Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I shall be brief. I share the view that all might not be well with this elite committee, as one might call it. What will be the method of selection of members? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has given us an inkling, but the process may not be so simple. At national level there would be no problem in selecting such a committee. Members would automatically be chosen from the ranks of Privy Counsellors. But we do not have that band of people in Northern Ireland to any great extent.

Is it not invidious to imply that one element of the Policing Board can be trusted and a larger element cannot? Is the thinking, for example, that the favoured few on the elite committee might have prevented the unseemly manoeuvring over the resignation of the head of Special Branch? We have been told that the reason for his resignation was withheld from the board in full. Some members may have been aware of it, but

30 Jan 2003 : Column 1255

not everyone. The reasons were discussed recently at a British-Irish intelligence seminar, where it was revealed that the senior officer's dismissal—that is what it amounted to; it was not really a resignation—was conveyed to him by the head of MI5 acting on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office. Surely that disclosure makes a nonsense of the suggestion that even an elite segment of the board could prevent such high-level disclosures.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on what he has done in an attempt to ensure that sensitive matters are not discussed at meetings of the board. But he has an impossible task. At this time, I do not see how a policing board could operate without referring to sensitive matters. The basic problem is that the Policing Board was set up on the assumption that we would be at peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned. That surely makes a nonsense of the whole arrangement. If we were at peace, everything would be all right, but we are not. We are assuming that members of a political party that, by its own declaration, is at war with the Government may become members of the Policing Board. Surely they will be bound to hear sensitive matters no matter what is done. We are setting out to do something impossible.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I apologise, particularly to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, for my slightly late arrival on the Bench. I would like to have heard everything that he said in introducing these amendments. Having arrived home at around midnight last night, after a day of local government business, and then left at 5 a.m. to catch a plane to come here, I was disconcerted to find so many government amendments on the Marshalled List. Although I do not have a legal mind, they appear convoluted and difficult to decipher.

Initially, I was happy to find that a point made at several stages in the passage of the Bill had been taken on board in proposed subsection (4C), which refers to,

    "information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger".

My relief was short-lived, because I then discovered that a sub-committee of the board was to be set up if the Chief Constable decided that information of particularly sensitive significance was required. I understand that all members will be bound by the Official Secrets Act. But let us be honest: if someone such as ex-prisoner, ex-murderer Gerry Kelly, who is now an Assembly Member for a Belfast constituency, became a member of the board—when Sinn Fein decides to come on to it—can anyone imagine a decision being taken to charge him with an infringement of the Official Secrets Act? In this instance, we know that the guarantee about the Official Secrets Act is not worth the paper which it is written on.

The idea that the board of 19 members will elect five of their peers to form the sub-committee is no consolation. I am being signalled to conclude. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and I

30 Jan 2003 : Column 1256

apologise but I have had only a short time to study the amendments. The five members of the board elected by their peers to receive this sensitive information are bound to include a Sinn Fein member. I would be sceptical to hear that it is possible to exclude Sinn Fein or anyone with a paramilitary link who can be a member of the board on the grounds that they are elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would simply not be possible. So, it does not matter whether we convey the information to a committee of five members of the board, one of whom is untrustworthy, or whether we convey confidential information to the whole board. It makes not the slightest difference.

I do not want to labour the point any further. As I came here today, I determined that I would speak briefly. I have spoken at some length about my concerns that the Bill is being rushed through. It will go to another place in the minimum time and will be back with us in the minimum time for the simple reason that certain things must be put in place to facilitate Sinn Fein, which may, in late February or early March, make a decision that will be deemed to be a commitment to the peace process, to the 1998 agreement and to the Mitchell principles. It will not be that, unless we have what are now called "acts of completion". Those acts must not be gestures; there must be total disarmament by paramilitary organisations in turn. In this case, as we are catering for IRA/Sinn Fein, I am talking specifically about them. Acts of completion must be total disarmament and disbandment. We cannot any longer allow people to have one foot in the democratic camp and one in the paramilitary camp.

I say that, I hope, for the last time today. I hope that the point is getting through that the Bill is being put through in its present form by the Government simply to facilitate Sinn Fein/IRA and for no other reason. I have always wanted and have always worked in public life to move Northern Ireland forward. I have always worked for reconciliation, in the hope that our two traditions will come together and be given the opportunity to do that in a normal society. It cannot be a normal society, if we tweak the democratic processes in a way that is intended to reassure but, in fact, makes those of us who have been at the coalface for so long all the more suspicious about the Government's real intention.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the observations that your Lordships have offered. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, has doubts about Sinn Fein being on the board, but many of your Lordships wish to see the day when Sinn Fein is on the board. Many of the noble Lord's observations about Sinn Fein would lead logically to the conclusion that, if we are to have a board, we should do our utmost not to have Sinn Fein on it. The noble Lord knows that I am fond of him personally, but I must disagree profoundly with his approach.

30 Jan 2003 : Column 1257

The committee is a small committee of five members. We have tried to meet the concerns ventilated earlier, which I recognise as justified. There is no barrier to anyone being on that small committee except that no one can get on it without having the support of his or her fellow board members. One of the members will be the chairman, and the committee may also include the vice-chairman and three others.

It is not a question of favouritism, to address the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. We want to ensure that the smallest sensible number of people has access to the most sensitive information. That is not unreasonable, is it? It is a general principle. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, will know as well as I that not every matter goes to every Cabinet member. Sometimes, it is appropriate to have a small sub-group or sub-committee to deal with particular matters. I had thought that your Lordships would commend us on having done our best to meet the concerns that were expressed. It seems practical and reasonable to have a small group in those circumstances.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, asked about how the committee would take account of views. The Chief Constable and that small committee would want to discuss the nature and format of the summary, including the views of the small committee on how much information it is appropriate to share more widely. That is why that provision is included. The criminal sanction for disclosure is in the Bill and is not to be found in other legislation.

The provision can be made to work. In the nature of things, it is bound to be a compromise; I commend it to your Lordships as a reasonable and rational one.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 3 and 4:

    Page 6, line 12, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

"(3) In subsection (4) for the words from "in order to" to the end substitute "for either or both of the purposes mentioned in subsection (4A)."
(3A) After subsection (4) insert—
"(4A) The purposes are—
(a) exempting the Chief Constable from the obligation to report to the Board information which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1);
(b) imposing on the Chief Constable an obligation to supply any such information to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1.
(4B) Subsection (4D) applies if—
(a) a requirement to submit a report has been made under subsection (1);
(b) the Chief Constable has not referred the requirement to the Secretary of State under subsection (3);
(c) the Chief Constable is of the opinion that a report in compliance with the requirement would include information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4C).
(4C) The information is—

30 Jan 2003 : Column 1258

(a) information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger, or
(b) information which ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1).
(4D) The Chief Constable may, instead of including the information in the report to the Board, supply it to the committee constituted by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1.
(4E) If the Chief Constable supplies information to the committee under subsection (4D) he shall include a summary of it in the report to the Board.
(4F) In preparing a summary under subsection (4E) the Chief Constable shall take into account the views of the committee.
(4G) Subsection (4H) applies if—
(a) the Chief Constable supplies information to the committee under subsection (4D), or
(b) the Chief Constable includes information in a report to the Board and is of the opinion that the information is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4C).
(4H) The Chief Constable must—
(a) inform the Secretary of State that the information has been included in a report to the Board or supplied to the committee;
(b) inform the Secretary of State and the recipient of the information that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (4C)."" Page 6, line 13, leave out "(3)" and insert "(3A)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 9 [Inquiries by Board]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page