Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill
Lord Williams of Mostyn (President of the Council, Privy Council Office; Labour)
My Lords, this group contains Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 14. Amendment No. 8 stands in my name, Amendment No. 9 is in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Shutt of Greetland, and Amendment No. 14 stands in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rogan, Lord Maginnis, Lord Laird and Lord Kilclooney.
Amendment No. 8 derives from the helpful debate which the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Shutt, originated in Grand Committee. I promised to think about it and have done so. I hope that the amendment that I have brought forward is satisfactory to both noble Lords and to the rest of the House. If carried, my amendment will mean that a person cannot be appointed to be a lay member unless he has declared his commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. I believe that that meets the point that the two noble Lords were making.
Amendment No. 14 would impose a statutory disqualification on anyone who had been convicted of a criminal offence at any time in Northern Ireland or elsewhere and had a custodial sentence passed, whether suspended or not. That is far too rigid. I echo the generous words of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who said in Grand Committee that the fact that a man has a past does not mean that he has no future. He also gave illustrations outside my experience of people who had been guilty of crime in the past and who now genuinely wanted to make a constructive contribution to the future of Northern Ireland.
Apart from its rigidity, Amendment No. 14 is far too wide. Having secured Amendment No. 8, I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments to a Division. I beg to move.