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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I very much welcome the comments of the right reverend Prelate in relation to the importance of the Criminal Record Bureau's work. We take very seriously the amount of time spent. The right reverend Prelate should know that initially one form out of two was incorrectly filled in. Now the figure is one out of four. We are trying to give guidance, help and support to make sure that people can quickly and easily fill in these forms. I can reassure the House by saying that of course the applications of the volunteers who come forward are done for free. We will regularly keep the matter under review to see what more can be done to make the system even better than it is now.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, in order to speed up this process, which causes immense problems, could the Government take some action to develop a system which would make it routine for a prospective employee to take to an interview his CRB certificate along with other proof of identity and qualifications, and perhaps be reimbursed later where appropriate?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are certainly looking at what can be done to make the system easier. The noble Baroness may know that the Government are looking to see whether we can take advantage of registered bodies and whether applications could be made first through them and then through to us. There are provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill which address that very issue. I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness that we are keeping this matter under careful consideration.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the CRB is a government agency. The noble Baroness has been kind enough to inform the House that the House of Lords pass is not acceptable identity for the CRB. She has not explained why. Would it not save, as the right reverend Prelate has explained, a great deal of staff time if the House of Lords pass was acceptable and should not the noble Baroness use her best offices to make it so?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I shall certainly raise the issue. But the noble Lord should know that the pass allows individuals to come into this building. We have tended to enable the use of documents which are of general availability. I regret to say that the general population still does not have access in an equal way to this House.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the noble Baroness described a procedure of almost unbelievable complexity. She described a form which is still so obscure that one applicant in four finds it impossible to complete it correctly. She is describing a system which also makes frequent errors in clearing people who should not have been cleared, as well as not clearing those who ought to have been cleared. Is not the plain fact that this organisation is not under her control; that it has been contracted out through a quango to a company which has then subcontracted much of its operations to a second company which has subcontracted again to a third?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Lord says about quality. In fact, the CRB is meeting its service provider requirements. I regret to have to tell the noble Lord that the reason that the form is not filled out correctly is often that those filling it out errnot because it is not plain; but because they err. We are doing everything that we can to ensure that that difficulty is cured. There is not the frequency of errors to which the noble Lord alludes. The system is working very well indeed. I agree that it did not work well last year; but this year, there has been a great deal of improvement and the CRB should be congratulated on its improvements to the system.
The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. If I may, I shall say a word about procedure. Should the Committee amend the Bill, copies of the Bill as amended will be available in the Printed Paper Office shortly after the end of Committee. Amendments for Report may be tabled between the end of Committee and 7 p.m.
The noble Lord said: The amendment would simply insert in Clause 1(1)(a) after the words, "monitoring activity", "including human rights abuses". I hope that the Lord President of the Council will understand that although that is a simple amendment, it is rather important. The clause spells out the monitoring commission's task, which it states as,
When we think of activity by paramilitary groups, we immediately tend to think of some sort of paramilitary activity, such as shooting at policemen or soldiers or at people who are politically opposed to themthe sort of activity that we experienced for nigh on 30 years. We tend to forget that there is a residual form of activity that is hard to define. That is the sort of activity that forces young men and boys to leave the country at a few hours' notice because they have run foul of those who still have tenuousor perhaps not so tenuouslinks with paramilitary organisations. Night after night, people are punished by being shot through the knees, ankles or elbows or are subject to assault by having large stones or cement blocks dropped on them. All such activity is deemed to beand in some ways isdifferent from what we had from 1970 until comparatively recently. It does not receive the headlines that murder after murder after murder received, but none the less, it has a hugely intimidating effect on the community in which it occurs.
So I think that referring to "human rights abuses" is the easiest way to define what we mean. That should fall within the bailiwick of the monitoring commission, which can be achieved by the addition of those few words in Clause 1(1)(a), so that it reads:
Lord Glentoran: I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, in his amendment. When I first read it, I wondered for a moment what he was getting at. He has now explained it clearly to the Committee and come to the conclusions at which I was arriving. I have some notes here citing examples of human rights abuses such as extortion, intimidation and blatant sectarianism of the most unpleasant sort, which forces people out of jobs, away from their homes and sometimes even out of the country.
It should not raise any fur or ruffle any feathers elsewhere in these islands to include those words. I think that most Members of the Committee will understand that the Bill has been negotiated between a number of parties, including the Irish Government and all the parties in Northern Ireland. I am in no way critical of that and do not mean to sound so. That process must continue and is the right process to
So for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, explained clearly, the activities that I have citedin particular extortion and intimidationshould definitely be considered as abuses of human rights.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I add my strong support on both the issue of exiles, on which I have spoken many times in the Chamber and do not propose to do so again now, and that of children, because of what children are seeing every day of their lives. They are being brutalised and forced to watch others being brutalised. That issue is often lost sight of. I strongly support the amendment.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not argue with the aim of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, nor the spirit in which he moved it, but I must advise the Committee that it would not add in substance to the arrangements set out in the Bill.
I shall give chapter and verse briefly in a moment. This is not just a legalistic nit-pick, but the amendment is to the Bill, whereas, as I remind the Committee, the commission receives its functions from the agreement. Therefore, however much one sympathises with the thinking behind it, the amendment would have no legal effect. It is difficult to envisage a human rights abuse by paramilitaries which is not already covered by Article 4 of the agreement, especially when, as I remind the Committee, the list of activities set out in that article is not exclusive. It is difficult to envisage that any of the activities against individuals listed in the agreement would not involve an abuse of human rights in the broadest sense.
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