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New clause 4—Exclusion of Ministers from Office—

"(c) because he is no longer committed to supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland.".

"(c) because it is no longer committed to supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland.".

"(e) is committed now and in the future to supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland.".'.

Lady Hermon: It is essential that the amendment be included in clause 19. It may be helpful for hon. Members if I read it out, because I am sure that many hon. Members will wish to speak to it. It says:

or presumably she—

(a) been convicted of a criminal offence and had a sentence of imprisonment imposed whether suspended or not; or—

this is an important alternative—

(b) failed to make a declaration to the Assembly of unequivocal support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary).'.

That last phrase is, of course, the proper title of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as established by the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.

I am sure that Members throughout the Committee agree with me that it would be inconceivable that a Home Secretary or a Minister for Justice should have a criminal record that has involved a prison sentence, whether suspended or not. The wording has been carefully drafted to refer not just to small, technical although serious criminal convictions. Traffic offences
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can certainly be very serious indeed. It refers to criminal   offences that carry with them a sentence of imprisonment, whether suspended or not.

As I say, it is inconceivable that a Minister for Justice or a Minister for Home Affairs in Northern Ireland with responsibility for policing and justice should have a criminal record. It is also inconceivable that such a Minister should not give their absolute unwavering support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the courageous work that it undertakes.

I am always reminded by the Government and by the Prime Minister when he visits Northern Ireland of the key words "building trust and confidence" among the community in Northern Ireland. Having had 30-plus years of absolute mayhem in which more than 3,000 people have lost their lives in hideous and horrible circumstances and many thousands have been seriously injured and will carry those wounds both psychological and physical for the rest of their days, the words "trust and confidence" must mean something, rather than be simple words poured out by the Prime Minister and a series of Secretaries of States and Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. "Trust and confidence" means that those who take a very responsible office in charge of policing or justice as a junior Minister or a more senior Minister, whether it is a rotating option every six months or a joint ministerial appointment, must meet the terms of the amendment. It is essential that the amendment be incorporated into the Bill.

1.45 pm

Sammy Wilson: I fully accept all the points that the hon. Lady made. Does she also accept that the conditions in the amendment should apply to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and any other Minister who will be in a position of trust?

Lady Hermon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interesting and, of course provocative suggestion. He knows that that provision is not included in the 1998 Act. I confirm that we are talking here about policing and justice. It is a serious issue.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Does the hon. Lady agree that the Assembly Members on the Policing Board should also be able to meet the criteria that she sets down?

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is a matter of considerable regret that, when the Bill which became the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 was being debated, amendments were rejected that would have required that those who sat on the Policing Board would be disqualified and prevented from taking their places if they had a criminal record. It is a matter of regret that such a provision was not written into that Act.

Here we have an opportunity that the Minister can ill afford to decline this afternoon. If key new Departments are to be created in Northern Ireland and powers devolved to them, it should be a prerequisite that any Minister who takes up a post should not have a string of criminal convictions and should support the police without hesitation.

Mark Durkan: I listened carefully to the hon. Lady's presentation of the amendment. I am in no way
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persuaded to offer it any support. I shall give a number of grounds for that. First, in the negotiation of the Good Friday agreement, a clear, deliberate, collective decision was made that we would not build in any vetting requirements, qualification or screening in relation to ministerial appointments. To use this Bill to do so now would take us on a path that departs from the spirit, the letter and the principle of the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Peter Robinson: The hon. Gentleman indicated earlier that my colleagues were not involved in those negotiations, so perhaps he can give us some illumination. When he talks about a collective decision, which parties took that decision?

Mark Durkan: The parties who were present in the negotiation. I can advise the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson)—his own party colleague now—was prominently involved in the precise decision that in no way should we have arrangements that would allow other parties to vet or veto anybody else's choice of Minister. We took that decision because to create such powers would force parties to use the power to vet or veto other people's choice of Minister. The hon. Gentleman was clear on that and I remember being directly involved in negotiations in that context with him. I remember it clearly, although I am sure that he tries to forget it.

Mr. Robinson: What parties?

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman asked what parties. The main person who negotiated for the Ulster Unionist party is no longer in that party. That is the unfortunate problem. I did not want to tell a partial truth. I told the whole truth without being diverted from the issue.

To include these sorts of requirements, tests and blockages would depart from the agreement in that regard.

Mr. Dodds: I am listening to what the hon. Gentleman is saying on this issue. Would he be content for a known racist, for example, or someone who held extreme right-wing or left-wing views to hold this sort of position? Would he have no difficulties whatever with that?

Mark Durkan: We decided clearly in the agreement that there could not be all sorts of tests of people's views, qualifications and records. Many of us believe that there are people of extreme views in some parties. When we agreed inclusion without a test in the agreement, we said that that would apply to members of parties who were not even involved in the negotiations and members of parties whom we find to have extreme and intolerant views on a number of issues, including homophobia.

Sammy Wilson: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned homophobia. He may recall that his party led the charge to ensure that someone who had been accused and convicted of making homophobic remarks was taken off, not as a Minister of Justice, nor even as a member of the Policing Board, but as a member of a
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lowly district policing partnership. If such remarks exclude a person from being a member of a DPP, why not from being a Minister of justice?

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