Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-45)|
THURSDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2002
40. I notice that you did not include the Venice
Commission. In the Office of the High Commission for National
Minorities what was their reaction to your proposal?
(Professor Dickson) We have not received the legal
advice from the High Commissioner for National Minorities, it
is on a particular point in the Bill of Rights document. We know
that a draft of that has been prepared but the Commission as a
body has not yet received the final version of that. At the recent
meeting of European National Human Rights Institutions, which
we co-hosted with the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Director
General of Human Rights in the Council of Europe expressed a willingness
to receive from the British Government a request that it, namely
the directorate, provide advice on our proposals for a Bill of
Rights, and we shall be following up on that suggestion.
41. I am very pleased to hear that. How many
of your Commission have seen the draft that exists?
(Professor Dickson) I have seen a draft of the draft,
I think there is another version but I have not seen that yet.
There is another draft. It was given to me on that basis by the
42. It is suggested that in this draft there
has been an attempt to undermine the principles of the Good Friday
Agreement, in that it has not paid sufficient attention to parity
of esteem and equity. The draft as carried forward could undermine
the Fair Employment legislation and it could challenge the recruitment
of the police 50/50 on questions of parity and that the overall
effect would be to revert to a situation of majority and minority
rather than in a system of equality and parity of esteem between
(Professor Dickson) All I can say, Mr McNamara, is
the draft that I saw did none of those things. It explained how
our Bill of Rights proposals would or would not affect those matters,
such as monitoring under the Fair Employment legislation. It did
not come to the conclusion that in any respect our proposals would
be undermining any of those things, including the 50/50 recruitment
to the Police Service.
(Professor Hadden) I think on the issue of parity
of esteem the reason behind our proposal in the initial draft
document to replace the word "minorities" with the word
"communities" was precisely to achieve parity of esteem
not only between the two main communities, the unionist and nationalist
communities, but also to include in that other smaller minorities.
We were concerned that to use the words "majority" and
"minority" in the context of a small region within the
United Kingdom in which the two main communities are increasingly
equal would be awkward and difficult and that it would be better
to use the word "community" rather than "minority".
We did raise this with the Review Committee under the European
Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities.
We discussed it with them and they did not raise any objections.
As Brice has explained, we also referred the matter to the OSCE
High Commissioner on Minorities, I have not seen the draft advice
but I am satisfied in my own mind that what we are doing is fulfilling
the obligation on us to do something about parity of esteem between
the two main communities and other communities. On the more general
question of involvement of international bodies, phase 3 in the
process of the Bill of Rights is specifically directed towards
that objective in the sense that we have identified a number of
issues of which the one you are asking about is one on which we
need to involve experts from the main European and international
bodies in discussions with the principal players and the political
parties to see if we can come to some consensus on those difficult
issues on the question of minority and majority, on the question
of socio-economic rights, on the question of how the particular
circumstances of Northern Ireland are to be dealt with in a regional
Bill of Rights, not applying to the whole of the United Kingdom
or the whole of the State. Those are difficult issues and we want
to involve international experts and the main players, all of
the people who have made submissions to us and the political parties
insofar as that is possible. That is what we are proposing at
the meeting that we are summoning on Monday to take forward this
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
43. I have one or two questions I would like
to put, building on what you just said, Professor Hadden, I have
been very struck reading the recent evidence from friends of the
Bill of Rights, friends of Human Rights, like the minister Des
Browne MP, like Professor McCrudden, like Professor Christine
Bell and Dr McCormack I have been struck by the strength of criticism
from friends of the project about the way you have gone about
it. As you know the Minister has criticised a number of matters,
some of them you have touched on, and we have not got the time
to go into any of them and it would be unfair to do so now, all
I can say as a so-called expert is that I have been very struck
by the power of what they said and written. I just wonder whether
you would acknowledge that the situation is quite serious at the
moment in that you could jeopardise the entire project unless
you heed those kind of criticisms?
(Professor Dickson) Of course there are critics of
our Bill of Rights process and of our Bill of Rights proposals.
The critics come from many, many different quarters, and if I
may say so there are some unusual, unholy alliances amongst our
critics, people who object to one aspect of it are teaming up
with people who object to another aspect of it and thereby seeking
to undermine the whole process. Mr Browne, the Minister, did say
recently that he had enormous admiration for the way in which
the Commission has conducted its consultation. I think our process
will stand up to scrutiny. When it comes to the actual content
of the Bill of Rights everything is still up for grabs. Our document
was a consultation document, it raised issues, it provoked different
views, that was its intention. Nothing is written in tablets of
stone yet and will not be for some time. I regret very much if
critics so undermine what the Commission is trying to do that
it deprives us of our duty given by the Good Friday Agreement
to advise the Government on what should be in the Bill of Rights.
44. There was so much more that we could ask
you, Professor Dickson, but given our time constraints I would
like just to end with the Hosking Report. You have talked a lot
today about one or other committee of the Commission. I certainly
get the impression of a management system which is not exactly
streamlined. Can you say whether you are going to implement the
Hosking Report recommendations and that the role of your committees
will be reduced?
(Professor Dickson) The implementation of Hosking
was, I think, rightly delayed because there were some internal
difficulties over the process and the recommendations around that
Report. We then committed a further consultant to help facilitate
the process of change that we want to put in place. His report
is due to be finalised very, very shortly and the process we have
gone through with him has been very helpful and productive. I
foresee that in the next 12 months, because his tentative recommendations
presuppose that it will take a long time to put everything in
place, we will be a very different organisation from the one that
we are now. One of his recommendations at the moment is that our
committee structure be streamlined and I think that would be a
sensible thing myself.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
45. Can we have copy of those recommendations?
(Professor Dickson) Certainly when they are completed
and finalised, yes.
Chairman: That would be a very good idea. Can
I thank you, Professor Dickson, Professor Hadden, Ms Sloan and
Mr Yu for coming to appear before us today and giving your time.
It has been very helpful to us and nice to see you all again.