Lord Hylton: Perhaps I may speak to my Amendment No. 60 which is in this group. I am sorry to say that it is not well drafted, if only because it does not decide the question of whose convictions are compatible and whose are not. It might have been better and more elegant had I simply sought to omit from Schedule 3 lines 46 and 48 on page 51 of the Bill.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote from the comments made recently on this issue by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the official government-appointed part of the structure for ensuring so far as possible that human rights are respected. The commission states:
"The Bill disqualifies a person who has previously been convicted of any offence and has had passed on him or her a term of imprisonment, whether suspended or not, from being appointed as an independent member to a DPP. The Commission is concerned about the equality and human rights implications of this prohibition.
"The NIHRC is of the view that even though former prisoners have, by definition, paid their debt to society by undergoing a period of loss of liberty, they still face considerable difficulties in reintegrating into society once they leave prison. The NIHRC believes that protecting the rights of ex-prisoners can play a useful role in reintegrating ex-prisoners from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland into a new, trusting and pluralistic society. That is what the Good Friday Agreement itself calls for. The approach proposed in this Bill also"--
this is most important--
"runs counter to the spirit and sometimes the letter of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NI) Order 1978.
"The NIHRC considers that disqualification of people who have been convicted of offences, irrespective of whether or not their sentence was suspended, from becoming independent members of a DPP is a bar to the reintegration of prisoners into society and an impediment in working towards an inclusive society".
In support of that view, I can say that I personally know quite a large number of ex-prisoners who have totally renounced violence and who make a positive contribution not only to community relations but to all kinds of peace-building work, on all sides of barriers and peace lines. I look forward to the noble and learned Lord's response to this group of amendments, which I shall study in Hansard. I apologise to him because I shall have to leave quite soon in order to take part in entertaining some visiting parliamentarians.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has spelt out graphically what will happen in three of the DPPs in Belfast and in one or two elsewhere. They will certainly be run by paramilitaries who have connections with the councillors. It will be a disaster. That will be a pity, because the principle behind DPPs is excellent. If they can be worked by law-abiding people, that is splendid. But the present proposal, with the base of members coming from the local council, guarantees disaster. They will contrive
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the most devilish schemes to wreck the police service in those areas. The Minister should look into this matter before the next stage of the Bill. I am sure that a better approach can be devised than what is presently proposed in the Bill.
Viscount Brookeborough: I support this group of amendments in general and Amendment No. 57 in particular. The Minister wrote to me after the debate at Second Reading:
"I should point out that DPPs will not have the same access to sensitive information as the Policing Board".
The policing board is Province-wide. We all recognise that the DPP will not have access to such sensitive material as might occur on a Province-wide basis. But DPPs are at a local level, and policing in communities works from the bottom up.
I have been a member of a local sub-divisional action committee (SubDAC). The point about such committees is that they discuss everyday activities in an area. Inevitably, matters arise concerning crime. We know how terrorist organisations have leant towards crime, and Members of the Committee will have read about diesel smuggling and other such activities which are prevalent in the Border area where I live. Whether we like it or not, such information is sensitive. If we want those who are on the boards to contribute--as I believe they can and should, and hope that they will--to local policing and to the acceptability of policing in general, they must be able to discuss sensitive information, some of which will be in a grey area. I refer not merely to raiding the local shop for sweets or money, but to the known areas of "cross-contamination" between the normal criminal fraternity and that of terrorism. For matters under discussion to be meaningful, they will have to be sensitive.
This brings up the subject of vetting. In normal circumstances, vetting--whether for the Foreign Office, the Security Forces or various other positions at different levels that give people access to sensitive information--does not look purely at whether a person has been convicted of an offence. It looks at a person's lifestyle and associates, and at whether or not there is a probability that a person may be persuaded or blackmailed into exposing that sensitive information. I support the tightening up that is suggested in the amendments--and to an even greater extent, in that we must avoid allowing people in who have overtly and obviously been convicted of certain offences.
Lord Monson: The amendments in this large group come from all quarters of the Committee. I find myself in the unusual position of supporting them all, with the possible exception of Amendment No. 62, about which I have no strong feelings either way.
I support in principle the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Let us take as an example a solid citizen in his mid-50s who would like to join a DPP. However, in his rather wild students days
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35 years earlier he got into some sort of scrape--perhaps he was a rugby player who, in a hard fought game, took a swing at someone in the opposing scrum and broke that person's nose, and was justifiably sentenced to a month or two in prison. Or let us suppose that he had brought back a small amount of cannabis from Amsterdam for a friend and been sentenced to a short spell in prison or received a suspended sentence. He might now be a pillar of the community in a responsible professional job. Is it right that those previous events should disqualify him from membership altogether? Surely not.
Perhaps I may take the opportunity to point out an error in the Government's drafting at line 24 on page 51 of the Bill. I submit that the comma is in the wrong place. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and his noble friends have the comma in the right place in the first line of Amendment No. 57, which reads:
"The Board, or the council".
In line 24 on page 51 of the Bill the comma should come after "board" and not after "council". I merely draw that to the attention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
Lord Fitt: I spoke somewhat out of turn on this issue earlier. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran is by far one of the most serious amendments proposed. A person needs to come from Northern Ireland to realise its significance. Heading (b) in the sub-paragraph reads:
"the political party of which he is a member is linked to an organisation that has failed to begin the decommissioning of arms and explosives in a manner verified by the Commission referred to in section 7".
When we hear the term "decommissioning", we immediately think of the IRA. But there are other organisations in Northern Ireland that have not even attempted to decommission. They have said clearly that they have no intention of doing so. It is a question of "You jump first". These loyalist organisations are saying, "We're not going to decommission if the IRA is not going to decommission." In turn, the IRA is saying, "We need to hold on to our arms because the loyalist have their arms." So we have a ridiculous roundabout situation.
At present, the UVF, which has been guilty of some of the most atrocious murders throughout the past 30 years, has two members elected to the Stormont Assembly. The Government might well say, "They were elected to the Assembly, so who are we to deny them a place on a partnership board?" By the way, if we followed the logic of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who, I am sorry to say, is no longer in his place, Johnny Adair could have been appointed two months ago to a police partnership before be broke some of the rules. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke about someone being debarred because he had smoked cannabis at one time. Well, if someone were to be debarred from a police board, he could always apply to become a Tory MP!
The amendment illustrates the tremendous difficulty involved. Sinn Fein will not decommission, the UVF will not decommission. Yet those of us who
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come from Northern Ireland know that there are people in those areas who have not been brought before a court. Then there is my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, with his strict interpretation of the laws of evidence, and so on. If a person known to have been involved in terrorist activity makes an application to become a member of a DPP and the latter has been told about that person by people who live in the area and who will be affected by the partnership, who does the DPP listen to? Again, I pose the question: is the person so rejected in a position to say, "My human rights have been abused, because no one has convicted me"? But that person, having been brought before a court, could be guilty of murder. Some people underestimate the difficulties involved with this legislation--