Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill
My Lords, I would like to believe that the government amendment would somehow help us, but it is old hat. We have had this before. I was a member of Dungannon District Council with someone who signed a similar declaration. Between the time he took his seat and the time he was shot in possession of a terrorist weapon I was one of his primary targets. I am sorry to disillusion the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, but the signature will not be worth the piece of paper that it is written on.
When we debated the issue in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, told us how he had served a term in prison. He is not the only one to have done so. I served my week in Crumlin Road for a civil disobedience offence at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985-86. I went there not so much with great reluctance, but having found it exceedingly difficult to persuade anyone to prosecute me for my admitted offence. As a mark of civil disobedience, I did not pay my car road fund licence or my television licence. I had to write a considerable number of times to convince the authorities that I had committed an offence. Having been brought to court and said that I would not pay the fine for the road fund licence offence, I was taken to prison. As I arrived at the prison gates in front of the television cameras, somebody noticed that I was being brought in a police car for which the road fund licence had not been paid.
I never discovered whether mine was a civil or a criminal offence. If it was a criminal offence, and if the offence of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was similarly so, I am sure that the commission could survive without either of us. The greater number of people in Northern Ireland respect and keep the law and would be eligible to serve on the commission. Why do we make this concession as though somehow the world would come to an end if we did not have an ex-terrorist as a member?
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal has cleverly argued my specific comment—I see him smiling, so he knows the offence that he has committed—as though it were a general principle. It is not. I would be the first to admit that there are those who have committed serious offences who regret it and seek to make a contribution to society. However, that does not mean that they have to be accommodated in a specific post or appointment such as this. It is inconsistent with the whole concept of the law and respect for the law that those who have broken the law—whether deliberately and purposively, or as a part of organised crime and organised terrorism—should be given responsibility for administration of the law.
I propose our Amendment No. 14 for two reasons. First, I hope to show by example that a signature attesting to good behaviour and to eschewing violence is not worth the paper on which it is written. Secondly, I hope that we put in context the idea that everything that had been open to such people should again be open to them because they are remorseful or have made reparation.
Throughout our consideration of the Bill, I have consistently pressed the Lord Privy Seal and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, to tell me what is behind this lack of transparency and lack of straightforwardness, and also to tell us what external commitments have influenced this Bill. They have consistently refused to respond to me on those points. I now ask the question again. What external influences are being implemented or will be implemented? How is it intended that that will be done?