New clause 6 - Membership of district policing partnerships

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 11th March 2003.

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'.—In paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) (Political members) after subparagraph (1) insert—

''(1A) Notwithstanding subparagraph (1) above no person may be appointed as a political member who has not renounced violence and ended all links with any organisation that has not yet disposed of all its weapons and explosives.''.'.—[Mr. Wilshire.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 7—Disqualification from membership of district policing partnerships—

'.—In paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) (Political members) after subparagraph (5)(c) insert—

''(d) he is convicted of a terrorist related offence;

(e) he is found to have links to a terrorist organisation.''.'.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The new clauses relate to schedule 3 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and district policing partnerships—DPPs, in the jargon that the Government like to use—which we have not yet had the opportunity to get our heads around. In a DPP, a local council is required to set up what everyone, including me, would probably want to call a committee, although calling it something else seems to suit Northern Ireland. That committee would consist of 15, 17 or 19 members,

''as the council may determine'',

as it says in paragraph 2(1) of schedule 3 to the 2000 Act. Paragraph 2(3) says how that will be done:

''Where a DPP consists of 15 members, of whom—

(a) 8 shall be appointed by the council from among members of the council in accordance with paragraph 3.''

A minimum of eight people are therefore appointed in accordance with paragraph 2(3). If the numbers increase, the figure could be nine or 10.

Paragraph 3 relates to what the Act calls political members. Paragraph 3(1) states:

''A council shall exercise its power to appoint political members of the DPP so as to ensure that, so far as practicable, the political members reflect the balance of parties prevailing among the members of the council immediately after the last local general election.''

Some councils in the Province have Sinn Fein-IRA members and, so far as I am aware, there are also councils with one or two members who are loyalist paramilitary apologists.

The Act therefore requires the appointment to DPPs of members of a political party that is totally bound to an armed terrorist organisation that has yet to disarm. I wait to see what the Government have managed to achieve by giving them even more concessions so that they might relinquish a few more arms and explosives.

The policing partnerships are required to appoint armed terrorists, or apologists for armed terrorists, who show almost no inclination to cease their terrorism as a means to achieve what they want, irrespective of the wish of the majority. Under the 2000 Act, those people can—indeed, must—be appointed to an oversight role in relation to the PSNI, which is the very body that is required to try to put such people out of business. That is utterly perverse. It is to put the criminal in charge of the organisation that exists to hound the criminal. It is to put the terrorists in charge of people who are trying to eliminate terrorism. I have never believed that that is acceptable. There should be no place for terrorists or apologists for terrorists in any democratic organisation until they have given up terrorism. Even then, I would have my doubts.

Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Conservative, Wycombe 4:00 pm, 11th March 2003

Will my hon. Friend explain whether any political member of Sinn Fein or, say, the Progressive Unionist party, is automatically a political member who has not renounced violence? Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that a member of one of those parties claimed that he or she had renounced violence. What proof would my hon. Friend accept to show that that was so?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Whatever politicians say or do, if they admit to belonging—they do so proudly in most cases—to the political wing of a terrorist organisation, whatever they want to call it, there is no point trying to hide and saying, ''Oh well, we are only the politicians.''

As far as I am concerned, Sinn Fein and the IRA are one and the same, and always have been. Any political party that sells itself as the political wing of a terrorist organisation is, by my definition, bound up in that terrorist organisation. Let us say that that terrorist organisation is still armed, shooting people, setting fire to houses and chasing people out of Northern Ireland. If that is still going on, as it is, it is terrorism, and the people to whom I am referring are part and parcel of that terrorist organisation.

That is how I see the situation, if that helps my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman). Others would draw a distinction, but I tend to say that it is by their deeds that we know people. I have never heard a member of a so-called independent political party that is attached to a terrorist organisation, on whichever side of the fence, denounce unequivocally the atrocities committed by the armed part of that political party. I am therefore clear in my mind, whereas others might not be.

What I have described has always seemed to me to be a totally unacceptable state of affairs. New clause 6 seeks only to clear that up once and for all—to me at least, it is self-evident that it needs to be added to the Bill. Paragraph 3(1) of schedule 3 to the 2000 Act says:

''A council shall exercise its power to appoint political members''.

Where it ends, the new clause would add proposed new sub-paragraph (1A), which states:

''Notwithstanding subparagraph (1) above no person may be appointed as a political member who has not renounced violence and ended all links with any organisation that has not yet disposed of all its weapons and explosives.''

The proposal is simple and straightforward. Someone in Northern Ireland, or elsewhere in the world for that matter, may say that it is unreasonable, unfair and no way to bring troubles to an end, but if those people have no further need for terrorism and if they do not intend their politics to involve returning to the guns and explosives that they have hidden away should they be unable to get their own way through the ballot box, it is simple and straightforward to say that they renounce all that and break all their links with the past.

If a politician will not do that, we are entitled to draw the conclusion that they are still prepared to use terrorism to get their own way. If we draw that conclusion, it is intolerable for such people to have oversight of or partnership arrangements with the police service, whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. We would not contemplate allowing unreformed bank robbers to be involved in a committee with the Metropolitan police on the oversight of the serious crime unit at Scotland Yard. We would see that as preposterous, and anyone who suggested it would be seen as a fool.

In Northern Ireland, however, such things are allowed in the name of progress. If violence is over,

why are people still clinging on and demanding to be let into the process without making that crucial step? New clause 6 spells that out, and it would allow people to say once and for all whether they are democrats or terrorists. That is all I ask: which side is someone on? That question should be straightforward for everyone to answer. If there is no answer, one can assume only that people are hanging on to their guns for a reason.

New clause 7 flows from new clause 6. Paragraph 3(5) of schedule 3 to the 2000 Act says:

''A political member shall cease to hold office if—

(a) he resigns by notice in writing to the council;

(b) he becomes disqualified for membership of the DPP; or

(c) he ceases to be a member of the council.''

I would not imagine that anyone wants to quarrel with those provisions, but I suggest that the list is incomplete. New clause 7 would add two further reasons why a person should cease to hold office:

''(d) he is convicted of a terrorist related offence;

(e) he is found to have links to a terrorist organisation.''

I have no doubt that the lawyers in Committee could endlessly pick holes in my choice of words, so I am not wedded to the specific phrasing. However, what I am driving at should be clear: if someone is appointed having passed the requirements that I suggest and having severed their links with terrorism, but is subsequently convicted of a terrorist-related offence, even if that offence is from the past, they should be disqualified.

I am aware that some will say that we should live and let live and allow terrorists into our political organisations. I am just about able to stomach the idea of admitting apologists for terrorism, but I am not able to say that someone's involvement in a terrorist organisation in the past should not be taken into account. A criminal conviction in Great Britain bars a person from all sorts of activity. In my judgment, a terrorism conviction should bar people from dealing with the police in the way suggested. I am well aware of what I am saying. Past and future convictions should be taken into account.

The second proposal is also straightforward. If such a person is found to have links with a terrorist organisation having renounced it, they should cease to be a member due to all the arguments that I have given.

I have felt strongly about the provisions for a long time. I realise that people whom I would count among my friends in Northern Ireland would say that I am being unrealistic and that we should live and let live. I understand and respect that, but I have always baulked at the thought of murderers, maimers and torturers being allowed into such a process. I have felt that for a long time, and adding the two new clauses would make a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland more likely, rather than undermine what has been going on.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

It is difficult to add much to what my hon. Friend has just said. He dealt with the new clauses convincingly, comprehensively and with conviction. He and I have experience of local government in England, and we remember that

police forces were originally scrutinised by watch committees, which kept an eye on them and dealt with various matters. In the England and Wales jurisdiction—I know more about England—magistrates comprised a significant part of the membership of the watch committees. Magistrates hold an office for which I have a high regard. Going back some 800 years, they have always discharged their duties as justices of the peace, properly keeping the Queen's peace. The lay magistracy is the jewel in the crown of the English judicial system, and it deals with some 94 per cent. of criminal disposals.

Northern Ireland suffers from a proliferation of bodies, commissions, ombudsmen and boards. All of us who sympathise with Northern Ireland and would like the Province to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous climate beg leave to doubt whether its problems can be solved by the reflex appointment of yet more public bodies and officials. I have said in other contexts that whatever the deficiencies of normal life might be in Northern Ireland, it is not afflicted by a shortage of official bodies. There is a proliferation rather than a deficiency.

We see the tripartite arrangement between the Secretary of State—mirroring the role of the Home Secretary in Great Britain—the Chief Constable and the Policing Board. Beyond that, there is the police ombudsman. I quarrel with none of those arrangements, nor will I detain the Committee by rehearsing the remarks that I made at an earlier stage on the importance of the equilibrium of the tripartite arrangement and not shifting too far from the Secretary of State or the Chief Constable towards the Policing Board.

We come then to district policing partnerships. The view that I am articulating is my own, and not necessarily the official policy of my party. There are a lot of local authorities in Northern Ireland, as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann can confirm, and there are historic reasons for that. If every one is to be matched by a DPP, the opportunities will multiply for those who want to investigate, investigate and investigate the police.

You may remember, Mr. Amess, the speech made on Second Reading by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). It was candid, and based upon his considerable experience as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He said:

''A police service that is constantly at risk of being inquired into and investigated, with its policies and actions questioned and challenged, its judgments called into question, and its practices constantly put under a microscope by the accountability bodies—and, for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, there is more than one such body—cannot easily get on with the job of policing.''—[Official Report, 10 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 682.]

I entirely agree with that sentiment.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 4:15 pm, 11th March 2003

Order. The Committee is listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I draw his attention closely to the precise detail of new clauses 6 and 7. He should confine his remarks to those two new clauses.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

I am grateful to you, Mr. Amess. Inasmuch as I have strayed, I have done straying. There will be no more straying.

I return to the wording of the new clauses of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne. He wants to add the circumstances in which a person

''is convicted of a terrorist related offence''

to the list of grounds for disqualification from service. That would follow on from paragraph (5)(c) of schedule 3 of the 2000 Act, which says that disqualification follows cessation of membership of the council. I would hope that a failure under the proposed new sub-paragraph (d) would also be a failure under existing sub-paragraph (c). If an individual were convicted of a terrorist-related offence, he ought to be disqualified from serving on the council. He would come off the district policing partnership on two grounds.

I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion by leaving the Committee with my lingering doubt as to whether DPPs are just one more accountability institution, or even, I suggest, an accountability institution too far. There are so many, and so much mischief could be made with all the opportunities for inquiring into the police and their activities.

Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Conservative, Wycombe

This is the first chance that I have had to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Amess, although by this time in the afternoon we are nearer to the hour when, alas, you have to quit the Chair and we have to end our sitting, than to the moment at which you arrived.

On new clause 7, I wish to pick up a theme that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne developed from the Opposition Front Bench, in anticipation of an argument that the Minister might make. Although my hon. Friend is welcome to correct me if I am mistaken, I think that he believes that no one who has been or is in future either convicted of a terrorist-related offence or found to have links with a terrorist organisation should continue to sit on a DPP.

In general—although I stress in general—I think that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. However, I am not sure that the way in which new clause 7 is constructed is completely consistent with how he advanced his excellent case, because the exact words of the proposed new sub-paragraphs are:

''he is convicted of a terrorist related offence''

and

''he is found to have links to a terrorist organisation.''

Under the strict terms of that wording, I would read new clause 7 to mean that a member of, say, Sinn Fein or, for the sake of argument, the Progressive Unionist party, who had previously served a terrorist-related offence, would be allowed to sit on a DPP. That would also apply to a member of Sinn Fein or, again for the sake of argument, the PUP, who had previously been found to have links with a terrorist organisation. However, it is surely the case that at the moment when such a person were found to be convicted of a terrorist related offence or to have links with a terrorist organisation, the provisions of new clause 7 would kick in. The proposed sub-paragraphs (d) and (e)

would be a wholly appropriate addition to paragraph 3 of schedule 3 of the 2000 Act.

I hope that the Minister will not argue that new clause 7 covers those who have previously been convicted of a terrorist related offence or those who have previously had links with a terrorist organisation, and that she will not argue that it would be unreasonable for them to be excluded from DPPs under the clause, because I do not think that the words of the clause are to that effect.

The Minister may wish to argue that the wording of the clause is unnecessary or that she would perhaps be prepared—I will wait to hear what she says—to have members sitting on DPPs who have been convicted of terrorist-related offences or who have present links to terrorist organisations. However, I do not think that she could use the argument that the wording of new clause 7 suggests that those who have been convicted of terrorist-related offences or who have had links with terrorist organisations would be barred from serving on DPPs by the new clause.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I have a couple of brief thoughts that I want to share with the Committee. When we discussed the previous new clause, in the name of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, the hon. Member for Spelthorne advanced and supported the argument that the backward-looking aspects of the ombudsman's office should be curtailed because lines should be drawn in the sand, if I might put it like that, and that the extent to which one went back into the past and was prepared to unearth things was something that should be limited. That line found favour with the Minister, although the actual terms of the proposal did not.

To be consistent, we should be prepared to apply the same approach here. The reality is that many people who have in the past sought to influence the course of events in Northern Ireland through undemocratic and violent means—which I deplore—will, if they are to be included in future, seek to do that through legitimate means. That means election to bodies like the legislative Assembly or to the House. of Commons. If we are to allow them into the legislative Assembly and into the House, how can see seek to exclude them from other aspects of civil society in Northern Ireland? I feel that there is a certain inconsistency in that argument.

My other concern, which relates more to the second of the two proposed new clauses, is that the reference to having

''links to a terrorist organisation''

is vague and open to abuse in many ways. It might be that somebody who has renounced violence will still have links with an organisation because they may still know many of their former comrades. They may wish to maintain those links in order to persuade those with whom they previously engaged in an armed struggle to renounce that activity. Is the purpose of the new clause to exclude those people with links to a terrorist organisation?

If I were to be particularly picky about that, I might say that what we should really be considering is a relevant terrorist organisation. In the bad old days of

apartheid in South Africa, I and, I suspect, many others on the Committee, had links with the African National Congress, which many might have considered to be a terrorist organisation. Would that have excluded me from membership of a DPP? I think that the point can be seen that the wording is on the loose side.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Committee might be surprised to learn that I am not going to use any of the arguments suggested by the hon. Members for Wycombe and for Orkney and Shetland. I agree with the new clause; I have no problem with the sentiments behind it. However, the provisions that it seeks to apply are already defined elsewhere in the law. The Committee will know that the political members of DPPs are nominated by local councils from among their members. Under the terms of the Local Government (Northern Ireland) Act 1972, as amended by the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, all of those standing for election for local councils must, as part of their nomination to stand, make a declaration against terrorism. The text of that declaration is set out in part 1 of schedule 2 to the 1989 Act, and it is not very different from the wording suggested by the hon. Member for Spelthorne.

That means that the pool of people from whom the political members of DPPs can be nominated must already have made a declaration against terrorism. With other safeguards, which I shall come to, that addresses sufficiently the point that is made in new clause 6.

Turning to new clause 7, I agree that the disqualifications proposed are valid. However, I do not believe that they are necessary because those points are dealt with by the provisions of paragraph 3(5)(c) and paragraph 7 of schedule 3 to the 2000 Act, which has been referred to by others. I shall deal first with paragraph 3(5)(c). That provides that a political member of a DPP shall cease to hold that office if he ceases to be a member of the council. An individual could cease to be a member of the local authority for a number of reasons. Specifically, under the electoral legislation from which I quoted, there is provision for a councillor to be removed from office if he or she dishonours his or her declaration against terrorism by publicly expressing support for acts of terrorism, or for a proscribed organisation. He or she is taken to have done so if his or her words or actions could reasonably be understood as expressing support for or approval of that action.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP, East Londonderry

Will the Minister outline her response to the accusation that is frequently made in Northern Ireland that members of Sinn Fein have been on local councils since 1985, so they have been subject for 18 years to the precise exclusion that she has outlined. Has it ever been tested by the Government?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I may be wrong, but I should not have thought that it would be a matter for the Government to remove them. The disqualification clause should apply, but it should be tested on an individual basis. An individual would not have been deemed to be in breach of his declaration if the actions of somebody else were to be held against him. One

could not, for example, brand all members of Sinn Fein if one individual were accused of the sort of actions to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

The point that was being made was that the enforcement provisions in the legislation to which the Minister refers are defective in that they require private citizens to enforce them. It was pointed out when the legislation was debated that that is an unreasonable burden to put on private citizens and that it is precisely the sort of thing that Government ought to do. On occasion, over the past few years, elected representatives have behaved in a way that would imply—or even be evidence of—support for paramilitary organisations, such as appearing on platforms at rallies organised by such organisations, but no action has been taken because the enforcement provisions in the legislation place no obligation on government to enforce the undertaking. That is the flaw in the Minister's argument. If the declarations were enforced by the Government, the Minister's words would carry some weight, but they are not.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 4:30 pm, 11th March 2003

The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for East Londonderry make the valid point that the legislation has never been acted on. Is it not fair to say, however, that it is entirely down to a member of the public to take action? A member of the public can draw to the council's attention any breach of the provisions, and it would then be for the council to go to court. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman both said that the provisions were failing, but the measures contained in the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Spelthorne are already contained in statute. As it stands, if a case were ever brought, the eventual decision would be a matter for the court. Therefore, legislation already provides for councillors who act in such a way to be removed from their position on the local council. If that happens, they automatically cease to hold office as a member of a district policing partnership, as the hon. Member for Wycombe said.

Paragraph 7 of schedule 3 of the 2000 Act sets out a series of grounds on which members of the district policing partnerships, both independent and political, may be removed from office by the board or the council, with the approval of the board. Grounds include being convicted of a criminal offence or being otherwise unable or unfit to discharge their functions as a member of the DPP. Those provisions, taken with the provisions in the electoral legislation, deal, to a large extent, with the points raised by new clause 7.

We understand, and are sympathetic to, the thinking behind the two new clauses. I take on board the points that have been made about the effectiveness of the current provisions, and perhaps we need to consider that further, but we believe that the points raised are adequately dealt with by existing legislation.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I have listened with care to the Minister. If the Minister agrees with me about new clause 6, she should, just for once, go for a belt-and-braces operation, and let me win the argument. We

have heard the arguments about why the legislation on which the Minister would prefer to rely is not as robust as it should be. So if she agrees with my suggestion, and if there is a case that her preferred method is not as robust as it should be, she has made my case for me and should welcome new clause 6 with open arms. I am happy to give way to her if she wants to say that she has changed her mind or will table an alternative new clause. I thought that she would shake her head—it was just a little too much to hope for. I have been grafting away in Committee for some time now and have made no progress at all—such is the nature of opposition. I am at least grateful that, on this occasion, the Minister admits that my suggestion goes in the right direction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe will go far. He listens carefully to everything that I say, which will stand him in good stead, because as long as he listens carefully, he will not make the mistake of repeating what I say. He is right. I did not make myself as clear as I should have done. I know what I was trying to say, but I patently failed. The easier problem to sort out is the distinction between ''has links'' and ''had links''. New clause 7 is supposed to refer to having links now and in the future, not to look back to the past. I hope that Hansard will confirm that I said what I thought I said; that I can just about cope with apologists for terrorism from the past. If someone had links with terrorists, rather than was a terrorist, I would be in favour of drawing a line under that.

On reflection, I accept that the wording

''is convicted of a terrorist related offence''

really means is convicted in future. To that extent, my hon. Friend was right. I hope that I made it clear that I should have worded the new clause in such a way as to deal with people who had been convicted in the past, although the wording does not say that.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland believes that he has seized on an inconsistency in my argument. I do not believe that it is raking backwards. It would be raking backwards to suggest that we examine the past conduct of a member of the DPP to see whether we could find something that amounted to a criminal offence. All I am saying is that when someone is convicted of something, that conviction travels with that person from the past to the present and into the future. A convicted terrorist is a convicted terrorist on conviction and in the present. I realise that I am saying that I cannot cope if someone has been convicted of a terrorist offence in the past, I am sorry.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

If it was not this hour and we were not in Committee, I would be happy to enter into a conversation with an elder of the Church of Scotland on the significance of repentance. The hon. Gentleman may be able to modify my views if he works hard enough for long enough, but I do not think that you want us to become philosophical or theological on these matters, Mr. Amess. I simply wanted to clarify what I meant for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. If people believe me to be wrong, that is their privilege, which I respect.

I listened carefully to the Minister. She will not give way on the points on which I am right, and says that there are adequate safeguards in relation to new clause 7. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.