The Green Party will be supporting this bill, but I would like to echo the complaint of Tony Ryall that this legislation is too rushed.
Just because we are now moving into an urgency week is not a good reason to short circuit the normal process, whereby a bill is deposited in the House, time is allowed for members of the House to come to grips with it, talk with colleagues, check out some of its deficiencies, and look at its main and subsidiary purposes, so that we can come to this first reading debate somewhat informed. It is just not good enough that we are discussing this bill with the ink hardly dry-it only having appeared a few hours ago, at most. I do not think there is any need for that.
Sure, we all want the commission of inquiry into the allegations against the police to get into its work as quickly as possible. We do not want to hold it up, that is true. But we do not need to panic in this way, introduce a bill, have the first reading during the urgency period, and avoid the normal procedures, particularly when the issue behind this – the issue of the commission of inquiry – is one of justice being done, and investigations being done thoroughly.
The legislation is about thoroughness and getting justice at the end, and we should set an example, as a Parliament, in treating the legislation relating to that commission, in the same spirit of doing a thorough job. That cannot be done if the first reading is rushed in this way. Rushed justice is not good justice.
The purpose of the bill, which is to enable the commission to have adequate evidence, is quite important because one of the issues at the heart of the inquiry is the inadequacy, or seeming inadequacy if we go by the press reports, of the investigations back in the 1980s, particularly that of Mr Dewar. If one looks at the press reports of that police officer with regard to how he dealt with the inquiry, and he was working for the Police Complaints Authority, it seemed that he did not do a proper job, and his report was ticked off by the people at the top of the Police Complaints Authority at that time.
The Independent Police Complaints Authority Bill has been put on hold while this commission is taking place and as we deal with this legislation we want to improve the workings of the Police Complaints Authority so that it does not rely so much, in my opinion, on police investigators, but has its own independent investigators, and is much better resourced to conduct its activities.
I think that the purpose of this bill – to give the commission more information from the Police Complaints Authority inquiry into the incidents it will be considering – is very important. It means, as I read this bill, that police reports as part of those inquiries, will be brought before the commission. That is very good.
There are a couple of definitions in the bill about what are called restricted matters – which exclude these matters from this commission. The first one seems to make sense. That is that the communications of people who are holding office with the authority are still privileged. I think there is a reason behind that, although I would be willing to be challenged on that question. I am for as much openness as possible.
I am a little more concerned about the second part of the restricted matter definition. The bill states: “The definition also includes any communication made by a person to the Authority in which the person made a complaint or raised a concern about the conduct of the police or any member of the police and in respect of which that person has not agreed that it may be disclosed to the Commission.”
I think the purpose behind that is not to disclose the identity of somebody who may have been in a very difficult situation at the time, and does not want to be harassed, and does not want public attention that might flow if his or her identity was disclosed in the proceedings of the commission. So I think there is a good reason there, but I think the basic principle is keeping the identity hidden and that maybe information provided by that person can still be provided to the commission without that person’s identity being disclosed. That would be a good thing to happen. I think that, perhaps, some amendments can be made to this bill as it goes through the select committee, and I hope it will have enough time.
I have not even got to grips so far with the time that the select committee will have to discuss this bill, but I think it has to have adequate time to seriously look at these matters. They are difficult matters: considering confidentiality; how the commission operates; how it can be as public as possible, and how to get to the bottom of the matters concerned, which are very serious matters.