rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this order is to amend existing Northern Ireland policing legislation and to introduce new subject areas in line with England and Wales.
The following policy areas are included in the draft order: provision for further opportunities for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to civilianise posts by way of extending, in line with England and Wales, the range of powers and duties otherwise available to police officers by way of designation to investigating officers, detention officers and escort officers, and introducing two categories of designated civilian, namely staff custody officer and police community support officer (PCSO); provision for streamlining the police trainee recruitment process to allow the PSNI to make provisional police trainee appointments, subject to the satisfactory completion of medical tests and security vetting; provision for changing the recruitment procedures for police support staff in line with those proposed for police trainees, including a power to allow government to bring forward regulations to satisfy concerns that designated civilians should be vetted to the same standard as police trainees; provision for the reintroduction of legislative provisions to enable the PSNI to address an acute shortage of detective constables, by way of the recruitment of experienced constables with the required skills from other forces; provision for the police ombudsman to make application to the Public Prosecution Service to allow for the reinvestigation of police officers previously acquitted of a qualifying offence where new evidence has been obtained; provision for the police to close roads or divert traffic, or prohibit or restrict the use of a road or waterway, if considered necessary for the preservation of the peace or the maintenance of public order; and provision for the police to examine documents and electronic records in order to establish whether they contain evidence that someone has committed or is preparing to commit a serious crime.
I should like to provide a little more information on some of the key provisions in the draft order. The introduction of police community support officers to policing in Northern Ireland will help to build on the existing commitment of the PSNI to making communities safer through the delivery of real community policing and effective neighbourhood policing plans. PCSOs are not a cheap alternative. They will be full-time members of staff and will have a clearly defined role that will reflect their unique contribution to enhancing community safety. There will be a clear delineation of responsibilities between PCSOs and their regular police colleagues. It is, however, important to remember that PCSOs are not police officers. The majority of their time and the key focus of their role will be around engaging with local communities.
The PSNI is in a strong position to learn from the experience of the introduction of PCSOs in England and Wales. I know that the PSNI intends to apply those principles to its implementation programme and to adapt good practice in PCSO recruitment, training and supervision.
On staff custody officers, we are also introducing a provision that will enable the PSNI to civilianise the role of custody officer in line with proposals in Great Britain. The Home Office is currently working with nine police forces to introduce custody officers at a number of pilot sites as a direct result of concerns expressed during the passage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.
The pilots are about making quantitative and qualitative assessments of the impact of the post of staff custody officer before deciding on the suitability of a national rollout. Although we are legislating for these provisions at this time, we envisage that the PSNI will wish to consider the outcome of the pilot exercise before introducing staff custody officers in Northern Ireland.
On the issue of investigation by the Police Ombudsman, noble Lords will be aware that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides for application to be made to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland by the Chief Constable to allow him to reinvestigate persons acquitted of a qualifying offence where new evidence has been obtained, which is commonly known as the double jeopardy rule. However, where that person is a police officer, the proper investigative authority is the Police Ombudsman. Equivalent provision for the Police Ombudsman was unfortunately overlooked when the Criminal Justice Act was being drafted, and these provisions will correct that omission by introducing a new Section 86A into the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
Document seizure powers are necessary to allow the police to operate effectively in dealing with a threat from serious and organised crime. I believe that noble Lords will find it helpful if I explain at the outset the distinction between what we are proposing today and how it relates to the existing powers of police to seize evidence under PACE. PACE seizure powers are applicable only where the officer has reasonable belief that the article is evidence in an offence, that it was obtained as a consequence of the commission of an offence, or that it is necessary to seize it to stop it being concealed, lost, altered, damaged or destroyed. In some instances it may not be possible to meet the necessary level of reasonable belief. We are therefore providing police officers with a limited power that will allow them to establish reasonable belief by, for instance, having documents translated or cross-checking map references.
These provisions will also create appropriate safeguards to protect the rights of the public. As well as the time limit on the retention of documents, items believed to be subject to legal privilege are exempt from examination, any document or record cannot be photographed or copied and a record must be made of any examination.
I believe that the provisions in this draft order will greatly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the police across a range of areas and I commend it to the Committee.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.—(Baroness Amos.)
I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for outlining so clearly the provisions in this important order. We support the order in principle. I am concerned about just one aspect of it: sub-paragraph (5)(e), relating to the Police Ombudsman. It goes against the grain to create a situation where members of the PSNI can be open to double jeopardy. Although I heard the reasons that the noble Baroness gave, ever since the Bill was introduced some years ago I have argued against overburdening the Police Ombudsman with powers, as has now been clearly demonstrated by her office. I ask the Minister, and may ask again in future, what plans the Government have to review the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
There are reports about the huge costs and the retrospectiveness of current investigations. We are trying to go forward in Northern Ireland. We hope that the Assembly will sit and that it will quickly take us further forward. We do not want to go on with retrospective investigations involving double jeopardy situations, looking into issues that are sensitive from the viewpoint of national security. I would like to feel that Her Majesty’s Government will soon have plans to review the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
We, too, broadly welcome the order. However, I should like to raise with the Minister some specific points on staff custody officers and police community support officers. Our primary concern is about the training of such individuals. Can the Minister tell us whether detailed training schemes for each of these new types of officer have been developed yet in Northern Ireland? It is particularly important for PCSOs, who will daily come into contact with the public. Can the Minister reassure us that such individuals will be required to undergo a rigorous programme and that such programmes will include specific training on relationships with young people? Can the Minister also tell us whether she expects PCSOs immediately to exercise all the powers given to them under the order? I am particularly concerned about the power of a PCSO to detain someone.
On Regulation 6 and the introduction of civilian staff custody officers, the Minister will know that we Liberal Democrats expressed great concern about the designation of this role during passage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The custody officer acts as the guarantor of the suspect’s rights and is a major guardian of the standards of the whole system. It is therefore vital that the person exercising the important powers of a custody officer be properly independent and accountable. The police custody officer is accountable as an officer of the Crown. He is subject to police disciplinary procedures. He is expected to resist an illegal order. Civilian staff will be more likely to worry about the consequences for their employment if they act independently. One wants an assurance that this concern will not weigh unduly with them.
A police custody officer must hold at least the rank of sergeant. A sergeant is an experienced police officer who has years of familiarity with police procedures. By contrast, there is no requirement that the civilian custody officer should have any particular experience or training. A police custody officer—the sergeant—can also use his rank to ensure that the police constables treat suspects correctly and follow the PACE codes of practice. Will a civilian member of staff be able to assert the proper authority of a constable and therefore safeguard suspects’ rights? Can the Minister inform the Committee of the experience of police services in England and Wales that have designated custody officers in this way? Have we learnt anything from the experience over here in England and Wales?
We welcome the provisions in Regulation 8. It is entirely sensible for the medical and vetting procedures to apply only to those who have reached the stage of being in the pool of qualified candidates. This will undoubtedly ensure that the appointment process is conducted more speedily than it is at present.
We also welcome the provisions of Regulation 11. Although we raised serious concerns about the double jeopardy provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 when it was proceeding through the House, we recognise that it is necessary to close this potential loophole in regard to police officers by ensuring that the ombudsman is involved.
I do not welcome this draft order, and I need further clarification from the Minister. I have two particular problems: the first is in Regulation 10 on the recruitment of experienced constables with the required skills from other forces; and the second is in Regulation 11, to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred, on the role of the Police Ombudsman.
Regarding the provision in Regulation 10 on experienced constables from other forces, is that restricted to other forces within the United Kingdom, or does it refer to forces outside the United Kingdom—within the European Union, for example—or does it refer, indeed, to the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland? If it involves the latter, has the Minister read the oath that recruits take when they join the Garda Siochana? Does she think that people who have taken that oath will be welcomed by most people in Northern Ireland? I think that there is a grave problem there that needs to be addressed. I want an answer from the Minister about whether she has read the oath and whether she thinks it is consistent with the views of most people in Northern Ireland.
Regulation 11 on the Police Ombudsman contains many problems. As the Minister may know, the role of the Police Ombudsman is tainted and has little or no credibility in Northern Ireland. That is the reality on the ground. The Police Ombudsman is tainted because she is married to an SDLP councillor who only yesterday declared that he wants the break-up of the United Kingdom and a united Ireland. He is a candidate in the SDLP, and it stated that yesterday at its press conference. It may be said that the wife of a pro-Irish politician is not responsible for his politics. That is theoretically correct, but the perception of people on the ground is that the Police Ombudsman is tainted and biased, and she therefore has little credibility.
The order refers to the reinvestigation of police officers. What period will that cover? Will it be the period since the Belfast agreement, or the period before the Belfast agreement? If it refers to the period before the Belfast agreement, will it apply to civilians who have previously been accused of terrorism? Now that new evidence has become available, will they also be subject to further reinvestigation? That needs to be clarified because there should not be double standards with one standard for the police and an easier standard for civilians in Northern Ireland.
Then there is the question of the extension of the ombudsman’s powers. Has she the power to apply herself to matters relating to national security within the United Kingdom? If so, is that widely understood within the United Kingdom, especially by the Minister answering today? There are serious implications here as we have international terrorism. If the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland will slowly but surely get involved in the national security of the United Kingdom she could reveal things that apply to attacks against the United Kingdom by international terrorists.
The order extends the ombudsman’s powers, yet the explanatory document states that that will not cost any more money. Can that be explained? How can the ombudsman have an extension of powers without costing any more money? Is it not correct that the ombudsman herself has said that she wants her budget increased? Please tell us the truth.
A huge number of things about this order cause an immense amount of disquiet. One of the difficulties we face is that this order is coming forward in the wake of the Police Ombudsman’s report on Operation Ballast. Impartial and experienced people see that report as widely flawed. It is perhaps one of the most flawed documents we have seen in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years.
It struck me as peculiar when I heard the Lord President say that a matter in respect of the Police Ombudsman had been overlooked in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Many of us believe that that was a fairly convenient oversight. When something is introduced by Order in Council, it is much easier to get a flawed amendment passed than if it is proposed when a Bill is being considered and amendments can be tabled.
The reality is—I am almost concluding before I bring forward the argument—if we move the Police Ombudsman and the whole process of examination, re-examination and examination after acquittal, and we see it implemented the way in which it is implemented by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, we will find the methodology. It will not merely be facts that are misinterpreted. I will talk about the way in which so-called facts were handled in the past. It will lead to a revelation of methodology. We all know that—none better than those of us who have served and lived in Northern Ireland—the methodology in dealing with committed terrorists is not something that you would want your best friend to be involved in. The reality is that it is a dangerous and difficult business.
I come from soldiering in 1970, when there was no such thing as “good intelligence” in terms of Northern Ireland. In 1972, we had 470 victims of terrorism. Building up an intelligence network is not a pleasant business. The people who have intelligence are not the noble Baroness the Lord President, or Ken Maginnis, or the gentlemen sitting behind the Lord President. They are terrorists, whose information can be tapped. They are dangerous people to work with, and they bring huge danger to their handlers. If we give someone like the Police Ombudsman the power to probe that methodology and, if we take the latter-day threat, the national intelligence agencies—which are becoming more responsible—they will not impart their intelligence to our ordinary police constabularies if they believe that they are bound to reveal it to the ombudsman, who can then reveal it to the public. No one has leaked information more consistently than the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Journalists knew more about Operation Ballast than the Chief Constable or the Secretary of State, long before Operation Ballast was produced.
It is not just an internal matter if we damage the integrity of the intelligence sources in our nation. We are not an island in that respect: the intelligence agencies of other nations share information with us. Do we honestly believe that they will share information that ultimately will be revealed to the ombudsman? I hope that I have made the point sufficiently that there is a huge danger. I know that the noble Baroness has colleagues who well and fully understand the implications. I hope that there will be more consultation and discussion within government.
It is important that I briefly underpin what I am saying. With other professionals, I have looked at the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland’s report on Operation Ballast. I noticed that it contains seven serious factual inaccuracies, which I will provide for the Lord President if required. There are six serious potential security risks to individuals or to intelligence methodology. There are five seriously flawed judgments, which are frequently repeated assertions without any supporting argument. For example, where the ombudsman has found that some documents are shredded, she does not suggest that it has to do with data protection legislation, but that it is a deliberate attempt, with malice aforethought, to destroy something incriminating. She makes that assertion, and it is totally wrong.
There are three obvious self-contradictions in the report and four non-sequiturs. There are six insidious innuendoes which endanger the lives of decent people who have put themselves between the terrorists and the community, some for over 30 years, and who have now retired, believing that they can enjoy their remaining years with their families without having to be behind six-foot fences and bullet-proof glass; without having to look under their vehicles; without having to run the gauntlet that they have had to run for many years. Now they have been thrust back into the forefront. Terrorists are released; we can trust them back out in the community, but the very people who brought the 470 deaths in 1972 down to 13 deaths in 2001 are being examined.
I could say other things about Operation Ballast. There are 15 demonstrations of lack of professionalism and a profound failure to understand the issue. There are 20 blatant examples of a lack of impartiality in assessments and conclusions, to which I have already alluded; drawing the wrong conclusions and looking in the wrong place. For example, somebody is brought in for questioning for 48 hours. The police have some forensic information but have not defined quite what it is, and they go to the Secretary of State to ask for a 48-hour extension. That produces a piece of paper. Once the matter is dealt with, that piece of paper is probably shredded; it is of no importance. But I will tell you who should have a copy of it: the Secretary of State. Of course, the Police Ombudsman would not have thought of looking there. Or perhaps the Secretary of State and his staff did not know where it was.
All in all, this is a dreadful report, full of sloppy drafting. It is put in the context of six years’ work by the Police Ombudsman; that is six years of clawing increasing powers unto herself with a budget rising on a year-by-year basis—£5 million in the first year and £9 million now. That is a fair rise in six years, given the increasingly peaceful situation we have in Northern Ireland. But a total of £42 million! And it is being suggested that it is money well spent.
Let me put that £42 million in the context of 13,000 or 14,000 police a few years ago and almost 10,000 police now. What has the ombudsman delivered? She has delivered an average of one criminal conviction per year. That is 0.001 per cent. Going at that rate, there would be one conviction per 100 policeman every 100 years. That puts it in context. That is what the Police Ombudsman has achieved. It cost £7 million per conviction, and we want to give her the opportunity to rake over history in a way that is of no benefit to the erstwhile victims or to a society striving to overcome its distrust. That is the very antithesis of good law.
I am sorry for taking so long, but I want to be frank, and I do not want anyone to leave the Committee without understanding the implications of what has happened over the past six years. I do not want them to exacerbate the problem that we are likely to face if we increase the powers of an ombudsman who does not measure up to the criteria intended by Maurice Hayes, and has never done so. Maurice Hayes was one of the most senior civil servants in Northern Ireland. He took a huge interest in security and cross-community matters, and he was widely respected by us. When he suggested a police ombudsman, he asked for somebody with real judicial experience. We did not get anyone with judicial experience or investigative knowledge about the background of terrorism that has troubled us for many years.
There are other aspects of this order that I would like to talk about at equal length, but I shall not inflict myself on the Lord President. I hope that she will take seriously the possibility that by moving this order in this form, she may not only damage the emerging peace and political process in Northern Ireland, but undermine the whole basis for trust between and among intelligence agencies, both internal and external to the United Kingdom. We are facing, possibly for the next 40 years, a terrorist threat of international dimensions. However much we want to pander to certain prejudices to persuade people along, that is not the basis for making law or the basis on which we should risk the integrity of the United Kingdom.
I did not intend to speak in such a serious debate, but I want to make two points. I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, and I realise that he has a real knowledge of the ombudsman’s office and what goes on there. Listening to him, it seems that this concerns only terrorist offences. I could name a dozen ordinary issues on which the ombudsman has conducted investigations where people have been quite happy. Three years ago, I had that experience. Believe it or not, a policeman rather curtly put me in a good deal of danger so I took it up with the local station and the matter rolled out into the ombudsman’s office. I was quite satisfied with the outcome. I think we have the balance right. I am not trying to trivialise anything that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said. These are very serious matters.
My second point is that I take offence at what the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, said. The ombudsman's office is headed by a woman who got the job, I assume, on merit. She was appointed under the fair employment Act—I would assume that every job at that level would come under that. However she got the job, I think it is wrong to personalise it by quoting her husband. If the wives of noble Lords sitting round this table were to say something and it was quoted elsewhere, they would probably say that it was drivel, so I do not think that we can lay something her husband said at the ombudsman’s door. Everybody knows he is an all-Ireland man—that is what he wants. I understand that she was appointed on merit. It is wrong to personalise it in that way.
I shall not detain the Committee long, but perhaps I can emphasise one point. Weeks before Op Ballast was made public, I talked about a leaking process. It was a leaking process through the press. Literally within 24 hours, the channels were able to run their programmes. Chris Moore on UTV had a programme on within 24 hours that had taken days or weeks to film, so there had been a break in confidentiality. One might have suspected that when one saw the SDLP leader in another place, Mark Durkan, jumping on the bandwagon and doing what any of us could have done.
The identities of three senior police officers were fairly lightly disguised. I worked with them and know them. They were straightforward, decent people. As three individuals, they did more than any other three to bring peace to Northern Ireland. They were named in another place by the leader of the SDLP as though they were criminals. There is no piece of paper that can answer that. That is the reality and that is what we face. Quite bluntly, I do not want to appear to be controversial, but I have to put it in these terms. If we undermine the faith of the majority of people—by “the majority of people” I mean lots of people who have no political axe to grind, ordinary members of both traditions—or we undermine the integrity of the law and the processes of the law, we thrust Northern Ireland back into the arms of the unscrupulous.
I shall be very brief. I do not disagree with much of what has been said. However, it is perhaps not generally known that before I arrived in this building, I had served as a justice of the peace for a good many years. There is a limit to matters that were discussed at that time, but I am increasingly horrified by the proof of present-day tampering with various aspects of the law to which, in those days, I was dedicated, as I still am. I leave it at that.
I recognise the strength of feeling around policing issues in Northern Ireland. They remain a highly sensitive area, and are compounded by the fact that, because of the size of the population, everyone in Northern Ireland who operates in the public service tends to know everyone else and has a particular view about the ways in which that service is conducted. However, it is important to accept that the ombudsman met fully the competencies of the post and was appointed on merit. That does not mean that there should be no discussion of any issues or concerns requiring debate, but it is important that such discussions are conducted openly, transparently and in a way that is not personal. We all have a role to play in supporting transparency and accountability in Northern Ireland.
A number of noble Lords have talked about the Police Ombudsman this afternoon. It is important to make a couple of things very clear. First, the police in Great Britain are also subject to the double jeopardy provisions, so this is not specific to Northern Ireland: these provisions are for everyone, including the police in Great Britain.
On the question of who investigates, the Chief Constable investigates in Northern Ireland in the case of civilians. I also confirm that there is no time limit in respect of these issues, but the person to be retried must be capable of getting a fair trial. That is decided by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland, as it is in England and Wales. So the order puts no new or specific provisions in place for Northern Ireland. Instead, it is bringing provision in Northern Ireland in line with that in England and Wales. The Police Ombudsman is the only legitimate authority for investigating police suspected of serious crimes, so the provisions to address double jeopardy will provide only the powers that are currently available to the Chief Constable. On the importance of reviewing those powers, the Government consistently monitor the powers of the Police Ombudsman, and will continue to do so.
As I said, the Article provides the Police Ombudsman with the same powers as the Chief Constable to make an application to the Director of Public Prosecutions to reinvestigate in certain circumstances persons acquitted of a qualifying offence. In the Police Ombudsman’s case, that power would be used where police officers were previously acquitted. Some cases already require reinvestigation by the ombudsman, and have either been forwarded by the Chief Constable or are reinvestigated where a complaint has already been received.
The straight answer to the question whether this gives the Police Ombudsman additional powers is no. The Police Ombudsman is the only legitimate authority for investigating alleged criminal conduct by police officers. The Police Ombudsman therefore requires this statutory provision to ensure that she can fulfil her role of investigating police officers acquitted of a serious crime when new and compelling evidence has emerged. In essence, the provisions ensure that a common and equitable approach is adopted to the closure of all cases that require reinvestigation, regardless of whether they are conducted by the Chief Constable or the Police Ombudsman.
Some wider questions were asked about the role of the Police Ombudsman and about whether there would be additional resources for her as a result of this work. Evaluation of the budgetary needs of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is an ongoing process through assessment of annual budgetary estimates and programmes submitted by the office and in-year monitoring of expenditure in keeping with public expenditure accountability processes and requirements. Any additional costs would be subject to a detailed business case being made.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, asked a number of questions about the detail of the McCord Report. Given the Police Ombudsman’s independent status, I do not think it appropriate for the Government to comment on how the ombudsman conducted her report or on specific details and points of the investigation. The Government are, however, concerned about the issues of collusion identified in the report. We support the Police Ombudsman and the Chief Constable in their proposals to address those concerns, and we are confident that appropriate and fair action will be taken to reinvestigate cases when new and compelling evidence comes to light. We of course recognise that final consent to reinvestigation will be made by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I appreciate that the retired police officers’ association has many concerns about how the ombudsman conducted the investigation and understand that a detailed report on those concerns may be forthcoming.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. Can she define the word “collusion” for me? There is no such word in law. If it is something other than collusion, why are we not using those words? If it is conspiracy or something of that nature, why are there no charges? The Police Ombudsman can hide behind the word “collusion”, but Government cannot because the word does not exist in law.
If the report’s publication and the allegations being made require further investigation which leads to any kind of criminal process, that will happen. This is not about moving immediately from a report and investigation to a criminal process. If there needs to be further investigation and cases need to be drawn to the attention of the appropriate authorities, that will happen. I am not sure that I entirely understand the noble Lord’s point about defining collusion. “Collusion” is a word in the English dictionary and I have been aware of it for many years. I think that we all understand what it means. Does the noble Lord want to come back?
Indeed I do. As someone who has been a soldier in Northern Ireland, I may have allowed someone whom I know to be a terrorist to move freely with a loaded van from point A to point B so that I could intercept him at that point, while at the same protecting a terrorist who is compromised so that he may be of further use to me as an informant. That is collusion but not a crime. In legal terms—I do not have to tell the noble Baroness about legal issues—it could not result in me being charged with collusion. I am doing by job. I may collude—and I understand the dictionary meaning of the word—with the most dreadful terrorist who is supplying me with information. I assure the Minister that that is exactly what one did. One did not, however, conspire with the terrorist to kill someone else. Therein lies the difference. I do hope that she fully understands my point. I appeal to her again to speak to her colleagues—who have huge experience, as I know after serving in Northern Ireland—before she proceeds down this road.
The noble Lord is asking me to comment on a level of detail which it is not appropriate for me to do at this point. I know that he recognises that. Of course these issues need to be considered against the background of contextual issues; I think we all recognise that. But it is not for me or anyone around the table to make those judgments. We should leave them to the relevant authorities.
The noble Lord made other points about the cost of the ombudsman’s office and its effectiveness. The noble Lord is smiling at me: I know that he knows that I will not agree with him. He took one figure for the overall cost of the ombudsman’s office over six years, and then took one yardstick as a measurement of effectiveness and success. That is entirely inappropriate. The ombudsman’s function is to deal with all complaints of misconduct against the police. We would all be extraordinarily concerned if, as a result of the investigations, a huge number of prosecutions was brought annually against individual members of the police service, because that would indicate an enormous failing in the police service.
We should note that, in the period mentioned by the noble Lord, the ombudsman’s office has dealt with more than 21,000 complaints. That is a huge number of complaints. My noble friend Lady Blood alluded to the fact that part of the function of the Police Ombudsman is to work to ensure that complaints are properly investigated so that those who have made them feel secure in the knowledge that they have been listened to and investigated.
The most recent independent survey of the performance of the ombudsman’s office indicates that 83 per cent of Protestants and 84 per cent of Catholics in Northern Ireland who responded thought that the ombudsman would ensure that the police do a good job. Of the police officers subjected to investigation by the ombudsman who responded to the survey, 85 per cent thought that they were treated fairly, and 73 per cent were satisfied or very satisfied with the way in which they were treated.
I shall be brief. We can produce fallacious figures such as those—I am sorry that the Minister’s advisers have given her such figures to articulate—but when the Police Federation for Northern Ireland expresses a lack of confidence in the Police Ombudsman, as it did at its annual conference, I am more impressed by that than I am by various extractions that one or two civil servants may manage to accomplish.
It is important when looking at the effectiveness of an office that we use independent survey material as well as anecdotal material that others may use. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has one view; I have another. It is entirely appropriate that we are having this debate. It will not end here. As I said at the beginning of this discussion, policing in Northern Ireland remains, and will remain for a very long time, a highly sensitive and emotive issue. We all recognise the history, but part of the responsibility that we all have is to try to move this issue forward in a way that is helpful to the people of Northern Ireland. In doing that, I recognise that there will be real differences in the way that we interpret factual information. I do not in any way dispute that. This kind of discussion is part of the nature of our democracy.
I do not know whether the Lord President is about to answer the questions I asked. Has she read the oath of allegiance taken by members of the Garda Siochana and does she think it will be well received and appropriate within Northern Ireland? In the context of the increasing threat of international terrorism in which the United States and other countries wish to co-operate with intelligence services in the United Kingdom, will the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland extend to matters of national security and, if so, would that not deter the United States and other countries from co-operating with the intelligence services of the United Kingdom? Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, totally misunderstood and misrepresented what I said. I made clear that a wife is not responsible for the political views of her husband, but he is a political activist working for the break-up of the United Kingdom to bring about a united Ireland and, as such, the Police Ombudsman’s position is tainted in the eyes of the people of Northern Ireland.
I shall not go into details—though I may find some other way of communicating them to her—but I can think of one incident where something in the ombudsman’s report will compromise or make more difficult the activities of the intelligence services here in dealing with today’s and tomorrow’s terrorist threat. Their capability has been seriously affected by the revelation in that report of a particular aspect of the methodology being used here. I shall find some other way of communicating. It is not wise to go further on this matter.
I look forward to having that discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, outside the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, asked me about community support officers and raised particular questions about their training. CSOs will undertake training in a range of issues relevant to their role, including training in their powers, human rights, personal safety, interacting with people—a particular concern of the noble Lord—problem solving, diversity, managing evidence and first aid. It is anticipated that the initial training period for CSOs will last five to six weeks.
Only six powers will be conferred on CSOs on introduction and the power to detain will not be one of them at that stage. The powers are: to acquire name and address for relevant offences; to confiscate alcohol from young persons and dispose of it; to seize tobacco from young persons and dispose of it; to enter and search premises for the purpose of saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property; to direct traffic and place traffic signs; and to enforce cordoned areas for the purposes of a terrorist investigation. These are the six areas that the Police Service of Northern Ireland considers will produce the most immediate impact on the ground. There is a strong view that if we conferred the full range of powers at the outset, it would delay the introduction of CSOs.
On staff custody officers, hundreds of experienced police sergeants are currently acting as custody officers in Great Britain. Three hundred and fifty are in the PSNI at a time when front-line supervisory experience is at a premium. Allowing appropriately trained and capable police staff to perform the role will allow experienced officers to be redeployed to front-line supervisory duties and to extend the options for DCU commanders and chief officers to have a wider pool of police and staff available to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, talked about the appointment of constables with special policing skills. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has experienced a loss of specialist skills, particularly at the rank of detective constable. There are currently 97 vacancies, and the Policing Board and the Chief Constable are pressing for these provisions to be brought forward as a matter of urgency. Article 10 reintroduces Section 23 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003, allowing for the appointment of constables who have a specified policing skill. We anticipate that the officers are likely to come from other UK police services and the Republic of Ireland.
The noble Lord asked me specifically if I had read the oath of allegiance. I have not.
I was not talking about the oath of allegiance. I rather suspected that the Minister had not read it; it needs to be considered in further detail. On the employment of constables from forces in the United Kingdom and specifically the Republic of Ireland, there is a rule in the PSNI, as the Minister knows, that 50 per cent of the new members must not be Roman Catholics. Will the employment of police officers from the Republic of Ireland comply with that rule?
I am not aware that that rule will apply in this case, but if I am wrong and if I can expand on that answer in any way, I will write to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord also asked me about the powers of the Police Ombudsman with respect to matters of national security. My understanding is that the ombudsman can gain access to the information that she needs from the security services to enable her to carry out her role as a Police Ombudsman. I am not aware of the Police Ombudsman having a wider role in issues of national security. She therefore has discretion to establish relationships with the oversight bodies of the security services and to draw to their attention to any concerns that arise through her investigations. However, I am not aware of the Police Ombudsman having that wider role with respect to national security considerations.
I have just been passed a note that says that the 50:50 rule will not apply to this provision.
On Question, Motion agreed to.