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Rape (Consent)

Ms Julia Drown accordingly presented a Bill to amend the law relating to consent in the crime of rape so as to provide that consent shall require the free agreement of the parties involved, that the parties take reasonable steps to ensure that consent has been given, and that the giving of consent on one occasion shall lead to no presumption about the giving of consent on any further occasion; and for related purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 182].


Motion made, and Question proposed,

Question agreed to.



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Orders of the Day

Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill

Lords amendments considered.

4.46 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendment No. 6 which is to be considered today. If the House agrees to the Lords amendment, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 3

Judicial Appointments Commission

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 1, at end insert:—
"(6A) A person may not be appointed to be a lay member unless he has declared in writing his commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means."

Lady Hermon (North Down): I beg to move amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, after "he", insert

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 23.

Lady Hermon: Amendment (a) relates to the new Judicial Appointments Commission for Northern Ireland which will have the hugely important task of appointing all future members of the judiciary in Northern Ireland, with the limited exceptions of the Lord Chief Justice and the three lords justices of appeal. As I am sure Members already know, the commission will consist of a chairman and 12 members, five of whom will be lay members.

According to Lords amendment No. 1:

With the greatest respect to those who proposed the amendment, it does not go far enough. For example, it does not specify the consequences of a breach of the declaration of the commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful means.

I invite the Minister to clarify the position, especially in respect of schedule 2, paragraph 2(4)(d), which provides that if the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister can agree to act jointly—a matter to which we shall return in due course—they may dismiss a non-judicial member if satisfied, for example, that he is unfit to exercise his functions. Will the Minister clarify whether, if a lay member of the commission fails to honour their written declaration, it would render them unfit to remain a member?

The Minister does not need to intervene now—he can reply to my question later. We are delighted to see him back with us in good form. We hope that he will be as generous as ever and accept some of our amendments, so that our work will not prove redundant.

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The second reason why Lords amendment No. 1 is insufficient is that paragraph 2(4) of schedule 2 states:

Of course that is written in the past tense. Under amendment (a), we are endeavouring to render people ineligible for appointment to the Judicial Appointments Commission from the very beginning, without waiting until there has been a criminal conviction. We want to say quite clearly that those with criminal convictions are simply ineligible for appointment to that hugely important body.

As hon. Members will know, under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, we have already excluded from membership of district policing partnerships those with recorded criminal convictions, irrespective of whether those convictions are suspended. Those with criminal convictions are excluded from being independent members of the DPPs, so it seems ludicrous that we may now allow those with criminal convictions to be eligible for the Judicial Appointments Commission. Amendment (a) is simply intended to tidy up those provisions and to take them a little further than they stand at present under Lords amendment No. 1.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): I shall briefly enter into this very difficult area—it is a legal minefield—and I do so with great trepidation, as I am probably the only lay person who will contribute to the debate today.

I find no fault with Lords amendment No. 1, which is acceptable to the Social Democratic and Labour party. However, I wish to address amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 1, moved by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) on behalf of the Ulster Unionist party. Under amendment (a), a criminal record would be an additional debarment from participating in the process.

I have one question to ask about human rights. If a person is justifiably convicted of a criminal offence, is the sentence of the court the totality of the punishment, or is an extension of that punishment a way to deprive a person of the totality of his or her human and civil rights, having served the sentence? That is not just a legal but a moral problem. I simply pose this question, to which perhaps the hon. Lady will reply: is a criminal conviction, even with a suspended sentence, for ever to be a debarment to a person's right to participate fully in society, having paid for his or her sins?

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): In speaking to this group of amendments and before returning to amendment (a), moved by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), may I say that, in outline, we welcome the way that things have progressed in the other place and generally accept and welcome the direction which the amendments have taken?

Following the Grand Committee debate in the other place, the Government proposed Lords amendment No. 1. Indeed, that amendment was tabled in response to a suggestion from my noble Friend Lord Glentoran, so it would certainly be churlish of us to do anything other than thank the Government for proposing it. However, amendment (a) is almost identical to one proposed by my noble Friend and then withdrawn during those proceedings.

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It is worth returning to one or two elements of the debate in the other place. I refer the House to the comments of my noble Friend Lord Mayhew, who made an extremely important point about the confidence that we seek to achieve. He said:

He continued:

I agree with him.

Although we welcome the fact that, in bringing forward amendments in the other place, the Government have taken matters further with Lords amendment No. 1, it would be churlish were the Opposition not extremely sympathetic to the hon. Lady's amendment, as we had the idea in the first place. What I seek from the Government in relation to Lords amendment No. 1 and amendment (a) is further elucidation of exactly what the consequences will be if people are not prepared to sign up to Lords amendment No. 1.

My noble Friend Lord Tebbit drew attention in the other place to the fact that, in some instances, words might mean nothing. In the circumstances in Northern Ireland, however, I would venture to disagree slightly with him. Words are important here. We are looking for leadership, particularly from those in the republican movement, in sustaining the peace process. To a large extent, we are looking for them to use the right words, which is why the development that has occurred today will be referred to by my hon. Friend in the debate that will follow on the peace process.

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