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Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in these circumstances, a little help from the Government would be of much more value than a lot of sympathy?

Mr. Blunt: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. In these circumstances, it would be infinitely better were the Government to come forward with proposals rather than the parties in Northern Ireland or the Opposition attempting to convince the Government of the merits of our case. What has happened in the other place, particularly in relation to Lords amendment No. 1, occurred through private discussion between the Government and the Opposition, which has enabled the Government to come forward with measures that are generally welcome to the Opposition. That is as it should be. That has characterised, to a large extent, the Minister's conduct in relation to this Bill, when that has been possible and when we have been able to discuss the matter in the House. Of course, a large chunk of the measures

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have not been discussed in the House, so we will touch on them only briefly today in the light of the Lords amendments. I shall come back to that later.

On Lords amendment No. 2, I am pleased that the debate that we had about the words "representative" and "reflective" has been reflected in the language that the Government have introduced. Again, Lords amendment No. 2 is a satisfactory solution. In the end, it emphasises that appointment to the judiciary must be on the basis of merit and merit alone, while making clear, in an improved way—compared with the Bill as it left this place the first time—that it is proper for the commission to have available to it candidates who are reflective, as far as is reasonably practicable, of the whole community in Northern Ireland. Her Majesty's Opposition therefore welcome Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 2.

Lady Hermon: Is there not now an inconsistency? One clause will state that lay members of the commission must be representative of the community in Northern Ireland, but Lords amendment No. 2, which the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) has welcomed, states that the commission must, as far as is practicable,

How will it help to have the word "representative" in one clause and the word "reflective" in another?

5 pm

Mr. Blunt: As the hon. Lady knows, I think that "reflective" would have been better in the clause that she mentions. As she says, that would have been consistent. I seem to recall that the Liberal Democrats first proposed it in Committee, and I give them credit for that. I am sorry that the Government have not seen fit to accept the proposal.

There was an interesting debate in the other place about the meaning of the terms "representative" and "reflective", which need not be repeated here. I still think that it would be better for the Bill to be consistent. I take on board the argument advanced in the other place that in a sense there is no real distinction between the two words in terms of meaning, apart from the fact that "representative" suggests a duty for people to represent their part of the community. That, however, is why I felt that "reflective" was a better word. Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 2 have the support of the Opposition, as does amendment (a).

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): I apologise for not rising earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am still learning the procedures.

The Liberal Democrats support Lords amendment No. 1. We feel that to prevent someone from joining the commission because that person has been convicted of an offence is to fail to recognise that people can reform themselves and serve the community again. I was struck by what Lord Fitt said in the other place:

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the hon. Member for Foyle—

the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh—

Those people did not go to jail, but that is not the point. The point is that, despite their convictions, they have clearly managed to make a tremendous contribution to their community. Who would deny that they are eminently fit to take part in any activity for which they were qualified?

Like the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), I seized on the word "reflective" in Lords amendment No. 2, thinking that we had won a significant concession. I now realise that that is not entirely true. I still think that "reflective" is a better word to use throughout the Bill, but I am happy to accept it in this instance. I parted company with the hon. Gentleman, however, when he said that the amendment would ensure that the selection of a member of the commission would be, as the Bill says,

The point about the insertion of the words "reflective of the community" is to ensure that we achieve a better reflection of the community than we would if someone simply decided on the basis of merit. In my experience, the phrase

usually means the appointment of a white Anglo-Saxon male and leads to anything but appointments based on merit. We end up with gender and other imbalances. I have no comment to make about Lords amendment No. 23.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): I followed the Bill's progress in the other place and, as so often, I and my colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party were reminded of the curate's egg. Lords amendment No. 1 creates a difficulty that people in Northern Ireland have whenever they read about a

It is very much a mum-and-apple-pie reference and it is continually used to differentiate between democrats or those who abide by the law and those who do not.

In that context, everyone would agree that the lay members appointed to the commission should have

but what does that mean in practice? What will happen if someone committed to such a mum-and-apple-pie concept is subsequently proved to be far from committed to non-violence? Although we ask for something more than such a commitment, we agree to the concept in the amendment.

The hon. Members for North Down (Lady Hermon) and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) referred to Lords amendment No. 2 and to the commission's representativeness. The issue was discussed in Committee in the House, and any commission that is reflective of the community in Northern Ireland is desirable. In the Grand Committee a few weeks ago, I alluded to other appointments that the

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Government have made and that they maintained were reflective, when a cursory examination demonstrates that they are not. Again, I agree with the concept that the commission should be reflective of the community of Northern Ireland in so far as that is reasonably practical, but what will that mean when it is appointed?

What will we do if we find that the commission is not reflective? The claims of the Unionist community are often glossed over or ignored when such posts are filled, so what will we be able to do to rectify any imbalance that may be created? Again, we support the concept, but we want to see how the practical outworking of the Bill will manifest itself when it becomes law.

The Parliament Under-Secretary for Northern Ireland (Mr. Desmond Browne): I welcome the support that the hon. Members for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) have expressed for the amendments. Other hon. Members who spoke also inferred that they supported them.

As the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) rightly pointed out, Lords amendment No. 1 states:

of the Judicial Appointments Commission

In the interests of reflectiveness, the "he" in that sentence also encompasses "she". It appears that hon. Members welcome that provision. The hon. Member for North Down also raised a point specific to schedule 2, which I shall address in a moment.

Hon. Members will agree that it is right in principle that only those who are committed should have a role in the Judicial Appointments Commission. Making such a declaration also allows those with a past to give a positive affirmation that they are now working for the good of Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Reigate said, the amendment was tabled to meet the concerns expressed in the Lords Grand Committee. I welcome his recognition of the Government's efforts to have a constructive dialogue on the legislation, and I hope that that continues today.

By making the required declaration, lay members of the commission will give a positive affirmation that they are committed to exclusively peaceful means. It is right that the people of Northern Ireland should have that assurance. With respect to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), it is inappropriate to describe such expressions, which are important in the Northern Ireland context, as mum's apple pie. They are far from that. The declarations are important and those who are called on to make them will give them careful consideration.

The amendment sets out a better approach than that suggested in amendment (a). The idea of excluding people who have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment from serving as a lay member on the commission has been discussed extensively in both Houses. The Government have resisted the idea of excluding such people per se. We are confident that those responsible for making appointments to the Judicial Appointments Commission—the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly—will take considerable care to ensure that only those persons who are well suited to the office will be appointed to serve on the commission. It is inconceivable that they would want to appoint disreputable candidates.

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We also need to bear it in mind that those who have been guilty of a criminal offence may genuinely wish to make a constructive contribution to the future of Northern Ireland. In the debate in the other place, it was not only Lord Fitt who recognised that he had been in prison; Lord Maginnis also suggested that he had been in prison at a particular time in the history of Northern Ireland, although he had to persuade people to prosecute him for, I think, failing to pay his road tax or television licence.

We do not automatically wish to preclude such people from making a constructive contribution to the future of Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) made a germane point that the Lord Privy Seal dealt with on the first day of proceedings on Report in the other place, and I could not put it better myself. In addressing the suggestion that such an exclusion should be included in the Bill, Lord Williams of Mostyn said:

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Down is correct. We have a structure in place that recognises that people who have committed offences can be rehabilitated. Were we to accept the amendment, we would deny that concept.

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