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8.15 pm

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bew, on his maiden speech and welcome him to the House. His views are a welcome addition to the range of views that we hear in this House from Northern Ireland. I only wish that the range were wider. I do not know why the SDLP does not come here; I do not know why Sinn Fein does not come here. This House is a platform and a vehicle, and the place is available. The wider the opinion, the better it is. We always end up with these almost one-sided debates, although one gets a flavour of the different shades of unionist views.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, joins many practising professors in this place. They are gainfully employed. Everyone thinks that everybody in this place is retired. I have to tell my friends outside, “You’re kidding. They’re out working and then they cut you to pieces at Question Time in the afternoon”. That is why Ministers in this House are under greater scrutiny than Ministers in the other House. That is my honest opinion after six years here as a Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, is very welcome.

The noble Lord rightly said that no one can accuse me of sugar-coating the order. I have made no attempt whatever to hide exactly what we are doing, nor do I seek to do so. This is not a situation with which mainland political parties would be content in the long term, but one cannot divorce oneself from the fact that our relations with the Republic are different from those with other member states of the European Union, for example, on a range of issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, spoke about a hung Parliament and the other place being perhaps in the grip of a small group. I was in the other place from 1974 to 1979, towards the end of which we had a minority Labour Government. We worked very closely with our then colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party to survive for a while. It would be unfair to say that we were held to ransom, but they cut a deal, saw their opportunities and who could blame them? I digress, but, as I have said, I have made no attempt to sugar-coat the order.

I shall do my best to answer the specific questions, all of which were quite legitimate. The noble Lord, Lord Laird, asked about loans. There will be provisions for loans. They will be complicated. Frankly, we could not have done it in the order. We have changed the rules and we have changed the legislation on loans anyway. The provisions of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which relate to the regulation of loans, have yet to be commenced for Northern Ireland, although they have already commenced for Great Britain. We hope to commence them later this year. We do not have to legislate; it is a question of getting a commencement order up and running. The legislation has been made. Northern Ireland was included, but the legislation did not commence there at the same time as in Great Britain.

I go back to what I said earlier about the Neill committee, whose work gave rise to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—a very important piece of legislation, of which the Government can be rightly proud. The Neill committee, among other things,

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recommended that because of the special role of Ireland in Northern Ireland’s political life as set out in the Belfast agreement, it would not be right to ban contributions from there. I shall go no further than that. There was another view of that issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned the Conservative Party organising in Northern Ireland. It is not for me to offer advice to the Conservative Party, but I think that it would be better off trying to organise in places such as Ealing Southall than bothering with Northern Ireland at present. I know that I should not have said that, but I could not resist it, because of the way in which the noble Lord raised the matter.

However, the noble Lord made the fair point about the money flow. When the money flows into Northern Ireland from Irish recipients, it stays there. Therefore, for example, the Conservative Party of Northern Ireland, on a separate register, cannot donate to the Conservative Party of Great Britain—likewise the Labour Party and other parties. The money stays there. As a UK citizen on the electoral register, I can donate to parties in Northern Ireland. People in England, Scotland and Wales can donate to political parties in Northern Ireland.

The question that arises is whether people resident in Northern Ireland can donate to political parties in the Republic, which is in effect a foreign country. It is not my job to answer that, because it is a matter exclusively for the Republic of Ireland’s own legislative effect. I understand that such parties could donate to Irish parties if they had an office on the island of Ireland from which one or more of their principal activities are directed. I remember making this point when we discussed the Bill. But that is a matter for Irish legislation, as the regulation of donations to parties in the UK, including Northern Ireland, is a matter for UK legislation. We have discussed that with Ireland—I made that clear in my opening speech—but we differ in aspects of the proposed law. I fully accept that.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I return to one point—the cash flow from Conservatives in Ireland to Conservatives in the United Kingdom. If the Conservative Party in London decided to have all its election posters done, with the printing and material, under the auspices of the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, for example, or somewhere in Northern Ireland, and those accounts were paid by the resident Conservatives, where would we be then?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I strongly suggest to the Conservative Party that if it does not know the answer to that it should go and have a chat with the Electoral Commission, because that relates to the operation of the GB register. However, as far as I know we are a United Kingdom and any business anywhere in the United Kingdom can do business with other areas. That is a business transaction. This is part of electoral law, but there should be a satisfactory answer that does not stop political parties organising themselves. That is not the intention. The intention is to stop money-laundering via the Irish route to Northern Ireland and to GB parties, because we do not accept donations from foreigners or foreign countries in Great Britain—and that legally would be the situation.

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The noble Lord, Lord Smith, asked about the words “eligible to obtain”, which is clearly a legitimate question. The order is drafted to take account of the legal concept of Irish citizenship. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was not thought appropriate for us to legislate in the UK to dictate what status someone in Ireland should have. That is why the route is the other way.

I shall explain how the checks will be done, because that will explain the position. What safeguards or checks will there be on Irish donors being entitled to donate to Northern Ireland parties? All citizens permitted under Irish law to donate to political parties in Ireland will have to meet the prescribed condition to be eligible to donate. That is, they must be eligible to obtain at the time of making the donation one of the three following documents indicative of citizenship: an Irish passport, a certificate of nationality or a certificate of naturalisation. It is not appropriate for us in the UK to legislate to dictate which one of those documents people should have or whether they should have it; all that we have laid down is that they should be eligible to obtain such a document.

A certified copy of those documents must accompany the report in which the Northern Ireland recipient reports the relevant donation. In other words, the political party that reports the donation to the Electoral Commission must have a document stating that the donor was eligible to obtain a certificate of nationality, a certificate of naturalisation or an Irish passport at the time they made the donation. That would satisfy the rules; it would ensure that one has closed the groups of people who would be eligible for that. Those documents—the Irish passport, a certificate of nationality or a certificate of naturalisation—would be certified by Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs. That closes down the people who are not Irish citizens, or those eligible to be Irish citizens, in Timbuktu or anywhere else being able to shove money into Northern Ireland parties. The effect is the same as if we had legislated, which would have been considered improper, to say that they must hold one of those documents. That was agreed between the two Governments.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I am not entirely clear on the eligibility criterion. I understand the point about people having a passport, a naturalisation certificate or a nationality certificate, but these days it is so easy to forge passports that I wonder how much easier it is to forge a statement of eligibility that one is entitled to one of these documents. I find that so loose and open-ended that, even given the Minister’s best efforts at an explanation, I do not believe that he has answered my point.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, that document will be certified as genuine by Ireland's Government; for example, by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. I am not arguing about what is easy to forge and what is not easy to forge, but the Electoral Commission would receive details of the donation from the recipient in Northern Ireland—the political party—accompanied by a certified document from the Department of Foreign Affairs that the donor was eligible to make the donation. In other words, they have to be eligible to make the donation in Ireland anyway, as that is where the constraint

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comes in. People who are not eligible to donate in Ireland are not eligible to donate in Northern Ireland. It is said that the check will be carried out by the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am happy to put that in a more detailed note.

It is worth putting this next paragraph on the record. The Northern Ireland recipients—that is, the parties—will have to provide the information set out in new paragraph 2A of Schedule 6 to the 2000 Act in donation reports from Irish bodies. In practice, in order to accept the donation and to provide the information required in new paragraph 2A, the Northern Ireland recipient will need to be satisfied that the body has an office in Ireland or in Northern Ireland from which one or more of its principal activities are directed and that the body falls in one of the categories prescribed in Article 4(2) That will enable the Electoral Commission to check both individuals and companies—it obviously deals with donations from registered companies. In other words, the donor has to be legitimate; it cannot be a front company. The company must have the wherewithal and the legal authority to donate in Ireland in the first place.

People may argue about this, but this is a constraint on what happens today. I repeat that today political parties in Northern Ireland can receive money from any individual of any nationality, from any company, anywhere in the world without having to make a report to anyone about the amount of money received. Therefore, there is progress on that. This is not completely aligned with the United Kingdom, for reasons that I have explained, which we shall have to live with. I fully accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, in his maiden speech that, come the next general election, people will be able to question legitimately from where the parties have got the money. There will be certain constraints about not being identified, but they will be free to make voluntary submissions about where the money came from. The fact is that there will be challenges about the money, which is quite legitimate in a democracy. We have set up a legal framework and we want it to operate fairly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2007

8.28 pm

Lord Rooker rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 6 June be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order was debated in another place on Monday 2 July. The House will recall that during the passage of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 the Government made a commitment that, in view of the importance of the issue, this commencement order would be given full consideration by both Houses at the appropriate time. This approach reflected the importance of the provisions and that the timing of their commencement needed to be right. The context for tonight’s debate is, of course, very different from that which existed at the time of the original legislation. I rely on that from the positive comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley.

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Following the historic agreement to policing and the rule of law made by Sinn Fein earlier this year, there is now a firm foundation for stable devolved government and a new era for politics in Northern Ireland. We are confident that the Assembly will sustain the commitment it has already shown and continue to move Northern Ireland forward towards a shared future.

There are, of course, many challenges ahead, not least the need to reach a decision on the devolution of policing and justice. We are pleased that the Northern Ireland Assembly has already established a committee to consider this issue, due to report by 27 March 2008. Work is now under way in the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that the policing and justice functions can be devolved by May 2008 should the Assembly request it.

The progress on support for policing has been quite remarkable. Sinn Fein members having now taken their place on the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the prospect of inclusive policing supported by the entire community is at last a reality.

A key element in the accountability architecture is the network of district policing partnerships throughout Northern Ireland. Since their establishment, they have played a unique role in building safer communities and empowering them to help shape local policing. The district policing partnerships have faced many challenges and I am sure that noble Lords will join me this evening in paying tribute to their work and the courage that many of them have shown in the face of threats and intimidation. District policing partnerships have made a positive impact on policing and, we hope, will continue to do so—a view shared by the policing Oversight Commissioner and others—but we need to build on this success, which is why we have decided to bring forward this commencement order.

The Patten report recommended that both independent and elected members of the Policing Board and district policing partnerships should play a part in making the police accountable. The provisions we are now considering had their origins in the revised implementation plan of 2001, which the Government undertook to consider whether, in the context of a review of policing arrangements, the existing provisions in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 remained appropriate. The outcome of that review was published in the form of a draft Bill on 25 November 2002, together with “text for consideration” setting out how the Government intended to legislate in respect of district policing partnership disqualification and the powers of the Belfast district policing partnership subgroups. Draft clauses were subsequently introduced on Report of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003.

I have already indicated that we made clear that the commencement of these provisions would be by means of an order subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. The Government believe that the time is right to commence these legislative provisions concerning district policing partnerships and the related district policing partnership provisions in the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. Our intention is that all these related provisions come into force on 4 September this year.

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The legislation before us this evening deals with matters relating to district policing partnerships and, in particular, arrangements for independent members’ declarations against terrorism and disqualification. It also provides for the functions of the Belfast subgroups. The order inserts a range of provisions into the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and is, by its nature, complex. I will briefly deal with the main issues.

Article 2 brings into force Section 15(1) to (5), Section 16(1) and Section 19(1) of and Schedule 1 to the 2003 Act. Section 15 brings the arrangements for independent members into line with those for political members. It requires them to make a declaration against terrorism in the same terms as prospective councillors before their application can be considered by the Policing Board. If an independent member appears to have acted in breach of his or her declaration against terrorism, it will be within the power of the Policing Board, or the district council with the approval of the Policing Board, to remove that person from membership of the district policing partnership.

Section 16 amends the disqualification provision set out in paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the 2000 Act. The legislation provides that no one who has ever received a custodial sentence—regardless of how long ago or for what offence—should be allowed to serve as an independent member of the district policing partnerships. The section changes that and provides that a period of five years must elapse following a person’s discharge in respect of an offence before he or she may be considered for appointment to a district policing partnership. This provision is not new and brings the arrangements for independent members into line with the arrangements for political members of district policing partnerships, who are drawn from the local council. Similar arrangements apply in relation to appointments to police authorities in England and Wales.

Section 19 and Schedule 1 deal with the arrangements within Belfast for the subgroups of district policing partnerships. Existing Section 21 of the 2000 Act requires Belfast City Council to establish a subgroup of its district policing partnership for each of the police districts within Belfast.

The functions now proposed for the new subgroups mirror those for district policing partnerships in the 2000 Act. The Government believe that this should help strengthen the relationship between the local community and the police service of its area within Belfast. Article 3 provides for the commencement of Schedule 9 to the St Andrews agreement Act of 2006, which updates the provisions relating to the Belfast subgroups and takes account of the changes made to district policing partnership arrangements brought about by the District Policing Partnerships (Northern Ireland) Order 2005, which, as noble Lords will recall, made provision for the membership of district policing partnerships in the period immediately following a local government election. It also amended the law on the removal of members following conviction for a criminal offence and made a new provision about the chairmen and vice-chairmen of district policing

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partnerships. The commencement of these amendments is, therefore, linked to the commencement of the Belfast provisions in the 2003 Act.

I have already indicated to the House that other district policing partnership provisions in the St Andrews agreement Act will commence at the same time as these provisions, but they do not require an affirmative resolution, although they play a key role and go hand in hand with this order. Schedule 8 to the St Andrews agreement Act provides for the reconstitution of district policing partnerships before the next local government election. This will enable members of Sinn Fein to take their political seats on district policing partnerships and allow the policing board to run recruitment exercises for independent members for the district policing partnerships affected.

The board is to review the membership of each district policing partnership, and this must be completed within 15 days. District councils have three months following this review to appoint new political members of the district policing partnerships affected by the review. In line with the consideration and, I hope, approval of the order, the Government intend that Schedule 8 to the St Andrews agreement Act 2006 will come into force on 4 September. Commencing these provisions on this date provides the optimum timeframe for the reconstitution of district policing partnerships. From 4 September, the order will apply each time that the membership of a district policing partnership changes after a local government election. It will also apply to the one-off reconstitution of district policing partnerships under Schedule 8 to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006.

We are well aware that this legislation has a direct impact on district policing partnerships and, in particular, on their members. I think that all of us in this House greatly appreciate the important role that the partnerships have played since their establishment and the undoubted commitment and courage shown by their members. However, the commitment of all parties and all communities to support policing and the rule of law now provides an opportunity to ensure that district policing partnerships fully reflect the communities they serve—and we should not miss that opportunity. That is why we think that now is the right time to bring forward these provisions.

I apologise for the length and detail of my speech, but it is important to get some of this on the record. I commend the draft order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 6 June be approved. 20th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister again for his clarity and detail. He is absolutely right—it is all very important material to be debated, but, once again, we find ourselves in the Northern Ireland trap. I know that he agrees with me that this is a serious piece of legislation, it should be passed as a Bill, we should have plenty of time to debate it, turn it about, look around it, and so on. Once again, we are forced into a dinner-hour debate, we are running out of time and there is no real means by which we can debate this order.

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Having said that, I will not take up much more of your Lordships’ time. I want to be associated with the Minister’s tribute to the DPPs and those who have served on them. I have made that tribute before. They have done a great job. The DPPs, by and large, have worked very well and a large number of their members have had their lives at risk and been threatened but have stood it and stayed with it, so many thanks and congratulations to them.

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