AMENDMENT TO COMMONS AMENDMENT No.14

– in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 3rd April 2003.

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14C Line 31, at end insert—

"(3) The Secretary of State shall not make an order under subsection (2) until acts of completion have occurred.

(4) In subsection (3), "acts of completion" means—

(a) that the decommissioning of firearms, ammunition and explosives held by one of the organisations specified under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 has occurred and has been verified under section 3 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 by the Commission;

(b) there has been a statement from that organisation ordering the termination of acts of paramilitary violence by that organisation, including—

(i) shootings;

(ii) beatings;

(iii) threats;

(iv) intimidations; and

(c) there has been a statement from that organisation removing any threats to those who left their homes due to intimidation by that organisation.

(5) The Secretary of State may by order add further acts to those listed in subsection (4) above."

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 14C as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 14.

Noble Lords may indeed express some surprise that I am moving this amendment today. As noble Lords will be aware, it was printed yesterday along with other amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. I hasten to add that this is not a tabling error. I, too, was surprised to note that the amendment had been withdrawn. However, I would suggest that, until two days' ago, it would not only have received the support of the Ulster Unionist Party but perhaps even the support of the whole House.

The very notion of convicted criminals sitting on DPPs is a hard pill to swallow for the majority of the people in Northern Ireland. Further, these provisions fly directly in the face of the Patten report. Although the Government have hitherto justified this Bill as if it were implementing Patten in full, this disqualification provision could not be further from Patten. As my colleague, the right honourable David Trimble said in another place last week, according to Patten independent members should,

"reinforce the credentials and credibility of the DPP as a whole".

Moreover, according to Patten, they should be selected to,

"represent business and trade union interests and to provide expertise in matters pertaining to community safety".

It is difficult to see where Patten's vision of DPPs involved convicted criminals.

Surely this is purely a move on the Government's part to encourage republicans to join the Policing Board and the DPPs. However good-intentioned that premise may be, it is entirely premature. Clearly, too much trust has been placed on the republican movement to deliver when recent events, which I shall not repeat today, have proved its members incapable of leaving terror and violence behind. We have witnessed no progress on decommissioning. There have been no acts of completion.

That is why it is entirely reasonable and prudent to include in the Bill a firm assurance that these provisions will not be introduced prior to, or, as Jane Kennedy suggested in another place "in the context of", acts of completion. These provisions should be introduced only after we have seen not only positive signs from the republican movement—and, of course, the loyalist paramilitaries—that they are moving away from violence, but also action.

As the amendment outlines, paramilitary violence extends beyond the traditional definition of gun and bomb attacks. Acts of completion must also include an end to beatings, threats and intimidation. Those exiled through intimidation must be allowed to return. Is it not sensible to assume that those who wish to join the DPPs should be able to refrain from criminal activity, and encourage others in their community to do likewise?

The Government have talked long and hard about "acts of completion", but we have yet to see a tangible definition. The people of Northern Ireland remain in the dark as to what acts of completion will involve—how they will be implemented and monitored. It is therefore entirely sensible to tie acts of completion to provisions under Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and Section 3 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997. I beg to move.

Moved, That Amendment No. 14C, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 14, be agreed to.—(Lord Rogan.)

Photo of Lord Fitt Lord Fitt Other

My Lords, I fail to see how anyone could have any objections to the amendment just moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. I believe that all Members of this House have been demanding—indeed, if not, they should be—exactly what this amendment demands. The noble Lord made particular reference to the return of exiles who have been exiled by the IRA and who are not allowed to return to their homeland where they were born and reared. At a meeting only last week chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, this subject caused great concern. I see no indication from the IRA, or by way of the demands that have been made, that they will allow such exiles to return.

When discussing the previous amendments, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, said that you could discuss the whole Northern Ireland Bill with this set of amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, made reference to the appointment of independent members to the DPPs. I meant to speak to the previous group of amendments, but I believe that it will be quite in order to mention here the appointment of independent members.

Everyone knows what "independent" means in Northern Ireland. Whatever people over here may regard as independent, people in Northern Ireland will know the identification of that so-called "independent" member, with his former colleagues, given their experience of having lived for over 30 years with paramilitary activities. The Lord Privy Seal gave an undertaking that before someone is appointed as an independent member he must sign a declaration to the effect that he is opposed to all forms of paramilitarism. That is a very reasonable request. However, a thought crossed my mind as I listened to the noble and learned Lord. We know from Weston Park that we are now to have sitting as independent members, or local authority members, people who have had a very dangerous past as regards their activities with paramilitary groups.

I read in a recent report from Northern Ireland that there are at present somewhere in the region of 2,000 unsolved murders in the Province. The vast majority of those murders have been carried out by paramilitaries of one side or the other—either the so-called "loyalists", or the IRA. What position would the board be in when making an appointment of a so-called "independent" member when it is found that perhaps 10, 20, or 25 years ago he was guilty of a paramilitary offence right up to and including the most dangerous one; namely, the crime of murder? What happens if he is appointed to a DPP as an independent member? Are the police still carrying out inquiries into those murders? If it is then found that a person sitting as an independent member on a DPP was involved in a paramilitary crime of 10, 20, or 25 years ago, will the police pursue that conviction? Alternatively, will that person be put into the category of the OTRs who, under other legislation, will be given something approaching an amnesty?

Can the Lord Privy Seal give me and the people of Northern Ireland an assurance as regards those appointed as independent members, who have perhaps no overt connection with former paramilitarism? If it is subsequently found that such people have been involved in paramilitary activities, will they be disqualified from the DPPs? They may have given an indication that they are perhaps not involved in paramilitarism at present. However, although they have not been convicted, they may have been so involved. Would the latter affect their membership of the DPP?

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, while welcoming the valuable formula of Amendment No. 48A, I was glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, agreed with this amendment, which I also support. It is right and necessary that what constitutes acts of completion should be clearly defined on the face of the Bill since the texts for consideration are already implicit in it. It is difficult to see how the Government could object. Once these texts are in the Bill, implicitly they will be regarded as a commitment, just as the Weston Park agreement has been regarded as a commitment by Sinn Fein/IRA.

As things stand, the Government are, not for the first time, allowing Sinn Fein/IRA to set their own agenda, without a shadow of commitment on their part, a bare four days after the interview with Martin McGuinness reported in The Times, in which he,

"refused to offer firm commitments about the fate of more than a thousand people, most from nationalist communities, who were sent into exile during the Troubles"

—let alone the thousand sent since the Belfast agreement. Mr McGuinness added that,

"he would be concerned about the prospect of people coming back into communities and there being a community reaction".

What arrogance!

How can the Government contemplate putting virtually all the texts for consideration into the legislation, even though it is suspended, after that? This is supposed to be a Bill to enable the police to function effectively, a Bill about restoring law and order. Unamended, it will be a charter for Sinn Fein/IRA to continue to behave as if they were the only arbiters of the lives of innocent people who have been unfortunate enough to cross the paramilitaries.

It will be a mockery of justice if we do not spell out what Sinn Fein/IRA must do first if they are even to return into government. The only acts that have taken place have been a long series of acts of terrorism. Would Mr McGuinness be predicting, as he has, that,

"policing and justice powers could be devolved in a very short period, since there appears to be a consensus"?

And would Gerry Adams be cheerfully contemplating Sinn Fein/IRA,

"joining the Policing Board and participating fully in the policing arrangements on a democratic basis", if they did not know that commitments have been made—commitments to yield yet more dangerous powers to men whose aim is to destroy the police, men who have been caught red-handed in the last weeks with arms ready primed and clearly intended for use on the streets, not quietly reposing down a hole and put beyond use?

I commend the amendment to the House. It clearly sets out what must be done unconditionally by SinnFein/IRA, and what indeed I thought was expected of them by the Prime Minister and, I hope, the Taoiseach when the Belfast agreement was signed. It is utterly unacceptable that, five years on, the people are still helpless victims of the paramilitaries and that the police and the courts are virtually powerless to help.

I do not understand why we cannot wait to make these commitments until we have seen results and then debate them.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative

My Lords, in my book the amendment that was withdrawn was the best of the amendments, although I must accept the advice of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, that it was not very well drafted and might not have been manageable. I do not have his legal expertise. To me as a lay person the amendment seemed excellent. I am sorry that it came from the Liberal Democrats and that then they withdrew it. I am complimenting them in one way, while regretting that they did not stay with it. However, we all understand each other. I should have liked to see that amendment, of all the amendments, passed.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords 1:15 pm, 3rd April 2003

If I may say so without appearing to be patronising, the Liberal Democrat motion primarily in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, had the desired effect because it obliged us to concentrate on an important issue to see whether we could accommodate all views and achieve the most appropriate outcome.

With the best will in the world, Amendment No. 14C cannot be made to work. It says:

"The Secretary of State shall not make an order . . . until acts of completion have occurred.

". . . 'acts of completion' means-

". . . the decommissioning of firearms, ammunition and explosives held by one of the organisations specified under Schedule 2".

Simply one of them? Why only one? Does,

"the decommissioning of firearms, ammunition and explosives" mean that the retention of a single cartridge for a shotgun by a member of a paramilitary organisation is sufficient to disqualify the Secretary of State from making the order? As soon as one probes the factual consequences of the amendment, one realises that it is not workable.

In any event, I return to my earlier theme. Acts of completion are not limited to mechanical delivery of weapons. After all, if one wanted to be deeply cynical—I am sure that none of your Lordships would wish me to fall into that category of sin—one could say that decommissioning itself is not the answer. It is part of the answer, but it is not the total answer. As your Lordships have pointed out to me on many occasions, decommissioning of itself means handing over existing weapons; it does not prevent the further acquisition of weapons.

Therefore, I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. What we are looking to is a process that will involve individual acts, but that process and all those processes must be seen as steps to a situation that we are lucky enough to have in England and Wales, namely, democratic politics as the only acceptable form of political or quasi-political activity. Although I sympathise with the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Rogan, this is not the way to achieve the desired outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, asked a number of detailed questions. The removal of members from office is dealt with in paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 to the 2000 Act. An independent who does not "make the necessary disclosure" can be removed. If,

"he has been convicted of a criminal offence in Northern Ireland or elsewhere committed after the date of his appointment", he can be removed. That does not deal with the noble Lord's point, because he was asking about a murder that might have been committed 20 years ago. I take his point on that matter. The comfort I can offer the noble Lord is that if the person concerned is otherwise unable or unfit to discharge his functions as a member of the DPP the board or the council can remove him.

One does not want to use a noble name in vain or inappropriately, but, after all, the first president of the free South Africa had served 27 years in prison for criminal activity. The question is: are we to insist for ever that redemption is not possible? If, five years after discharge—it may be from a very long prison sentence—someone is to be wholly disqualified from the political process in this context, that is an encouragement to people not to seek to remedy their behaviour; it is in fact an encouragement to them to carry on with unlawful activities.

I repeat what I said earlier: We are only at the preliminary stage. We are not even at the stage of empowering the Secretary of State to make the order. What we are saying is that in due time he may, on affirmative procedure, issue the commencement order. He still has to come to his political fine-tune judgment.

I recognise the sincerity of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, but I do not recommend to your Lordships that we adopt his proposed course of action.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP

My Lords, I have listened to the remarks of the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal. Nevertheless, I wish to test the will of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 14C) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 139.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — AMENDMENT TO COMMONS AMENDMENT No.14

Aye: 89 Members of the House of Lords

No: 137 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Amendment No. 14 agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 1:27 pm, 3rd April 2003

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration of Commons amendments be adjourned until later this afternoon.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 1.28 to 2 p.m. for Judicial Business and to 3 p.m. for Public Business.]