Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I broadly support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Both he and I have been involved in public life in a part of the United Kingdom. We know that, just as on this side of the Channel, all appointees there at whatever level must be whiter than white; otherwise, not only will they bring discredit on the body on which they are serving but they may also have the effect of destroying confidence in the ranks of the general public. They may also destroy the faith and the respect for the body to which they perhaps wrongly belonged.

On a previous occasion I referred to what I call the "Ulster Contingent". On their behalf--my colleagues sitting beside me--I should like to express our appreciation and indebtedness to the government Ministers, not least the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and his colleagues, for their infinite patience. I know that they will take heed of what we have said today. Perhaps in some form or another, we shall find that some of our respectful advice has been implemented at some stage.

I should also like to thank Her Majesty's Opposition for their co-operation and for assisting us with their advice. When we embarked upon this rather trying spell after the Summer Recess, we probably did not realise all that lay ahead of us. However, I believe it is right to say that, collectively, we have survived the test.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, seems to preface each introduction to an

15 Nov 2000 : Column 334

amendment by referring to the practicalities of the situation. It seems to me that this amendment, as presented, is not exactly practical. Let us take, for example, paragraph (e), which refers to someone who,

    "has at any time been convicted ... of any offence".

That appears to me to fly straight in the face of the rehabilitation of offenders order, to which I believe I referred on Second Reading. Most of us seek to achieve the reintegration of people who have offended in the past, into the community.

Paragraphs (f) and (h) of the amendment refer to,

    "the political party of which he is a member".

Could not that stipulation be very easily got round simply by the person resigning from the political party? Paragraph (g) contains the proviso that,

    "he is not committed to non-violence".

Who decides that? In some cases it will be an entirely subjective decision. I hope that the noble Lord will not press this amendment.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I support the amendment. As regards one issue just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I accept that we want reintegration in society of people who have recently been released from custody. However, what we are talking about here is those who have been released very recently. We are not just talking about reintegration into the local society so that people help them to adjust. We are talking about putting them in a position of responsibility almost immediately after their release. That seems to me to be going too far at this stage.

I shall not repeat what I said at the previous stage, but I believe that my sentiments are shared by many people in Northern Ireland. It is intended that the DPPs and the board will gain people's respect. It is intended that they will gain the respect of law-abiding people on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, outside of which we are all agreed that the people involved in terrorism and the other activities we are discussing constitute a small proportion. How can we honestly pretend that the DPPs will gain the respect of law-abiding people in those communities who are the victims of the crimes we are discussing? It seems rather ridiculous to hope for that.

The future of Northern Ireland lies with the young, as noble Lords on all sides of the House have said on many occasions. Will those young people look up to people whose criminal records have been disregarded and who will be appointed to positions of, supposedly, some stature? If we include in the provision too many who may have committed crimes, whether terrorist or other crimes, they will not have the necessary stature for young people to look up to. Also people will believe that they can commit small criminal acts and progress to more serious ones later in life. Those people will not gain the necessary respect and they will not form the kind of bodies that we wish to see formed in the communities.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 335

7 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Hylton with regard to the proposed paragraph (e) in Amendment No. 21, as I said at an earlier stage of the Bill. However, that matter can easily be rectified in another place when the Bill returns there. The rest of the amendment is commendable. The fact that paragraph (e) probably goes too far is no reason for not passing the amendment tonight, if we can. As I say, any defects can be rectified in another place.

Lord Desai: My Lords, across the world in every country of the British Empire which has been given independence terrorists have become Prime Ministers. They do not have to be, dare I say, whiter than white? They do not even have to be purer than pure. They just have to have standing in a community. Whatever we may say, some of these people have standing in the community.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in expressing my gratitude for the way in which the debates on this extremely controversial Bill have been conducted at all stages. I thank what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, described as the Ulster contingent in relation to the tolerant and understanding way in which they have dealt with a Minister who has little experience of the issues we are discussing.

The underlying purpose of Amendment No. 21 has been debated on a number of previous occasions, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, acknowledged. The proposers of the amendment continue to seek to impose disqualifications from membership of the policing board in a way that neither Patten, nor indeed the Good Friday agreement, envisaged.

Not only does the Good Friday agreement state that,

    "structures and arrangements should be capable of delivering a policing service, in constructive and inclusive partnerships with the community at all levels",

but it also specifically includes in the terms of reference for the Patten commission a requirement to make proposals designed to ensure that,

    "there are clearly established arrangements enabling local people, and their political representatives, to articulate their views and concerns about policing and to establish publicly policing priorities and influence policing policies".

Against this background the Government believe that they have put in place effective and appropriate safeguards for both independent and political members.

I set out the Government's position as it is reflected in the Bill. Political members may be appointed to the board as of right by virtue of being elected to the Assembly. They have a democratic mandate; the same mandate that enables them to be appointed to the Northern Ireland Executive. But having been appointed, the Bill has clear removal provisions. So if a political member is convicted of a criminal offence, or is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means--the test in the

15 Nov 2000 : Column 336

Northern Ireland Act 1998--or if they are otherwise unfit to discharge their functions, the Secretary of State may remove him or her from office.

For independents, the Government have made it clear that there will be character checks which is standard practice for public appointments. The application form for the ongoing appointment process requires criminal records to be disclosed. In addition, on top of the removal criteria for political members, independents may be removed from office if they do not disclose a conviction when appointed or if they do not comply with their terms of appointment. The Bill has those safeguards to set against the provisions of the Good Friday agreement. I thought it important to repeat them. In the light of those provisions I ask the noble Lord not to press Amendment No. 21.

As with Amendment No. 21 to Schedule 1 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Cope, Amendment No. 25 seeks to tighten the disqualification provisions for DPPs. As I did with the board, I should like to set the DPPs in context. First, their role is explanatory and consultative--nothing like that of the board. Secondly, to repeat an important point made at earlier stages of the Bill, the DPPs do not impinge on operational independence; their role is in accountability. It is also important to put on the record again the safeguards on appointments which are in place.

For councillors--as I have mentioned, the Good Friday agreement and Patten saw the need for political representatives to be involved at local level--there are criminal record disqualifications which apply before an individual can become a councillor. They would be disqualified if imprisoned for three months or more, whether suspended or not, until their sentence and then a five-year period had elapsed. They, of course, have a democratic mandate.

Independents on the DPPs are subject to stricter disqualification criteria. If they have a sentence of imprisonment, whether suspended or not, there is an automatic bar in the Bill. Furthermore, independents and councillors are both subject to removal provisions if they are convicted or fail to comply with their terms of appointment.

There are other safeguards. The Secretary of State will issue a code on appointments which will be required to be on merit, and this will cover advertisement, interview, involvement of an independent and appointment by the board. There is also a default provision in Clause 15 which enables the Secretary of State to act if appointments are not made in accordance with the Bill. He may direct the council to remedy the fault and, if it fails to do so, empower the board to act.

I ask noble Lords to consider the powers of these bodies, the requirements of the Good Friday agreement--which the Government want to see implemented in all its aspects--and the safeguards the

15 Nov 2000 : Column 337

Government have built in. We think that the Bill gets the balance right. I ask the noble Lord not to move Amendment No. 25.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page