|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I speak briefly in favour of Amendment No. 8. I do so for precisely the reasons just advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney. However, I have a rather different point of view on the matter. I believe that if we are to build confidence in the future in Northern Ireland, not only must that future be built on the basis of peace and non-violence, but we must draw into the process those who previously refused to participate in the democratic process. Although I have much sympathy with what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Maginnis and Lord Tebbit, in questioning the sincerity of some of those engaged in this process, like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I have encountered some of those who have renounced violence. Like him, I should like them to remain engaged in the process.
I particularly remember the case of Liam McCloskey, an INLA man who was the last of the hunger strikers. He went further into the hunger strike than anyone other than Bobby Sands, losing both his eyesight and his locomotion. It was at that point that, at the behest of his mother, the prison chaplain took him off of the strike. He subsequently regained consciousness. At first, he was deeply resentful at not being able to be martyred, rather like some of the suicide bombers so much in evidence in the Middle East today. There was the same sense of giving your life to the cause in which you believe, possibly because of a lack of any kind of hopethat was certainly true in his caseof making any change in a peaceable manner.
In due course, when transferred from the Maze to, I believe, Magilligan prison, he heard of a plot to kill one of the warders. Because he had then undergone a change of heart and a change of mind with regard to espousing violence, he reported the matter to the prison governor. McCloskey's life was threatened for having done that. When he eventually came out of prison he committed himself to the cause of peace and non-violence. He is not alone; people from paramilitary organisations on both sides have done that. They are the people who have to be drawn into this process if we are to leave the viciousness of the past behind us.
I believe that on the first day's sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly Mr David Trimble said that we all have a past but what is important is the future. Amendment No. 8 seeks to ensure that those wishing to be part of that future commit themselves to a non-violent approach and work exclusively in terms of peace and democracy. Although some of those who sign a piece of paper may not do so with the sincerity that we would wish, there will be many others who will. What is important is to go on building a civil society in Northern Ireland which is democratic, peaceful and in the tradition we would wish in this Parliament.
Sinn Fein argues that oath taking keeps it out of another place. We have to do everything we can to test the sincerity of such statements. If the kind of provision we are discussing were to be a model for putting Sinn Fein on the spot about taking its place and playing its part in another place, it would be all to the good.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Alton says. Like him, I have met a number of former terrorists and paramilitaries on both sides who have totally changed their ways. They are the kind of people who need to be included. I therefore support the Government's Amendment No. 8. I consider that Amendment No. 14 goes too far, particularly as regards the words,
I am much inclined to support the amendment, but I feel that in this particular case it would not be right to allow our wish to trust and to be inclusive to hold sway at the expense of the people who would suffer if we made a mistake. There is room for the people we are discussing to serve the community without their being able to make decisions.
I cannot add to the purpose of Amendment No. 8. I am most grateful for the generous welcome given by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. It seems to me that we have tried to meet a genuine concern. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said that it was pointless to put into legislation words that did not really matter. Amendment No. 14 falls into that category. It does not refer to a sentence of six months or more but to conviction,
The whole measure is, when one looks at itI put this as moderately as I canquite nonsensical. It would disqualify people of the quality, for instance, of Nelson Mandela. It would nevertheless not necessarily disqualify those with convictions for which they had not received a custodial sentence although we might rightly abominate them. It would cover every type of criminal offence. I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton; namely, that it would cover any offence at any time. Therefore, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act would have no place here, nor the concept behind it. The measure is simply not workable. For that reason alone it should be rejected.
My fundamental point is this. As regards someone who has repentedI cannot speak as eloquently as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, or the noble Lord, Lord Hyltonand who wishes to start afresh in a community he has wounded, we should not impose an absolute statutory disqualification for all time. The fact of being in possession of a conviction and sentence does not entitle one to be put on the commission we are discussing, but this amendment if carriedI urge your Lordships not to do sowould constitute a statutory disqualification for all time and the old curse of Northern Ireland of too long a history and too short a history, as one of your Lordships told me privately, would be embodied in statute.
As my noble friend Lady Scotland has said on many occasions, the Bill is designed to work for a better future. It cannot come into effect automatically and the devolved powers we are discussing will not be implemented until the Government are satisfied that it is safe to do so. To start off with what is embodied in Amendment No. 14 would constitute a deep and continuing mistake.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. I am so sorry. As the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, pointed out, the measure is a direct quotation from the Mitchell principles and would be understood in that way.
The issue arises as to when the Lord Chief Justice would make a recommendation to terminate and when it would be appropriate not to do so. Further to that is the issue ofwe shall discuss this in more detailacting jointly. As the Bill is drafted, either the First Minister or Deputy First Minister has a veto on removal, even if the Lord Chief Justice recommends that removal action be taken. That is clearly a ludicrous situation. I do not believe that it is the Government's intention to vest in the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister those discretionary powers.
Amendment No. 11 seeks to make a similar change in respect of lay members. Some of us are concerned about Paragraph 2(4)(b) of Schedule 2, which is the "criminal offence" provision. As the Bill stands, either the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister may veto the removal of a person convicted of a serious offence. That is surely not what was intended.
Paragraph 2(4)(a) raises questions about the phrase "without reasonable excuse" and whether someone who fails to exercise his or her functions for a period without such an excuse should be permitted to stay. That again involves a de facto veto from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I beg to move.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page