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I wish to draw the Committee's attention to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 which are of considerable significance. They seek to prevent the appointment to the police board of those with criminal records--in particular terrorist records. We do not believe that it is right for those who have such records, or who are active members of political parties linked to paramilitary organisations, from either side of the community--they have failed to begin decommissioning and have a so-called ceasefire, but we all know that it is frail, and broken at frequent intervals--to sit on the police board and to hold the chief constable and the police force (whatever it is called) to account.
As I have said previously, I do not think that anyone who has been involved in security in Northern Ireland believes that decommissioning is a complete solution to the security problem. Of course it is not. Apart from
I believe that this is of the greatest importance for the future of the police force. It looks certain that even if the most optimistic scenarios come to pass in Northern Ireland there will be some continuing terrorism. That has always been so in the past and I have no reason to think that it will not be so in the future. That means that the RUC (whatever it is called) will have to continue combating a serious terrorist threat. We do not think that anyone who has been involved in that is qualified to sit on the board. If such a connection arises, that person should be removed from the board. That is what our amendments seek to achieve.
There is also the bargaining effect. I take one example. I believe that one of the mistakes made in the early part of the process was that the release of prisoners went ahead according to the two-year timetable even though other issues--in particular decommissioning which was supposed to go ahead under the same timetable--did not advance. At every stage the concessions have been made from the unionist side and the government side--and very large concessions too--with none from the other side. If republicans and terrorists can get what they want without having to give anything away, they will do so. But if they had to give up something themselves, if the prisoner releases had either not started or had been stopped because the remainder of the process was not taking place, then the bargaining counters would have been different. The biggest single bargaining counter that remains is the effectiveness of the police, particularly against terrorism. To weaken the effectiveness of the police is one of the great goals of terrorists on both sides of the divide. It is one that can still be achieved. The police would be weakened if the board contained those who still supported terrorism or were in close touch with terrorist organisations. That is why the amendments are of the first importance.
Lord Smith of Clifton: I shall speak to Amendment No. 21, which is in this group on the selection list. It is a probing amendment on a serious issue relating to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State may well be minded to include the Equality Commission under
Lord Vivian: I support Amendments Nos. 23 to 25. I agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley has said. Without the amendments, current or ex-terrorists could become members of a board and there would be no legal power to remove them. That could lead to a corrupt police force, which would undermine and weaken the authority of the police and make the task of the Chief Constable virtually impossible.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I, too, support Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, on three grounds. First, if there were people on a board with past connections with terrorist organisations on either side, the likelihood of the police being able to recruit and retain sources on terrorist operations would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, because the sources would constantly fear that those members of the board would have access to certain knowledge and that their identity might be revealed. That would have a serious effect on the possible recruitment of sources.
Secondly, I should be glad to hear how it will be possible to avoid having such people on the board if some of them are to come from the Assembly, where, at least among Sinn Fein, there must be a number who, for one reason or another, have such connections.
Thirdly, when Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness have been asked over the past year whether they would encourage witnesses to come forward to testify on the Omagh bombing, they have said that they do not recognise British justice and can therefore see no point in doing such a thing. With that attitude, it might be difficult for the police, as the guardians of law and order, to work with them.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I shall deal first with Amendment No. 20, spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. I assure the noble and learned Lord that the Government are committed to ethnic and gender balance every bit as much as to political and religious balance. However, we are not convinced that the amendment would add to the effect of the current wording. "Representative" includes all constituents, including ethnic and gender constituents. The amendment could lead to a preference towards ethnicity and gender over, say, disability. I repeat that we are committed to ethnic and gender balance, but we do not support the amendment.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I apologise for interrupting, but I wonder whether the Minister is satisfied with the wording. The Equality Commission is an amalgam of various commissions--at least four of them. Those of us who have had contact with the commissioners have got the impression that they feel somewhat aggrieved and slighted. They feel that they have been downgraded because they are not mentioned by name. That is not a quibble--they have a point.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I note what the noble Lord says. We did not think it necessary to make a specific reference. We consulted the commission on the recent appointment process for the board. That should encourage and reassure those concerned that they will be consulted.
Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, take us back to amendments that were tabled by the Conservatives in another place. I share their wish for safeguards in the appointment of independents and the removal of the independents and political members. The Bill provides such safeguards. The amendments would go too far.
We want a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland. Patten did not come up with the idea of political parties being represented on the boards of his own volition. The Good Friday agreement is clear on the issue. It says that the commission's proposal should be designed to ensure that there are clearly established arrangements enabling local people and their political representatives to articulate their views and concerns about policing. That means that those elected to the Assembly and selected under d'Hondt have a right to serve on the board because they have a mandate.
The Government have explained consistently that there are safeguards on the appointment of independents. For example, character checks will be conducted and appointments will be based on high standards of probity and integrity, as required by the guidance for public appointments.
Furthermore, the Bill has strong removal provisions. Members who commit criminal offences may be removed by the Secretary of State. Unlike the current police authority, members of the board are required to pass the test of upholding the principles of non-violence and commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means. That is already in the schedule. If they do not, they can be removed by the Secretary of State.
I ask noble Lords to accept that we understand their concerns, but we believe that the provisions to which I have referred will enable us to deal with those who are not committed to peaceful means. I ask the noble Lord not to move the amendments.
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