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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I have not received that document. I took very great care to quote from the one letter which I had from Professor Dickson. I simply want to make that clear.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not dispute that for one moment. I stress again that these are letters sent to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, not to the noble Baroness. But in the question to which the noble Baroness rightly returns on these occasions, she deals with those who have been expelled. Other noble Lords said in a sense, I believe, that the commission ought to be even-handed. I could not agree more with what the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said. Human rights are not only for republicans and nationalists.

The letter of 24th October last year condemned the murder of Rosemary Nelson by the Red Hand Commandos. It called for a judicial inquiry into the murder of Mr Finucane, it is said, by loyalist paramilitaries. The commission investigated the circumstances surrounding the murder of Billy Wright by members of the Irish National Liberation Army.

I refer in particular to the questions put by the noble Baroness. The commission had been,

which is more to the noble Baroness's point—

    "for representatives of voluntary and community organisations, and of local political parties, on the phenomenon of "punishment" attacks; by discussing with a number of people from within and

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    without Northern Ireland how best to acknowledge the victimhood of those who have suffered at the hands of republican and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland".

I shall continue with just a sentence or two from some of the rest of the correspondence. There is a letter dated 3rd January 2002. The allegation has been made that the commission was secretive and unwilling to share with members of the public any appropriate information. The letter is from Professor Dickson to the noble Lord, Lord Laird. It says that,

    "you might find it quicker to contact us directly if you require information. We will endeavour to respond as fully and as speedily as possible in all cases".

That is rather than the device, which the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to use, of Parliamentary Questions waiting for Written Answers, which have to go through the Northern Ireland Office.

There is also the letter of 7th March, which is almost bang up to date. Professor Dickson writes to the noble Lord, Lord Laird:

    "Finally, could I please once again extend to you a cordial invitation to visit the Commission to see at first hand the work that it conducts? I would be happy to buy you lunch on that occasion".

Those are the documents that I have looked at as an outsider with no responsibility for the commission. It does not seem to me, as a fair reading of those letters, undisputed as they stand in my hand, that some of the criticisms can be made out.

Of course, all organisations say that their budgets are too small. The baseline funding was set at £750,000. This year the funding has been over £1.3 million.

Perhaps I ought to turn to the membership because there has been criticism. I am not making comment, but reciting what I believe to be fact. It is alleged that it is a hopelessly partisan body. The new members were Lady Eames, the wife of our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Eames, the Primate, and outgoing president of the Mothers' Union; Dr Christopher McGimpsey, UUP councillor, with wide-ranging business and community interests; Mr Kevin McLaughlin, regional development manager for Leonard Cheshire Homes and member of the Civic Forum, who has a strong interest in rights for disabled persons; Mr Patrick Yu, director of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, former member of the Commission for Racial Equality, Northern Ireland, with extensive community experience. Those are all matters for judgment and individual taste. I would find it very difficult to describe any of those as improper candidates for membership of a commission such as this.

Lord Laird: My Lords, in discussing the composition of the commission, will the Minister explain why there are no representatives on the commission of the evangelical community, the Ulster-Scots community or the approximately 25 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland who do not accept the Belfast agreement? I accept the Belfast agreement; they do not.

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Will the Minister also take note of the fact that at one stage I offered Professor Dickson my total support for everything he did in relation to human rights, if he involved us as a human rights organisation and involved the Unionist section of the population? I further suggested to him that I would be quite prepared to appear on his platform at the launch of the Bill of Rights. I never heard another word about my offer.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I cannot comment on conversations at which I was not present and of which I have no knowledge. The noble Lord asked me why various persons were not on the original commission. It was an open competition and all the rules were scrupulously abided by. I shall be quite happy, if it is considered useful, to go through every one of the nominees on the original commission. Perhaps I should do so.

They were: Professor Brice Dickson, Professor of Law and Head of Legal Studies at the University of Ulster; Winston Churchill fellow on Bills of Rights in Southern Africa, 1994; Professor Christine Bell, Director of the Centre for International and Comparative Human Rights Law since 1997; Margaret-Ann Dinsmore, QC, active on advisory and supervisory bodies such as the Northern Ireland Commission for the Rights of Trade Union Members; Tom Donnelly, Justice of the Peace since 1985, patron of the Belfast Charitable Trust for Integrated Education and former SDLP councillor; Reverend Harold Good, superintendent minister of the Belfast South circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Professor Tom Hadden, part-time professor of law at Queen's University, Belfast, since 1985; Patricia (Paddy) Kelly, director of a children's law centre, election observer for the United Nations and the European Union; Inez McCormack, regional secretary of the trade union, UNISON; Francis (Frank) McGuinness, regional manager of Trocaire, Northern Ireland, former English teacher and education officer.

It is for your Lordships to come to your own conclusions—not for me to suggest them—that, on the face of it, that list represents a reasonably reflective balance of a community as diverse as Northern Ireland.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, with whom I entirely agree, said that majorities may sometimes be wrong; so may governments, officials, departments, and even some of your Lordships on occasions. The purpose of having a commission such as this is so that it may challenge and make itself disagreeable and uncomfortable. On the basis of my experience, such a commission would be unlikely to do its duty if it pleased everyone on all occasions. If the commission pleased governmental organisations on every occasion, my immediate instinct would be to wonder whether its time was not somewhat overdue.

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As I understand it, the commission's agenda is not to diminish the powers of the state. In so far as I have been able to deal with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, it is not fair to say that it has not attended to the issues with which she has concerned herself. It is true that it has not solved the problems, but I do not think it can fairly be said that it has closed its eyes to them.

I have dealt with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, about the draft Bill. It is a proposal, a skeleton outline as it were, on which everyone can have his or her view, on which the Government will come to their conclusions.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, fully set out his stall—that he does not agree with the Human Rights Act in this country. He and I will never agree on that. I believe that it was a triumph of this Government—I did not say "the only triumph"; I see the noble Baroness, Lady Park, smiling—but it is the most significant act of devolution of power from the Government to the individual that has ever occurred.

I shall give one example in the context of Northern Ireland. Bitterly contested has been the question whether or not those against whom assertions have been made in respect of Bloody Sunday ought to have anonymity. The courts, I stress, have given anonymity to the soldiers against whom, on the one hand, allegations have been made and about whom, on the other hand, it is said they were servants of the state carrying out their proper duties. The inquiry will decide that matter. I very much doubt that they would have been given the anonymity they wanted, were it not for the fact that they were able to say, "My human rights include the right to life, which will be imperilled if you give me no anonymity". It is quite useful to bear in mind that the Human Rights Act protects everyone, without fear or favour, prejudice or ill will.

I have spent a little time going through the correspondence. I am not commenting on it; I am simply pointing to fact, which I know is sometimes disagreeable.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for letting in the light on something that has perhaps caused trouble and distress. I respectfully suggest that he might find it helpful to take up the invitation of the human rights commission—it did not invite me, but I went anyway on Friday of last week—immediately following a meeting with the Police Federation and the Prison Officers' Association. Both those organisations have done very significant public work and discharged public duties in Northern Ireland for a long period of time. I was impressed by the comment of the Chairman (soon to retire) of the Police Federation that although things are not perfect, they may have got better. In the past several years he has followed no coffin to the funeral of any of his comrades.

We should sometimes reflect that although things are not perfect, there have been some distinct improvements. I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for giving me that opportunity to say a few words.

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