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Lord Laird I wish to add my support to the amendment so ably proposed by my noble friend and colleague Lady Blood. For some years I was a member of a community police liaison committee and I saw at first hand the extremely good work being done. Furthermore, I support fully the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Relationships between senior members of the RUC and members of local communities have been carefully nurtured and have matured over many years.
As I look back on my experience as a member of a committee, it is only now--religion has become a factor in policing--that I realise that probably up to 40 per cent of those serving on the committee were those who would be regarded in Northern Ireland as members of the Roman Catholic community. We were delighted to see them on the committee and they played a full part. It seems like a long time ago, but of course I am speaking of only a couple of years ago--before Patten. At that time, religion and policing did not seem to have the same significance. I totally support the amendment.
Lord Fitt: The noble Baroness has drawn the attention of the Committee to what I regard as an extremely important issue; namely, the membership of the community police liaison committees. I stated earlier that many of these committees have been operating in non-controversial areas.
However, we have to bear in mind that there are certain little pockets of terrorists. I can recall one immediately; namely, one that operated in Carrickmore in County Tyrone. The liaison committee worked in conjunction with Monsignor Dennis Faul. They were doing everything they could to bring about normal relations within their area. The committee met in a hotel in Omagh. During the meeting, a crowd of people, led by a member of Sinn Fein, entered the room and wrecked it. The meeting was broken up, documents were stolen and the purpose of the meeting was lost. The saddest element of this story is that, only a few weeks later, the person who led the attack on the meeting was elected as a member of the council with an overwhelming majority. That gives an indication of the difficulties faced by the liaison committees.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I, too, have sympathy with the thought that lies behind these amendments. It recognises the valuable contribution made by the CPLCs. However, there are practical and technical difficulties here, the first of which is one of definition.
First, no such entity as a community police liaison community exists in law, although it might be possible to get round that. Secondly, the amendments assume that the CPLC members will, in effect, always be the best candidates. That may very well be the case, but equally it may not. The Government's answer to the problem is this. They will include a requirement in the code of practice, which will be issued by the Secretary of State under Schedule 3, for councils to notify the CPLCs in their areas when advertising for independents. Those members may then apply, along with others. Given their experience, they are likely to have an advantage.
Baroness Blood: I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. I realise that problems need to be overcome here. However, before I withdraw the amendment, will it be possible to have sight of the draft code of practice as it relates to the appointment of independents? When will it be made available? I ask this because we are tabling amendments at a point when we have only half of the picture.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I regret that the code of practice is not yet available for consideration. However, the Secretary of State will be bound by the provisions of the Bill to consult the board, councils and the equality commission on its contents. I am sure that those bodies will make similar points to those put forward by the noble Baroness.
As the Bill stands, both political and independent members can be removed for various reasons, including committing criminal offences while a member of a DPP, but only independent members can be removed for failure to disclose a previous conviction. There is no sensible reason for this. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. As the Minister is aware, we, on this side of the Committee, are not in favour of a number of the differentiations in the Bill between political and independent members, particularly when it comes to selections and sackings, if I can use that terminology.
I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 57, 61 and 62, and, by definition, Amendment No. 69. The reasoning behind Amendments Nos. 57 and 61 is twofold: it is to prevent convicted terrorists serving on district policing partnerships, whether as political or independent members, and to prevent representatives of parties that are linked to terrorist organisations which have failed to decommission from serving on DPPs.
We support DPPs in principle--there is no doubt about that--but we are very aware of the likely shape and style of DPPs in the different local authorities across the country. We are talking in the context of 26 different local authorities for 1.5 million people after 30 years of polarisation in Northern Ireland. The reasoning behind these amendments is therefore the same as we applied to the main policing board. The arguments are exactly the same.
Under the Bill, district councils--all 26 of them--will be obliged to establish a district policing partnership consisting of either 15, 17 or 19 members. In each case, the majority of the DPP will be political members, the remainder independents. That means that in a number of district council areas, members of Sinn Fein will be automatically entitled to membership of a DPP. In Belfast, members of the small loyalist parties will be entitled to membership.
The situation is made much worse in Belfast by the proposal--which we shall come to later with other amendments--to split the area into four sub-groups. We would have Sinn Fein dominant in west Belfast; the UVF and the loyalist UDA dominant in north Belfast; the UDA and the UVF dominant in east Belfast; and only south Belfast not in the hands of paramilitaries. So, to all intents and purposes, in one sweep we would hand over the DPPs and policing to the various groups of paramilitaries and their elected members.
Imagine what would have happened in the summer when we had the trouble with "Mad Dog" Adair and the on-going loyalist feud. The local district police commander would have been answerable in the DPP to representatives of the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party--and yet these are
In these circumstances, how can it be right for convicted killers to sit on DPPs? How can it be right for parties which maintain their own private armies and carry out their own forms of summary execution, with nails and baseball bats, to be put in a position of sitting in judgment on the police? The situation hardly bears thinking about.
The Government have recognised the concerns by disqualifying people with criminal or terrorist convictions from serving as independents on the DPPs. But we have already heard the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, tell us about the members of terrorist organisations who are killers and murderers but who have not been brought to trial and convicted, for the reasons we heard earlier.
In our view the disqualification should include political as well as independent members. The Government may argue that political members are there as of right because they have been elected, and it is true that there is a disqualifying period of, I believe, five years before someone convicted of a terrorist offence can serve as a councillor. I do not subscribe to the Government's view that an elected representative has a God-given right through the democratic process to sit on a DPP. I accept their right to sit on a council or in the Assembly as an elected member, but for them to sit on a DPP or a police board has different connotations which I do not accept.
We do not object in principle to them being given a role, but we do object to that role being carried out by anyone who has been convicted of heinous terrorist offences or who belongs to a party that represents a terrorist organisation intent on holding on to its weapons of murder. Our amendments will stop that happening. It will place the onus on the terrorist related parties to demonstrate their democratic bone fides. We urge the Government to accept the amendment. It concerns one of the areas of the Bill about which my party feels particularly strongly.
Amendment No. 62 concerns quorums for DPPs. The membership of a DPP, as I understand it, could range from 15 to 19. We feel that five members is too low for a quorum and could result in unrepresentative
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