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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 5 to 7:

    Page 6, line 33, at end insert—

"(3A) After subsection (10) insert—
"(10A) Subsection (10B) applies if the Chief Constable supplies to a person conducting an inquiry under this section any information which in the opinion of the Chief Constable is—
(a) information the disclosure of which would be likely to put an individual in danger, or
(b) information which ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds mentioned in section 76A(1).
(10B) The Chief Constable must—
(a) inform the Secretary of State and the Board that the information has been supplied to the person conducting the inquiry;
(b) inform the Secretary of State, the Board and the person conducting the inquiry that, in his opinion, the information is information of a kind mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (10A)."" Page 6, line 34, leave out "(3)" and insert "(3A)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 10 [Approval of proposals relating to inquiries by Board]:

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass moved Amendment No. 8:

    Leave out Clause 10.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 8 is a simple amendment, and noble Lords will not want me to go on at any length about it. I have already said, at every stage, that it is nonsensical to suggest, along

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with all the other changes that have been made, that as few as eight members from a board of 19 should have the absolute right to demand an inquiry.

If, as we are told by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, the board will be a responsible board, it would not be unreasonable to expect that at least 50 per cent-plus of its members would be needed to decide that an inquiry was necessary. I have been at the coalface for 30 years, and I know the nature of terrorism and the way in which terrorists and their political acolytes operate. We should not create a position in which, through undue pressure amounting even to intimidation, independent members of the board could be influenced or find themselves with no alternative but to go along with pressure from Sinn Fein. We should not condone or assist such a process. We should stick with the original figure of 10, on the basis that we expect that much of the work of the board will be done by mutual agreement. We should not allow a situation in which a caucus of less than 50 per cent can decide the board's direction.

This is such a petty approach to the work of the board that I feel that it is necessary to seek the opinion of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, on this issue. It is the one remaining issue—I do not want to pre-empt anything that might arise later—that I believe is a serious mistake in the Bill. There is no reason whatever for it. Those who have been pressing to reduce this quorate number from 10 to eight members—less than 50 per cent—are totally unreasonable and must have mischievous reasons for wanting to do so.

Northern Ireland is a small place. People know each other well. They take their responsibilities seriously. There is no reason whatever—on any occasion, for any specific topic—why at least 10 of the 19 members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board should not be expected to be present and voting, as I believe the Bill states, on matters such as those related to in Clause 10.

I strongly believe that it is utterly wrong of the Government to reduce the number of members to a figure that is less than 50 per cent, and which requires a majority of five—something like 30 per cent. The board would fall into a category where political cliques could gang up and achieve measures which it would not want. I support the amendment.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I strongly support Amendment No. 8 because I believe that it is essential to build in as many safeguards as possible to protect the ability of the police to function at all, but especially in the field of counter-terrorism should Sinn Fein/IRA join the Policing Board in the foreseeable future.

The agenda of Sinn Fein/IRA has always been to destroy the police in their present form. They have openly said so and openly campaigned against people entering the Catholic 50 per cent. Gerry Adams said, when the people of Omagh appealed to him to free witnesses to speak, that he would never do that since he did not recognise British courts or British justice.

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The Northern Ireland Office, in its last performance report published in autumn 2002, quotes two of its main objectives as being to build and,

    "sustain confidence in the police service"

and to,

    "narrow the gap in confidence in policing and policing arrangements between the two main communities . . . while maintaining the overall level of public service".

They are admiral objectives, but I do not think that they will be attained in a hurry.

The Northern Ireland Office survey showed that 66 per cent of Protestants and 75 per cent of Catholics thought that the Policing Board was doing a good job. As the noble and learned Lord knows, I agree with that. With the establishment of the DPPs, they hoped that matters would get even better.

Surely, there is something to be said for giving the Policing Board, as at present composed, time to settle and consolidate rather than pressing on for purely political reasons to enable Sinn Fein/IRA to enter a body where their very presence will instantly strike a blow at the public confidence, which we are seeking, in a police entity, penetrated from within, by the very terrorists that it is attempting to police.

There must be time for Sinn Fein to demonstrate that it is no longer a Siamese twin of the IRA. It has not yet done so. To bring Sinn Fein/IRA into the Policing Board will utterly destroy the confidence of the public and the police themselves. I know that the noble and learned Lord will say that that is not what we are discussing today, but we are. This is the last chance we have to create safeguards. It is relevant that the NIO report covering the period 2001 to September 2002 records an overall increase in major security incidents and an increase in violence against the person. The latest report from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, on the operation of the Terrorism Act 2000 records that,

    "there remains a significant supply of weaponry available to paramilitaries of all persuasions, that there has been an increase in incidents involving bombs to the 1987–89 level, that the police need to remain flexible to meet changes in the patterns of terrorist-related crime, and that the continuing danger of intimidation of those called for jury service justifies the continued scheduling of offences".

Incidentally, the report notes, which people often forget, that an analogous system has obtained for some time in the Republic of Ireland. The report also recommends the retention of the Diplock courts. It states:

    "It remains clear without any evidence of abatement that the paramilitary organisations still exercise very significant influence over communities. On both sides of the divide there is a clear danger of intimidation within living and working neighbourhoods".

It is not yet the time to implement the Patten report in full. Northern Ireland is not at peace. There must be time to consolidate and the Policing Board must be allowed to settle in. Sinn Fein/IRA must demonstrate that their eventual membership of the board will be justified by disarming their paramilitaries and ending their tyranny over their own people—just as the Loyalists must do.

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I am not speaking only against IRA paramilitaries, but I am suggesting that for them to play a part, through Sinn Fein, on the Policing Board would totally destroy confidence and would be a betrayal of the people.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this is not a matter that goes to the Policing Board or who should be on it. It simply sets the threshold for those on the board who can call for an inquiry. I shall be brief; I have said this on a number of previous occasions. This was a commitment in the Implementation Plan as long ago as 2001. It simply indicates that an inquiry could be called for as long as there is a majority of those present and voting in agreement. I shall set out the figures. Normal board meetings run at 90 per cent attendance. They are well attended. To suggest that this could be manipulated by a small group of politically motivated people is unrealistic.

I shall remind your Lordships of the safeguards—I hope for the last time. Paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act states that if the board is considering the inquiry, at least three members of the board have to make a written request. The chairman, no later than three working days after the day on which he receives the request, has to call the meeting. The meeting cannot be held earlier than six days and no later than 21 working days afterwards. It is critically important that the chairman shall notify each member of the board of the date and purpose of the meeting. It is not therefore logistically possible for the scenario described in such Doomsday terms to occur. It still means that a majority of those present and voting must agree before such an inquiry could be called. There is a difference of approach here, which will not be reconciled, except following a vote.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, it is particularly disappointing that, after all the changes made to procedures in Northern Ireland, all the checks and balances that are built in, all the requirements of vetting and opportunity in terms of setting up the Policing Board, the Government should now decide that they want further to politicise the procedures of the board.

The board is already politicised in so far as membership is concerned. I shall not go into that issue in detail, but it does not take great imagination to understand what happens when the various political parties are asked to nominate their members to the board. That aspect of politicising policing—that is what we are doing—is further enhanced by removing that simple democratic process. Whatever the promises made by government, whether at Weston Park or anywhere else, they were in this respect wrong and undemocratic.

I shall seek to test the opinion of the House. During the Committee and Report stages some noble Lords voiced at least passing concern about equality in the treatment of the two traditions and of various political parties—not only mine—which have sought to behave

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traditionally in a democratic way. I hope that those who sympathise with that concern will support me on this issue.

12.1 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 100; Not-Contents, 122.

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