of the Police Service is specified under section 41(2) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1988.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Ceidwadwyr, Isle of Wight

Prima facie, the amendment would not only provide belt and braces, but would ensure that the trousers cannot fall down. It is excessive and would require a level of inspection that is too detailed. To take an example from this side of the water, inspection of a single school of moderate size probably requires the chief inspector of schools to appoint a team of 10 to 12 inspectors, who spend four, five or more days in the school after substantial preparation by all the staff of the school, hold a lengthy debriefing, followed by a report, which has to be discussed with the school governors. The chief

inspector is moving away from a quadrennial inspection of schools because the burden of inspection on each school is too great. He is moving to a system of more inspections for those schools that need them most and fewer for those that need them least.

The hon. Gentleman proposes a system of inspection for each of the categories, except those inspected elsewhere—the Minister might indicate which those are. That will incur an immense cost, and cause immense disruption to the professional services specified in clause 46 (1)(a) to (j). The level of inspection is too demanding. Inspection is important, but it is not in the interest of those running the service, or their customers, to have that level of disruption imposed on them in their everyday work.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn

I have a question for the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. My main concern is the creeping influence of blame culture. There is an advantage to codifying the work of the inspector. However, precedent and etiquette will establish that, and the amendment may be over-prescriptive. Taking into account the comments of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), how does the hon. Gentleman respond to the concerns that the amendment would tie up the inspectors' resources in investigations that will probably turn up nothing, and that it assumes that organisations must be inspected to maintain probity? We should not send that sort of signal to those organisations or the public.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP, East Londonderry

I am perturbed that the investigations under clause 46(1)(a) to (j) are to be carried out on an annual basis. The police, the police reserve, the forensic science department, the state pathologists department, the Public Prosecution Service, the probation board, the Prison Service, the juvenile justice board, four health and social service boards, a multiplicity of health trusts and a compensation agency would all be inspected. I partly agree with the analogy of belt and braces that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight used, but the clause seems to provide belt, braces, staples, nails and anything else one could throw at it. I find the amendment superfluous.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I am grateful for the support for my resistance to the amendment. I say to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, and I am not inviting him to intervene, that I did not understand his allusion to trousers, but perhaps he will explain it to me later. I may be developing a habit of misinterpreting contributions from the Opposition.

As the title of part 3 suggests, the institution is new. The level of scrutiny necessary for any organisation on the list, which may be expanded, will depend on the organisation. It may be appropriate for one organisation at a particular stage of development to have annual inspections, but inappropriate for another. Clause 47 will grant flexibility to the chief inspector, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to produce a programme of inspection that reflects the level of involvement that an inspector must have with any specified organisation. The clause provides for the approval of the programme of inspection through

consultation with the Secretary of State, and for the possibility, to which I have already alluded, that the list from the review of the organisations that need to be inspected is not exhaustive. For example, the powers that are exercised by Consignia, to which the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) referred, have a potential impact on the criminal justice system. The period between inspections will be determined by experience, consultation and the body of knowledge that will be built up in the inspectorate.

At this stage, it would not be helpful to require all such organisations to be inspected annually. That would be a disproportionate level of inspection for some, if not all, and would generate an unrealistic programme of work for the body. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh 10:15, 7 Chwefror 2002

Ironically, I agree with the view of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. In many cases, requirements for inspections are taken to absurdity and there is a counter effect because some organisations, such as schools, spend more time preparing for inspections than doing what they should do, which is help young people to acquire knowledge.

That is not the objective of the amendment—far from it. It is to try to ensure that there is an adequacy of inspectorates other than the chief inspector. I am not sure that in all instances that is the case; we can be reasonably sure that it is not. One example touches on what was discussed yesterday, and I will not go back over it in detail. Some appointments to important areas are not subject to any form of scrutiny: for example, the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland and the ombudsman, who are appointed by the Queen. Unless the position has changed recently—if it has, I shall be delighted to hear about it from the Minister—the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland is not subject to scrutiny by a Minister, Parliament or anybody. That is not satisfactory. You may ask what that has to do with the amendment, Mr. Conway.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Ceidwadwyr, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Order. I was just about to do that.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I use the amendment to make a point. I am not totally satisfied that, until a problem is obvious, scrutiny or investigation—I do not like using those words—exist for many of the specified areas. A problem that is not dealt with in an ongoing fashion becomes an issue. If the amendment is formalised in legislation, it may have the effect of encouraging other means of inspections to take place more often and more effectively. Had it applied to some in the past, and had there been the possibility of pressure from the chief inspector asking, ''Have you done it and, if you haven't, when and how well will you do it?''—perhaps previous years' inspections had not been good—some problems may not have arisen. I am talking not about security problems, but about problems in other areas. I take the logic of the point, and in essence I agree with it.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn

The amendment helps us to establish an important principle. We are saying that the inspectorate must be proactive when there is a case for inspection, rather than inspecting organisations on an automatic, cyclical basis. I believe that I am right in thinking that a light-touch inspectorate would be brought in when it is suspected that there is something to be looked into.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party, Newry and Armagh

I take that point.

Another valid argument that has not been made is that an inspectorate cannot deal with some things on a yearly basis, because it may take two or three years to reach a pattern of conclusions. I shall not pursue the amendment, but it was right to move it because it raises important points, not least the one that arose yesterday about the chief electoral officer. There are anomalies throughout the system for which the amendment would not cater and the Bill does not cater. When a chief inspector is appointed, I hope that it will not be a titular position. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 190, in page 27, line 18, after 'State', insert

'or the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly'.

The amendment does not indicate a rush of blood to my head, but it provides a constructive illustration of where it would be appropriate for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to act jointly. However, if I understood the Minister correctly on Tuesday, there is a distinction between the pre-devolution position and the post-devolution position, and the amendment is therefore inappropriate.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

On devolution of the criminal justice system, we would transfer those functions by a transfer of functions order under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The distinction that the hon. Lady has made is entirely correct.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

With that clarification, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.