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Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. However, he is rather giving the impression that I put forward some proposition that is inconsistent with what he is saying. I have no recollection of ever having done such a thing.
Lord Fitt: I am very glad to hear that. I support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, along with the other speakers from Northern Ireland. I realise that it is difficult for many noble Lords who have never been to Northern Ireland, or who have only been there on a short visit, to understand the situation. They do not have to live with the consequences of what has been happening. Many representations are made to us. During the summer I was in what is regarded as a peaceful part of Northern Ireland, Ballycastle in north Antrim. Yet every day that I went out, people were talking to me about the setting up of these police partnerships.
The Minister may not have a answer for this, but there is an area in west Belfast known as Twinbrook and an adjoining area known as Poleglass. The question is: should they be in the DPP relating to Belfast or should those two districts be taken into the Lisburn Rural Council? Their whole culture, their whole ethos, has nothing to do with Lisburn, but it has a great deal to do with what is happening in west Belfast.
I know that the Government are trying to create a situation whereby the community will be involved in protecting its own citizens. If the DPPs do come into operation, this amendment makes it very clear that they would not be able to exist under this legislation.
Lord Vivian: I rise to express my support for my noble friend's amendments, Amendments Nos. 56 and 57. I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Cooke and Lord Fitt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, have said. This is an extremely important amendment. If criminals or former terrorists are involved in these committees in any way, it is clear to me--and, indeed, it must be clear to most people--that that can only undermine and weaken the authority of the police force, thus making its task
Lord Laird: I join other noble Lords in supporting Amendments Nos. 56 and 57. It seems to be lacking in logic to exclude some people from membership of the DPPs while allowing some people, for the same reason, to be members of such boards simply because they are political appointments. After all, if you have a fairly major type of conviction involving a custodial sentence, that stops you becoming a member of the police force, a member of the judiciary and a member of the Bar. It also prevents people taking up jury service for a period. Therefore, as these partnerhips will play a significant role in policing in certain areas, it seems that anyone with a conviction of a serious nature should be excluded.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I shall deal, first, with Amendments Nos. 56 and 58, which seek to apply the removal provisions that presently apply to independent members to political members who may fail to make a disclosure in relation to a conviction for a criminal office in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. The amendments represent a significant difference between, on the one hand, the Government and, on the other hand, the noble Lords proposing these amendments.
The Government are following the approach of the Good Friday agreement of inclusivity for elected representatives, whereas the amendments now before the Committee seek to place hurdles in the way of appointment of district councillors to DPPs. It is worth pointing out that councillors are already subject to a criminal record test in that they may not be appointed in the first place if they have a conviction of imprisonment of three months or more in the past five years. In other words, if they cannot satisfy that hurdle, they cannot become councillors. However, once that test has been satisfied, then, as far as concerns political membership of the DPPs, it is a matter for the district council. I therefore ask noble Lords not to press these amendments. I give way.
Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way, but there is a point here that needs clarification. If all the recently released paramilitary prisoners have done their three months, I take it that they are ineligible to become councillors?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As I read it, the test is whether they have had a conviction of imprisonment of three months or more during the past five years. The relevant five years runs from the date of conviction. That is the information I have at present, but perhaps I may check the position. I understand entirely the noble Lord's question.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 57, 59 and 61. The proposers of those amendments, the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Cope, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, seek to increase the removal and disqualification criteria for membership of the DPPs. I know that these issues were debated at some
I turn to Amendment No. 60 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who is not present at the moment. Correspondence has been exchanged with him on the amendment. It has been explained to him that the Government think that the provision is appropriate and justified. It cannot be right that those convicted of an offence resulting in imprisonment, whether suspended or not, should be appointed to a body dealing in policing.
If this amendment is aimed at allowing greater flexibility for those convicted of terrorist offences to be members of DPPs, then I would say to the noble Lord that Patten clearly did not regard the time as right for this. The Government continue to hold the view that the time is not right. In saying that I do not seek to rule out the prospect of any change in the future. The Government hope to see the day when sensitivities such as this recede and certain convictions could be relegated in the selection procedures for those bodies. I therefore ask the noble Lord not to move Amendment No. 60. As he is not present at the moment, that will not be difficult.
I turn to Amendment No. 62 which stands in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. Amendment No. 62 seeks to set the quorum of a DPP meeting at seven instead of the five required in the Bill. I point out that these bodies are linked to and effectively formed from councils and Schedule 2, paragraph 4 of the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972 provides that council business in Northern Ireland cannot be transacted unless at least one quarter of the whole number of councillors is present. The figure of five for DPPs would be at least a quarter (they may have a
As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, the test for councillors relates to any offence for which a sentence of imprisonment of three months or more has been passed within a period of five years immediately preceding the day on which a councillor is elected.
Lord Monson: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, is he saying that someone awarded a very short sentence, suspended or otherwise, 35 or 40 years ago, and who has since led a totally blameless life is unsuitable for all time to become a member of a DPP?
Baroness Blatch: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, in regard to the five-year rule, is he saying that someone convicted five and a half years ago for, say, a 10 year sentence would qualify since having been released?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: He would qualify to be a councillor under the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972. I referred to the provisions that prevent someone from being a councillor. If you pass that test under the 1972 Act which I described twice to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, you would qualify to become a councillor.
Baroness Blatch: I understand what the noble and learned Lord says but I am talking about the seriousness of an offence. If someone five and a half years ago committed a serious offence, can that person qualify as having passed the five-year test?
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