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.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)
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,
"monitoring activity by paramilitary groups".
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 them—the 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 tenuous—or perhaps not so tenuous—links 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 be—and in some ways is—different 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:
"monitoring activity including human rights abuses by paramilitary groups".
I beg to move.
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 advance democracy in Northern Ireland. But at the same time, we should try to fill every potential gap and place every emphasis in a Bill such as this to ensure that there are no loopholes through which commissions can slip or decisions be avoided.
So for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, explained clearly, the activities that I have cited—in particular extortion and intimidation—should definitely be considered as abuses of human rights.
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.
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.
Article 4(a) directs the commission to,
"monitor any continuing activity by paramilitary including"—
I stress that word; the provision is not exclusive. To respond to some of the issues with which the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, have been concerned, I remind the Committee that the evils of which the noble Baroness spoke are specifically already mentioned. The article refers to monitoring,
"any continuing activity including . . .
iii. punishment beatings and attacks and exiling".
It is all there. So if the amendment were carried it would have no legal effect. Fundamentally, in principle, it is not a good idea to have simply cosmetic amendments that have no legal effect.
I am grateful to the President of the Council for his explanation. Sometimes I feel that it is a heartbreaking task to try to bring about legislation in terms that ordinary members of society in Northern Ireland understand. Unlike the President of the Council and many other learned Members of this House, most of us are not familiar with the legal niceties of legislation piled upon legislation.
Although I accept the noble and learned Lord's explanation, I should have liked a little more latitude in what we are trying to achieve. I shall have an opportunity perhaps to deal with some of the apparent contradictions in the Bill, and to ask again why the ordinary, law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, like myself, seem to have to strive for every little bit of comfort while those who have brought so much discomfort over 30 years appear to be spoon-fed and do not have to come to this House, or any other place, to be given the reassurances that they demand.
I do not wish to labour the point, so I shall conclude. As we go through the Bill, I hope that Members of the Committee will join me in trying to understand that the aim of every bit of legislation and every step taken should be to try to reassure ordinary members of society, who have battled against paramilitarism and gangsterism for the past 30 years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
This group of amendments is large, but, as every Member of the Committee will appreciate, it is the nub of today's debate in Committee. I shall speak to Amendment No. 2, and the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, shall speak to Amendment No. 3. Many of the other amendments are consequential to either Amendment No. 2 or Amendment No. 3. A possible exception is Amendment No. 16, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 16 are all variations on a theme.
Although Members on this side of the Committee do not oppose the Bill, we do not agree with the serious curtailment of the Secretary of State's powers to exclude political parties or Ministers who are in breach of the Good Friday agreement or any other international agreement relating to the operation of democracy in the Province.
We do not oppose the setting up of a commission in an advisory role; in fact, we support it. However, the commissioners are not answerable to any sovereign parliament. We made the point, as did the Minister from the Government's side, that strand one of the Good Friday agreement should not be interfered with by way of recommendations, or have anything done to it by anyone other than the two members of the commission appointed by the British Government. We support that; it is what the debate is about. A direct input, not advice, into the workings of a British Parliament is no business for those who are non-British.
We need to think very carefully about several areas. Politics in Northern Ireland have no boundaries. It is a unique sort of place, certainly within Europe. The Secretary of State and his team never know what sort of problem will land on their desks at any time throughout the 24-hour day—I see the noble and learned Lord smiling. Everybody who has been involved in politics in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years is only too well aware of that. In my opinion, security is always at the heart of it all.
The commission is about monitoring the activities of Ministers and political parties in relation to the Good Friday agreement. But that is not really what it is about; it is about monitoring the activities of paramilitaries and terrorists and their relationships with political parties and Ministers. That is why it is very important that the sovereignty issue, and who has freedom of action to move and to make decisions, is kept very clear.
On the same relationship, I am concerned that, when asked at Second Reading about certain security matters, the noble and learned Lord said very clearly—it is recorded in Hansard—that the chief constable would remain responsible as the number one premier adviser on security matters to the Secretary of State. In the light of that, the Secretary of State must be free to take what actions he considers right in relation to the advice given to him by the chief constable, the general commanding at the time, or others. If those reported happenings that he needs to deal with relate directly to the political parties or a particular Minister, it seems unsatisfactory to have a situation where the Secretary of State can do nothing until he has sought the advice of the monitoring commission. That is to be avoided.
I am well aware that the amendment that we have tabled to try to correct the matter is tough, straightforward and will do just that. The minor amendments are consequential to it. I believe firmly that, on these issues, the Government have no right—they have the power but no moral right—to delegate this sort of decision-making process to an appointed quango.
I made that comment in a rather derogatory way, but I do not wish in any way to demean the stature of the people whom we are very fortunate to have on the commission. All four are well known in their own fields, and I am sure that they are of the highest integrity. But perhaps that is why they will find it extremely difficult, on occasion, to reach a joint conclusion. They come from four very different fields of operation and from three different nations—I could say three-and-a-half—and they are strong, capable, competent and intelligent people who will make up their own minds. I fear that it is possible, even likely, that there will be times when they cannot provide unanimity of advice. The Secretary of State still holds responsibility and must hold responsibility for making the necessary decisions.
I think that I have gone on long enough at this stage. The argument is quite clear: is it right for the Government to delegate their responsibility for operations, actions and advice and remove certain powers from the Secretary State in the Bill? I beg to move.
In rising to support the tenor of what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, I want to address Clause 3 specifically and the consequential Clauses 18 and 25 in particular. My purpose is exactly the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran—to prevent a certain situation arising. I do not question the honour of any one of the four members of the monitoring commission—I know three of them, but I do not know the American. They are people of considerable ability, who have an opportunity to monitor and advise the Secretary of State. However, government should be governed and executive authority should not be vested in a quango in situations such as this one. That is a reality, and it disappoints me that, again and again, when it comes to Northern Ireland issues, there appears to be a let-out for the Government if we jump this way and another one if we jump in the opposite direction.
If I read this Bill correctly, the Secretary of State does not have the power to make a decision at variance with that of the monitoring commission. None the less, page 4, line 17 of the Bill states that, if the commission finds that action should be taken, there is no obligation on the Secretary of State to accept that advice. It states that,
"the Secretary of State may by direction", not "shall". However, if I remember correctly, the whole debate in Hillsborough leading up to the joint declaration was delayed considerably on that issue; that is, whether the Secretary of State would act on any positive direction coming from the monitoring commission in respect of ministers or junior ministers—or parties—who were,
"not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; or . . . [have] failed to observe any other terms of the pledge of office".
I believe that, when the joint declaration was made, there was an obligation once again on the Secretary of State to act according to any positive direction given by the monitoring commission. However, in the Bill brought before this House there is only an option.
Can it be that, on one hand, there is no freedom for the Secretary of State to work positively ahead of the commission if he feels that some elements within the Assembly are not committed to non-violence and so forth, and, on the other, that there is no obligation if the commission feels—and finds and rules—that that is the situation? I hope that I have put that clearly and that the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council follows my argument. I hope that he will specifically address how we can have an option at each end of the question that militates against ordinary law-abiding people.
Neither the Ulster Unionists, the DUP nor the SDLP caused the working of the Assembly to fail. That is generally accepted. I have my own difficulty with the attitude of the Democratic Unionist Party, which was very keen to see the Assembly brought down and to move in that direction, but now appears not to be able to get back quickly enough. There is a selfish, party-political interest, but that is not what I am talking about. Irrespective of whether we have an election tomorrow, in a month, or in six months' time, I am talking about safeguarding the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland in general within the Assembly process.
Unless we get some change in this clause in terms of the Secretary of State's executive responsibilities, there will be no purpose in this Bill, because we will drift as we have before to the point at which the democratic process can be pulled down, worn away and undermined. I would like to believe that that is not the intention of the Government—of either your Lordships' House or what will ensue in another place. However, it is puzzling and disheartening for me that specific commitments given to those who are law abiding—I hope that your Lordships will notice that I do not talk about Unionists or nationalists but those who are law abiding—are eroded before they can even be implemented, whereas those who want to work outside the law appear to have no difficulty in bending ears and getting decisions made that do not even have to be brought before this House or another place for consideration. That will be the harsh reality, unless something can be done to remedy the flaw.
On Friday, the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council congratulated me on being statesmanlike. That was unusual: I have been congratulated on many things but I am not particularly noted for diplomacy. I would like to proceed along the path that the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council has mapped out for me, but I must say, in all seriousness, that that will be impossible if we do not move in a direction that facilitates the vulnerable and the law-abiding people who are able and determined to make Northern Ireland work.
I noted that, in speaking to the amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to what he called the uniqueness of Northern Ireland and said that the issues that came before the Secretary of State were not to be found elsewhere. I was slightly surprised at that. When he is not here, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spends most of his time in Spain, and I would have thought that the Minister of the Interior in Spain would, from time to time, have the same sort of issues on his desk. However, I stand to be corrected.
Northern Ireland is unique, in the sense that it needs an international dimension to its conflict management. Hence the need for the commission, which we support. We do not want the commission to be in any way reduced in its proposed role or functions. As I said at Second Reading, we would not support the sort of broad amendments proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Maginnis of Drumglass. We think that they, as it were, over-enhance the role of the Secretary of State and diminish the contribution that the commission could make, if, in some unfortunate circumstance, it has to.
I have therefore proposed a compromise amendment. It is Amendment No. 16, and I propose to divide the House on it, if necessary. Our amendment would allow the Secretary of State to act in very unusual—almost extreme—circumstances. We accept that there is a gap in the Bill and that one could just conceivably think of a crisis situation that required immediate action and in which neither the Assembly nor the commission could meet in time to deal with the matter. That is the rationale behind my amendment, and I will put it to a Division.
I always have some concern when powers granted to Ministers are put into commission in any way that makes them subject to authorities outside the House. I am not making a European point—we know all about that—but speak in this narrower context. To help me decide on my attitude towards the amendments, will the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, tell me whether there are any powers that the Secretary of State may today use unilaterally—in any circumstances—which he might be restrained from using under the Bill? Are there any powers that the Secretary of State would be granted by the Bill which he could, similarly, be restrained from using because of the activity or non-activity of the commission?
I shall try to set an example in brevity. I cannot help feeling—and regretting—that Her Majesty's Government have strayed such a long way from the view of a distinguished Labour Prime Minister, the late Harold Wilson, who declared that the governance of Northern Ireland was a matter for the Parliament of the United Kingdom alone.
I said at Second Reading that I had reservations about denuding the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of his powers. I can put pointed questions to the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council. The four main political parties in Northern Ireland were involved in the discussions that led to the introduction of the Bill. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us which of those parties agreed with the legislation and which vehemently opposed it? I was not at the meetings, but I feel certain that the Democratic Unionist Party, the Official Unionist Party and the Alliance Party—if it was there—would have had reservations about the Bill but would have gone some way to support it. Sinn Fein has already indicated that it will not touch the Bill with a bargepole and that it does not want such legislation on the statute book in any shape or form. Why are we writing into the Bill all sorts of safeguards to enable Sinn Fein to disregard the Bill as a whole? That is exactly what we are doing. I have great reservations about that.
I was in the Northern Ireland Parliament for many years. Sinn Fein will laugh at the idea that someone might be suspended for two weeks, a month or six weeks. It is not like what happens at the other end of this building when Mr Speaker suspends a Member for a day or two days—a week, maybe—for being unruly. In Northern Ireland, it is more serious. First, on what ground could a Member of the Assembly be suspended? Will it be that he is not fully in support of the campaign to end violence? Will words be part of the infringement of the regulations? In Northern Ireland, words can be lethal and have been lethal over the past 30 years. It is not only the gunman who pulls the trigger or the person who lays the bomb who are guilty of violence: it is the people who point the gun in a particular direction and influence the mentality of the young men who join paramilitary organisations. Words can be lethal.
Let me put that into words. What will happen if a member of Sinn Fein, the republican party, who is also a member of the Executive in Northern Ireland, makes a highly inflammatory speech at a republican commemoration, of which they have many during the 365 days of the year? Such a person might make a highly inflammatory speech at, say, a Wolfe Tone commemoration—the main one at which such speeches are made—that could push another young fellow from the back streets of Belfast into taking up the gun or the bomb and supporting his cause by violence. What will happen to the person who made that speech? Will the monitoring commission say, "We regard that speech as incitement to hatred and an incitement to violence? How long should we suspend the speaker for? A fortnight? Three weeks? A year?". Sinn Fein will not take that seriously and will make the same sort of incitement speeches at every IRA commemoration during the year. I find that difficult to accept.
I wish that I could say that I was 101 per cent behind the Bill and would go through the Lobby in support of it—but I have deep reservations about it. The situation would not be any better than it was before the suspension of the Assembly. It was obvious that no political party in the Assembly was going to vote for the suspension of another, given the existence of the two tribes. The SDLP were not going to vote for the exclusion of Sinn Fein. The official Unionist Party would not vote for the exclusion of the DUP, and so on.
We are no further forward than before we were faced with this legislation, which I would not like to see go through and for people to laugh at it. I said recently that it is like a sticking plaster covering a sore; I am certainly of that opinion. In the final analysis, it should be as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said, and he was right to quote from Harold Wilson. At a time of much political and violent turbulence in Northern Ireland, Harold Wilson spoke to me in the Tea Room. He said that they can say what they like, but Northern Ireland is governed under Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. There have been many political changes and international treaties, but I believe that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should maintain or allocate to himself the criterion that he will be the one who decides which political party or political personality should be suspended from the Assembly because of their non-support for a non-violent society in Northern Ireland.
I support the proposal. I cannot help feeling that the Government ought not to have any difficulty in accepting it. The noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council referred me to the agreement. I refer him to Article 7 of that agreement, which refers to the commission recommending action. Clearly in other parts of the agreement, it is there to monitor, to observe, to make reports and to recommend.
We are worrying about who has the executive power—an unfettered executive power. That must be the Secretary of State, who, among other things, could balance issues arising from the report on the question of paramilitary activity against the requirement of security normalisation—on which we shall undoubtedly be pressed again and again by Sinn Fein to act. I cannot help feeling that the agreement makes it perfectly plain that the monitoring commission—infinitely valuable though it will be because it is impartial, detached, and not involved—nevertheless is an advisory commission and not an executive one. That is the point we must stick to.
I recognise that these amendments are generally put forward or supported by supporters of the agreement and in the spirit of making it work more effectively. I did not mean to cause lasting damage to the reputation of my noble friend Lord Maginnis by accusing him of being statesmanlike.
I do not think that the contended-for effect would be brought about. The question has been put—not in these words but by necessary implication, certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth—about whether these are ideal solutions. In his brief and telling intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made, I think, essentially the same point. I do not pretend that these are ideal solutions because I do not know of any solutions which are ideal in the context of Northern Ireland. They are the best that we can achieve. That is a very important prize.
The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked: what does the present Bill do? On various occasions, it has been suggested that it constrains the range of powers available to deal with breaches of fundamental agreement commitments, such as a return to paramilitary activity. I think that that was the specific point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. That is not so. The existing powers available in those cases remain intact. The Assembly retains its powers of exclusion under Section 30 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, although it will be given the ability to make those powers more flexible and supplemented by a range of other measures.
Under that section, the Secretary of State can still require the Assembly to consider a resolution to exclude a party or individual, whether or not there is an IMC report. It is true that he must have regard to such a report, if there is one, before he exercises that power. But that is stating the obvious; it would be quite extraordinary if he did not do so. I underline to your Lordships that the Secretary of State's powers are extended. He can cause the Assembly to consider resolutions for reducing pay or allowances or for marking the Assembly's censure.
Your Lordships have referred to a power by which the Secretary of State may bring about exclusion or other consequences, as envisaged in the Hillsborough proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is right. It is a constrained power, but it is a new power. It is a strong power intended to be available as a last resort if other mechanisms fail. I think that I indicated on Friday last—but I repeat—the steps envisaged. If there is an IMC report, there would be a range of discussions which would, in particular, involve the Implementation Group of pro-agreement parties.
It is explicit in the Bill that there must have been an unsuccessful attempt in the Assembly to take steps in the light of that report. Where there is a failure to take steps, it would be for the British Government, in consultation with the Irish Government and the political parties, to resolve the matter in a manner consistent with the report of the IMC. So the reserve power is intended to be just that: a power of last resort.
Where there has been a report of the IMC with recommendations for action, and other avenues have led to no resolution of the issue, it would be our intention that this power would be exercised in a manner consistent with the IMC recommendations. We would seek to give effect to that faithfully, with the approval of this House and another place. But I repeat: we are constraining no existing power. We are providing for a means where there is an independent body of very high quality, repute and expertise, to give conclusions which it offers to the Assembly. If the Assembly fails, the Secretary of State has that reserve power.
If we get to that situation, we shall be in a very serious position indeed. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has correctly said on many occasions that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to seek to control their own affairs. We ought to trust them to do the best they can, of their own accord, to resolve these matters. Quite often the complaint that I hear in Northern Ireland, which may have more than a grain of truth in it, is that the British Government constantly interfere too much, despite apparently having given power to Northern Ireland for locally elected representatives to discharge their own functions. The Minister should not be the first resort. If we are going to entrust power to an Assembly, we must trust that Assembly.
In principle, I do not think that the argument of sovereignty bites. Quite often, in giving powers to Ministers, Parliament imposes conditions—very often strict conditions—on their exercise. These amendments go too far. If we take this route, there is a serious danger of undermining the worth, the virtue and the perceived value of the commission. I invite your Lordships not to do so.
If an unconstrained power of exclusion was given to the Secretary of State, that would be a substantial departure from the 1998 agreement in one of its most sensitive areas. I am not using this in a pejorative sense, but I sympathise with the compromise sought by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who spoke of constraints of time. I find it difficult to imagine circumstances in which it would be possible for the Secretary of State to find himself in a position to conclude that that was a correct way forward.
I know that noble Lords are doubtful about this approach. All I would say is that on the many occasions we have very fully debated the affairs of Northern Ireland, what I regard as the overwhelming majority of your Lordships have constantly made the point that you cannot seek to be a functioning member of the Assembly or the Executive in Northern Ireland while at the same time holding on to paramilitary activity. Time and time again noble Lords have said that there are many good and decent people in Northern Ireland who are concerned about this. The Bill provides a legitimate and proportionate response to those legitimate questions.
No one would suggest that those on the international monitoring commission are anything other than first rate. We know their names, their backgrounds and their CVs. The commission is a very useful addition to the armoury required in Northern Ireland eventually to bring about what we all wish for; namely, a decent, democratic, orderly and stable society. I should have thought that your Lordships would welcome this response from the Government because it chimes entirely with the spirit of what has been said in the past.
I am going to suggest to your Lordships that none of these proposals is accepted because they all share the central defect. Certainly I shall advise my colleagues to vote against them. However, finally I turn to the specific questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, about who agreed and disagreed to these proposals. We had hoped and still do hope that the Hillsborough proposals as a whole would command broad support. We did not take specific votes either generally or on individual elements of the package. Sinn Fein will not be able to ignore the IMC. Potentially its reports may lead to the severest sanctions.
The noble Lord also asked about incendiary speeches. It seems to me that, within the discretion and judgment of the IMC, the kind of activity referred to by the noble Lord is certainly activity that would be relevant and within the commission's remit. It would have to come to a conclusion on whether the sanctions under Article 4 should bite.
I have taken a little time to respond because of the seriousness of these matters. This is a large grouping of amendments and noble Lords have put different degrees of emphasis on different aspects. However, my position is that I am not able to accept any of the amendments. Should noble Lords require or be willing to receive any advice, then my advice is to vote against them.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for his customary brilliant summing-up of our debate. We learn to expect that of someone in his profession, but in particular from himself.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I have tabled two further amendments that seek to achieve similar aims to that of Amendment No. 2. I should like to quote a remark made to me not long ago in private by a very learned Member of this House during a discussion concerning other matters: commissions make politically correct decisions and end up doing the wrong thing. All noble Lords should remember that and bear the comment in mind.
I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, but at this point I shall withdraw my Amendment No. 2.
moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 4, line 4, leave out from beginning to end of page 5, line 5, and insert—
"(1) The Secretary of State may, having regard to any report of the Monitoring Commission, any relevant proceedings in the Assembly and any other relevant matter, if he is satisfied that a Minister or a junior Minister is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; or has failed to observe any other terms of the pledge of office, by direction, exclude the Minister or junior Minister from holding office as a Minister or junior Minister for such period of not less than three months and not more than twelve months beginning with the date of the direction, or as the direction may provide.
(2) The Secretary of State may, having regard to any report of the Monitoring Commission, any relevant proceedings in the Assembly and any other relevant matter, if he is satisfied that a political party is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; or is not committed to such of its members as are or might become Ministers or junior Ministers observing the other terms of the pledge of office, by direction exclude members of the political party concerned from holding office as a Minister or junior Minister for such period of not less than six months and not more than twelve months beginning with the date of the direction, or any as the direction may provide.
(3) The Secretary of State may, having regard to any relevant proceedings in the Assembly, before any period of exclusion comes to an end extend it for a further period, in the case of an exclusion under section 30(1) or subsection (1) of this section of not less than three months and not more than twelve months, or in the case of an exclusion under section 30(2) or subsection (2) of this section for a further period of not less than six months and not more than twelve months, if he is satisfied that the Minister, junior Minister, or political party as the case may be, is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; or is not committed to observance of the terms of the pledge of office."
I should very much like to see this Bill move quickly through the House so that it can achieve what has been suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams. I note that he picked up the point I made about the option for the Secretary of State to act or not to act according to the recommendations of the commission. Although I cannot remember his exact words, I believe the noble and learned Lord said that he would find it difficult to envisage an occasion when the Secretary of State would react differently from any recommendation made by the commission. If that is exactly what the noble and learned Lord means then he will give me an unequivocal assurance that the Secretary of State shall so act, rather than may so act, within that particular aspect of the Bill. If the noble and learned Lord is unable to give the assurance, then I have to look at past experience.
I know that the disarmament commission was a different type of body dealing with a technical issue but, sadly, over a number of years, it has not brought about any significant impact for ordinary people. Nor has there been any reassurance. Again, everything done by the Government and the ordinary, law-abiding people of Northern Ireland is covered by legislation, whereas everything done by the Government to remove our defences against terrorism is done through a nod and a wink. In fairness to the people of Northern Ireland, I cannot give up my endeavour and the endeavours of my party to try to ensure more watertight legislation. Hence it is with some regret, but of necessity, that I want to seek the opinion of the House on Amendment No. 3.
moved Amendment No. 16:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—
"After section 30A of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) there is inserted—
"30B SECRETARY OF STATE'S POWERS IN EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES
(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 30A, under exceptional circumstances the Secretary of State may by direction temporarily exclude a Minister or junior Minister.
(2) An exclusion under subsection (1) shall only remain in effect until either—
(a) a report from the Commission has been made; or
(b) the Assembly has considered a resolution under 30(1) or (2); or
(c) a period of two weeks has elapsed.
(3) In subsection (1) "exceptional circumstances" include where—
(a) there is insufficient time for the Commission to make a report; and
(b) there is insufficient time for the Assembly to consider a resolution under section 30(1) or (2).
(4) A direction made under this section shall be in writing and shall be laid before Parliament after the direction is given.""
For the reasons I have given at Second Reading and earlier today in this debate, I intend to press the amendment to a Division. As I see it, the Bill is, very appropriately, a 50:50 Bill that gives comfort to the Unionist community and the nationalist community. We on these Benches believe that there is a lacuna in the sense that there could be exceptional circumstances that call upon the Secretary of State to act; hence my amendment to that effect. I beg to move.
Of course this is unexpected and has brought tears to everyone's eyes. If I may—if it is convenient to noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran—I shall take a view on this and be in a position to express an opinion on Report, which is not very long away. So if the noble Lord will not press it on this occasion, I undertake to give it consideration within the next hour or so.
moved, as a manuscript amendment, Amendment No. 29A:
After Clause 9, insert the following new clause—
"Secretary of State's duty to prepare reports
(1) The Secretary of State shall report on the operation of—
(a) the agreement mentioned in section 1(1), and
(b) so much of this Act as amends the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47).
(2) The first report under this section shall be in respect of the period of twelve months beginning with the passing of this Act.
(3) Subsequent reports under this section shall be in respect of the period of twelve months beginning with the end of the previous reporting period.
(4) Each report under this section shall be prepared as soon as practicable after the end of the period to which it relates.
(5) A report under this section shall include any additional information which the Secretary of State thinks it appropriate for the report to include.
(6) The Secretary of State shall—
(a) lay a copy of each report under this section before each House of Parliament, and
(b) publish each such report in such manner as he thinks fit."
I hope that it has been convenient to the Committee for me to deal with this in this way. I am speaking, if I may, to Amendments Nos. 29A and 31, which derive originally from what was originally numbered Amendment No. 30 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Glentoran. To summarise very briefly but I think fairly, they wished to have a biannual report—which caused some difficulty; some noble Lords thought that that was once every two years while some of us thought that it was once every six months. However, as they say, I have always been in the position of wanting to accommodate reasonable requests.
What we agreed, if this is to the Committee's satisfaction, is as follows. There were drafting deficiencies in the original amendment. Accordingly, having discussed it with the two noble Lords this morning, I undertook to have a perfected amendment, Amendment No. 29A, which deals with the Secretary of State's duty to prepare reports. The first report,
"shall be in respect of the period of twelve months beginning with the passing of this Act . . . Subsequent reports . . . shall be in respect of the period of twelve months beginning with the end of the previous reporting period".
There is a duty in subsection (4) to prepare each report,
"as soon as practicable after the end of the period", and the Secretary of State is obliged to,
"lay a copy of each report under this section before each House of Parliament", and to,
"publish . . . in such manner as he thinks fit".
Amendment No. 31 would essentially ensure that the reporting arrangements would cease, of course, with any order to cease the effect of the Secretary of State's new powers in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. So in respect of Amendment No. 29A, I beg to move.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for his and the Government's co-operation in producing Amendment No. 29A, which we felt was very necessary. I was anxious throughout to try to tie in the international agreement—to which reference has been made, but which is not yet ratified—as much as possible to the Bill so that the Bill neatly reflected it.
The Committee will have noticed that in the Bill there is not much demand on the Government, from wherever it may be coming, to report to this Parliament on the happenings, results and workings of the Bill. I feel that at least once a year is a reasonable time. Although—unlike the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who I am sure spent a lot of time in Yorkshire—I was the one who totally misread it, getting my Spanish mixed up with my English, I assure the Committee that I spent most of August in the Province. I still live there although I sometimes wonder with the amount of time that I spend here, among your Lordships in your Lordships' House. Having said all that—and I hope that my noble friend Lady Anelay is ready to pursue this afternoon's proceedings—I again thank the noble and learned Lord.
In speaking to these amendments I declare my interest as the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000. Indeed, I take advantage of that role to speak publicly on an aspect that has caused some concern and which I believe is resolved by these amendments.
As the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act, I prepare a separate report annually on the operation of Part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000. Part VII contains the provisions which apply to Northern Ireland alone and are renewable on an annual basis. I have received some concerns from outside about the possibility of the independent monitoring commission being yet another reviewer of what is happening in Northern Ireland politically and in relation to terrorism. Alternatively, I have received the concern that the arrival of the independent monitoring commission will make redundant some reviews which some people regard as valuable in relation to the affairs of Northern Ireland. Some academic commentators have expressed concern about the overlapping activities of the various reviewers, reporters and commentators, no one more eloquently than Professor Clive Walker of Leeds University, a very eminent author on the Terrorism Act 2000.
It may be as well, in a moment or two, to remind your Lordships that there are people or bodies who monitor complaints against the military. There is an excellent reviewer of the holding centre in relation to those arrested on suspicion of terrorism. There is an independent Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland who carries out reviews of police activity. There is the statutory Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. There is myself as the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act, and there are many other non-statutory reviews, including the valuable work of many academic and, indeed, some very good journalistic commentators, too. So there is no shortage of people monitoring and reviewing what is going on in Northern Ireland in relation to decommissioning, anti-terrorism law, the fairness of the political process and human rights, among other matters.
The independent monitoring commission is yet another body that will review important aspects of life in Northern Ireland. I and, I believe, many other reviewers or monitors involved in the affairs of Northern Ireland, recognise that it could become all embracing if it is able in due course to carry out the full remit of its responsibilities under the 2003 Hillsborough agreement. I and, I suspect, other reviewers, hope that it will eventually become all embracing. We look forward to being declared redundant in the name of normalisation, for that is the name of the game which underpins the Hillsborough agreement.
If Northern Ireland is ever to receive the blessing of normality, we shall depart with thanks for having enjoyed part of bringing that normality about. The blessing of normality in my judgment would be that state of public order liberated from the extraordinary presence of political terrorism which is our good fortune day to day in the rest of the United Kingdom but which is not the good fortune of Northern Ireland day to day as yet.
The independent monitoring commission, unlike all we other reviewers, has a strong imprimatur from the international community. It has the advantage of external membership and the great advantage of being created by international treaty obligation. Those are all advantages over any role I perform and they are advantages over the roles performed by the other monitors and reviewers to whom I referred.
Normalisation would rid Northern Ireland watchers of the burden of having to read a multiplicity of reports. That would be a good thing but, above all, our departure would signify that normalisation to which I referred. I want to take this opportunity to allay in public the concerns of all those who contacted me and suggested that there would be an inconvenient multiplicity of reviewers and monitors which would work against the public interest. In my view the plurality of the reviewing mechanisms and the number of them is a guarantee of rigour in reviewing the process towards normalisation. In any event the future work of the independent monitoring commission, at least in its first two years, is bound to be focused upon decommissioning. It will not have either the time or the resources to impinge upon the work that others do.
I therefore wish to reassure those from outside and inside this building who expressed misgivings about the addition of the independent monitoring commission that I certainly see no difficulty in that regard. I look forward to working with it. Others who are involved in this matter who have spoken to me also look forward to working with it and see no difficulty whatever arising in that regard.
The proposals in Amendments Nos. 29A and 31 are much tidier than the original amendments that were drafted. It seems to me that the reporting system will also have the advantage of providing a thermometer of how normalisation is working in Northern Ireland. I and the other reviewers and monitors will read that thermometer in the hope of viewing our own early demise.
The Minister indicated the conciliatory purpose of the proposed new clause but he is almost certainly unconscious of another respect in which he has been conciliatory. On the Licensing Bill the Government put down very definitive and abrupt deadlines for certain actions which had to be taken by those affected by the Bill. When I on a number of occasions moved amendments to add the words "as soon as practicable", those amendments were rejected by the Government. Subsection (4) of the proposed new clause in Amendment No. 29A includes the words "as soon as practicable". I am not so immodest as to imagine that there is any connection between my proposed amendments to a previous Bill and the Government's Amendment No. 29A, but I am delighted that in future I shall have a precedent which I shall be able to quote back to the Government, not least because the contents of the report which is envisaged are sufficiently predictable that a more precisely calibrated deadline could have appeared appropriate.
We do things better in Northern Ireland, I think. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for his generous and, indeed, magisterial review of this area to which he has contributed so greatly. I cannot improve on what he said.