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On Question, Whether Clause 15 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Harris of Richmond: Why are some issues of public policy listed in the Bill but not others? Why does the Bill require any new Executive to address some policy issues but not others? What is the basis for requiring specific action on poverty and language issues but not, for example, on a shared future, equality or victims matters? What was the rationale for these selections? Why are the Government putting such statutory duties on the Executive at all? Should it not be up to the Executive to decide whether their priorities are promoting minority languages, promoting equality, dealing with poverty or promoting the Shared Future agenda? Those are my comments on whether Clause 15 should stand part of the Bill.

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I move now to Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton, who is unable to be with us tonight. Under Amendment No. 15 we are attempting to ensure that there is a duty on the Executive to do more on single equality issues. Amendment No. 16 places a duty on the Executive to further develop the present policies and practices for promoting the Shared Future agenda. We spoke earlier about the dangers of institutionalising division in the Assembly and so it is important to tackle the underlying divisions in Northern Ireland. Only by doing this will we achieve a long-lasting settlement.

In March 2005 the Government published their policy paper, A Shared Future, which set out the strategic framework for promoting good community relations in Northern Ireland, which has been and remains, sadly, a deeply divided society. But, rather than these divisions being addressed and overcome, they have been more institutionalised. In the public sector, housing has become much more segregated. In the vast majority of housing estates less than 10 per cent of residents are regarded as coming from a perceived different section of the community. In education, only 5 per cent of children attend schools that are integrated in ethos. The Alliance Party has estimated that £1 billion is wasted every year on duplicate services in Northern Ireland. This cannot go on, as we have said on many occasions. Surely it should be the first priority of the Executive to ensure that policies are promoted which encourage sharing over separation. We must all work for an open and free society where all citizens are equal and where we celebrate diversity and cherish individuality.

Amendment No. 16 would place a duty on the Executive to adopt a standard set of procedures for pupils transferring from primary schools to secondary schools. There is a very real concern in Northern Ireland that if this issue is not resolved quickly a vacuum will be created whereby ad hoc arrangements will be introduced by individual schools and there will not be any consistency in the arrangements. The specifics of such arrangements will be worked out by the Assembly. We place no requirements whatever on the Executive as to what direction they should take. The only duty the amendment would place on the Executive is to adopt a standard practice and procedure.

The designations voting system reinforces divisions rather than assisting parties to reach an accommodation as a straightforward weighted majority would do. There is a real danger that if unionists and nationalists dig in on supporting or opposing selection, children in Northern Ireland will suffer.

Lord Rooker: I should like to deal first with the noble Baroness’s general point about Clause 15 stand part. The clause places a duty on the incoming Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly to adopt a strategy relating to the enhancement and protection of the development of the Irish language and to the enhancement and development of the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture. The clause also provides for the review, revision and adoption of new strategies. The noble Baroness asked where all this has come

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from. I said earlier that there was a reference in the St Andrews agreement containing a commitment to introduce the Bill.

The noble Baroness may be interested to know, being a good European, as Lib Dems are, that in its draft report to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Experts—COMEX—and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages recommended that the UK Government develop a comprehensive Irish language policy and strengthen the efforts to improve the position of Scots and Ulster Scots. The strategies referred to in the Bill will enable the Government to respond to that committee’s recommendations. The COMEX report will be available early in the new year. The antecedents of this strategy come from elsewhere, with suggestions that the Government take action. It is then mentioned in the St Andrews agreement, hence the reference in the Bill. It is on the record and there is no ulterior motive. I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness on Clause 15.

We very much welcome the thrust of Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 on strategies on equality and a shared future and the recognition of their importance. We appreciate the purpose and intention of the amendments. However, it is our view that Section 75(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 already provides the basis for a standard approach to equality across all departments in Northern Ireland and that the amendments are unnecessary. I do not want to share all my experiences with the Committee; nevertheless, I can say without qualification that Section 75 is taken extremely seriously by all departments and members of society in Northern Ireland, the Government and the Civil Service. It is fundamental and appears in every policy paper.

We recognise the importance of A Shared Future. The amended pledge of office will underscore that by committing Ministers to promoting the interests of the whole community represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly towards the goal of a shared future. The title and language are in the pledge. That is important because the ideas behind A Shared Future are fundamental. We are after a shared future, not communities living in parallel lines and segregated.

The existing policy already provides for annual progress reports to the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly on the implementation of the triennial action plan. In presenting such progress reports, the Executive would be able to review or bring forward a new strategy or approach to the implementation.

The new clause introduced by Amendment No. 16 would place a new requirement on the Executive Committee which would duplicate the regulations and statutory guidance already provided for in the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 which this House approved in July. It is our clear view that these amendments should not be accepted and I hope that the noble Baroness will not press them.

The noble Baroness asked about clarity in school admissions. We are sure that the Northern Ireland parties do not want an unregulated system of admissions criteria. This would lead to even greater uncertainty

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and anxiety for parents and pupils, which is frankly in nobody’s interests. The Northern Ireland political parties demanded responsibility for decisions on academic selection and new admission arrangements. The Bill provides for that. They need to work together to devise new arrangements that will command the support of the Assembly and the Executive. Those will be in the best interests of children and the economy. The Northern Ireland politicians have a duty and responsibility to their electorate to ensure that the new arrangements are devised in the time available. We want to end ambiguity and uncertainty.

9 pm

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I am grateful to the Minister for that response to the amendments. I am grateful for the Government’s recognition that the amendments are important, even though they do not feel that they are necessary.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 14 to 16 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Report on progress towards devolution of policing and justice matters]:

On Question, Whether Clause 18 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Trimble: We wish to oppose the Question whether Clause 18 should stand part of the Bill, because I want to make it clear that we view it with considerable trepidation. The devolution of justice and policing matters has to be treated very sensitively. I remember many years ago Seamus Mallon, who was then Deputy First Minister, saying in another place that this could be contemplated only when it could be shown that the Assembly and its Executive were stable and robust. Parachuting in this issue when the Assembly is not stable and robust would be a recipe for disaster. It is a matter which we in our discussions with government and other parties over the years treated with considerable caution. We were careful to avoid making commitments of the kind which Clause 18 imposes and which flow from the St Andrews agreement, presumably reflecting the discussions which took place between the parties there.

I have heard a number of members of the DUP in recent days and weeks make it clear that those individuals do not envisage an early devolution of policing and justice matters, but, none the less, this clause comes out of the negotiation in which they were engaged and for which the Government believe they expressed broad support. They now have the opportunity to clarify that matter. I am concerned that they have already moved to the stage of discussions on devolution of policing and justice, which the St Andrews agreement states have progressed. They are moving towards agreeing a date and creating a process, whereas I had always taken great care not to commit to any date or process. In paragraph 7 of the St Andrews agreement, which is embodied in Clause 18, the Government state that,

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That implementation flows just down to March this year. Are the Government putting on record their view that, once the St Andrews timetable is implemented—immediately after 27 March—that is sufficient to build the necessary community confidence? If so, that is a huge shift in their position and one of grave disadvantage to the unionist position.

The matter should be raised, and for that reason I indicated an intention to oppose stand part. However, in view of the hour and the fact that some people have voted in favour of their stomachs, if not yet their sleep, I shall not press this beyond making those comments.

I shall touch briefly on Amendment No. 17, which is in my name. We have discussed the issue many times here and in another place over the years, and have put on record our firm and unaltered opposition to discrimination in employment. It has always amazed me that this Government, who have embodied the European convention in domestic law and are proud of their commitment to human rights, turn out to have no real commitment to rights as such, because the first time that it becomes convenient to ditch rights they do so. They are constantly hinting at doing so in other fields as well. It amazes me that a Government who sometimes talk about commitments to human rights turn out to have merely a skin-deep commitment to them.

We have always opposed the procedure. Over the years, we have managed to achieve a position in which it was said—only said, of course—that the next renewal was envisaged as the last, and that it would not be continued after that. My colleague the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, said when we discussed this earlier that it was always envisaged in Patten—the provision flowed from Patten—that it would operate until such point as the percentage of Roman Catholics in the police force had got to 22 per cent.

It astonishes me that the Democratic Unionist Party, which in the past was opposed to discrimination, now trumpets as one of its achievements that it has abandoned opposition to discriminatory employment, and that it supports its continuation until the percentage of Catholics in the police force reaches 30 per cent, which may run beyond the period for which it is envisaged that the provision will go. The DUP has actually agreed to an extension beyond the point originally envisaged. That is presented as a great thing, but I fear not.

Lord Morrow: The noble Lord has a memory lapse. It is interesting that he cites the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, someone whom I know very well and someone whom I live about half a mile from. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, introduced the discrimination; it was his brainchild. I find it difficult to understand how the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, can say what he says here tonight. I want to refute it clearly, and to make it clear where the Democratic Unionist Party stands in relation to that issue.

Policing is very important. If anybody for a single second—for a single solitary moment—believes that in the lifetime of anyone who is presently engaged in politics in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein would be

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entrusted with the policing of Northern Ireland, I respectfully say to them that they are under a delusion. As far as the Democratic Unionist Party is concerned, Sinn Fein will not be in such a position, because Sinn Fein would not have the confidence of the unionist community—and at the moment the Democratic Unionists speak for the unionist community in Northern Ireland. I cannot make it any clearer than that, and nor can my party—and it is on the record in another place. It has been clearly said that that will not happen. I must make that point.

Lord Trimble: If noble Lords will forgive a little levity, it would be handy for some people to do an examination to see if that actually matches the parliamentary record for the length of an intervention. Or have there been even longer ones?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Not in your Lordships' House.

Lord Trimble: Clearly we are in a different environment. I understand why the noble Lord wanted to intervene and what he said is interesting. I simply reflect on the fact that he pronounced proudly that the Democratic Unionist Party speaks for the unionists. I would observe only that its speaking for unionists at St Andrews helped to produce this—and there is a disjunction there. Either it did not speak or spoke ineffectively; either way, it is a rather uncomfortable conclusion to draw.

The comments that the noble Lord made about my noble friend Lord Maginnis of Drumglass were misconceived and inaccurate. What was in Patten is something quite different from the ideas that my noble friend explored as different ways in which to achieve the objective. Indeed, looking back, there was a lot to be said in preference for his proposal—and my noble friend knows that I did not support it at the time. In retrospect, his proposal was a darned sight better than what happened under Patten, but the two things are quite different.

This is old ground. We—and I—have been absolutely clear right from the outset what our position is and, unlike the DUP, we have not changed. The reality is that on this issue the DUP has, which is a shame. It weakens the overall unionist position, which is unfortunate. I am referring to discriminatory recruitment. It would be desirable if the DUP, instead of going around saying what a great thing it is that we are going to continue discriminatory employment for several more years, returned to a position which all unionists have hitherto held.

Those are the only comments that I wish to make on those amendments. I do not wish to move Amendments Nos. 30, 34 and 36 in my name. I told the Public Bill Office that I wanted to oppose Clause 18 stand part but, in view of the hour and the circumstances, I shall not. When the appropriate time comes, I shall not move my amendments.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: I have a number of amendments in this grouping—Amendments Nos. 31, 32, 33, 35 and 37, about which I shall speak briefly. Those are about district policing partnerships—DPPs—

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which have the job of holding the police to account on local issues. They are composed of a majority of political members drawn from Northern Ireland’s councils as well as a minority of independent members.

Schedule 8 rightly provides that when Sinn Fein is entitled to political membership of a DPP, all political members of the DPP are automatically stood down so that space can be made for Sinn Fein councillors to join DPPs. However, it also provides that independent members of DPPs will be automatically fired and will have to reapply if they wish to serve again. Independent members are just that—independent. They should not be fired just because Sinn Fein is joining the board. They were appointed for a four-year term, and it is wrong to sack them after just one and a half years, especially when one considers that many of them have been intimidated by Sinn Fein and attacked by republican dissidents. It may be difficult for some of them to re-apply, dealing a lasting blow to the DPPs. Nothing in the St Andrews agreement requires that.

These amendments safeguard the position of independent Members. Under our amendments, the only circumstance in which the independent Members will lose their position is if, upon Sinn Fein joining the board, there is an overall imbalance in the composition of the DPP.

9.15 pm

Lord Glentoran: I have one amendment in this group, Amendment No. 18, which also refers to DPPs. Having argued against the setting up of DPPs a few years ago, it is fair to say that I was largely wrong and that they have proved to be very successful in the Province. To a large extent, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has been saying, but my amendment looks forward to the reorganisation of local government, and all the policing alterations and so on that will take place there. I believe that a complete review is needed if we expect people to travel the distances involved in a DPP and be in contact with a whole area that might encompass, for example, Tyrone and Fermanagh. I have not yet studied the boundaries, but they are quite considerable.

I strongly support local authorities, as the Minister knows. I believe that their size will require a rethink of the structure of DPPs and how they work with the police. My amendment aims to initiate a review of the number of boundaries and district policing partnerships outside Belfast. I believe this is a positive and necessary amendment. I would like to feel that it was part and parcel of this Bill, which is attempting to tidy up a lot of things.

Viscount Brookeborough: I support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. It is worth while looking at the numbers and the background of the DPPs, especially the independents. I was on the committee of the Policing Board. I would not say that we worked it out, but we were in charge of appointing DPPs. The make-up of the independents was decided after the numbers of party political representatives nominated to the DPP were known. So where Sinn Fein opted out, the balance erred towards those who took part, being a few from the SDLP and other pro-unionist

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parties. If, therefore, you take an instance of a community where the numbers of representatives in the local council were roughly equal between nationalist and unionist, it would be weighted the other way because Sinn Fein did not take part and had not used up its places. At that stage, we would then appoint the independents, in order to level the playing field and reflect the composition of the community within whose area that DPP was.

If the whole system were to be re-operated and Sinn Fein took up its places, certain independents—who would probably be on the nationalist side because they were balancing the lack of Sinn Fein on the political side—might lose their places. So that could be done, but we are betraying the people who took part. We are not actually talking about the reduction in the number of so-called unionist people, who were vulnerable enough by being on the DPPs. We are actually hitting the pro-nationalist independents, who have risked an awful lot by taking part.

We have had very large numbers—sorry, I am no longer on the Policing Board—it has had very large numbers of people who have been intimidated and who have been firebombed and for whom we have had to add, through the various measures that are in operation in the NIO, additional protection and so on. Those people, to be honest, have put their lives on the line. You only have to look at what happened to Denis Bradley in Derry. They have put their lives on the line, and because Sinn Fein which, to be quite frank, is perhaps—or at least has been—at the root of the intimidation that those people suffered, we are now going to say to them, “Thank you very much—you’re off”.

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