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2 May 2007 : Column 1064

Noble Lords: My Lords—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it is time to hear from the Labour Benches.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, would it not be preposterous if Members of this House took an attitude on every single issue arising from the Convention on the Future of Europe and the consequential treaty approved by all heads of state, even though two countries subsequently rejected it in referendums, and we did not then take pragmatic steps to pick from that agenda the things that could improve the working relationship between the institutions of the European Union? Should that not be approved without any need for a referendum, but with parliamentary approval?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, whenever amending treaties have been introduced to make the work of the European Union more effective and give substance to the member states’ wishes, it has never been thought necessary to have a referendum. It would be extraordinary if that were to be changed now. It would be a volte-face by the Conservative Party, which negotiated many of the treaties on which we now rely. Having said that, that is why I have tried to make the distinction, which the Prime Minister has made, between fundamental matters and making things work well within the current treaty disposition.

Noble Lords: My Lords—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we must move on to the final Question.

Zimbabwe: Non-governmental Organisations

3.23 pm

Baroness Park of Monmouth asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, there have been conflicting reports on the current situation for NGOs in Zimbabwe. Our understanding is that the reported new procedures for the registration of NGOs do not appear to require established and registered NGOs to re-register. The impact on new NGOs is less clear. Our embassy is in constant touch with the NGO community in Zimbabwe, which provides essential support for millions of ordinary Zimbabweans, and we will monitor the situation closely. The increased uncertainty for NGOs is part of a wider picture of intimidation, violence and harassment of civil society in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008. It runs contrary to the NePAD and SADC principles.

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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, it is certainly the belief in Zimbabwe that Mugabe deregistered all NGOs two weeks ago. They certainly fear that that is what is happening to them. It is damaging civil society, giving Mugabe political control over food distribution just before an election, and the NGOs are intimidated. They must fear that their overseas funds are going to dry up. They and the people see this action as one more assertion of ruthless power.

I am glad that the Minister has said that this is contrary to NePAD. Should not the AU be asked whether it condones this treatment of NGOs? This is the second time that they have been threatened in this way over the past two years. The AU also has NGOs. Does it want them to be treated in this way? Or does it want NGOs abroad to think that they would be treated in this way if they went to any country in Africa? It is a serious issue. There is general intimidation and fear. That fear runs right through civil society. I am sure that the Minister will agree that if intimidation and fear exist to that degree there is a real danger that Mugabe intends to annihilate the NGOs.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, if I were involved in an NGO in Zimbabwe I would share all of those apprehensions. In the run-up to the elections in 2005 we saw those organisations under terrible pressure, particularly those that promoted human or political rights. I would not rule out, whatever our knowledge of the apparent position today, that that may very well happen in the future. I am happy to give the House the assurance—I suspect “happy” is not the right word in the circumstances, but I am most willing to give the assurance—that those matters will be raised with the African Union, SADC and the regional bodies. They are of very great importance.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the guarantees that can be given to NGOs and civil society is the presence of a free press and free media in a country such as Zimbabwe? Does he not agree that the capricious licensing system used to stifle the freedoms of the press in Zimbabwe is not a good augury for what might happen to the NGOs? What does he make of the decision of the South African Broadcasting Corporation a few days ago to open an office in Zimbabwe, having instructed the network’s news editors not to broadcast the views of Moeletsi Mbeki, Archbishop Pius Ncube and Eleanor Sisulu—all prominent opponents of the Mugabe regime?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, an energetic and free press is a precondition for a healthy civil society, just as the work of the NGOs is. I agree with that proposition wholeheartedly. I do not expect Robert Mugabe suddenly to embrace the concept of a free press any more than anybody else in your Lordships’ House does. The South Africans take their own decisions. We will continue to argue that they could take a more forward-leaning position.

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Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the current chaos in Zimbabwe is being presented as a struggle against British colonialism? It has also been said that it is a struggle against land redistribution. What plans exist, if any, to assist the resettlement of Zimbabwean citizens who may well be displaced—as we helped the Ugandan citizens to resettle—when Mugabe’s vile regime collapses, as it will do?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am aware of how the Zimbabwean Government describe the interest that all of us show in that country. I assert that we show that interest for humanitarian reasons. It is nothing to do with the history. This generation in politics does not share that history. In the kind of package that we have all agreed and on which we worked with Kofi Annan when he was intending in the last days of his secretary-generalship to visit Zimbabwe, we envisaged a raft of economic measures that would also help to deal with some of those land resettlement questions. There has been no desire on the part of successive United Kingdom Governments to avoid doing so. What I think everyone has avoided is parcelling up money and giving it to Robert Mugabe to distribute as he chooses.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, regarding the wider picture of intimidation that the noble Lord mentioned in his first Answer, would he consider asking the presidency of the European Union to raise with President Mbeki the recommendation made by Human Rights Watch in its report published today? It describes,

Could not the EU presidency ensure that a copy of this report, and of the resolution which is likely to be passed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union at its meeting this week on the violation of the rights of parliamentarians in Zimbabwe, be placed on the desk of every AU president and Foreign Minister?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I have had the advantage of being briefed on the report that has just been published by Human Rights Watch, and I have little doubt that the German presidency will want to raise it. In all the meetings between the EU and the Government of South Africa that I have attended, these issues have been on the agenda, and so they should be.

Transport for London Bill [HL]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill

3.31 pm

Read a third time.

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Clause 7 [Limitation on challenge of issue of certificate]:

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith) moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, we return to Clause 7, as I indicated we would with the leave of the House, and I rise to move Amendment No. 1, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has added his name. I express my gratitude to noble Lords for their constructive discussions on the clause both inside and outside the House.

At earlier stages and in discussions outside, I explained the various reasons that prompted us to include Clause 7 and perhaps I may remind the House of them. We were conscious of the need to prevent disclosure of sensitive information that could put lives at risk. Three of the four conditions in the test for whether there will be a trial without a jury relate to paramilitary groups. That means that the case for non-jury trial will often involve sensitive intelligence material that raises national security issues.

If that material were exposed in open court, it would pose serious risks: such information could come out into the public domain; sources could become compromised, putting lives at risk; and in some cases it may not even be possible to admit that intelligence on a particular thing exists because, where there is a small circle of knowledge, it may be possible to identify a particular individual as the person who has passed that intelligence on. Techniques used for gathering intelligence in national security and serious crime cases could become compromised and so, too, could ongoing police investigations. Those are the reasons why it would be difficult, dangerous and undesirable to disclose such information openly.

We therefore want to avoid sharing that material in open court in any challenge and so avoid opportunistic attempts to frustrate the judicial process by using judicial review as an attempt to force disclosure of material in the hope—as happens in some cases—that by doing so the prosecution will be forced to stop a case or deal with it in a way that is not in the best interests of justice because it cannot afford to respond to a requirement to disclose the material.

However, it has never been the Government’s intention to oust judicial review of the director’s decision by the courts in appropriate cases. We have taken the view, as did the Court of Appeal in the case of Shuker, that it would likely be exceptional to do so. I am encouraged to think that there is now a substantial measure of agreement with that point of view within the House; indeed, all main opposition parties agree with it.

Paragraph 1.37 of the fifth report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights states:

The amendment seeks to offer some comfort to noble Lords by confirming that challenge on these grounds will be possible, provided that it meets the threshold

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of exceptional circumstances. It will obviously be for the courts to decide whether that threshold is met in any case. I want to make it clear that this does not mean that lack of jurisdiction or error of law will be exceptional circumstances in every case; that would be a matter for the courts to decide based on the arguments put to them. However, in the hope and belief that this amendment will find favour across the House, I beg to move.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General indicated, I put my name to the amendment. I would like first to say how grateful I am to him for having seen me, among others, to discuss the reasons for it. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, will, I am sure, be very glad that the matter has been clarified in this way. I entirely agree with what he has said about the need to avoid opportunistic judicial reviews going into the merits of the kind of cases that he describes.

I welcomed the fact that in Grand Committee the noble and learned Lord said—and I am not sure that one knew about this before—that he would not have approved of an ouster clause of the kind that was to be found in the Asylum and Immigration Bill. I am sure that that approach shows a proper respect for the rule of law. Like him, we believe that the courts of Northern Ireland have exercised their discretion in this and other areas admirably well.

The advantage of the amendment is that it makes it quite clear that judicial review will be exceptional but will be fully available in cases involving not only dishonesty or bad faith. The reference to “exceptional circumstances” includes, as indeed one would expect, cases where there is a lack of jurisdiction or other significant error of law. For that reason, I very much support the amendment, and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord is right to say that there will be widespread support for it.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for bringing forward the amendment. The fact that the amendment has come before us at Third Reading of this fairly short Bill is a reflection of the thought, the work and the debate and discussion in this Chamber and, very much more so perhaps, outside.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, colleagues and I started from three very disparate points but with one objective. Human evidence is still the most essential part in securing convictions against serious criminals in Northern Ireland, but we must have a judicial process that allows juries to be protected and the PSNI to bring intelligent sources into court to give evidence. At the same time, we must be able to protect those sources and those who work consistently in dangerous areas for the cause of justice within the judicial processes and the criminal research set-ups in Northern Ireland.

I am quite happy. I am not a world expert on human rights by any means, but the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, certainly are. I am content that we have the best

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arrangement that we can have. It has taken considerable time on everybody’s part to get here. A great deal of brain power and thought has been put into it and, although the amendment is only about half a line, it is significant. I support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Trimble moved Amendment No. 2:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I return to an issue that was touched on in Committee and on Report; that is, restorative justice schemes. Let me make it clear from the outset that I think that there is a place in the legal system for schemes of this nature. A range of issues can be effective in dealing with this. The concern that I have expressed and wish to repeat today is not against the concept of restorative justice, but a concern about how some such schemes might operate in practice in Northern Ireland.

A general concern prompted the first amendment that I tabled on this subject. When we are dealing with part of the justice system, it is right that there should be a legal basis for it, no matter what the circumstances are. In that system, it is hugely important that people know where they stand, what their rights are and the procedures to which they may be subject. The best way to provide that assurance is by having a legal basis for the procedures. The Northern Ireland Office decided to have guidelines, which it has been consulting on for some time. As a matter of principle, I am not very comfortable with the concept of proceeding by guidelines because they do not give assurance and clarity to those who may be involved in the processes. The NIO has taken that approach and I have modified the amendments that I tabled with that in mind.

I have made a further significant modification to the amendment that we discussed on Report. I was and still am concerned about the involvement in these schemes of former paramilitaries. I know Northern Ireland and the localities well. In some of these localities, one inevitably has to adjust and rub shoulders with the people who are there, who will often have paramilitary associations and backgrounds. Since the Belfast agreement, where paramilitary organisations have ended their campaigns and people have moved to the point of supporting the criminal justice system, there is a different context. None the less, it did not seem to me that that justified completely ignoring all the things that people might have done during those paramilitary campaigns.

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From the point of view of trying to make progress, in this new clause I have decided to cut more with the grain of what the Government are proposing. The new clause provides a limited legal framework in requiring the Secretary of State to maintain a register and also providing, as the guidelines do, that the Criminal Justice Inspectorate will regularly inspect these schemes. I have tried to reinforce the position of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in this context. I have every confidence in Mr Chivers, who heads that inspectorate, but it is desirable in his dealings with the people running these schemes that he is able to point to certain legislative provisions which reinforce his position, give him a right to make reports and recommendations and even to recommend that an organisation be removed from the register. That will strengthen his hand. He and his inspectorate are going to be our mainstay in trying to ensure that these schemes operate in a civilised and humane way.

I hope that the new clause will be just a beginning, as it were, because more is needed in this area to provide a degree of regulation. I tabled this reconsidered amendment in the hope that the Government and the House may be able to look more favourably upon it. I beg to move.

3.45 pm

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I support the amendment. The issue of community-based restorative justice systems is a long-running concern of my party. If Her Majesty’s Government can accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, to which I have attached my name, as have the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Lester, that would put our minds considerably more at ease. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, pointed out that there is a long way to go yet, but these are new schemes and systems and we shall have to monitor them carefully. Can the Minister give us an idea of what schemes are waiting to go through the protocol to be accepted by the Government? That would be interesting to know. If he can find a way to accept the amendment, that will be a wonderful finish to the Bill.

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