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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I tabled Amendment No. 176. I can only echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. The problems with the clause began in the other place where it was really a tit-for-tat provision and very unedifying to the dignity of Parliament.
I tabled my amendment before the Recess as I felt that it was unjust and wrong that members of Opus Dei should have to declare their membership if they were to become members of the police force, the assumption being that one might show prejudice and fail to fulfil one's duties.
It may surprise noble Lords that, as a clergyman of the Church of England, I have considerable knowledge of Opus Dei. It has shown generosity in asking me to participate in its philosophical seminars. I have also given talks to various of its groups. As far as concerns Britain, it is a devotional and Christian group whose object is to encourage lay people to live a fully Christian life in society. It is, like many evangelical groups in the Protestant Churches, dedicated to an ardent form of Christianity. That may not appeal to some pragmatists. But the devotion of its members is obvious.
So far as I have seen, Opus Dei plays no part in British politics. I should imagine that the members I have spoken to reflect the whole spectrum of political opinion. As in many evangelical groups--these are evangelical Catholics--the very nature of their devotion would encourage any member who held public office to act with integrity and impartiality. Therefore, although I am delighted that the Government have withdrawn the clause, like the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, I think it is very unfortunate that such a clause was ever placed in a statute before a British Parliament. Why it was not stopped in the other place I cannot imagine. It really is quite a disgrace. The Hansard reports of proceedings in Committee in another place when this provision was debated are not a good reflection on Parliament. It would be a caricature of justice to suggest that the ideals of Opus Dei would not be followed if someone became a member of the police force.
I am happy with the government amendment, but I would be shocked and would raise the matter again in this House if Opus Dei were to be designated as an organisation of which members of the police force had to declare membership. If it were so designated, the Evangelical Alliance and a whole range of other bodies would have to be designated also. When the Chief Constable considers this matter, he should consider the very poor drafting in the House of Commons and
Lord Fitt: I congratulate the Government on their withdrawal of the qualification list. One has only to read the report of the debates in Committee in another place to realise that there was a totally tribal approach to this issue. Five of the listed organisations could be classified as non-Catholic; two of them could be classified as Catholic. If one reads the report of the debates in another place one can sense the animosity and hostility of those taking part. One must therefore congratulate the Government on removing the disqualifications.
Over the past few weeks tremendous pressure has been put on different people to ensure that particular organisations would not be included in the list. I am sure that the Masonic Lodge and the Orange Lodge were campaigning for their members to do that. I certainly know that Opus Dei organised an absolutely brilliant Catholic campaign to ensure that Opus Dei was not included. Now that those organisations have been removed, there are rumours to the effect that when the Bill returns to the House of Commons an attempt may be made to reinsert the disqualification of some of them. I hope that the Government will resist that attempt.
Although the Government are doing away with the list, Clause 49 provides that a constable will have to register his interests. How does one define "his interests"? Without being frivolous--this can be a serious matter in Northern Ireland--does support for Linfield Football Club, or Glasgow Rangers Football Club or Glasgow Celtic Football Club have to be registered? What about a darts match in the middle of Glasgow or a skateboarding contest in the Falls Park in Belfast? Those could all be taken as registrable issues. Who will have to decide? Let us suppose that the Chief Constable had evidence that someone attended a match at Linfield or Rangers and in a very hostile manner condemned his team's opponents. Would that person be acceptable?
I have spoken to policemen. They would like to know what will be regarded as registrable membership. This could be taken to ridiculous lengths and cover darts clubs, skateboarding, roller skating and so on. The Government should take this issue seriously. They should be certain about what will be regarded as registrable membership. Will any instructions be given to the Chief Constable, or will he take the decision in the light of his experience in Northern Ireland?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I intended to speak in favour of the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. The Committee should be indebted to the noble Lord for raising this important question. Like many other noble Lords, I have made representations to the Government about the undesirability of creating this kind of list and picking out certain organisations, some of which are, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said, pietistic;
In the other place the Government were trying to highlight the danger of people using their membership of organisations to give some kind of secretive support to other people who might be seeking preferment or employment--in the police force or in any aspect of public life in Northern Ireland. One has to tread with great care in this whole area. Many of the measures which already exist, particularly those dealing with discrimination, can be used quite effectively to combat that kind of insidiousness. I hope that the Minister will look at those tools as a way of dealing with the abuse of power, the abuse of old boy networks or the abuse of informal liaisons and relationships that can take place because of networking inside one part of the community or another. It is against all our interests to accentuate any sense of tribalism.
This brief debate today has illustrated that we would be in grave danger of creating something that could accentuate a sense of tribalism. For that reason, we should all be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for having walked with such sensitivity around these issues and for having brought before the Committee an amendment with which I hope that we and Members of another place can agree. If Members of another place have any sense, they will realise that this amendment has a great deal of wisdom to commend it.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: I had intended to speak in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. I am most grateful, as I know my colleagues on this Bench will be, for the statement that has been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I entirely endorse all the points that have been made. It would be most unfortunate if anything which came through this House or from another place were to exacerbate the tribalism that has already been spoken of. All of us who follow any denomination within the Christian faith regard the way in which our religion has been so used in such a tragic manner in Northern Ireland as something that we would want in every way to avoid in the future. I hope that lessons will be learnt from the unfortunate way in which this legislation was drafted. I hope, too, that noble Lords will support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has said and will support his amendment.
Viscount Cranborne: Perhaps I may apologise to the Committee for not being present on Monday. I fear that I was indisposed and I therefore come in rather late in the proceedings at this stage. I very much welcome the Government's flexibility on this point. I intervene purely to seek a little clarification from the noble and learned Lord when he replies to the debate.
The report makes it clear that any amendment removing, or indeed amending, the list of organisations would be of such political importance that it should be done by affirmative instrument. That judgment is clearly shared by the Government and by this Committee.
The importance and sensitivity of this matter has been recognised on all sides. Are the Government satisfied, therefore, that sufficient arrangements are in place to ensure public confidence in the judgment of those who will issue the guidance on notifiable memberships--in other words, the Chief Constable--and those whom he will consult: the board, the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission? Some reassurance should be given by the Chief Constable and those three bodies to the public at large about precisely which organisations will be categorised as notifiable organisations under the Bill, and what amendments will be made to the list.
Although we have properly accepted the Government's good sense in amending Clause 49 as proposed, the fundamental difficulty remains; it has been removed from the forum of Parliament and placed in the hands of the Chief Constable and those whom he has to consult. We still have a highly sensitive matter which could all too easily become a matter of some secrecy, particularly in Northern Ireland. That may or may not be a good thing. The more the publicity that is attendant on such judgments, the more likely it is that there will be controversy. Equally, the more secrecy there is, the more the conspiracy theories will flourish and, if in doubt, it is much better for the matter to be made public.
What arrangements do the Government have in mind for public accountability for actions relating to the list? When the Chief Constable comes to compile the list, will it mirror precisely that presently set out in Clause 49(1)(a) to (h), or does the Chief Constable have it in mind to change that list? If he does, how will he publicise the changes? What reasons will he give? What are the implications of the Chief Constable making that judgment? I imagine that, mutatis mutandis, the implications would be much the same as they would be for debate in this place under an affirmative resolution as proposed by the Select Committee.
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