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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I hope I did not misunderstand—not today—the fact that the Minister had sympathy with the clause; I thought he did. However, now that I have left out Clauses 3 and 4 we seem to have come back to Clauses 1 and 2. So, perhaps I slightly misunderstood in the same way that he may have misunderstood that I do not oppose the Government having flexibility; I am trying to give flexibility but I do not want it to be too wide.

On that basis, I shall again consider carefully the Minister's comments. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

12.7 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line references are to HC Bill 52 as first printed for the Commons.]

13After Clause 13, insert the following new clause—
(1) Schedule 3 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) (district policing partnerships) is amended as follows.

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(2) In paragraph 1 (interpretation) after sub-paragraph (3) insert—
"(3A) In this Schedule a "declaration against terrorism" means a declaration in the form set out in Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, with the substitution of the words "if appointed" for the words "if elected"."
(3) In paragraph 5 (council's nominations of independent members) in sub-paragraph (4) after "if" insert "(a)" and after "the DPP" insert—
", or
(b) he has not made a declaration against terrorism".
(4) In paragraph 7 (removal of members from office) in sub-paragraph (1) after paragraph (a) insert—
"(aa) in the case of an independent member, he has acted in breach of the terms of a declaration against terrorism;".
(5) In paragraph 7 after sub-paragraph (2) insert—
"(3) Section 6 of the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 applies to determine whether an independent member has acted in breach of the terms of a declaration against terrorism as it applies to determine whether a person who has made a declaration required for the purpose of section 3, 4 or 5 of that Act has acted in breach of the terms of the declaration.
(4) As applied by sub-paragraph (3), section 6 of the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 applies with the following modifications—
(a) in subsection (1), for the words from "after" to "the Assembly" substitute "when he is an independent member of a district policing partnership";
(b) omit subsection (4);
(c) in subsection (5), in the definition of "public meeting" after paragraph (c) insert—
"(d) any meeting of a district policing partnership or a committee of a district policing partnership (whether or not a meeting which the public is permitted to attend), and
(e) any meeting of a sub-group established under section 21 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 or a committee of such a sub-group (whether or not a meeting which the public is permitted to attend), and".
(6) Subsections (1) to (5) come into force in accordance with provision made by the Secretary of State by order."

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13.

When we discussed the passage of the 2000 Act it was specifically said by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer that in due time we hoped to see the day when the various sensitivities surrounding policing issues had receded and then we would be able to return to this issue.

As your Lordships know, in August 2001 we published an updated implementation plan. On page 11 of that report, in accordance with Patten recommendations 27 and 28, we made it clear that we would consider whether there was a continuing need for the disqualification provision for independent members of DPPs and the functions of the Belfast sub-groups. The plan made it plain that we would consider including any necessary amendments in the subsequent legislation.

As your Lordships all know, there was a review of policing arrangements. My colleague, Jane Kennedy, met a wide range of parties, including all political

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parties from Northern Ireland that are represented in this Parliament. We considered the appropriateness of the existing provisions. On 25th November last year the Government published, along with the draft contents of this Bill, some text for consideration. I know certainly that your Lordships appreciated the openness with which the Secretary of State had dealt with this matter. That is the short background.

I make it plain on behalf of the Government that we see a distinction between on the one hand presenting these clauses to Parliament today for inclusion as part of the legislation—I stress that as strongly as I can—and on the other hand bringing those clauses into force and effect. We did not wish to be in this position and we brought forward these changes with some reluctance. No one pretends that all the problems of Northern Ireland have been solved. However, over the past weeks and months there has been extremely important significant progress. I reiterate my continuing appreciation of the attitude that all noble Lords have adopted as we all work together co-operatively to see what improvements we may bring about genuinely and without partisan feeling.

As your Lordships know, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State had discussions at Hillsborough last month. Progress was made. Your Lordships also know that the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will return to Hillsborough shortly. If the circumstances are right—we all hope and pray that they will be—they will publish proposals setting out the way forward, covering acts of completion as set out in the Prime Minister's Customs House speech.

Often your Lordships have pointed out to me that we have already had three policing Bills for Northern Ireland. I do not believe that anyone would wish to have a further Bill. But that is not the end of the story. I stress again, at the risk of being tedious, that the provisions dealing with the Belfast sub-groups, which we shall come to later, and these clauses cannot come into force and into effect when the Bill receives Royal Assent. They will be commenced only by means of a subsequent order. Your Lordships know that that will have to be subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses. That is covered by Amendments Nos. 48 and 49. We shall envisage bringing forward the clauses only in the context of acts of completion. The Secretary of State was even more specific when he spoke last week saying that,

    "They will not come into effect unless we have agreement that those acts of completion have been dealt with".—[Official Report, Commons, 26/3/2003; col. 361.]

The Prime Minister has made it plain that acts of completion cannot and do not simply mean a statement or a declaration. They must mean giving up violence completely and totally, so that we can move forward with the democratic process, with all parties that wish to be in government abiding by the same democratic rules.

The affirmative resolution procedure provides an absolute guarantee that Parliament will have the final say as to when those provisions come into effect. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place said that both Houses would have the

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opportunity for a full debate should an order be brought forward. I give my personal guarantee that I shall make appropriate time available.

I want to comment briefly on Amendments Nos. 14B, 14C and 48A and, as it also deals with commencement, Amendment No. 15B. They are all attempts, in differing ways, to get at the same effect. Amendment No. 14B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, focuses on the issue of decommissioning. I respectfully suggest that it is not the only issue. The noble Lords, Lord Maginnis and Lord Rogan, in Amendments Nos. 14C and 15B approach it in a slightly different way and include a provision for the Secretary of State to add more elements to the list of necessary conditions. I say in a spirit of amity that I do not believe that those amendments are workable. I shall be happy to amplify that in due time should that be appropriate.

I understand the thinking behind the proposals. In the Government's view we really need a situation where the new world envisaged by the Belfast agreement works properly and as it should. When the institutions are working effectively, and when there is a degree of mutual trust and co-operation—not threats, fear and various intimidation—we shall need to consider the Secretary of State's proposal for Parliament to decide about commencement.

There will be an element of political judgment. That is inevitable and right in a democratic society. I have detected that there is concern in the House that the decision should not simply be left to the Secretary of State at that stage. That is the important point that favours the adoption of Amendment No. 48A, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Glentoran. In order for devolution to be restored, trust must be restored, and restored sufficiently to enable all parties to feel able to come together once again in collective government.

My summary, by way of approval of Amendment No. 48A, is that it is—I mean this as a commendation and not as a criticism—a more subtle and sophisticated way of reaching a conclusion which we all favour.

Last week Jane Kennedy said,

    "trust must reside not just in the Governments of Britain or Ireland. The parties to the arrangements that we want to re-establish in Northern Ireland will have to make those partnerships work. It is within that context that we would consider the changes being brought forward".—[Official Report, Commons, 27/3/03; col. 541.]

Therefore, the effect of Amendment No. 48A would be to add another element to the judgment that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would have to make. For that reason, we are content to accept that amendment. I hope your Lordships will regard that as helpful.

Amendment No. 14 amends the disqualification provision set out in paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the 2000 Act. At present the legislation provides that no one who has ever received a custodial sentence should be allowed to serve—I underline the following words—as an independent member of a DPP, no matter how long ago they were convicted or for what offence or whether

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or not the sentence was suspended. Our amendment changes that and would provide that a period of five years would have to elapse following a person's discharge in respect of an offence before he or she may be considered for appointment to a DPP.

If your Lordships accept them, those provisions would bring the rules for independent members into line with the arrangements that already apply to the political members of DPPs, who are drawn from local district councils. Under the terms of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, as amended, candidates wishing to stand for election as local councillors are ineligible for a period of five years following their discharge from an offence that attracted a custodial sentence.

Those arrangements, in this amendment, mirror for independent members what obtains for local authority members. Similar arrangements, of course, apply in relation to appointment to police authorities in England and Wales, where people are disqualified from being appointed as a member of a police authority if they have received, within five years before the date of the appointment, a sentence of imprisonment for a period of not less than three months.

The only change to the wording of this clause since it was first published as a text for consideration last November—I referred to that earlier—is to clarify the status of suspended sentences. In line with the equivalent electoral legislation, suspended sentences will not count for the purposes of the disqualification rules unless they are ordered to take effect. The suspension of the sentence will be subject to certain conditions set by the judge. If an individual breaks any of those conditions, the sentence ceases to be suspended and the disqualification provisions would come to bear.

Those changes would not mean that all ex-prisoners will automatically be suitable for appointment. The Northern Ireland Office Minister at the time of the passage of the 2000 Act through the Commons made it plain that there would be a number of important safeguards. Appointments will be made in accordance with a code of practice issued by the Secretary of State, on merit and by the cross-community Policing Board. The code of practice makes it clear that the board will write to the Chief Constable to ask for confirmation of the criminal records declared by applicants.

I hope that Amendment No. 13 finds favour with your Lordships because it has been raised, in one way or another, on many occasions. It would bring the arrangements for independent members into line with those that already apply for political members. Prospective independent members would be required, before their application can be considered by the Policing Board, to make a declaration against terrorism, in exactly the same terms as prospective local councillors are required to make. I stress that that has been raised on many occasions in the past, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and it is extremely important. I commend it to your Lordships.

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There is an important sanction. If an independent member acts in breach or appears to have acted in breach of the declaration against terrorism, it is within the board's power, or the power of the council with the approval of the board, to remove that person from membership. There is a slight difference from the rules applying to councillors. In the case of local councillors, the case must go to the courts before they can be removed. Amendment No. 14 provides that the board—or the council with the approval of the board—should be able to make that decision. Of course, an aggrieved individual could seek a judicial review of the decision of the board or council of removal. The court, on judicial review, would have to come to its judicial conclusion about the reasonableness of that decision.

There is still scope for the board to take action in respect of political members since existing paragraph 7(1)(e) of Schedule 3 allows the board to remove someone because,

    "he is . . . unable or unfit to discharge his functions".

I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, is in his place because I come to an important aspect of this legislation. By the courtesy of the noble Lord, I was given—yesterday evening—an early copy of the recommendations of his extremely highly regarded committee. That is what brought me to bring forward Amendments Nos. 48ZA and 49A in manuscript for which I apologise but it was necessary to act quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, spoke privately to me about his concerns. I know that a number of noble Lords around the House take a strict view, first, on the importance of the affirmative procedure; and, secondly, on the unfailing attention we have always given to recommendations of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. Therefore, I put down manuscript amendments in my name, having the authority of the Secretary of State to do so, to provide for an affirmative procedure to apply to an order that the Secretary of State might bring forward under the new clause inserted by government Amendment No. 22 which deals with the exceptional arrangements for recruitment of constables with specialist skills.

We shall come to Amendment No. 22 later in the day but I thought it appropriate and necessary for me to make those remarks at this stage. Amendment No. 22 provides that the exceptional arrangements will be available for two years starting from Royal Assent. The Secretary of State may extend the life of the provision on one occasion only to allow it to operate for a maximum period of four years. Because of the strong views that noble Lords have expressed about 50:50 recruitment, because of the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, we have agreed that the affirmative approach is sensible and proportionate. I therefore commend those two amendments which I think will be unanimously welcomed.

I do not discount the proposition that the introduction of these changes will be difficult for many. In my opinion, it is undoubtedly the way forward. I have said previously to your Lordships that the more time that passes at present the more confident I become that normality and

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stability will be achieved for our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland. I believe that there are sufficient, abundant safeguards.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

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