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Viscount Brookeborough: I support the first amendment but not the second. We are talking about all sorts of crimes, not necessarily terrorist crimes. The vast majority of people in Northern Irelandof both the religious communitiesare law-abiding. The judiciary should support the law-abiding community.
Lord Hylton: I am aware that there is a review going on of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. I apologise for not having given notice of my question, but I would like to ask the Minister to say something
Lord Fitt: I hesitate to speak to the amendment. It is said outside the House that, once you become a Member, there is a danger of losing your memory. That must have affected me. I stand here as a convict. In 1969, I took part in a Civil Rights demonstration in Derry and, later on, in Newry. Those Civil Rights demonstrations were banned by the Northern Ireland Government. Anyone who took part in them was sentenced to a mandatory six months' imprisonment. I was part of it, so were John Hume and Seamus Mallon, and all the political figures who took part in the Civil Rights demonstrations. We did not go to gaol because there was an amnesty.
The proposed provision would disqualify me from being part of any of the political establishments in Northern Ireland. I was sentenced to six months, even if the sentence was later done away with by way of an amnesty. There are certain eminent people who have a past in that context but who, I am sure, are accepted as part of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
I support the thinking behind Amendment No. 17. I wonder whether it might not be a useful addendum to my amendment to ask the person selected to make a declaration to the effect of the principle set out in Amendment No. 17.
Lord Tebbit: It does not particularly matter whether the figure is in excess of six monthsthat, as my noble friend says, has the merit of keeping Gerry Fitt on the side of justice and the angels, which is where he usually is, of courseor whether the figure is less than that. It seems to me and to many others that it would be highly offensive if convicted terrorists, murderers, blackmailers, extortionists, bombers and the like were qualified to take up those offices and not to be disqualified from doing so. I speak for a very large number of people when I point out how grossly offensive it would be if people of that kind qualified under this legislation and if the Minister opposed the amendment that was moved by my noble friend. I would regard that as quite disgraceful.
Lord Laird: If this is the correct procedure, I would like to speak to Amendment No. 38. It would have the same effect; that is, of excluding people from the commission and the committee who have criminal convictions.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and others, that this issue is a watershed. The Bill will either fall or stand in terms of its credibility in Northern Ireland. The importance of this issue cannot be over-emphasised. We have a heavy duty in this regard. We have a process that many people find unsatisfactory and most of us are working with it to the best of our ability. However, there is a stage at which the ordinary person in the street will not have any confidence in the
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: We have heard two powerful speeches that invite us to pay attention to what the ordinary person, if he existsthe man in the street or however we describe themwould think. It may be argued that there is no bar, with reference to criminal convictions, to being a Member of the legislature of Northern Ireland. However, there is a distinction to be made. Such persons, by definition, have had to be electedchosenin the full knowledge of their past. What are we speaking about here? Something very differentthe appointment by Ministers of the Crown to a body that will choose a commission that will choose the judges. That is a very different matter indeed.
I respectfully endorse what was first said by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth and which was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Laird; that is, that what we are after is confidence. When we were talking about the merits or demerits of the judiciary representing or reflecting the community, we were really talking about the judiciary having the confidence of the community. One cannot legislate for such confidence but one can legislate for certain criteria that will lead to confidence being enjoyed. Similarly, one can legislate for certain matters if one is misguided, which will ensure that confidence is withheld.
If we included in Clause 1perhaps along the lines of the amendment that we discussed at the start of our proceedingsa statement that persons who have criminal convictions, notwithstanding the fact that they may extent to sentences of more than six months' imprisonment, shall none the less be entitled to be members of this commission, that would be a fairly unattractive beginning to the Bill. That is what one would hope the Government and anyone else with sense would have thought. However, if we resist the amendment of my noble friend, we should secure exactly that result. We should not lose sight of what everyday people think. We should not lose sight of the distinction between persons who, notwithstanding their record, are elected to a position in the legislature and those who are appointed on behalf of the Crown to choose the judges. My noble friend's amendment should be supported by the Government. I greatly hope that it will be.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 seek to prevent those with prison sentences of more than six months or those who have been members of proscribed organisations from becoming members of the Judicial Appointments Commission. It was important when the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said that in effect he would be disqualified. If the period had been for more than six months he
Amendment No. 14 would impose a more stringent test for members of the commission than for MPs or MLAs. I of course hear what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said in relation to the distinction that should properly be drawn between those who are elected and those who are appointed. However, it is important to recognise that that difference in approach has been part of the experience of Northern Ireland, which has had to rehabilitate itself as a result of emerging from the troubled times that it has experienced.
Amendment No. 15 appears to apply not only to those convicted of membership but to anyone who has ever been a member of a proscribed organisation. It is not quite clear how that would be demonstrated.
Amendment No. 17 seeks to exclude any person who is not committed to non-violence and democratic means. Again, if I may respectfully say so, this is not entirely necessary. The matter boils down to a situation of trust. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the professional bodies and the Lord Chief Justice are going to take considerable care in making these important appointments. It is almost inconceivable that they are going to agree on disreputable candidates with criminal records because confidence is what Northern Ireland desperately needs. If any Members of the Committee have any doubts about that, they have only to look at the history. Everyone is fully aware that if this experimentI stress that it is an experimentis going to succeed, everyone is going to have to discharge their duty in relation to the choices that they make responsibly and robustly. Therefore, the issue boils down to whether we are going to trust the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the Lord Chief Justice and others to make the choice and to do so judiciously.
The Government are prepared to trust the devolved institutions to act responsibly in relation to these important matters. The Government are confident that the devolved institutions will perform their duties diligently. If we were not so confident, we could not go down this path. I therefore urge the Committee to think carefully about what we are saying about the confidence, integrity and good judgment and about the ability of the devolved institutions and the arrangements that we are making. We either decide to trust them or we do not. I should also emphasise that, again, in relation to these issues, they will not be devolved unless and until we are confident that the institutions are sufficiently robust to deal with them.
I anticipate that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, may regale us once more with the different personalities of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. However, we need to look to the future, it is hoped with a degree of confidence, and with a degree of trust. The Government are willing to do that.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I am grateful for the care with which the noble Baroness has responded. I see that the amendment dealing with membership of a proscribed organisation has difficulties that are all its own relating to proof of membership and so forth. That is why there have been so few prosecutions. We cannot get the evidence. Perhaps that point should be put to one side.
Can the Minister say a word about the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Glentoran at the conclusion of his speech; that is, at least for a declaration to be made by those who are selected stating that they are wholly committed to non-violent methods and so forth? The wording is already in place.
That would chime with rather a successful requirement for participation in the all-party talks that took place a few years ago under the chairmanship of Senator Mitchell. All participants had to sign up by way of a declaration. That was very good for the purpose of instilling confidence in those outside in the bona fides of those taking part and in the propriety of their participation. That suggestion might meet many of the anxieties which have been expressed in various speeches in support of this group of amendments.
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