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Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 7, leave out (", and one of them shall be appointed chairman").

The noble Lord said: We are here today to consider amendments that have been put down to the Bill that is before your Lordships' Committee. I welcome the interest in the Bill that has been taken so far by noble Lords. It is part of our function to scrutinise and improve legislation. But noble Lords will be aware that it is the Government's position that the Bill must remain consistent with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. For that reason I cannot support many of the amendments that have been put down by noble Lords. However, there are one or two amendments which I will be able to accept on the grounds that they improve the overall terms of the Bill while remaining faithful to the agreement.

I shall take government Amendments Nos. 1, 45, 46 and 48 together, as they all relate to the same purpose. Government Amendment No. 1 removes that part of Clause 1(1) which requires that one of the commissioners appointed under the Bill by the Secretary of State is made chairman. But it is clearly not the Government's intention to remove entirely from the Bill the requirement to appoint a chairman.

Government Amendment No. 45, which relates to Schedule 1--the schedule that deals with the appointment of the commissioners--requires the Secretary of State to appoint a chairman or joint chairman. The effect of government Amendment No. 46 is that, if joint chairmen are appointed, they shall be jointly responsible for the preparation of the annual report. Government Amendment No. 48 amends Schedule 2, which deals with the Secretary of State's power to make rules regarding the procedures to be

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followed by commissioners in exercising their functions. In particular, this would allow the Secretary of State to make rules regarding the allocation of functions under joint chairmen. nder the terms of the amendment, functions may be exercised jointly or concurrently.

I should explain why the Government believe it might be desirable to appoint joint chairmen for the sentence review body. Under the terms of the Bill,

    "In making appointments the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of the Commissioners, as a group, commanding widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland".
That is set out in Clause 1(3).

It is a challenging requirement. Many Members of the Committee will be fully aware of the contentious nature of appointments within Northern Ireland. The appointment of an individual may be welcomed by one group but condemned by another. The significance of the position of chairman of the sentence review commissioners cannot be underestimated. By allowing my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to appoint joint chairmen, it may be easier for her to meet the test in Clause 1(3). I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: We also support the agreement. I recognise that that sometimes can give rise to difficulty both for the Government and ourselves in looking at some of the amendments on the Marshalled List and some of those which it might be desirable, in other circumstances, to move or include in the Bill. The agreement is not perfect from everyone's point of view. We would not regard it as the perfect agreement, but it was the agreement that could be reached. That is extremely important in the context of this Bill. Frankly, if the agreement had not been reached, this Bill would not be acceptable at all. It is only acceptable within the terms of the agreement. I am sure that later we shall return to whether certain points are within both the letter of the agreement, which is easier to establish, and within its spirit, which is much more difficult to establish.

As regards Amendments Nos. 1, 45, 46 and 48, I entirely understand the reasons why the Government have now decided that it might be easier to appoint joint chairmen than a single chairman. I see no provision for that in the agreement or in the paper on the release of prisoners which was submitted to the talks. I am not quite sure of the status of that paper. It is clearly not part of the agreement, but it was before the participants to the talks who reached the agreement. Therefore, it seems to represent, in part at least, the spirit of the agreement for these purposes.

In talking about the chairmen and the members of the commission, the Government agreed in Committee in another place that the statutory lawyer on the commission--I use that term deliberately because the statute provides for a lawyer to be on the commission--should be a United Kingdom lawyer and not a foreign one. But the Government resisted attempts to ensure that a qualified lawyer should be the chairman of the sentence review body.

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I am slightly surprised that the judges in this House have not been keener to see at least a qualified lawyer appointed to head this particular body because it has to make decisions on sentencing. In other contexts the judges often seem keen to emphasise their responsibility and experience, which I acknowledge. That amendment is not before us at the moment. I can see the wisdom in providing for the possibility of joint chairmen. Therefore, I am happy to support this particular amendment.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: This afternoon we shall be considering two sorts of amendments: those designed to clarify the Bill and those designed to improve on the Good Friday Agreement. From these Benches we shall be very resistant to the second sort of amendment. The amendments before us at the moment do not fall into that category. They clarify and they are helpful. We shall support them.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I ask for clarification. I wholly accept that one is bound by the scope and ambit of the agreement. If a question arises as to whether an amendment falls within the spirit or letter of the agreement, is a copy of the agreement available in the Library?

Lord Dubs: Yes. There is bound to be a copy in the Library. Indeed, copies were available in the Printed Paper Office. If any Member of the Committee needs to get one quickly, it is possible that I may be able to get one or two copies on demand.

Lord Tebbit: I apologise, but I had to leave the Chamber for a moment or two during the Minister's speech. Can he clear up one thing about which I have doubts? Who will appoint the chairman?

Lord Dubs: The Secretary of State will appoint the chairman.

Lord Tebbit: The amendment merely removes the words,

    "and one of them shall be appointed chairman".
Am I misreading what is provided in the amendment?

Lord Dubs: Clause 1(1) states,

    "The Secretary of State shall appoint Sentence Review Commissioners, and one of them shall be appointed chairman".
That will be by the Secretary of State. That is certainly my understanding of the Bill.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I thought that, with Amendment No. 1, we were also discussing Amendment No. 45. That amendment states:

    "The Secretary of State shall appoint a chairman, or joint chairmen, from among the Commissioners".
That is to be inserted into the Bill if the Committee agrees.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Lord Tebbit moved Amendment No. 2.

Page 1, line 11, at end insert ("and
(c) at least one is representative of the victims of terrorist crime associated with Northern Ireland.").

The noble Lord said: In the debate that we had on this Bill last week, we heard very little about the victims. I accept of course that that is part of the price which the Government are prepared to pay in their hopes to appease republican opinion. But it seems to me that it would only be appropriate if, among the commissioners who are going to consider the early release of prisoners and the manner in which organisations have given up violence and come into the democratic fold, there was at least one person who will look at all the issues from the point of view of the victims of terrorist crimes associated with Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am very happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. It is an extremely important one if we are to achieve balance in that regard. I see no good reason why this amendment should be unacceptable to anyone. I am quite sure that Her Majesty's Government, having insisted that the victims of terrorism must not be forgotten--and we are grateful for those assurances both by the Minister and the Secretary of State herself--will fully support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit.

Nor need there be any great difficulty in finding suitable nominees for the post. Members of the Committee will know that the former much-respected head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, produced a splendid report on the need for the victims of terrorist crimes to be kept in the forefront of all our minds and deliberations. Thus far a sense of balance has been conspicuous by its absence. The noble Lord has said that it is understandable that terrorists have to be placated in order to ensure that the mis-named "peace process" is kept on the rails. For that reason what were called "confidence-building concessions" were, until now, directed towards terrorists and their fellow travellers.

The amendment makes a modest start in redressing the balance. Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and his team will have no difficulty in providing representatives--if there is to be more than one--of the forgotten men, women and children who had the misfortune to get in the way of the bullets, sometimes because they were determined to live normal lives and in other cases because they persisted in serving the entire Northern Ireland community, of all faiths and of none.

Now is the time for an element of justice to be done. Including a representative of the victims would go a long way towards achieving the aim set out in subsection (3), to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred earlier, and would command widespread acceptance throughout the community. In my view, the amendment would do just that.

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